God in My Garden
Meditations at Season's End
by Mary Jo Anderson
It’s not my garden, really. It is our garden, God’s and mine. I hesitate to say we share this patch of Eden lest you, gentle reader, imagine that it must be a grand design in perfect, harmonious order. It is far from that. Rather, this small plot of urban escape is a thicket of shrubs and trees dotted with stone creatures and myriad treasures given to us over the years. Oh, there was a grand design once, to be sure. Somehow, like life’s own once-elaborate plan gone a-wandering, this garden grew higgledy-piggledy as it would, not as I’d dreamed. And yet, despite my own scheme never achieved, this garden is the one I know we were meant to have. It’s a pleasant retreat, particular and dear to those who’ve come to know its inner life.
“There will be dirt”, my mother explained when I first inquired how to create a garden beyond a few pots on the doorstep of our honeymoon home. “As with life, gardening is messy.” It is late summer now, some several decades since her wry advice. My end-of-season chores are hot and dirty. How many seasons I have remembered that quip and found it ripe with new meaning as the years marched past. “Take care that your dirt grows something worth having”, Mama said.
To walk in this space for me is to pray, to reflect on the wonder of things, to meditate. A sleepy granddaughter finds me in the herb garden when she awakens. This is the “dog pen garden” a separately fenced scrap of earth at the furthest reaches of the yard reclaimed from an old dog run. “Is God in here today?” She smiles and sips from my cup of café-au lait. It is a ritual each time she visits. Since her toddler days she has known where I prefer to begin the day. “Show me where you see Him”, she teases.
“Ah, everywhere! Almost every place the eye falls…. The Heavenly Blue morning glories that have scrambled up the stakes as the tomatoes faded away. Aren’t they a reminder of Our Lady? See those weeds?” I point to a mound of yanked grasses and stalks. “These remind me of vices. They take up valuable space, leech nutrients from what is productive. If I do not carefully dig out the vices in my life, they will choke out virtue, like these weeds choke the pepper plants. (Have you noticed how easily and quickly weeds grow? Yet, how much care and cultivation is required to get these cantaloupe seedlings up and on their way.… Cantaloupes, by the way, were first grown in an old papal estate, Cantalupo.)
Here is mint, so fragrant! My own grandmother had me grow mint to use in the Lebanese dishes she taught me to make a connection to her Maronite heritage, and a reminder for me that members of my own family have been persecuted for their faith, and yet, they prevailed.
“Look in those weeded pots, see how the dirt is loose and moist, ready to receive new seeds? Do you recall the gospel parable about the seed that falls on hard ground, or ground where briars and thorns choke out the new seedlings? And, of course up there is the church bird feeder Aunt Ann sent me from a folk art festival, that broken angel you hung on the fence four years ago after if fell from the Christmas tree but no one wanted to throw her away … and those empty clay pots? They are fragile, some cracked or chipped. But the wear is part of their character and gives a patina to whole tableau. It reminds me of a verse in Corinthians, ‘We have this treasure in earthen vessels…’.”
Above us a lovely tangerine flowered vine entwines the trellis, its ferny foliage shades the seedlings from the blistering Florida summer sun. I think of it as our Lazarus vine, for in the fury of Hurricane Charley, the vine was ripped from the earth. I thought it was dead and after two years there was no hint of life. When I’d given it up for lost, feathery leaves must have sprouted, hidden and neglected in the undergrowth between two fence lines. Then one spring morning a luscious orange trumpet flower made its appearance an unexpected gift!
Beyond the herbs and vegetables a long grassy stretch leads past the ornamental fence whose fleur-de-lis finials are symbols of the Cross. Legend holds that Clovis, the Merovingian king of the Franks, was given the lily-like cross by an angel on the occasion of his conversion. A summer-weary begonia struggles to bloom in its cockleshell planter, symbol of Saint James the Apostle. It was a Mother’s Day gift from our daughter, chosen in memory of my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Near the back porch door we’ve hung a small weathered Madonna and Child. It is another castoff that has made its way to us unearthed in the destruction of a house near the Princeton University campus.
Along the western bed of hydrangeas, a clump of coleus hides a stone Saint Francis, rescued from junk shop. Buttery yellow Thunbergia vine cloaks the back fence line. It is a self-propagating cheerful-faced wildflower that is a “lily of the field” growing with no care from human hand. Green shrubs are the backbone of a shady corner anchored by a white garden bench. My plan was to maintain that cool palate, adding only white or palest blue flowering shrubs, like the jungle green Lakeview Jasmine with its celestial fragrance.
A decade ago when his mother died, my husband brought home a potted hibiscus that had given such color to her balcony. Pink. Bright pink. He wanted it planted in the corner behind the bench where it could be seen from the kitchen window. Now it towers fifteen feet high, above the green hedge beneath, next to the pristine dogwood tree. See how easily the best-laid garden plans go awry? In spite of the showy blossoms that mercifully appear only in its crown where the sun reigns, this hibiscus coaxes a smile. I know it is a reminder of the communion of saints, for when my eye falls upon its vivid color there is an exchange of prayers, she sends her love and I am reminded to pray for her soul.
Is it possible to walk in a garden and not know the presence of our Creator?
Another day a younger granddaughter stood entranced near a butterfly bush. Several varieties fluttered over its blooms in just a few minutes. I quietly asked, “Why do you think God made so many different patterns of butterflies?”
Her faced turned toward me with innocent wisdom, “Because He was having so much fun making them?”
Mary Jo Anderson, a member of the Voices editorial board, writes on the United Nations and family issues for WorldNet Daily and other publications. Her commentaries have appeared on radio and television, including Vatican Radio. She has addressed members of the Czech Parliament on women and family issues in emerging democracies. Mary Jo is co-author with Dr. Robin Bernhoft of Male and Female He Created Them: Some Questions and Answers on Marriage and Same-sex Unions, published by Catholic Answers, San Diego. Visit her blog, Properly scared, at: http://properlyscared.wordpress.com.
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