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.
This morning as I walked in the mountains, I was enjoying the scent of the pines and the cool morning breeze. It took awhile before I began to notice the blossoming weeds that periodically graced the edges of the path. How often do I miss the small treasures in life because I am focused on the big picture? I have a feeling that each little blossom is as cherished by God as the towering Ponderosa.
The purple sage bushes are in bloom all over town. On drip irrigation, they bloom moderately once in a while. However, we had a deluge of a rain about a week ago, and now they are literally covered with blossoms. It seems they prefer the water provided directly by God.
In Southern New Mexico, most farmers still use the ancient method of flood irrigation to water their fields and pecan groves. The Rio Grande River runs from north to south down the center of the state before turning east and forming part of the border between Texas and Mexico. Water is pumped from the river or wells into the mother canals and from there into smaller canals. The farmers open their gates along the way, and water rushes into the fields and floods the land.
This reminds me of St. Teresa of Avila’s analogy of the four ways that she obtained the waters of grace in prayer. In the first, she had to exert a lot of effort to draw water from the well to water the garden of her soul. In the second, devices such as the crank of a water wheel or an aqueduct allowed her to obtain more grace with less effort. (God’s help became more apparent.) In the third, her garden was irrigated with flowing water from a river or spring. (She became even more aware of God’s grace in prayer.) And finally, the Lord poured an abundance of grace on the garden of her soul with no effort on her part at all. (See The Book of Her Life, Chapter 11 et al.)
Since our gardens always need water, may God grant us the
grace to continue in prayer when it requires a lot of effort. And may He grant us the wisdom to open our
gates when He abundantly offers His gifts.
In my garden, there is a shady corner. It’s a place of refuge from the scorching sun and dusty winds.
In my daily life, the time I spend in prayer is my shady corner. There, I can let go of my cares and distractions, or at least, I can try to. I can ask pardon for my failings and experience the peace that comes from acknowledging them. I can pray for the people I love, and I can pray for the world. Best of all, I can simply enjoy the presence of the Lord who never leaves those who love Him and seek Him with a sincere heart.
In my garden, desert toads burrow into the ground and hibernate during the dry spells, only to emerge when the monsoon rains soak the soil in July and August. The garden of my soul has some hidden toads as well. I consider myself to be a happy person. I am at peace with the major mistakes of my life and grateful for my many blessings. Once in a while, though, a hidden toad emerges from the depths of my soul — the hurt from an old wound or an old irritation that should have been forgotten. I am always surprised when these hidden toads come to light. Like the desert toad, my hidden toads can exude toxins. They always bring a period of suffering, but the Lord eventually heals me, and then I find myself freer than I was before. That’s a good thing. Yet, I can’t help but wonder. Are there still more toads hidden in my garden?
After we retired, my husband and I discovered that we loved art. Each piece that we added to our walls added a new dimension of beauty to our lives.
I am attracted to beauty – the beauty of Carmelite spirituality, the inner beauty of the people I love, the beauty of nature and the garden, and last but not least, the beauty of art. Everything beautiful reminds me of God. Pictured above are a few of my favorites: “Blue Tutus” by Eric Wallis, “After the Mass” by Chuck Mardosz, “Embudo Bounty” by James Trigg, and “Texas Tapestry” by Eric Michaels.
A few years ago, my husband and I bought a lot that included 33 mature pecan trees. When the pecans ripened in December, I experienced the wonder of gathering food that fell from above. This was a new experience for me, since I had never lived on a farm or even planted a vegetable garden. I didn’t mind bending and stooping to search through the dry leaves for the pecans, though I was sore for several days afterwards. One tree in particular produced so many pecans that I thought I could live on them for a year. I probably couldn’t have, but so it seemed at the time. We eventually sold the lot, so I only experienced that one abundant harvest. I treasure the memory.
Now it is May, and the pecan trees at the Carmelite Monastery have just come into leaf. It will be seven months before this year’s crop is ready for harvest, but the promise is already here. The earth is full of the goodness of God.