Life A Garden

Life   –  A Garden


Over the past week or more the reality of death has peaked in and out of my consciousness –  sometimes not so gently – more like an invasion than a peak.

All my life gardens have had a central place – even as a child.  Always they have spoken of the mystery of life, new life, wonder, beauty, the cycle of life, the beauty of dying in its mystery of pointing to new life.  Gardens speak of the wonder of life springing from the earth in all of its fertile darkness.  “Unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it remains but a seed, but if it dies it bears much fruit.”(John 12:24). All gardeners know – especially if they are growing their own garden – not buying one ready made – they all know that from death springs new life.   So much trust is called forth from the gardener.  It is hard to trust that the seed will grow.  The temptation is too carefully dig just below the surface to look for the speck of green.  Yes, of course all gardeners do it!  Sometimes it is necessary  – seeds do rot, or seeds are not fertile – or a garden critter has eaten a meal.  After all God gave those critters the fruits of the earth to eat.  It is sometimes necessary to plant again.

In all gardens, every year, there are struggles that take place – blight, plaques of insects, voracious, snails and snails without houses on their backs, known as slugs, aphids, hungry birds. One becomes intimate with each and every tiny being – plant and critter. Wonder and awe are ignited by the colourful beauty of the birds, butterflies, bees, and dragon flies  that burgeoning vegetables and flowers attract, and need, in order to complete their life cycle.   And then of course there are the seasons that are rarely exactly as we would like them to be.


 And all of this taken together – the planting, tending and harvesting, and the return of vegetable matter to the earth to become humus, the promise of the continuation of life – is a wonderful interlude with the Master Gardener that the Book of Genesis so poetically describes.  The individuality of everything that lives  – oh the grandeur of God!(Gerard Manley Hopkins)  This interlude each year invites one to meditate on the cycle of life – my life  – with the lord.  Gardening is such an immediate way to recognize that one is co-creator with the creator.

 This year is no different and yet it is very, very different!  The wonder, awe, reverence for all God’s creatures and their interdependence is very much present, including the interplay of the earth and the sky, all the vagaries of times and seasons, these all beacon the gardener’s soul.  They are heard, they are perceived from a different place within me this season.  The garden of my life is in a new phase.  This means seeing the garden I tend from a different perspective. There is a mysterious juxtaposition that is taking place.  God took this earth and fashioned me in all the uniqueness of who I am – like no one else – within all of life, an expression of God’s Grandeur, as Gerard Manley Hopkins declares! As my garden is coming into bloom, fruition, this being who is me that God planted in this good earth, is preparing to leave this universe, this planet earth for the eternal Garden.  There is something growing within my body that is helping it on its way to become humus for the earth from which it came.

So I am tending the garden of life in communication with the Master Gardener from a different, a new perspective.  It is painful both psychologically, physically and spiritually. It is so unknown, so full of questions, mysterious, new and different – filled with the constant urge to know fully what is taking place beneath the surface. It is a very personal juxtaposition of life, death, to life.  I know, without any doubt, that I am living and I am very surely dying as I live.  I am living my last days, as my garden begins it cycle of new life in all its variations of colour, leaf structure, humming of bees, calling of birds, as they interplay with the sun, rain and wind.

It is not by accident that the Bible begins in a garden – Eden. The Tree of Life was in this garden – the sign of immortality.  There are four streams to water the earth – the continuation of this garden.  All the earth is the Garden of God.  Not only does the Bible begin with a garden – and its struggle with life and death, good and evil.  This garden is the manifestation of endless life  – God himself.  So we find this garden to be the eternal Eden.  All comes from God and is returning to God.  So the last book of the Bible, in its last chapter describes this eternal garden of God.  “Then the angel showed me the river of life, rising from the throne of God and of the Lamb and flowing crystal-clear.  Down the middle of the city street, on either bank of the river were the trees of life, which bear twelve crops of fruit in a year, one in each month, and leaves of which are the cure for the nations.”  (Rev. 22:1,2)  This same passage is found in Ezekiel 47:12.  Ezekiel Chapter 48 talks of Israel, the Holy Land, as the garden of God, that the Israelites are expected to tend.  Yahweh must have the central portion of this Garden.  It is set aside as sacred – the sanctuary of Yahweh must be in the center of it. (Ez. 48:11)  For each of us that is the center of our being.  Each of us being a garden within the garden.

How true, how central are these passages to the garden of each individual life – thus my own.  And of course, the very center around which the eternal garden lived and is living, and  flourishes is the garden, the sacred garden that was watered in sweated blood – Gethsemane from which the Lamb was taken and slain. “Jesus left with his disciples, and crossed the Kidron Valley where there was a garden into which he went with his disciples”.( Jn !8:1)  And, there was “a garden at the place where he had been crucified, and in this garden there was a tomb in which no one had yet been buried.  …. They had Jesus laid there” (Jn 19: 41, 42). Within this garden he rose to new life!   Mary of Magdala went to the tomb.  As she wept at the death of Jesus and his missing body, she talked to a man she assumed was the gardener.  It was Jesus. He spoke her name, ”Mary!” (Jn 20:11-16).  It is Jesus who is the gardener of our life under many disguises.  Even illness.

Jesus spoken in allegories, and parables about gardens – about the weeds in the garden – about allowing the weeds to grow with the wheat and at the harvest time separating the wheat from the weeds.  (Matthew 13:24 ff.)  He also talks of the gardener, sowing seed, in Matthew 13:4-9, from which we get the teaching in verses 24 and following. The weed and the wheat must grow together – separated at harvest time.  In John 19 sited in the previous paragraph, Jesus is the gardener that Mary of Magdala speaks to.  Jesus is the sower of the seeds in our life, in my life.  The weeds and the fruit will be sorted out in the end.   In the Gospel of John, chapter 15, about the vine and the branches, Jesus tells of the Father pruning the vine, so that it bears more fruit.  So the theme of Garden runs throughout Scripture.  The earth, the universe, our lives are all a garden, part and parcel of Eden – planted by the Father, pruned by the Father, watered by the Son’s blood – and placed in our hands to be tended and harvested while on earth.

So I come back to “even illness”. It too can be seen as a method of the Father pruning so that more fruit is produced.  In John 9:3, when the disciples ask who sinned, that a man should be born blind. Jesus said that no one sinned, “He was born blind so that the works of God might be revealed”.  All of us in some way are blind.  My gardener, Jesus, with his Father, has been pruning very diligently over my life time.  Mostly this pruning has been done through sickness.   Has the glory of God been revealed?  I hope so.  The illness of society is also a pruning agent – all those things that the Lord allows life to send our way.  For me the most abrasive agents have come from within his church.  Illness from within my human frame became compounded by illness from within the believing body.  The religious society in which Jesus lived plucked him from the Garden of Olives.   In this garden he had asked to be delivered from the suffering and death that was to come.  “But not my will but yours be done.” The seed was on good soil – the love of the Father. Dying was giving birth to new life.

I am planting my earthly garden, while I am being very directly pruned by the Father, the vine dresser.   I am happy that Jesus cried out in the Garden of Olives, at his final pruning by the Father.  I am crying, I am struggling as I feel my energy drain away, and physical pain increase each day – knowing that nothing can be done for this illness.  Like Jesus in his final agony cried out with feelings of being abandoned – feelings of loneliness – thus do I feel in this darkness.  To face death, face it, step by step, as sickness eats from inside, is very lonely.  Like Jesus, – in the middle of the night, I call out “Why?!”  The other question is “How?”  How will this all come to an end?  It is like digging up the seed to see how it is growing in the dark earth, – if it is growing at all.  This is a final sickness. I am intimately acquainted with the stages of growth in the seeds that I plant each year, but I do not know the stages of growth of the disease growing within me.   Not like others I have had – not even when I was on deaths door and didn’t know it. So I must live each day in a unique sort of wonder, patient and trusting as the dying takes place, trusting in the new life that is coming.

I have lived in darkness, deep darkness, much of my life.  This is a new experience of darkness.  This sickness can only lead to death.  Yes!  Death is the step to eternal life, but the last part of the journey, before stepping into eternity is very lonely – filled with the unknown.  Jesus knew he was going to the Father, the vine dresser, the giver of life, when he cried out in painful faith -“Why have you abandoned me!” I too know that I am going to the vine dresser.  It is what I have lived for – sometimes ardently, sometimes weakly contaminated by what the world dangles alluringly.   Jesus weeded many gardens by his words and deeds, speaking against building bigger barns to amass bigger harvests.  His was an eternal harvest for which he worked, and died.  It could only be harvested by suffering.  So too the harvest for which I worked in joy and suffering. This was the promise given to Adam after he sinned.  There would be suffering, sweat and tears as he worked the earth.

I have worked many flower and vegetable gardens in sweat, frustration, and tears of both sadness and joy.  I have watched the birds of the air, contemplated with the lilies of the field, pulled out the weeds, and sometimes left them in, rather than risk the life of the plant.  Likewise in the garden of life there have been countless hours watering, weeding and fertilizing, and pruning the interior gardens of those the Lord sent my way, so that they would come to spiritual fruition – that others could come and pluck ears of corn from them.  As with the earthly gardens, this gardening of souls has resulted in genuine wonder and awe – a co-creator with the One who creates in love.  The Creator of the garden walked in the cool of the evening in his garden.

It is evening in this garden that the Father breathed life into over 70 years ago.  The evening is winding its way into night.  The shell of my being is becoming humus for the earth.  And I will rise to new life, eternal life  –  because there is light in the soil that is darkness.  And this light is revealed in the new, eternal life where the weeds are separated from the fruit – and the fruit can continue to bear fruit for the healing of all the earth. (Rev. 22:2)

Salt and Light Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Yr. A

Salt and Light

The Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A

This is one Sunday when the three Readings, the Antiphons and the Psalm, all present, very obviously, the same theme. And that theme is our call to be uncompromising light within the world – to be salt that brings healing to a world – a world that lives under the weight of darkness – the darkness that comes from injustice bringing with it spiritual and material poverty – spiritual and material immorality.

So I have been moved to put together in blank verse the various passages, – as one phrase, or verse seems to answer, or enhance another from the Readings, Psalm and Antiphons.

Little needs to be said as they speak for themselves in a challenging and profound way.  I have noted from where each of the verses comes within the Liturgy of the Word.

Thus says the Lord:

Is this not the fast that I choose:

To loose the bonds of injustice   ((s. 58:6)

It is well with the person who deals generously and lends,

Who conducts their affairs with justice. (PS 112)

You are the light of the world.

A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. (Mt  5:14)

Light rises in the darkness for the upright:

Gracious, merciful and righteous. (Ps 112)

The fast that I choose –

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,

And bring the homeless poor into your house;

And when you see the naked to cover them? (Is 58:7

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be consoled.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

For they shall have their fill.  (Com. Ant. Mt. 5:6)

I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling ….

So that your faith might not rest on human wisdom,

But on the power of God. (1 Cor 2:5)

In the same way let your light shine on human beings, so that

They may see your good works and give glory

To your Father in heaven.  (Mt 5:16)

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;

You shall cry for help, and he will say,

Here I am.(Is 58:8)

O come, let us worship God and bow low before the God who made us,

For he is the Lord our God. (Ent. Ant. Ps 94:6,7)

The one who has distributed freely, who has given to the poor,

His righteousness endures forever. (Ps 112)

If you remove the yoke from among you,

The pointing of the finger,

If you satisfy the needs of the afflicted,

Your light shall rise in the darkness

And your gloom will be like the noonday. (Is 58:9,10)

Light rises in the darkness for the upright. (Ps Ref.)

I decided to know nothing among

you except Jesus Christ,

And him crucified. (1Cor 2:2)

I am the light of the world, says the Lord;

Whoever follows me will have the light of life. (Gospel  Acc.)

Unafraid of evil tidings;

Their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord. (Ps. 112)

You are the salt of the earth.

You are the light of the world.(Mt 5)

Put your lamp on the lampstand, for all to see. (Mt. 5:14)

For He satisfies the thirsty soul,

And the hungry he fills with good things. (Com. Ant. Ps 106:9)

In this juxtaposition of the this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word  we see the ground work for the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy and the interior soil that is needed for them to flourish within.

So, here are the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.  What is apparent from the Readings is that all works of mercy are spiritual.  They all stem from our being told by Jesus that we are the Light of the world and the salt of the earth – dispelling darkness and bring healing. And St. Paul says in the Second Reading, that this is   – all through the Crucified Christ.
To behave mercifully, is to “worship God and to bow down low before the God who made us.”(The Entrance Antiphon)

The corporal works of mercy:
feeding the hungry
giving drink to the thirsty
clothing the naked
offering hospitality to the homeless
caring for the sick
visiting the imprisoned
burying the dead

The spiritual works of mercy:
admonishing the sinner
instructing the ignorant
counseling the doubtful
comforting the sorrowful
bearing wrongs patiently
forgiving all injuries
praying for the living and the dead

May we be the light of Christ and the salt of the earth – The city on the hilltop for all to see.

The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord – 4th Sunday in Ord. Time Yr. A

Two Turtle Doves or Two Young Pigeons

At the Presentation of a child in the Temple a sacrifice was required of the parents – usually an animal sacrifice – lamb, or goat.  But if the family could not afford such an animal, then they could offer two turtle doves or two young pigeons.  One of the two was killed and the blood sprinkled on the altar and at the foot of the altar of sacrifice, as expiation for sin, and the other bird was burned as a burnt offering when the parents presented their child to the Lord.  If the family was poorer yet, they could offer a tenth of an ephah of wheat flour as an offering for sin committed.  This is very significant, as we shall see.

This feast celebrates the Lord coming into the Temple – the king of Glory has entered his Temple.
The Presentation in the Temple was a celebration of purification for the mother and ceremony of redemption for the child being presented to the Lord at forty days of age.  Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph made an offering of two turtle doves.  We know from the Book of Leviticus, chapter 7, that this was the offering of persons who could not afford an animal of sacrifice. Neither Jesus nor his mother has committed any sin.  Later, at the beginning of his public ministry, we find Jesus again participating in a ceremony of repentance for sin – his baptism.  John tells Jesus that it is not right that he, John should be baptizing Jesus.  Jesus says that John should proceed with the baptism.  John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance.  Jesus identifies with us in the totality of our human condition.  He takes our sins upon himself from the moment his life begins.  The spilling of the blood of one dove on, and beneath, the altar of sacrifice was for repentance.  If one was poorer yet, then the offering was wheat flour that the priest would burn on the altar as a sacrifice of sin.  At the end of his life, Jesus who declared himself as having nowhere to lay his head, very poor indeed, took bread – wheat flour – and offered it as his Body.  A day later this body would spill its blood over, and beneath, the altar of sacrifice, the Cross, as an offering for our sins, that he took upon himself.

St. John, in his Prologue tells us that the Light of the World has come into the world that has its being through him, and the world does not recognize him. (Jn 1:9,10) At the Presentation of the Lord, Jesus, the light of the world has come into his Temple.  Two elderly people of faith, Anna and Simeon, recognize and proclaim him, in joyful awareness of the fulfillment of their faith.  In this joy there is a profound juxtaposition that is so often experienced in the journey of faith.  Simeon and Anna are elated. Simeon in his elation is aware of the pain, upheaval and sorrow, that is an integral part of this Light now present in the Temple.  He is aware that good and evil are on a collision path bringing much sorrow to those who love Jesus – beginning with his mother.  “A sword will pierce your own soul too.” The work of the refiners fire, and fuller’s soap has begun. (Mal.3:2) This joy and pain juxtaposed in lived faith is a sharing in the redemptive action of faith.

There is no room for gush and mush in the story of Christmas which comes to a conclusion today at the end of 40 days!  We only have to call to mind the significance of 40.  The Jews were forty years in the desert in a constant struggle between sin and their covenant of love with the Lord.  Jesus spent 40 days in the desert growing in the awareness of his call to take our sins upon himself, redeeming us from our slavery to sin.  Forty comes to symbolize ‘desert’, a place of struggle with sin, a place that is to bring about a ‘metanoia’, a change of heart.  John comes out of the desert proclaiming this.  So we have in this Presentation an encapsulation of the Old Covenant in its lived struggled with sin, reparation, sacrifice for sin, faithfulness and human weakness within this faithfulness, that leads to sin and blindness. Redemption is at hand – raised up in the hands of Simeon.

This feast of the Presentation in the Temple is then, also a foreshadowing of the Easter Triduum, when the sword would pierce the heart of Mary as Simeon foretold at the time of the Presentation.  Jesus from his infancy took our sins upon himself becoming both the priest and the victim.  Already his ultimate mission was being defined.  As the Reading today from Hebrews says, ”He has come to help the children of Abraham” (Heb 2:16), our father in faith.  At Jesus’ death the veil of the Temple was torn in two – the cross has become the altar of sacrifice for sin – and we all consume that sacrifice for sin – not the High Priest whose roll it was to consume the sin offering, but each and every one of us consume the sacrifice for sin!  And, by so doing are made holy, just as it says in Leviticus 6:20, that anyone who touches the meat of sacrifice “will become holy”.  All of this is contained in embryo, so to speak, at the Presentation in the Temple.  This is what Simeon declared when he said, “Now Lord, you may let your servant go in peace, for my eyes have seen the salvation you have prepared in the sight of all peoples! ….” (Lk.2:29-32)

To think that birds that we fly – pigeons or turtle doves  – as a sign of peace could be the link to such everlasting peace!

What a marvel our faith is, from creation to eternity – no part of it stands alone – but all is one in the Lord!