The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth.
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden,
Than anywhere else on earth.
The poet Dorothy Frances Gurney wrote those lines in 1913 and they totally resonate with me. In the spring and summer my favourite place to start my day in with a coffee on the porch. There is something so peaceful and calming about looking at plants – something life-affirming. Between last night and this morning I swear one of my plants grew an entire inch! Life lives, life persists! This is what our gardens teach us.
During the times in my life where I’ve been in discernment about which way I should go, what commitments I should make, it has been walking in city parks and running on city trails, taking a blanket and laying on the grass, just sitting in public gardens and parks that has helped me to hear myself, to hear Spirit’s call, and to come to a sense of confirmation and clarity.
The physical work of gardening – the digging, the weeding, the turning, the raking – all of it can absorb our complicated and tough emotions. Our gardens are visual conduits to meditating on life’s big questions: how do we thrive? And our gardens keep us in touch with our planet’s cycles and seasons.
Growing up I never understood why adults would willingly spend summer days working outside – I didn’t understand how that could possibly be relaxing, centering, calming – but I get it now that I have my tiny Toronto-sized square of a backyard. There is something so satisfying about sitting in your chair at the end of a day of cleaning up the yard – the black earth freshly turned, receptive now to sun and rain, the neatness and order of a plot, weeds pulled – you’ve enabled life itself to grow and thrive and blossom and nourish. Memories of my ancestors are inseparable from their gardens. When I think of my great grandpa I think about helping him pull carrots and I can still taste their sweetness. When I think about my great gran I picture her greenhouse and her goldfish pond. I can feel the grass and remember running in my grandma and grandpa Kaasa’s backyard with that orange ball me and my brothers used to play with. With the taste of a warm cherry tomato I can travel back in time to summer and my mother-in-law’s garden in Comox, a peach dripping juice down my chin and I’m nine years old on summer vacation in the Okanagan at my grandma Bernice’s house.
“Do not be afraid of the tangling, wandering chaos of rhizomes,” the poet Wendy MacLean writes. Gardens affirm to us that there is more to everything than what we perceive on the surface. Beneath the Eastern Redbud tree, in the soil under the raspberry bush, weaving and reaching below the lilac is a whole network of underground roots, “like the prayers of long-dead saints working miracles out of season.” Our gardens affirm a power more ultimate than politics and privilege – an opportunity to feel the sun, the deepest source of energy, and to revel in nature’s proclamation that life is abundant and abundant life is meant for all.
The Christian tradition affirms that God reveals Godself in nature, that we get to know who God is and what God is about by spending time outside, with creation, with our plants. The United Church of Canada’s A Song of Faith, our most recent statement of faith, says this: “Each part of creation reveals unique aspects of God the Creator, who is both in creation and beyond it. All parts of creation, animate and inanimate, are related. All creation is good. We sing of the Creator who made humans to live and move and have their being in God.” There are echoes of Paul in his speech to the Athenians at the Aereopagus, or, as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it: “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.” We can find Spirit’s insights and teachings and proclamations to us anywhere and everywhere.
Wherever you are this weekend – in your backyard, up at your cottage, on your balcony, sitting in a patch of green at a city park, inside looking a vase of flowers or out the window – may you be gifted with the revelations of nature and our gardens. May your mental health and wellness be boosted by the proclamations of Spirit through the natural world. Life is meant for thriving. This is God’s intention for you. Spirit calls us to improve the growing conditions of all living things. Where any living being is thwarted from sunshine, nutrition, connection, care, God calls us to fix the conditions. Enjoy the growing. “You do not know where you start or where you end in this clump of earth. So just enjoy the growing.” May green space be a balm and a teacher, even “the dandelions that interrupt our plans with yellow disdain for certainty.” Amen.