I wonder if professional gardeners realize how great they have it.
Here we are, insisting we’re just too busy to pull our own weeds, mow our own lawns, and tend to our own flowerbeds, so we pay someone else to do that chore for us.
We also give them a gift.
Sure, they have the occupational hazards of handling and maintaining a power mower, edger, and blower, and the cost of the gas to keep them running. But they gain a therapeutic activity that too many of us pass up. It’s a huge missed opportunity. For peace of mind. For an appreciation of God’s creation.
As many of us are self-quarantined and even a little stir-crazy now, trying to find something meaningful amid restrictions, this becomes more a thought for the moment.
In another life, I believe I was some sort of gardener. I enjoy pulling dandelions and overgrown grass and crazy winding ivy. Getting on my knees and moving dirt. Pruning and transplanting clippings. Picking avocados off the tree. Composting.
We don’t tend to our own gardens, or our lives, nearly enough.
Pulling weeds in itself should be something doctors prescribe instead of antidepressants. Its homeopathic powers are extraordinary, for one simple reason: It eradicates so many poisons from our ecosystem of well-being.
Studies have been done for years about the benefits of gardening. Physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, even hypothetically. The HGTV channel wouldn’t exist unless we watched it, just to calm our minds.
This imagery can take many roots.
Our pastor also recently used an analogy in how he was trying to decipher whether something was a plant or a weed. Some things he saw growing up as a “garden pest” are now being used to dress up wedding floral bouquets at the altar.
“Isn’t that not the same with people?” he asked. “Not all of us have compatible chemistries. There are some people in our lives when we can truly say, ‘I love, but I just don’t like that person.’ Nature teaches us!”
Another priest used the Gospel reading of Matthew 13:36-43 about the parable of the wheat and weeds, asking the congregation whether they knew if what they were pulling up in their garden was a “quality seed” — someone who praised God — or if it was a “weed,” those who reject God. Darnel was known as a poisonous plant that looked like wheat as it sprouts. Is it good in disguise?
“The workers in charge of the field said to the farmer, ‘Sir, you planted quality seed in the field, didn’t you? Where did the weeds come from?’ ‘An enemy did this,’ the farmer replied. ‘Do you want us to pull the weeds?’ the workers asked. ‘No,’ said the farmer, ‘when you pull the weeds, you might pull the wheat out at the same time. Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I will tell the harvest workers to first pull the weeds, then to tie them into bundles so they can be burned, but to also put all the wheat together in my barn.’ ”
After that Sunday homily, I may have been more shy about trying to clean up the backyard garden. Could they all live together in harmony? Instead it created a better thought.
Sure, a rose is but a rose. But what if we rise to this occasion.
As this Lent was about to start, we were compelled to suggest the launch of a gardening ministry, where on the first Saturday of each month we would seek out local parishioners who needed help tidying up their yards. It felt like a win-win proposition. Before we could plant the idea to take root, the recent coronavirus life got in the way.
I write this as I am drinking coffee out of my brown mug that reads “I’m Pausing Now.” It comes from Terry Hershey, one of the must-visits we make every year for the Religious Education Congress in Anaheim. We now appreciate how 2020 REC even happened. It came early, before Lent, but could easily have been canceled if it had been scheduled for anytime in March.
Hershey has a self-described career as a gardener, but that’s a ruse. His newsletters are all about tending to his garden, which become magical moments in a process that allows things to pop into his head and ponder. He then conveys them as this spiritual guidance counselor from Seattle.
As our church continues to encourage video-conferencing of our small-group LinC gatherings, we recently shared our passions about what keeps us closer to God these days. One of our members owns a prolific exotic plant business.
“Horticulture may be the only profession where one looks forward, after working all day, to returning home, anxious to continue working in his profession until sundown,” he said. “There is never enough time to spend immersed in nature. It is also the best place to talk to God.”
As we look to TV and movies to pass the time now, maybe God also led us by chance to reconnect with “Being There,” where Peter Sellers’ simple character known as Chance, a gardener, ends up dispensing philosophical wisdom. It is considered to be profound by those who are too busy following their self-indulgent lives.
Not to give away a biblical-based ending, but the lesson is how Chance doesn’t realize what he can’t do because he doesn’t understand his limitations. It also makes us wonder if, in another life, Chance was in charge of the Garden of Eden.
A gardener’s outlook on life, again, can be as small as the grain of mustard seed in the metaphor. The care of God’s creation is one of the seven tenets of Catholic social teaching, but how to care for it seems to have many entry points.
As we tend to spring cleaning, and spiritual cleansing, I propose an idea that, if not now but sooner than later, consider gathering our gardening tools and helping others when we are able to not keep such a social distance from one another.
Invite your neighbors to join the process, if not physically, then as the project coordinator, leading to more conversation, exchanging ideas, and more human connection.
Everyone, breathe deeply. The residual effects are evergreen.