Thursday, April 22, 2010
Happy "Humility" Day--a little lesson in Earth Day Gardening.
Spanish explorers of the 1600s knew they would need to plant Herbs when they reached unknown shores or they would be forced to eat whatever the cook could find. This was a frightening thought! As a result, Monks distributed Sweet Fennel along El Camino Real, The Kings Highway, which connects the missions in California. Fennel can still be seen along Interstate 101 which traces this legendary route.
Like those early spaniards, I'm also finding that I've reached some unknown shores. A teenager reaching a milestone with graduation day fast approaching; a new job with a non-profit organization where my toes are already feeling a little cooked in the baptism of fire; and my mom who at age 80, is starting to decline in health. These are heady times. And yet I feel the need to do a little gardening of my own.
God gardens too. He sows the story of Himself into man's heart using human vessels. From Genesis to the end of time He saturates mankind with His being-ness and infuses into us His supernatural intellect..."He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." Ecclesiastes 3:11. And it begins and ends in a garden, of all places.
The garden is a great metaphor for the heart of man and according to every green-thumbed afficionado worth his salt, the most important ingredient to start with is good soil. If you play around with the word "human", you will find that it is closely related to the word humus which derives from the latin humilitas or "from the earth which is beneath us." It's also woven into the most foundational virtue of humility. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, 'Humility is the first virtue inasmuch as it removes the obstacles to faith — it removes pride and makes a man subject to and a fit recipient of grace'... According to the words of St. James: "God resisteth the proud, and giveth his grace to the humble" (James 4:6).
(Note to self: So Earth Day isn't such a bad idea if I can be reminded of my humus-ness!)
How do I prepare the "soil of my heart" so that it will eventually produce a willing crop? First, the ground must be prepared. The large clods of discontent, fear and irritability must be broken down. The rocks and harsh minerals of discouragement and arrogance need to be cast aside and some good mulch/compost needs to be applied so that organic matter can flourish. Odd how decaying organics can actually inspire living things to grow...think of the blood of the martyrs and how their witness caused an exponential growth to man's restored faith in God. "Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones." (Psalm 116). Fertile soil allows the good seed to take root and grow. Healthy ground also allows the proper exchange of nutrients between the earth and the living thing that is to be rooted and better yet, is to bud forth. So we are not to be grounded only; rather, we are to be grounded and growing toward our Source.
Next we add the seeds. The seed is life's blueprint. It's the masterplan, the idea, the order, all organized and concealed in microbial fashion and encased in a protective housing. Think of the seed being sown into your heart as the Word of God. In order for the seed to grow, it requires light - truth, wisdom, beauty and goodness; and hydration. The sources of water come from several places: from the heavens above and from the springs below. "May the LORD bless his land with the precious dew from heaven above and with the deep waters that lie below." (Deut 33:13). But lets not forget that hydration is supplied, sometimes amply, from the tears that we offer. "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy." (Psalm 126:5). Some of the most lush gardens on the volcanic isles of Hawaii get a daily drenching of tropical showers. Think of these things the next time your teenager worries you senseless.
As the furrows are drenched and the ridges leveled; our hearts become softened dewey gardens where the planted seed can root and the blossoms spring up. Time-lapse photography gives us an amazing glimpse at the growth process in action. I watched a science channel special on the formation of coral reefs recently and was stunned by how rapidly an entire civilization sprouted up on a piece of submerged boat junk. Staying above ground, maintaining a lush, vibrant garden requires a prudent and sometimes painful, cutting, pruning and weeding to keep out the destructive weeds of pride, sloth, envy, anger, greed, lust, & gluttony.
And then there is the fruit. Sometimes we see this quickly. Sometimes we see this slowly, over time. What did we put into our garden? Did we fertilize it with the Eucharist and frequent attendance to our sacraments? Did we fence out the bunny-rabbits of malcontentedness, gossipy friends, idle time and unchecked addictions? Or did we rest on our laurels and allow tomato worms to bore into the soft fruit. We either deal with our defects or we let them conquer us. The garden is a great metaphor for the heart. It is a mercy that we have a Patient Gardener.
I conclude where I once began. Our story started and will end in a garden where there is a deliciously beautiful tree. Salvation history started agriculturally in the feted apple and its object: the defeat of death, was vanquished in a garden as well. There's a lovely story that I read someplace where God at the chronological end of history comes a-searchin' for Adam. Probably in the cool of the evening. Probably in a beautiful garden. God is calling out Adam's name. But this time something different happens. Adam doesn't hide in the shadows of shame. He sees His Father and he runs toward him at breakneck speed. God calls for his lost sons and daughters. He's calling your name and my name too. Just like the prodigal returning from the swine hiatus. Just like Mary Magdalene encountering her "gardener-sir" when her sorrow blossomed into to joy. Behold, I make all things new.
"My beloved has gone down to his garden, to the bed of spices, to pasture his flock in the gardens, and to gather the lilies. I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine. He pastures his flock among the lilies."(Song of Solomon, 6:2-3)