My Advent Garden is a ‘sign of contradiction’. A few brave pansies and violas promise to brave the winter, as long as the temperature doesn’t fall too low at night. My Shamrocks are still a delight, but who knows how long they will last? I had to cut back the Desert Bird of Paradise shrubs (pictured upper right). They look dead now, but beneath the surface, they are preparing to offer a profusion of orange and yellow blossoms next year.
In the desert, the cold is a welcome change from the sizzling heat of summer. I miss my flowers, but I am grateful for this quiet time of waiting. I am grateful for this time of preparing for the Life to come.
There are a few golden leaves, but for the most part my garden is still having its last hurrah. The lobelia still bloom, as well as the geraniums and my undefeatable petunia plant. Fresh herbs from my pots still grace my culinary experiments.
The doves that abandoned my garden for a few years have now returned with their extended families. Who knows why?
Every living thing in the garden is all the more precious in light of the change to come.
Along a walking trail beside the Rio Ruidoso (Noisy River) in Southern New Mexico, someone made a collection of little wooden houses filled with fairies (I like to think of them as angels) and trolls (I like to think of them as ‘trouble’), and attached them to the trees to delight children of all ages. A starry wand or a ‘T’ marks the path wherever there is a house hidden nearby. Some of the houses are not easy to find. You have to go off the path and wander among the trees to find them.
I’ve often wondered why we have to wrestle with so many trolls in our lives. Perhaps we need a few trolls to help us recognize the angels.
A few weeks ago, I went on retreat at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in Northern New Mexico. Part of the Benedictine charism is hospitality, and guests are welcome. For all who come to stay, there is daily Mass, Gregorian chant, and communal meals with the monks.
I had a room to myself in the Guest House, which is some distance from the chapel and the main building. I had no computer and no cell phone coverage. Except for a few conversations with friends and an introduction to the monastery donkeys and sheep by Abbot Christian, most of my time was spent in silence.
Here it is late September, and my Crape Myrtle bushes have finally bloomed. (They should have started blooming in June. I managed to consistently water my plants (or have them watered) throughout the season. Next year, maybe I’ll work myself up to fertilization. What can I say? I’m a later bloomer as a gardener.
The “dog days of summer” are here. The days are hot and uncomfortable, and the garden is suffering from the heat. The dog days got their name from the brightest star in the sky, Sirius or the Dog Star, which rose on July 17 according to the Julian calendar. The Romans and Greeks attributed the unpleasant aspects of late summer to the rising of the Dog Star.
However, good things also appear in late summer, and St. Dominic was one of them. There is a curious connection between the saint and the dog days. When she was pregnant, his mother had a vision of a dog springing from her womb with a flaming torch in his mouth that would set the world on fire. At his baptism, in another vision, she saw a star shining from his chest. Not surprisingly, St. Dominic became the patron saint of astronomy.
St. Dominic founded the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans) as a remedy against the Albigensian heresy, which taught that the physical world was evil and only the spiritual world was good. (Hence, procreation was considered evil, and suicide was considered good.) Today is St. Dominic’s feast day. He was born on August 8, 1170, a blessing in the dog days of summer to all those who believe in the underlying goodness of creation.
The pictures say it all. At first glance, the trees all look the same, but a closer look reveals that each is unique. People are much the same. There is a certain tension between our desire for unity and our need to express ourselves as individuals. Another life-long, mysterious pursuit of balance.
Ever since my conversion to Catholicism, I have been fascinated by the mystery of the Incarnation, regardless of the time of year. Christ among us as true God and true man – this mystery seems completely illogical, and at the same time, a stroke of Godly genius. How else could we, who had lost our original connection to God, find him again unless we had a human person, who was also God, to bridge the gap.
One Christmas morning a few years ago, I had a startling realization. Prior to that, I had unconsciously believed that God gave us his Son in the Incarnation, only to take him back in the Ascension. That morning, I suddenly realized that God gave Jesus to be our very own forever. How can I understand the magnitude of this gift? Now my prayer is that God will give me to Jesus to be his very own forever.
In Southern New Mexico we have two summer seasons. From the end of May to mid-July it is hot and dry. Then, sometime in July, the monsoon season begins. The days are slightly cooler. In the afternoons, tall, white cumulous clouds form in the sky. Then in the evenings, if we are lucky, it begins to rain. If we are really lucky, it pours.
The duality of our summers reminds me of the perplexing experience of contemplative prayer. There can be long periods of dryness, when prayer is difficult and unenjoyable. Then, when we least expect it, God pours down an abundance of grace, and prayer becomes delightful again. The dry periods purge us of our arrogance and self-satisfaction. The blessings remind us of God’s marvelous forgiveness and love.