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~ The Spirituality of Gardening ~

Untouched, untainted forests and jungles are exquisitely wondrous. While in them, I don't want to disturb anything. Fauna and flora all combine so perfectly, reflecting primordial creation. I realize, sorrowfully, that I am the contaminating factor. No matter how carefully I explore such pristine environments, I cannot but leave tracks, destructive ones. In my tracks are dead insects who never anticipated the foot of a human to come down on their homes. On either side of my tracks are disturbed brush, some of them bent or broken. The sum total area of my tracks are only a couple square feet, if that. Finding a place to bed down for the night greatly multiples those couple of square feet no matter how small I make my tarp. Hanging my backpack on a tree or placing it on the ground doesn't matter, either way life is destroyed. Forget the tent and the campfire. Their destructive impact on the macro and micro ecologies are equivalent to a weapon of mass destruction. I don't use them, unless, of course, my own survival is at stake. Then I thank life for its sacrifice on my behalf.

The forests and jungles remind me of the heavenly realm. Should I enter the way I am now, I would contaminate it, no matter how respectfully and carefully I journey within it. I am not worthy of such a realm, though I know (and am so grateful) that I am destined for it. Something essential and profoundly critical must happen to me between the here and now on earth and my entrance into the heavenly realm. Some explain that in a "twinkling of an eye" we will be transformed from imperfection to perfection. While there is some biblical support for this premise, most of the literature talks about spiritual formation in this life. "We must work out our salvation with fear and trembling." "Those who exclaim, 'Lord, didn't we do all this in your name?' will be told, 'Leave me, I don't know you.' "

I think I learned a bit about this from watching gardeners, florists, landscapers, and from my own dabbling in these endeavors. The wilderness in my soul is not to be compared with the pristine wilderness one can still find on the earth. That of my soul is more comparable to a vegetable or flower garden. God has gifted us with internal beauty with His flowers and nurturing vegetable plants. A few people we meet exude the fragrance and visual beauty of these gifts, and we are touched, feeling as though God Himself touches us through them. Sorrowfully, this is a rare experience.

So I look upon a little flower garden that adorns a birdbath and a stone labyrinth in my backyard. It constantly needs cultivation and formation. Plants that are perfectly acceptable in the wilderness are not welcomed there. We define these intrusions as weeds, plants that hide the beauty of that which we cultivate, whose roots steal away from them water and minerals. In such a place, we have choices, and the choice we embrace is that of freeing the cultivated flowers and ferns from the intrusive weeds. In that environment, as opposed to the pristine ones, weeds and flowers cannot coexist. The same is true in our vegetable gardens.

So we spend so much time and energy freeing up our treasures, pulling out the weeds and pruning the unproductive parts from our treasured flowers and vegetables. Oh should we be inclined to spend as much time and effort doing the same in cultivating that which we treasure in our souls!

We can, however, attend to the earthly task at the same time as the heavenly one. For example, a few days ago I looked at the encroaching weeds in the flower garden and saw a pursuit of dominance and pride in them. I looked inwardly and saw similar attributes. So as I pulled out those weeds I prayed for what they represented to be pulled out of me. The physical merged with the spiritual. I noticed a few clovers that were actually attractive, but out of place. What in me was attractive but out of place? I reflected on that as I pulled out those clovers. There were a few very pretty weeds and I was tempted to leave them alone. Their beauty, however, was a disguise, and they were encroaching upon what I treasured. I thought of what attributes in me appear beautiful, but encroaching negatively upon the treasures of the kingdom of God. Recalling, "Be not deceived," I pulled them out of the ground and prayed they would be pulled out of me as well.

We need not separate our physical lives and tasks from our spiritual disciplines. Our gardens need lots of attention, and our souls need more. We can attend to both at the same time. If you are in a place where a garden is not possible, you still have dishes to wash, floors to vacuum, objects to dust, clothes to wash. As I dust off my things, I pray for God to dust off my soul. As I wash my clothes, I pray that God washes my soul. As I wash my dishes, I offer it as an act of faith and gratitude that there will be food to place on them tomorrow. Otherwise, why wash them?  These seemingly mundane acts are really spiritual ones.

Ever been on an archeological excavation? Someone sees only the tip of a treasure buried beneath the sand or swamp. The archeologist does not call in the front end loaders to rip it out of the ground. Rather, he painstakingly and slowly removes the sand, dirt, or muck from around the treasured artifact, never touching it. Eventually, it is exposed for the treasure that it is. Only then is it carefully removed for study and preservation. Should not our spiritual treasures be treated the same way?

We all know about "multitasking," doing many things at the same time. Well, we can certainly multitask in the kingdom of God, weeding, washing, cleaning, on earth as we offer these tasks into the spiritual realm. The desert monks had that discipline down pat. They knew the entire 150 Psalms by memory and prayed them as they worked. I don't have the psalms memorized, but tomorrow sometime, I'll look at a weed encroaching on a treasured flower and pray, "As I take this away from my treasured beauty, take away what is in me from your treasured beauty." Such sanctification and formation must happen on a daily basis. Our gardens, kitchens, and living rooms are great places to practice spiritual formation. "Whatever you do, do it in the name of our Lord, as though doing it for Him." This is one way to "Pray unceasingly." It is also a path to spiritual and personal formation we need to continually practice in our daily hours on earth and not wait for death and the life beyond. "Seize the moment" is a spiritual way to live, whether at the moment we are dusting, washing our dishes, gardening, praying or meditating.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
~ Education, Research and Advocacy
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