When our yard was landscaped over a decade ago, the new plants were so small that you could barely see them in the stark expanse of garden rock. Now the plants have matured to the point that the yard almost looks like a desert jungle. But there is still enough space between the plants to present a pleasing appearance.
If you have driven through the Oak Grasslands of California, you have seen my idea of perfect natural spacing. Here and there, the oak trees dot the rolling hills. Somehow they know not to crowd each other. One could easily imagine the Lord strolling through his creation and scattering the acorns that grow into trees. I am reminded of a stanza from “The Spiritual Canticle” by St. John of the Cross:
A thousand graces scattering,
He passed through these groves with haste,
And in gazing at them
With his image alone,
Left them clothed in beauty.
This quiet Lenten season has been a time of peace and reflection for me. Today, we enter the solemn Triduum in preparation for Easter. I will watch the Mass of the Lord’s Supper tonight as it is streamed live from my parish (without the parishioners). This is one of my favorite Masses of the year. I long to receive Holy Communion, but it won’t be possible for me tonight. Yet, I sense there is grace to be received on this quiet day at home.
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.
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.