Finding God in Gardens
St. Ignatius of Loyola tells us that God can be found in all things. St. Teresa of Avila uses the garden as a metaphor for our own lives. She writes that we must "cultivate a garden on very barren soil full of weeds" and that we "must take pains to water [the seeds] so they don't wither but bud and flower." George Bernard Shaw writes, "The best place to find God is in a garden. You can dig for Him there." Indeed! I have found God in my gardens. They give me great joy. Butterflies, wasps, ladybugs, bumble bees, and other insects happily feast and dance among the blooms. They also find great pleasure. And in them, I also find God.
I began gardening over twenty years ago. For years I subscribed to Better Homes & Gardens. The spring and summer issues were filled with pages of beautiful gardens and bright flowers of all kinds. One autumn day I purchased a bag of tulip bulbs. I planted them in an area I call the shady garden during the summer. Today two huge maple trees serve as a canopy over the garden that is also home to a thriving pine tree.
I followed the directions on the tulip bag and planted the bulbs in the autumn soil. Winter passed. In the early spring, the tulips began to sprout. Fully bloomed pink tulips bordered what was now a tulip garden. The following year I planted more tulip bulbs underneath the white dogwood.
The Spiritual Dimension of Gardening
In the process of caring for and admiring my tulips, I encountered the spiritual dimension of gardening. One sunny late afternoon as I walked past the tulips, I was drawn to one tulip in particular. The tulip's pink petals were wide open. The inside of the delicate tulip revealed the exquisite intricacy of the tulip's black and soft yellow stamen and a brighter yellow pistil. I was overcome with awe and wonder. Something so beautiful could not be designed by human hands. An overwhelming sense of peace came over me. This moment was a God experience. The next morning the tulips were tightly closed and asleep. Their petals were sprinkled with droplets of morning dew. Simply magical! My success with the tulips and my God experience with them planted the seed for my growing love of gardening. Little by little, I planted more gardens and more kinds of flowers.
Perennials and Annuals
Before the advent of the Internet. I bought gardening books. For years, I flipped through more pages in Better Homes & Gardens for more tips until I became an "expert." I learned about planting zones, soil, shade, sun, and the difference between perennials and annuals. I began planting perennials that would resurrect every year - roses, purple iris, daffodils, daylilies, Asiatic lilies, hostas, lavender gayfeathers, lightening bugs, gladiolas, purple Liatris and other perennials. I planted annuals - impatiens, petunias, and marigolds. Annuals bring more beauty to my gardens, if only for a season.
Body, Mind and Spirit
Gardening has taught me a few lessons. Gardening is strenuous but spiritually fulfilling. Gardening involves not only the entire body in the physical act of planting but also the mind and spirit. With planting comes preparing the soil and pulling weeds through out the flowering season. This means getting your hands dirty, even with gardening gloves, kneeling on the earth and using, along with gardening tools, your feet, arms, shoulders, and hands to dig deep. Thirsty flowers need to be quenched. This means filling the gardening water bucket heavy with water or dragging a water hose to shower and spray the gardens a couple times a day. Gardening requires and teaches patience and care.
As I faithfully care for my gardens, they nurture me spiritually. The hard work of gardening rewards me with spiritual calm. As I engage my body muscles, my mind is still and quiet. Almost always, the chorus of singing and chirping birds perched on trees and power lines accompanies this stillness. As I plant, weed, and water the flowers, l listen to their calming chatter and I contemplate. I set my worries aside. I have a silent conversation with God. The physical activity of gardening is a spiritually soothing exercise.
With my husband's help, I plant in the autumn for spring flowers, and plant in the spring for summer flowers. As autumn approaches, my spring and summer perennials begin to wither. By winter their beauty has disappeared but their life remains tucked below the soil for a long winter's sleep. The snow covered frozen winter earth protects and keeps the gardens warm. The maple and dogwood trees have shed their leaves. Only the pine tree, evergreen trees, holly bush, and other shrubs remain alive in the dead of winter. The gardens sprout with resurrected life again in the spring and summer. From death comes new life and hope. Toil, care and time commitment makes this possible. Each planting, weeding, and gardening season bestows the gifts of joy, quiet time, contemplation, and hope. Gardening strengthens my spiritual health.
Plant a Garden and Watch It Grow
I never imagined taking up gardening. Pictures of beautiful flowers in a magazine, and a bag of tulip bulbs planted the seeds. Begin planting your own seeds. Surf the Internet for images of garden flowers. Read gardening books and websites. They offer great ideas, tips, and plans for growing a garden. Then plant a garden and watch it grow. Be patient and tender with your garden. It will yield great pleasure, joy, peace, and calm. You might even experience the spiritual dimension of gardening and find God among the weeds and the blooms.
God Almighty first planted a garden. And indeed, it is the purest form of human pleasures. - Francis Bacon