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The Spiritual in Nature
Have you ever sat in awe of a glorious sunset? Or stood dwarfed by a mountain range soaring above you? Have you stopped in your gardening to marvel at a dew kissed rose? We often think of the spiritual as something disconnected from the natural world. Spiritually we think, is about God or the power of our minds or the mysterious silence deep in our disembodied souls. But it’s a false duality to cut the spiritual off from the natural. The ancient celts believed that the natural world was a sort of scripture (sacred “text”), revealing the beauty and wonder of the Divine. And they aren’t alone. All around the globe we find cultures that have encountered the spiritual in the experience of the natural world.
The Divine in The Garden
Whatever you chose to call the Other: God, Divine, Mystery, Nature, the Universe; the natural world gives us a window into that which is beyond our comprehension. In the splendor of a craggy mountain range we can feel and experience how ancient and vast our world is, and how small we are. Among the pounding surf of the ocean we can glimpse the power of the Universe behind all things, the great and mysterious engine from which it all began and that keeps it all running. In the sunrise and the sunset we glimpse Beauty in her purest form. And yet, we don’t have to be awed, or shocked to experience Holiness in the world around us. We can also experience the revelation of God in the simplest of things.
Sit and watch a wild honey bee hive in an old tree and you will glimpse the wonder of creatures who build for each other, and for a future they will not live to see. Prune the spent blooms from thorny rose bushes and you will be given a lesson in letting go of the past so that a new and beautiful future might grow. Spend patient years adding compost and mulch to poor, dry soil and you will be part of a miracle as the barren becomes fertile and lush. You and the worm, partners in the miraculous.
Gardening: Connecting with our… roots
If you’ve never gardened you might scoff, who ever thought of a worm as magical. And yet without them nothing would grow. The soil would grow compacted and hard, the roots of plants would slowly suffocate, nutrients would lie on the surface unused and untilled. The smallest of creatures, the simplest of beings is at the root of so much wonder, and so much life. We human beings tend to look for miracles in the big and the grand. We want fireworks and drama. But the miracles that unfold all around us every day are what keeps the universe spinning. They are what keeps our air breathable, and our bellies full. Our ancestors who lived close to the land knew this well. Even a few generations ago most humans grew their own food, raised animals as companions in survival. They knew intimately the miracle of another winter survived and the first warm breezes of spring.
We lose a great deal when we lose our connection to and partnership with the natural world. We forget that we are part of this miracle that is our blue-green planet. Instead we walk around believing that we matter because of what we can produce, or what we own. We fall prey to the idea that life is about getting more and more until it ends, or of beating the person next to us out of the stop light. And the miracle becomes drudgery and we become cogs in a great grinding machine that does not care about us one way or another.
But the Universe is still there, still breathing miracles into every moment and we really can reconnect with our roots. We can rediscover the divine in the little daily things.
Getting your Hands Dirty
It’s one thing to look at a beautiful sunset, or marvel at a lovely vista. It’s something else to actually take part in the miracle at which you marvel. But that is exactly what a gardener does every time she kneels down and digs into the dirt. Gardening doesn’t have to be complicated, and you don’t need a huge yard to do it. Even a window box, or a small apartment balcony can be all you need to garden. My first garden (as an adult) was a line of planters on my balcony.
They were an ugly mismatched lot I’d picked up on sale or gotten as hand-me-downs. But in them I mixed mulch and good soil and planted everything from vegetables to violets. I threw plants and soil and water together with abandon. Next I filled up an old tub with rocks and water and had myself a little water garden. For years I crammed as many pots as I could manage onto that balcony and spent quite a bit of time every day careful watering them by hand.
Some of plants I chose burned up on that hot concrete with no shade, some grew as if they were in paradise. With
every failure and success I learned a little more. And I kept coming back. I was hooked. When I bought my first house my only requirement was a yard in which to garden. The house might have been a little less than ideal (understatement) but that yard grew everything I stuck into the soil as if it was it’s job. I’ve moved many times since but there’s always a pot, or a bit of dug up soil. Because getting your hands dirty is addicting. Being part of the miracle of creation is something you can’t just give up once you’ve done it.
Gardening: Midwife and Nurse
Gardening teaches our souls quietly and well about the natural rhythms of life. Every year (unless you live in the tropics) your garden will die as fall shifts into winter and temperatures grow cold and light short. The ground will rest, it will lie fallow through all those cold months, sleeping under a blanket of snow. And in the spring a miracle will happen, as the rains melt the cold away and the sun slowly returns, so will life. From all that death and emptiness will come little new leaves. Roses will push up fresh green canes from the ground. Bulbs will push out of the snow and throw fragrant blossoms around before winter has even given up.
Death and life
Gardeners know that death isn’t the end, that life is a cycle. With their hands in the still cold spring soil gardeners know in their bones that things must die for new things to become. And those who spend much time in the garden at all can tell you that those long barren months when the plants all sleep are necessary. Without them there would be no spring flush of blooms, no sudden wild growth. Without rest, without a pause we slowly wither away in summer exhaustion.
And those who garden, even if it is just little pots of annuals on a deck, know the joy of new life, and it’s inevitability. Just try to leave a pot barren and empty, try it. Something will take root there. Some weed blown by the wind or dropped by a sparrow will make a go of it. Whether you want it to or not. The question isn’t if life will follow death, it is how we will nurture and care for that newness.
Results you can see, and feel, and smell
One of the greatest gifts of gardening is that it’s real, and now, and visible. A great deal of the work we do in the 21st century is hard to grasp. We type words into computers that will never be printed, never be held in our hands. We contribute little bits to enormous projects that will take years to complete, that we might never see finished. Even if we work with people closely more and more of our customers are strangers we will never see again. It can become disheartening and frustrating to never see the results of all our hard work.
A garden is the opposite of all of this. Every weed we pull makes a real and immediate difference, every load of mulch we move. When we plant new flowers, or prune our existing bushes, the results are tangible and immediate. They are long term as well. That rose we planted three years ago has now completely covered the arbor we’ve tied it to. The strawberries that started as a few little plants have taken over a whole garden bed. Our labor, and nature’s labor, work together and we can see, feel, and taste the results.
Living With the Seasons
Gardening also roots us into the rhythm of the seasons. If your house has central heat and AC your life might not be much different summer and winter. But gardening reminds us that there is a time for everything. The gardener rests in the winter, and plans for the next year. It is a time of possibility and becoming, but also of sabbath and space to heal and slow down. Spring wakes us up, it shakes us out of our old habits and complacency with a big dose of sunshine and newness. Spring won’t let us pretend that things will always be the same, and that the sun will never return to our lives.
And summer, right now we are baking in her heat. The garden has slowed down, it’s a little like the patient waiting of winter but different as well. The extremes of heat and cold trigger rest and conservation of energy. Suddenly shade is worth it’s weight in gold and rain is a welcome friend to refresh and renew. Even the ending that is coming, even fall is looked forward to because in that last season we know the rest of summer will give way to a huge flurry of creativity and beauty before winter starts it all again. In the fall we are reminded of the ending of things, of the incredible need to enjoy what we have because in the morning the frost may have ended it.
Now, time to learn from one another! What has the Earth taught you? Where do you most need her wisdom in your life?