Have I mentioned that my garden is enclosed within walls? It is my sanctuary, my cloister, my retreat. Yet, it is not completely hidden. There is an opening with a blue gate that allows family and friends to enter, and allows me to go out into the world, hopefully to share the beauty I have experienced with God in the garden. Yesterday at Mass in the Gospel reading, Jesus said: “I am the gate for the sheep … whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” (Jn 10:7,9) Christ is the Beautiful Gate. My garden gate is only a reflection.
A couple of decades ago shortly after I converted to Catholicism, I went on a private retreat in the coastal mountains of California. A religious sister from another Order was staying there at the same time. One day I asked about her prayer life. She gave me an answer that has helped me many times over the years. She said that she had her morning coffee with the Lord every day. Sometimes, she talked to him about the coming day – her plans, hopes, and concerns. Sometimes, she and the Lord just sat together in comfortable, silent companionship. This morning I had my coffee with the Lord in the garden. The dog was lazing in the sun. The bees were visiting the blossoms. All was well in the world.
It was windy and cold in my garden today, so I could only gaze at my flowers through a window. Late in the day, I went to Home Depot and bought three new herb plants to add to my existing two. On my way home I saw a man walking near the cathedral. I have seen him in the area many times. He looked today, as he always looks, bent over and downtrodden. In cold or heat, he hides under a hoodie. Sometimes he comes to Mass at the cathedral. There, he keeps his head down. At the Sign of Peace, he never greets the people around him or responds to the greetings of others. He appears to personify every aspect of poverty: mental, emotional, and physical. I don’t know if he is homeless. I have never seen him beg. I suspect that his presence among us is somehow significant, even important. He is a mystery. Later at home after dinner, the wind had died, and a gentle rain was falling. I planted my new herbs in the twilight. From left to right above: Italian Oregano, Spearmint, Lavender, Sweet Basil, and Rosemary. The man and the mystery of poverty were still on my mind.
The cacti in my garden bloom every spring in luscious shades of red, orange, peach, yellow, and pink. Most of the blossoms last only for a day. If I go out of town or forget to go into my garden, I miss them. Like many precious things in life, their beauty is fleeting. The cacti pictured above are an exception. Every spring they are crowned with halos of pink blossoms that last for a couple of weeks. The blossoms are so lovely that I forgive my cacti for the times when I accidentally brush against them and pick up their spines. This morning a particularly nasty one poked through my shoe and stuck my little toe. I REALLY must learn to watch where I’m going.
In a rocky area of my garden, for a few weeks I was pulling up little shoots that kept coming up through the rocks. They were different than the usual weeds that grace my garden, very tough and difficult to dislodge. Then I went out of town for a week. Imagine my surprise when I returned and saw these “weeds” blooming as volunteer lobelia plants from last year’s garden. What a shame I pulled up so many of them before I saw them bloom! The Master Gardener has been busy again.
One thing I’ve learned about gardens is that they need regular care. My garden is a desert garden. If I forget to water the tender plants for a few days, there is a good chance I will lose some of them. I also have to remember to feed them, and I have to regularly remove the spent flowers if I want an abundance of new blossoms to appear. The shrubs need to be pruned, or they grow spindly and wild. The walkway needs to be swept, so friends can enjoy the garden when they come to visit. I am an imperfect gardener, so there is an occasion failure in my garden due to my own fault. God is the perfect gardener. As a result of his constant attention and care, I will continue to draw breath, and my heart will continue to beat until it is time for me to meet him face to face. Praise him!
The Carmelite nuns love to adorn the sanctuary of their monastery with flowers, handmade banners, and ribbons around the candles. When I stopped for a moment of prayer yesterday, branches loaded with red roses were spread out profusely in front of the altar. (See attached photo.) The roses took my breath away, but it was the love expressed in the decorations that truly moved me. All of the nuns’ efforts were for the One who is truly present in the consecrated hosts reserved in the tabernacle – the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.
When I pray in the garden, everything I need to know about God is all around me. The garden is teeming with life – branches, leaves, and flowers sway in the breeze. Bees buzz, and a hummingbird zooms in close to look at me before gathering nectar from the nearby cherry sage. God loves life. God gives life. God is life.
Today I drove to Lincoln, New Mexico, one of the most well-preserved Old West towns in the United States. The infamous Lincoln County War took place there between 1876 and 1879 as two factions struggled for economic control of the area. Billy the Kid was involved in the murder of the sheriff who had supported the faction he opposed. Later, after his capture and trial, Billy escaped from the town jail by shooting two of the deputies. Main Street became known as the most dangerous street in the United States. In the late 1800s, the town had around 800 residents. Now, the 50+ residents and the State of New Mexico maintain the historic buildings, including the former Catholic church. Catholic residents must drive to a nearby town to attend Mass. The old church in Lincoln can be rented by the public for weddings, funerals, and other events. Yet the crucifix inside remains. Christ never leaves completely.
May 1 – the Optional Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker. It was instituted in 1955 by Pope Pius XII to Christianize the concept of labor as a counterbalance to the international Communist (atheist) celebration of the worker on the same day. Although I appreciate the value of work as much as the next person, I always think of the saint as St. Joseph the Dreamer. According to the first two chapters of Matthew, he acted upon his divinely-inspired dreams no less than four times. As a result of his courage, Jesus lived to fulfill the Father’s will and become the Savior of the world. May we all have the courage, like St. Joseph, to acknowledge our dreams when they are divinely inspired and act upon them. Who knows how we might change the world?