My Spiritual Garden: A Gateway for Understandings
It is a typical cool Floridian predawn morning, with a layer of fog covering our yard like a soft, cushy comforter. I quietly step out the door, into the bluish mist, ready to taste the morning freshness. A car hums by, piercing the illusion that all is still. Kicking off her foggy blanket, nature winks ups a ripe lemon sun just above the horizon to warm my face. This is my alert time, senses acute, softly walking on my stone path, then settling in my grey mesh chair. I feast on the electric blue lobelia, lavender and white alyssum, and trailing green vines. A vivid, red bougainvillea in my neighbor’s yard across the street, dazzles like a red velvet cloud.
Gardens are microcosms of calm and serenity. They compress a complex, ever-changing, kaleidoscopic world into one accessible screenshot. Here in this tranquil space, I indulge in a few satisfying moments, but only a few. Nature is whispering, as she usually does. She drifts my way, on a slight breeze. I sit erect. Her voice floats in like a gentle hand, softly touching, lifting, and tilting my chin in a new direction.
“Look deeper,” she whirrs.
I look deeper, past the colors, beneath the floral display. Gardens are more than showpieces. They are also hotbeds of conflict and struggle. They face temperature extremes, droughts, floods, parasites, disease, and invaders. I see my impatiens in peril. All the blooms have dwindled and died, infected by a fungus. Our newly transplanted sego palm is showing stress. Another has yellowing leaves. Too much water? Gardening was never an exercise in certainty.
Neither is human existence.
“Look deeper”, reverberates in my mind.
Uncertainties mirror our own world. Natural disasters occur. Infectious diseases exist. Once harmonious relationships, discorded. We are never sure about what drama lies in the next act of our human existence. Thomas Merton, the twentieth century theologian and poet wrote this prayer,
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing it.”
Merton’s prayer of uncertainty parallels our twenty-first century existence that has become a rapid-paced, mind-piercing composite of electronic pings, bumper-stickerisms, schedules, rap, protests, tweets, texts, headlines and deadlines. Our brains often feel like pin cushion receptacles, pricked with onslaughts of sharp, steely stabs. How do we deal with all the needling noise and inner commotion? While caring for my garden, I often snip off the spent flowers so that scores of burgeoning buds can appear. Likewise, I slice away the weary racket, sit in a quiet space, to sprout new thoughts. But what thoughts?
“Look deeper”, still echoes.
Thomas Merton also gave us this gem:
“The sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is in all.”
I do accept that God is omnipresent, that a divine presence is everywhere and in everything: my struggles, my triumphs and defeats, and in my multifaceted relationships. He is there when I contemplate choices and actions. As Thomas Merton, I pray for guidance, but am I sure that my actions are borne of divine inspiration and not self-serving consternation? I think Nature invited me to ponder this, when she glided in, on a gentle, yet persistent breeze. And so, I search for still deeper meaning. That search led me to a new word.
This new word crept into my thoughts, like the easy ooze of morning fog. And, after some research, I found this one word to be very compelling. That word is understanding. And, it appears in the bible as often as the word, love, over 300 times. Paul wrote about understanding in one of the most memorable bible verses,
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians, 4:7)
Clearly in this letter to the Philippians, Paul sees a limit to our human capacity to understand. Other verses suggest understanding as a valued state, and a divine gift, worthy of petition.
Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart. (Psalm 119:34) For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Prov 2:6)
My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ. (Colossians 2:2) Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding. (Prov 3:13) Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or turn away from them. (Prov 4:5)
Here are two very powerful thoughts: I understand, and, I am being understood. These two sentiments wash over me like jeweled grace. And, we can simply ask for it. New understandings, being understood, can ebb away hurts and self-righteousness.
For me, it begs more questions: If there is so much power in understandings, why is it not readily available to us? Why are we implored to ask for it? Why do we have to prep our minds to be in a state of understanding? Perhaps survival as a species for early man depended on swift reactionary impulses. Understanding why a saber-toothed tiger is chasing me, might not have been the best impulse, eons ago. But aren’t we beyond basic survival when dealing with human relationships? I once read, to be wary of self-righteousness. Do not be seduced by the need to be right, was the exact warning. Self-righteousness resides in the ego. Fed by adrenalin, it often drives our reactionary impulses. In his book, Falling Upward, inspirational writer, Richard Rohr wrote, “The ego hates losing—even to God.”
I returned to my garden. Passersby admire its beauty and I nod with pride, with the full understanding that my garden will always struggle. The sego palm may not survive, although there is still hope. Some invading plants have appeared in an attempt to dominate and take over. My dying impatiens have been replaced with fungus resistant New Guinea impatiens. Struggle, competition, loss and new birth coexist. My garden and I have the tools to manage it all.
Written seven centuries ago, St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer is an appeal to our Divine Master, our Master Gardener, for the instruments to cultivate peace. At the apex of these instruments is understandings. He sees understandings as a gateway to love. I would add that my Garden is another Gateway to Understandings.
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved, as to love.