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  • Writer's pictureRachel F

Contemplative Gardening

At the beginning of July we were invited to participate in a garden tour for the town of Roxbury and we spent the better part of a week cleaning, mulching, adding compost, trellising, and harvesting in an outdoor version of the game “people are coming in 15 minutes time to clean the house!” Then, the morning of the tours, our only role was to sit in the garden and welcome whoever came. It was a rare moment for us - both Jonathan and I - to experience stillness in the same space. Not only that, but in a space that is usually reserved for intense labor. We sat together between the beds and waited.

The vegetable garden at Heartberry Hollow

I’ve often heard it said in gardening circles that a gardener’s feet are the best fertilizer. In my experience…I think the cow poop helps. But I have noticed without fail that the years I spend 20 minutes or more each day in my garden - even just looking at my plants, are always more productive, beautiful, and lively than the years I squeeze a half hour in once a week. The only thing we truly have as our own is our attention, and it grows in spiritual stature when it is given away. This is as true in gardens as it is in traffic jams, high rises, forests, and grocery stores. Where we give our attention is where we share our power, and the places we share our power deepen, grow, and encourage other realities to come forward. This is etched in beautiful relief through the nutritious diverse foods of a well tended garden. The same attention placed on violence and control is reflected in excruciating detail in the bloated military and policing budgets of our common life here in the United States. All of our attention, all of our power, whether considered individually or collectively, shapes and remakes our reality.

There is a shocking truth that lives in every bank, hollow, plain, and hillside. The truth is that we really do have the ability to crystallize into being the reality of Eden on every square inch of the planet. That is, in fact, our role, our genomic vocation. We can midwife this through witnessing in awe the depth beneath the seemingly ordinary enfleshment of rock and twig, leaf and acorn. Living with an awakened heart deep where our feet are rooted is the first step. Noticing from the heart, the heart of the beloved around us is the second step. In a garden, this may come more easily, but it is the remedy for every evil that lurks in the corners of the earth. Part of a healing process for racism, violence, supremacy, or addiction is attention in love to the source of the pain, not avoidance or shaming. Perhaps our gardens could become the seedbeds for practicing the ability to be present in love so that through our practice we can join in the creation of Eden together, now.

Shelling peas and iced tea in the garden.

Watching neighbors and guests move through our garden on that sunny morning, brought this vision of co-creating Eden into full relief. When the two children started chasing bumblebees through the waving borage plants, or the old friends smiled at the ingenuity of the tomato trellis, it felt like watching radiance take shape. There was a freeness to play, explore, to simply, be. It is this freedom in our creatureliness that the earth draws out of us, and it is to be so cherished. As Jonathan and I sat, caught up in the awe of the dance between soil and seed, we could feel ourselves being brought toward fullness like the green tomatoes swelling toward ripeness in the summer sun.

Companion planting of carrots, peas, onions, and borage. With duck coop in the background.

Natura Divina

St Francis wrote about reading from the two books of revelation: the book of scripture and the book of creation. Many people, myself included, are familiar with the process of “reading God” or Lectio Divinia. This practice includes reading a short text of scripture multiple times to listen for the spark or divine invitation in yourself that opens toward a word, phrase, or idea. The spiritual practice of gardening invites a process from the other book of revelation, the book of creation. The practice of Natura Divina, involves the same sitting with and “reading God” but with nature rather than written text.

For this practice, I invite you to wander in a place that is relatively unshaped by human imagination. Let your attention wander until something catches your gaze. Once it does, introduce yourself (you can use words if you’d like) and allow it the opportunity to introduce itself to you. This introduction will most likely rely less on a verbal exchange of pleasantries, and more as a sensory exploration. What does this creature/plant/being look like? Sound like? Smell like? Feel like? Let the space for this introduction take as much time as it invites. Then, in response, offer an acknowledgement such as, “I see you.” Allow your companion to move deeper with you, What relationships might exist between this being and humans? Does it offer itself for food? For fiber? For medicine? What does it require to flourish? Allow this deepening to take as much time as it needs. You may want to pose a question to this companion. It could be something you have been working on in spiritual direction. I often ask “What is mine to do today? What is mine NOT to do?” Allow plenty of space and time for a potential response. Finally, offer a gratitude back to your companion. If you are working with a plant, and it feels appropriate to do so, it can be beautiful to offer the plant a small amount of your saliva by spitting on the ground. This waters the roots and gives a piece of yourself back in return for the plant giving of itself.

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