When my boys were young, I attempted a backyard garden. Not a large garden full of a variety of culinary delights, but a small pumpkin patch. I’ve never been a very good gardener but I thought this was doable. When I was about 9 years old, my dad was tilling his garden when I cried out that he was tilling the pumpkin seeds I had just planted. He was not pleased. Pumpkins, he told me, take over a garden and he had other plans for this one. He tended the garden well and we both received the harvest we were hoping for. With this one success in my past, I believed a small pumpkin patch would be simple but I love to plant but detest weeding.
Weeds In My Garden
Of course, the weeds came. I thought I might apply the biblical doctrine to the garden and let them grow with the fragile plants until harvest. As the pumpkin vines grew, I attempted to prune them back, without disturbing the pumpkins but to no avail. The vines grew up the fence and tried to push well beyond the borders. Actually, on the whole, enormous pumpkin vine, there were only two pumpkins, one for each of the boys.
There was a good lesson in this gardening experiment for me. We try to tend and keep our boy’s souls fertile; they are the precious produce. We try to preserve them from the weeds of the world and as they grow they want to expand their borders while we attempt to repair the fence. Thankfully, my futile attempts at gardening are not reflected in our kids. In fact, they have grown to become fine young men.
My next experiment with gardening proved to be more fruitful as I opted for potatoes. A master gardener had told me how I could make bags from landscape fabric, toss in some dirt with the spud starters and just let it go. Even a novice like me could do it. What could go wrong, especially where no weeding was involved? Armed with new enthusiasm I filled my spud sacks and just let them go. We were very pleased with the results and I had a new found enthusiasm for a garden as long as it involved planting roots. Very deep roots are the only thing that makes sense to me at this point in my life.
Weeds of Fear
Some summers after my gardening experiment I flew for the first time in 14 years. I know…what does this have to do with gardens? Everything. I didn’t just go on any trip, I went on a pilgrimage to Rome. It was hard for me to get past the weeds of fear in my heart. Fear of flying, fear of being away from home on my own, even though an old hobbit deep inside of me was yearning for the adventure. After much prayer and a leap of faith, I found myself crossing the Atlantic, not knowing what God wanted from me. I only knew that I had to go, was compelled to go and let Him lead me anywhere He wanted my feet to go.
Staying in a little convent run by retired nuns, my room overlooked ruins which were a part of a larger section with 4 pagan temples. The walls of the convent were very old and very deep with tall windows that reached for the ceiling and cranked outward. I stood for an hour just thanking God. My heart was overflowing with blessings, filled up, packed and shaken down, spilling over with His blessings and my gratitude. Letting the Lord lead me to many places dispelled so many fears, and uprooted those nasty old weeds in my soul. He brought me to the church of St. Francis of the Stigmata, where he showed me my heart like those big ancient windows in my convent room, and they were flung open in response to Him. Such pure, simple, joy. I perceived that He made me simple and I understood the simplicity to be a gift.
Our Soul Is a Garden
Home from the pilgrimage my heart continued to be in open communication with Him in the Blessed Sacrament and in prayer. I thought about my heart as a big window. Looking within imagined a beautiful English garden for the Lord. St. Catherine of Siena said,
our soul is transformed into a garden filled with fragrant blossoms of holy desire. And in the center of the garden is planted the tree of the most holy cross, the resting place of the spotless Lamb. He bathes and waters this garden, irrigating it with his blood; and he himself bears the mature fruit of true solid virtues.
This is what I wanted my heart to be but in all reality, I’m not that garden at all. Remembering He made me simple, I prayed, opening the big windows to my garden, and pictured the Christ child, playing within. This image seemed delightful at first, but on closer inspection, there were many of those nasty weeds, and I just don’t like weeding. I’m no good at it. My garden gets choked off and I don’t know the weed from the flower. So here I imagine Him, playing in the garden and reaching for a flower, but instead, the weeds and thorns of my heart pierce Him.
The Master Gardener
The garden of my heart needs a Master Gardener. I need Jesus to be that gardener and decide what grows best in my soul. If I am not the English garden then what am I? If I want my heart to be a place for the Divine Infant, then what would attract Him? What would work simply for the way He simply made me?
Milkweed and Dandelions! Dandelions are some of the first foods for bees. We need those bees and the honey they make which is so healthy for us and makes life sweet. The roots of the Dandelion also make a healthy tea. My father would also pick the blossoms to eat. Milkweed attracts Monarch butterflies, and butterflies, a symbol of transformation and rebirth. The roots of both are so very deep, the way I want my soul to be rooted in Christ.
The Child Jesus is welcome to this garden and as any child knows the delights of blowing off the seeds from the flower for the wind to take and plant, I welcome Him to blow the seeds, for the Holy Spirit to gently blow them and plant them where He will. It’s a simple garden but He made me simple. Still a work in progress, and at times seemingly dormant as the roots dig deep. I imagine Him sitting in this garden, the Master Gardener, waiting while the roots run deep, unseen, waiting for a springtime of simplicity. I also wait with Him, knowing if I allow Him to root out the weeds of fear in me, there will someday be a beautiful harvest.