Here in Vancouver spring normally arrives ever so gently and slowly builds toward a moderate summer. This is quite unlike other parts of Canada where spring often arrives swiftly and mightily followed by the hot dog days of summer. Such is the difference in the bioregions across our land. This difference in regions contributes to the beauty of the Canadian landscape and it enriches its peoples. Yesterday with the promise of a sunny, spring day I spent part of the morning working in the garden.
Part of the garden work I did involved aerating the grass, scattering fresh seeds, and applying a layer of compost over the ground. This annual care of the lawn aids in the health of the front and back yards. Mind you these yards are not large, quite small in fact. Still, what with a tall fir tree in the front and a fertile plum tree in the back, our yards contribute to the sustenance of birds and animals that frequent our small urban property. In addition to the crows and sparrows we have regular visits of from raccoons, squirrels, field mice, the occasional skunk, and even the occasional coyote. The trees allow shade to cover portions of the yards, which is most welcome during the warmer days of summer. And of course, the trees assist in cleaning the air so that we can continue to breathe in the oxygen we need. In sum, the grass, the trees and the flowers in their beds help maintain the ecology of our corner of the world.
It seems to me that gardening can be an act of resistance and hope. Given the environmental and health impact of large agribusinesses, the creeping threat to our food supplies by unwise human practices, and the threats to the environment posed by consumerism and unbridled capitalism working to maintain a garden that seeks to live in harmony with the surrounding ecosystem can be a countercultural, resistance work. Moreover, given the scale of challenges that face the human species on the environmental front at this point in history, sowing seeds for a lawn can be a small act of hope in a world on the brink of irreversible environmental damage and long-term economic upheaval. Yes indeed, a few hours of yard work can be good for the soul when seen as an action of hope and resistance.
At a deeper level it can also be an act of prayer. If prayer is communication with the ‘known unknown’, the Ground of Being, the Holy You who we sometimes call ‘God’, then yes, working in the garden can be a form of prayer. For in the garden I can feel the ground beneath my feet and between my fingers; I can listen and talk to the unknown who knows me better than I know myself; and I can talk with the Holy who works in the garden as well. From this time of working in the garden, from this time of prayer, I am then better able to engage with others in the challenges of our time. I think the benefits of gardening is what Julian of Norwich understood and why she wrote the following prayer:
Be a gardener.
Dig a ditch,
toil and sweat
and turn the earth upside down
and seek the deepness
and water the plants in time.
Continue this labor
and make sweet floods to run
and noble and abundant fruits to spring.
Take this food and drink
and carry it to God
as your true worship.
(From Meditations With Julian of Norwich)