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The sacred found in the soil -- even a simple garden

By Father Eugene Hemrick
Catholic News Service

When last have you experienced a profound sense of the sacred? If it hasn’t been lately, may I suggest you consider gardening as a means of reconnecting with it?
Why advocate gardening and not going off to a monastery, the hallowed environment of a church or making a retreat? It is not to suggest that gardening is superior. It is because it is often overlooked as a splendid means for increasing our spirituality. Our rushed times are partly responsible for this oversight, as is a society that is becoming increasingly urban and less agrarian.
Gardening fulfills a spiritual role in our lives. When we open the first pages of the Bible, we find ourselves in the Garden of Eden reflecting on the beauty of creation. Adam and Eve could have been portrayed floating in a spell-binding galaxy of stars or atop a magnificent mountain. God’s first choice, however, is a garden. Philosopher Francis Bacon wrote, “God Almighty first planted a garden. And indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures.”
The pleasures of which Bacon speaks are flowers reflecting breathtaking colors only God could paint: vegetation teeming with God’s life and, oh, the heavenly peace.
Playwright George Bernard Shaw said this on the topic: “The best place to find God is in a garden. You can dig for him there.” There are hundreds of creative artists like Shaw who readily offer their insight into gardening. As a gardener, I wholeheartedly concur with those who say they do some of their best thinking while pulling weeds. Besides serving as a place to piece your thoughts, it can also serve as a place to heal.
There were times I thought my world was disintegrating. In these moments, I searched for a quiet, meditative environment. The garden answered my prayer. Its life-giving cheerfulness and powers for releasing a confused mind and anxiety-ridden body was the perfect prescription.
When I was stationed in a farm community, I marveled at the farmers who could see right through many of life’s follies. I related this experience to a priest friend who also was a farmer.
“Gino,” he said, “When you sit on a tractor all day with nothing but your thoughts to accompany you, you see life in a more profound way than most people. The meditative spirit of the quiet outdoors is a blessing of which few people take advantage. If they did, we would experience a much less anxious, hurried and scatter-brain world.”
Gertrude Jekyll, an influential British horticulturist, points us to a connection between spirituality and gardening we seldom consider: “A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.”
It also teaches us to care for others.
As God cares for and nurtures us, we, too, are expected to be nurturers. Gardening is an excellent place to develop these virtues. From the moment seeds are planted they require nutrition, watering and weeding. To be a planter is to take on the role of caring parents, concerned that children grow up healthy and strong.
Undoubtedly these benefits to body and soul are cherished blessings. But the fruits of gardening must be a blessing to others also. There’s a saying that there is shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.
For joy to be true, it must be shared. And I can tell you from experience, that besides the joy of watching plant life grow, nothing capped harvest time better than sharing my produce with neighbors.
Gardening, as we see, is one beautiful way to experience the garden of paradise on earth.

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