anointing and anointed

During last week’s garden retreat, one of our volunteers asked me about the social aspects of gardening. The question gave me pause. I am, largely, a solitary gardener. As such, I’m in tune with the many ways that gardening bolsters my prayer life and aids in my conversion. I also give space in my reflections to the role of gardening in healing both my own wounded places and those of the wider world. But I rarely have the experience of gardening as corporate prayer.

 

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We were clearing brambles to make room for roses, lilacs, and blueberries.

 

This volunteer and his wife, who was also on the retreat, shared with our group the importance of gardening to their married life and the many ways that working the soil together draws them closer. Others on our retreat named similar experiences. Two of our group were a mother-daughter team who had come on the retreat together as a way of sharing a time of contemplative garden work. Another retreatant shared his experience gardening with indigenous people using ancient techniques, and another about gardening with juvenile convicts.

 

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These stories enriched our time together by illuminating the sacramental force of our garden work. And they reminded me that we do not garden for or with ourselves alone. Gardening is a way of channeling our creativity, which is to say a way of inviting the Holy Spirit to flow through our bodies and to guide our hands in bringing forth beauty from the created world. This experience of openness to the Spirit is extremely intimate, and it deepens our awareness of the fundamental unity of body, mind, and spirit. When we share that experience with another or others, it nourishes a kind of intimacy that words alone cannot touch. At the same time, we grow together in relationship with one another and with God.

The healing that comes from this kind of intimacy with one another, ourselves, the land itself, and God is subtle and not immediately apparent. And yet, over time, our communal working and praying attunes us to the quiet movement of the Spirit within and among us, knitting us more and more fully together.

 

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We also prepared the folly to be planted this fall.

 

This conjoining of our spirits with another through the Holy Spirit was obvious on the last morning of our retreat. The seven of us gathered under our grandmother oak in the small cloister. Holding hands, we spoke aloud our thanks, hopes, praise, and awe for the work of God unfolding in and through us. We then laid hands on one another as we anointed each other’s hands with holy oil, much as we had anointed the soil with our sweat in the previous three days.

 

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Looking into the tears in one volunteer’s eyes I could see my own soul reflected there, my own gratitude and my own need for the grace that God so freely gives to us all. Hearing the tremble of another guest’s voice as she spoke aloud her praise for the beauty of God’s creation, I could hear my own awe and reverence. I believe we were all more whole after our few days together.

As our guesthouse prepares to close for August, I offer my thanks for the support of all those who have labored to bring forth beauty on our grounds over the years, and especially to this year’s garden volunteers: Wendy, Mike, Yanick, Randy, Kelly, Jacob, Robin, Robin (there were two!), Puck, Steve, Beth (twice!), Brenda, Lorraine, Hannah, Tessa, Bo, Sunny, Stuart, Meg, and Ken.

If you’re interested in joining future garden volunteer retreats, please check our retreat listings.

 

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midwives of the creation

The garden teaches us wholeness. We are not separate from the earth. Molded from nothing and filled with the breath of God, we and the earth are both a part of the body of Christ. When we walk on the ground, we are walking on Christ’s back. When we breathe the air around us, we are inhaling Christ’s breath. We are, in every moment of every day, in perfect unity with the God who created us and who sustains us moment by moment with the divine life and love.

Gardening is itself a prayer. There are moments in the garden where everything in creation seems to be in sync. The gentle play of light on the tulip illuminates the web of soft undertones on its pinky white skin, and that same skin shines with an iridescence that cries out in praise to the Creator. At such moments, I feel humbled and awed to have been chosen to participate in the revelation of such aching beauty.

As every gardener knows, there are also moments of agony and longing in the garden. And not only when the deer eat the buds off of the roses just before their first bloom. There are also the long, dormant months of winter when the ground is frozen, the landscape bare, and the only sustenance of color comes from stacks of seed catalogues and memories of spring. At such moments I am as much a gardener as I ever was. My winter garden is a garden of hope and longing, and I remember that longing is a true and deep kind of love.

Such moments as these remind me that the earth and I are not separate at all. Rather, the earth is as much a vehicle for conversion and redemption as are my relationships with my brothers in the monastery. In the garden I am revealed to myself. My humble desire to praise the creator with the work of my hands and my self-serving, iron-hard will to have my way at all costs grow together like so much wheat and weeds.

In his beautiful book of gardening meditations, Inheriting Paradise, Vigen Guroian tells the story of the Armenian genocide during World War I. A group of Armenian men were sent on a forced march to their death. During this march a priest named Ashod leads the men in swallowing the dry, parched earth as their Eucharist. Guroian sees in this story a reminder that “we belong to the earth and that our redemption includes the earth from which we and all the creatures have come, by which we are sustained, and through which God continues to act for our salvation.” (p. 12)

So it is with our work in the garden. We gardeners are privileged to participate in the great sacrament, Being itself. We are midwives of the unfolding creation. In allowing us this privilege, God reveals to us at deeper and deeper levels our unity with ourselves, one another, the whole creation, and, of course, God. Christ invites us into the heavenly garden, and we can see, if only for a moment, the shining oneness of all things. Such moments are deeply healing. They are why I garden.

 

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consider the bees

 

It seems appropriate that this, the first, entry on the Holy Cross grounds blog should feature our bees and be published on St. Benedict’s Day. The bee is a potent symbol of monastic life bearing many spiritual lessons, and our bees also live at the heart of what we’re trying to do with our monastery grounds.

Yesterday, due to the hard work of our two bee colonies, the support of all who have donated to the beekeeping fund, and the volunteer efforts of many who have helped to plant pollinator-friendly flowers on our grounds, we harvested fifty pounds of honey. Taking a look at the numbers gives you a sense of what exactly we’re talking about here. Our fifty pounds of honey comes in 65 little bear bottles (soon available for sale in our gift shop) and represents approximately 150,000 flowers foraged since the early spring. And all that from just two colonies.

To harvest the honey, our beekeepers suited up and headed into the bee yard where we removed the top box (called a ‘super’–and let me tell you, it was super-heavy with honey) from each colony. We took the supers inside where we uncapped the frames using a serrated knife, after which we slotted the uncapped frames into the honey extractor. Using centrifugal force the extractor draws the honey out of the frames, through a spout, and into a filter that removes wax and other debris from the hive. Then we filled our bear bottles from the spout on the filtered bucket.

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What’s amazing is how distinct the honey itself is. Even from frame to frame we noticed a difference in taste. The honey from some frames was light and floral, from others rich and fruity, all depending on which flowers had been harvested and when to fill that particular frame. (Notice the difference in the color of the comb on the frames in the picture below.)

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Brother John joined our regular beekeepers Brother Bernard, Brother Will, and Yanick Savain in the harvest. As we were working John asked Bernard about the importance of individual bees to the colony. Bernard told him that the entire colony is really one organism, even though it may contain as many as 40,000 individual bees. The spiritual significance of this statement struck me. What a gorgeous metaphor for the Body of Christ.

Particularly as we face into our country’s racism, violence, and ideological division, laid bare by all the killings this last week, it’s important that we begin to see that we are already one body, a body with Christ’s heart as its heart, pumping the blood of life, even to the furthest extremity. To speak of me or you, of us or them, is as silly as to talk of the life of one bee. Violence toward anyone is really violence toward ourselves.

Many of us understand this concept intellectually, but we rarely get it at the heart level. I am convinced that our difficulty understanding our unity with one another arises primarily out of our difficulty seeing our own fundamental wholeness and unity. We think of wholeness as something that will happen one day when we’ve reached some kind of longed-for perfection. Not so. Wholeness underlies the entire creation. It already is in this very moment, and we all already have it and are it. We all already, right now, are one with God in Christ, which means we are all already one with one another in Christ.

We would do well to consider the bees of the hive, how they work with one heart and one mind, never doubting their unity. The good news of Christ is that the reign of God is now, within and among us. The table is laid, and it’s loaded down with honey. All we have to do is taste.

Happy feast day.

 

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