f Morning Rose Prayer Gardens: 2012

Friday, December 28, 2012

Winter 2012 Silver Tree and Christmases Past

My grandparents, Harold and Margaret in 1922. To read a wee bit about my own family tree, click here for Christmases Past .

Friday, December 21, 2012

Winter 2012 Christmas Houseplants

During the Christmas season poinsettias, Norfolk pines, Christmas cactus, cyclamen and rosemary are often purchased to decorate our homes or given as gifts. Knowing how to care for these popular holiday plants can be a challenge. So for those of you with the not-so-green thumb, here are some basic care instructions about caring for Christmas houseplants.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Winter 2012 Christmas Evergreens and Symbolism

Evergreens for early Christians symbolized everlasting life. Here, in the launguage of flowers, are their individual meanings: Christmas evergreens symbolism.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Winter 2012 @pontifex and Gardens

A Papal Twitter account? My head is spinning and my grandmother is probably twirling in her grave. Read more at The Catholic Channel at Patheos.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Christmas 2012 Gifts for the Gardener

I know…this is supposed to be about Christmas greens…next week, I promise. I’ve had several friends ask for another column about gifts for gardeners. So, by request…here are a few gift suggestions that can be found on my page at Patheos.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Autumn 2012 Rosemary and Christmas

I'm on a mission to dethrone the poinsettia as the Christmas plant in Catholic homes and churches with the herb Rosemary officinalis.

Did you know that this herb was present in Jesus' life from the day he was born? Read the rest of the story in my column at Patheos

Friday, November 16, 2012

Autumn 2012 Seasonal Changes

...Most of us easily recognize the signs in nature that indicate movement in time; cycles and rhythms. But do we recognize similar signs in our spiritual life? Can we point to the cycles of faith in our present time and say “Yes, here it is again…this is Our Lord’s movement”?...Read the full column at Patheos.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Autumn 2012 Peace Lilies

Peace Lilies

In the Adoration Chapel...My thoughts and prayers begin to focus on a woman, near my own age, who has faced too many traumas in her life. She was recently found near death in a motel room after a failed suicide attempt...my thoughts and prayers continue at Patheos.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Autumn 2012 Rummaging for Food

Rummaging for Food

...We too face times of hardship, though we lack the instincts to know when they will come. We think we have readied ourselves, tried to prepare sufficiently for those times when our world turns cold and hard. Sometimes we succeed, often, we do not.
It is then that we must intentionally seek sustenance. We start to rummage for God...
To read more, please visit my column at Patheos Catholic Channel 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Autumn 2012 Goldfinches, Lilies, and the Elections

Peeps and Politics
...I try to make informed decisions but tend to give up about half way through the learning curve, feeling less illuminated than when I started. I have found over the years that after an election, what I’d hoped was accurate information was advertising in the name of game and gain... To read more, please see my latest column on Patheos.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

October 2012

To all of you who follow my columns, please click here and you will be redirected to my new location at the Catholic Channel at Patheos. Once there, if you scroll down a bit, on the right you will see a way to continue to subscribe to my writings by email and automatically receive updates. Please sign up, won't you?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Autumn 2012 Changes are coming!

Branching Out

I feel like a little violet among the mighty oaks.
     I am delighted and honored to announce that my blog will soon be moving. I will be joining the Catholic Portal web page at Patheos. This is a snapshot of the banner. Isn't it lovely! (Thanks to Hillary.)

     I will post the link to my columns on Patheos once their team has completed the transfer. The columns will continue to be posted on Fridays.
     I would like to share with you this quote by Thomas Merton that I read each day before I begin to write: To do this work carefully and well, with love and respect for the nature of my task and with due attention to its purpose, is to unite myself to God's will in my work. In this may I become his instrument.
     I will contiue to try and remaining true to Our Lord, being his instrument, and listening for his whisper in the garden. Thank you for your encouragement and loyalty to my columns. It is because of your sharing that others have come to these pages, and maybe found their own solace through God's creation.


Autumn 2012 Prayers

Autumn Prayers
                Autumn moves in with its usual quiet grace. I took note the other day that the shrubs and trees have become peppered with color. I smile to myself and think of my own autumn-of-life with hair becoming peppered gray—and the next thing I knew, almost white! I had changed and like the trees, in due season and incrementally.
                In Michigan, and throughout the Midwest, there are visual seasonable changes in nature. There are also expectations of what each season brings. The greening in spring and the coloring dormancy before winter, the migration of birds into a region and their eventual return to warmer climates as the temperatures drop, are just a couple of the things I know and anticipate each year.
                I like the rhythm of it all, when everything is not always the same. This shift leads me to alter my perspective, to see things differently, to pray in different ways. The energetic prayers of springtime are not the same as those said during times of slowing down entering winter.
                I find that age—young or mature—dictates my response to change. The sudden shifts that took place in my youth would be harder to manage these days. I like change in moderation and can adapt well with a show of grace. It is dramatic changes that are jolting; when the scenery becomes unfamiliar and uncertainty skews my view.
                There was a time as an adult when I came to fully embrace Catholicism. It was then that I was jolted by the reality of my relativistic decisions as compared to the new scenery of faith, and found myself disoriented in my ethics.
                The prayers of my early years, chronologically and spiritually, were vigorous, eager, and thrust unto the Holy with certainty of specified resolution. The prayers that I now pray are much less frenetic and are presented with fullness and patience. I have no less confidence that they are being heard, but my expectations of how they will be answered are less defined.
Like the gentle, slow and steady pace of changing leaves at the end of a season, my prayers are slowly spoken, and hopefully more graceful in their petition. Seasons change as do our lives and how we pray. We live in all our seasons with assurance of the rhythm—day by day, familiar with the pace.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Autumn 2012 A Walk with Pat Gohn

Sacred Walk 
      A beloved friend, Pat Gohn, the voice of Among Women, is in Colorado. She recently sent pictures back of a morning walk praying the rosary. One of the pictures is of a very old log across a stream, and it evokes for me the Holy in nature. The power of God in mountains, his flow in our lives like the stream, the death and life present in the frame of the photo leads me to ask myself, “Where is my sacred place on this earth?”
One would assume the answer to be at the retreat center where I have spent the better part of ten years working the gardens, but that is not so. Though the gardens are serene spaces of prayer, intentionally numinous, they do not often move me to awe.
Where I have come closest to the God of Earth and Sky is on the Canada side of Lake Superior. This is the deepest of the Great Lakes and legend has it that it never gives up its dead.
I am filled with amazement at the startling power of the wind sweeping cold dark waves off the lake onto stone-pebbled beaches of granite and gneiss. It is a glaciated wilderness millions of years old that still groans with God’s mystery. The jagged vertical cliffs, the strong winds, the scented mist of fertile waters, the drumming of the waves, are all thrilling to the soul. It is the gentler side of the ferocity that is God, and a confirmation of my smallness.

Photo from emily.net
                When I am walking along the coast of Lake Superior, God’s presence feels as near as when in Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. Standing near the water I can close my eyes and feel His swirling Presence inside my being, and wander about the beaches reflecting with Him for hours. Sometimes I’ve wished for days on the shores alone with Him, in Him, and through Him…in the unity of the Spirit.
There is a hunger in all of us to know that connecting place of prayer, to find a space, indoors or out, that draws us to the Holy. My friend’s finding a lovely walking trail in Colorado opened an avenue for holy conversation through the rosary. For me, remembering those walks within that sacred space along the shores of Lake Superior, induces a hunger to return there and feel His majesty, and a hunger to return home…unto dust and spirit.
Maybe next year I will retreat to a cottage along the shores of Lake Superior. This week I will find a woodland path, and before setting out make sure a rosary is in the pocket of my jeans. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Autumn 2012 Nearly Feral

Nearly Feral 

                         The three year old tabby is small for her age at only five pounds. Her dark-gray fur is striped in black with a lovely undercoat of coppery-gold and is surprisingly soft and thick, more like rabbit fur in winter.
                Her round little head seems too small for her expressive and large oval eyes, especially when the pupils dilate—anxious at my approach. She is nearly feral and only partially tamed by the priest who cared for her. She needed food and protection from her own kind so he set up a covered cage on his deck where she could eat and sleep in safety. When I adopted her she had two sizeable infected wounds from being attacked by other stray cats and the trip to the vet was traumatic.
                When I look at her tiny paws and miniature prick ears, somewhere deep inside a warm gentleness overtakes me. I want so much to cuddle this diminutive kitty and feel her warm purring body against my own. But she is small and frightened, so my patience is required. I have had her long enough that she no longer bolts from the room when I come with her food.
                In order to move close to her as she shrinks into the corner I lay on my belly and scooch slowly across the floor, softly repeating her name “Georgia.” Extending my arm and petting her with two fingers, I must be very delicate with my touch. Too much pressure or too near and she’ll dart into hiding. When this happens I wait for her to regain her trust and return to me, that non-priest person.
                What I have found works best is to sit on the floor near her with my open hand facing up and resting by my side, but where she is just beyond my reach. This one knows arithmetic well and can calculate exactly how far a human’s arm can reach! If I am patient she will often inch toward me, leaning into my open palm and choosing to feel my touch. She has then decided to be more accepting of my enormity in her little life.
                I think of how God is just so with me, waiting patiently just beyond my reach for me to draw near. He waits, knowing I may bolt if I become sensitive to his approaching greatness compared to my littleness. His quietness draws me in as I trust the closeness of the hand that nourishes and protects. And I too, with desire overriding my fears, inch towards that loving touch.
                Georgia only comes to me at night after I have settled in for sleep. She softly mews at the foot of the bed until I pull my hand out from under the blankets—palm up and fingers slightly curled. She then comes eagerly when I whisper her name. Curling up next to my hip, she rubs against my fingers a few times, places her round little head in the palm of my hand, and settles down. We both fall asleep in peace.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Autumn 2012 Cirrocumulus

                It’s that time of year when autumn clouds fill the sky for most of a day. Thick and dense, they are a brilliant white with melding shades of gray.
                I love how clouds reflect all the spectrum of light from the sun. Light is made up of the colors of the rainbow and when all the colors are present in equal amounts you get white.
I wrote in my first book, A Garden of Visible Prayer, “White is the color of the Holy Spirit, of truth and sanctity. It represents purity, innocence and kindness. I read somewhere that white teaches us about relationships because, in our perceptions of colors, it tints how we see. White is in itself not a color but the complete revealed energy (manifestation) of all the colors. A very nice explanation of the completeness of the Holy Spirit.” And like the presence of the Holy Spirit that brings light and lightness to my soul, clouds also give me a sense of being free of weightiness.
It is not unusual to see clouds formed at different heights in the stratosphere. When this happens the clouds will appear to move at different speeds relative to their distance from earth. Watching the clouds late one afternoon I see that this layering has taken place; there are higher Cirrocumulus clouds over heavier Stratus.
What was unusual is that these clouds are running in different directions, clearly moving perpendicular to each other! The higher whiter clouds were moving due north and the rain filled Stratus clouds, seeming so low one could almost touch them, speedily moving east and slightly south.
I had never seen this before and stood in the field turning in circles to view all of the sky, eventually sitting against a fence post in awe. My love and learning of natural sciences from undergraduate years began formulating the why of stratospheric wind directions and the collective weight of water vapors. Still, the wonder of the event kept me spellbound for nearly half an hour.
Later as I reflected upon the event, I came to understand more fully how the currents in our own lives can often run contrary, or perpendicular to one another. We can seem to be floating along bright and white and above all earthly things, and then lower dark clouds move in and draw our attention down and on a completely different course.
We may need to be attentive to the potential of storms from these lower obscuring clouds. But let us remain focused on the higher clouds in our lives, those that capture the whiteness of The Light and reveal the currents of the Holy Spirit manifest and moving within our souls.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Autumn 2012 Failure

Failing at what is Familiar

I see myself as a gardener, one whose core identity is tied to soil and seeds, and happiest when bare feet are touching earth and sod. I am a doer, a digger, someone with calloused hands, broken nails and dirty knees. I know what to do and what to say and how to interact within the framework of gardens.
But now I am increasingly unsure of myself as I am uprooted from what is familiar. The increased discomfort of an arthritic spine, the results of an auto accident decades ago, has forced me to leave the work I have always loved. I can no longer do the work needed to maintain gardens and landscapes, or operate a greenhouse. In my own yard the daily four to six hours of toiling, weeding and transplanting is now reduced. I can only work two or three twenty minute sessions a couple times a week, with nothing strenuous being done like digging holes or pruning overhead branches with loppers.  I abandoned greenhousing a couple years ago.
I have found it particularly challenging this summer to accept my new limitations. My gardens are so neglected that it looks as if no one lives at my house. Tall and rampant Lambsquarters and Marestail weeds are choking out perennials and shrubs. I am embarrassed by the slovenly appearance of my once pristine yard, and am too proud to ask for help. Resignation is setting in and I contemplate calling friends to salvage my beloved plants, removing them to their gardens.
With a mind busy and wanting to do, and a body indicating otherwise, it is a challenge to find the balance between being productive while quieting my physical discomfort. Like the story of Simon from Luke’s Gospel, I keep going out into deep waters looking for a means of livelihood and pull in nothing but empty nets.
There is a certain amount of doubt, or hopelessness that creeps in when we repeatedly fail at trying to adapt what is familiar to an unknown situation. Just like Simon, we moved confidently out on to waters that had always provided for our needs only to find that there is nothing to be had.
It is within this self-doubt that Our Lord comes to us. Even though our failure to succeed was not due to lack of trying, He asks us to try again and leaves it up to us to choose to do as asked. Am I as willing as Simon, overworked and exhausted, to go once again into deep waters? Am I ready to ask those who have gone with me before to this place of empty nets, to come and help again? Am I open to saying “…we have worked hard…and caught nothing…but at your command I will lower the nets” and trust Jesus to provide?
And I wonder what will become of my “Yes, Lord” as I trudge back to that place of non-fulfillment, back to gardens and soils and sod.  How will my life change if I too am filled to overflowing with multiple gifts from God? Whose hands will help bring an unexpected bounty to shore?
Maybe my greatest fear isn’t the empty net at all, but the full one of success; the full net that redefines who I am as a gardener and the purpose of His gifts. Maybe it isn’t my back that He needs at all.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Summer 2012 (May 2011) Fragrant Memories

(Being at the Catholic Writers Guild Conference in Texas this week, I am using a column from Spring of 2011 that will appear in my book due out in 2013.)

Fragrant Memories 

Each spring when the air is rich with fragrance I am taken back to days of wonder when I ambled alone through my childhood neighborhood just outside Detroit. As a youth I was fascinated by the natural world. Even in an environment of black-top and tar, nature still persisted.
It seemed every block I would walk down had at least one lilac bush in lavender, white or dark reddish-purple. Most of the mothers in the neighborhood with this shrub in their yard would have a mason jar spilling over with cut blooms on the kitchen table, perfuming the house.
On the way to school I remember one yard along Martin Road had a lovely and strongly perfumed white flowering shrub, which as an adult I learned was a Viburnum ‘burkwoodii’. It flowered just before the lilacs and its scent was so strong in the mornings that I could enjoy it from several blocks away. I’m sure the elderly woman who lived there thought it strange that I, a little girl, would keep walking back and forth in front of her house, lifting my arms like a slow moving bird so I could breathe deeper the sweet scent of spring.
There are many scents that evoke childhood moments of delight. There was the heady odor from wasteland ponds coming back to life, and I knew that soon pollywogs would be skimming the edges of the murky water.  There was the tickling smell of grass being mowed and the rich musty scent of blackcurrant bushes with yellow flowers that mimicked forsythias. With my head tipped back I would often follow my nose, deeply drawing in a scent as I tried to find its source.
Other smells stir my heart. The smell of fresh dill still carries me back to my grandmother’s kitchen and when we would pickle hot dilled green tomatoes. I’m always mindful to plant this herb in with my perennials. Each time I rub against it I think of my grandmother, after whom I am named, and who nurtured my love of gardening. She and I would also make hundreds of jars of jellies and jams for Christmas gifting. The aroma from black raspberries reducing for jelly would cling to my clothes for hours after we had finished waxing the jars.
There are two distinct fragrances that stir my memory of being loved. On my grandmother’s dresser there was always a round pink box of Chantilly dusting powder. I have a small piece of cloth salvaged from her favorite sun dress, cut up for quilting, which rests in a memory box. That little piece of material still carries her delicate fragrance and lightens my heart each time I open the lid. The other memory is of her husband, my grandfather whom we called Buddy. He was a barrel-chested Irishman with an unflappable joy and love affair with life. He would nab and lift me by my waist, calling out “It’s the Margaret Rose!” as I squealed and giggled, being hugged close to his neck and deeply inhaling his Old Spice cologne.
Scent is a wondrous thing, a curious gift from God. He gave us many gifts through which to find joy and pleasure. The sense of smell is only one, but it was the first of my senses that I realized as a child brought me delight independent of the city around me. Scent cannot be dreamed or imagined. It startles us into the present and in the same moment can carry us adrift into memories of heaven on earth.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Summer 2012 LBBs

Seeking Food

The little birds chirp and titter, vibrating their wings in greeting to one another and flutter about unafraid of human presence. Many people call the multitude of sparrows LBBs, short for little brown birds. Where I live we have three different kinds and they are everywhere; in my yard, at the feeder, hopping along sidewalks and in shopping center parking lots.
Charlie Harper
City dwelling LBBs are very resourceful when it comes to finding food. They’ll hop about three feet from where you sit and dart in to grab even the smallest morsel dropped from your lunch.  I have watched them from my car as I waited for fast food service, and laughed at their over-burdened flight after nabbing a discarded French fry longer than their little body.
I am impressed by the cleverness of the LBBs to find food in an area crowded with buildings and covered with cement. One afternoon while walking across the parking lot of a mall, I stopped and delightedly watched a bizarre sight of several LBBs hanging from the grille of a dirty Dodge Ram truck. They were eating dead bugs from the grille! By the number of birds hopping beneath the bumper, impatiently waiting their turn, it was obviously a feast.
The next week at a parking lot to a grocery store, I see near the cart corral colorful patches of what looks to be crushed chalk with a few of these little birds pecking at it. I thought it odd and rather sad that the LBBs would be so hungry that they would try to eat chalk. That was until I entered through the sliding glass doors to the store and saw on a display rounder mini sugar cookies died vibrant primary colors.
The little brown birds were able to seek nourishment skillfully and promptly no matter how difficult or challenging their situation. They were cautious and unafraid to look for food in unfamiliar places. Am I at least as courageous as these sparrows in seeking spiritual food?
There are times in all of our lives when we find ourselves surrounded by a world that seems devoid of love, the essential food for our heart and soul. But are we willing to explore new means of nourishment? Are we open to seeking God in unexplored ways? It is easy to become discouraged in times of drought, when all the usual means of sustenance seem to have dried up. I have often sought and received heavenly nourishment through reading scripture, praying the rosary, attending Adoration and Mass. And have also experienced times when I perceived that these were not enough.
When my heart hungers for God beyond the solitude of prayer, I am often too anxious and shy to move into the world and seek His manna. I become pigeon-hearted and scurry away from any unfamiliar movement no matter how tempting the food.
Maybe I need to pray to be like those little brown birds; courage to seek, cautious in trying, and persistent in my quest to find what will nourish and give me strength for the day.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Summer 2012 Great White Egrets

Great White Egrets

From childhood and for most of my life I had been a morning person. Rising early I would soon be out the door to greet the day. Whether going to a job, tending the gardens or walking my dogs I was a bundle of energy. Not so true anymore. The youthful Suzie-Sunshine no longer lives in this body, being replaced by the more determined Little Switch Engine pulling a load uphill. I need time to get myself moving physically and mentally.
I had an appointment on this particular day and it took effort to rise early. On the road, the morning drive was familiar; four miles past farms, misty swamps and a river, to the stop at the four corners, turn south and straight on into the breaking dawn. I was still feeling pretty sluggish; the coffee’s caffeine hadn’t kicked in yet.  My usual morning routine was hampered and I felt off balance attempting to progress into a day started without prayers. With energy level low and bones stiff and aching, I was on automatic pilot and hoping that there would be no need for a sudden cognitive response.
Halfway to town, just before a subdivision are wetlands that I have passed hundreds of times in the past twenty-some years. The marshy area has a clearing next to the road where a small pond exists.  Because of its proximity to traffic and people it is rare to find more than a couple of ducks or geese floating about. Approaching this pond and still at a distance I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at on the water. Whatever it was was white, unmoving and completely the wrong shape for swans. Had someone planted white plastic flamingos as a joke?
As I got closer I was startled by what I was seeing standing there. In the crisp morning sun surrounded by a thin rising mist was a flock of Great Egrets, glowing a startling white against the blackish-green of the water. I felt a surge of immense delight at the vision of these fifty-some birds as still as statues, yellow bills perfectly horizontal to the water. I came to a stop (grateful there was no one behind me) and kept whispering “Oh my God, oh my God…” as I stared at the amazing sight.
It is rare that these birds deviate this far north and west of their summer grounds. With the excessive heat this summer, they apparently thought it warm enough to migrate into our area.
After I had soaked in their beauty, and realizing that several cars had pulled around, I continued on to town. I felt exhilarated from the experience; a gift of living and breathing art at the side of a black-topped two lane road.
God does this in our lives. When we least expect it, and are wholly unprepared, He whispers…and sometimes shouts…Here! I AM. We are often startled by His nearness when we recognize His hand. Bumbling in amazement and at a loss for words we experience goose bumps three layers deep. And I think God delights in His delighting us, smiling at our surprise.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Summer 2012 Drought

The Trees or the Well 

                It’s a hard question for gardeners when there is a severe drought: Do the trees get watered or the well be saved? Both seem essential to life.
                The news report said that the drought in my area mimicked the intensity and duration of the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s. It was crippling. Driving the back roads of surrounding counties I saw the crops fail on the family farms of Hannewald, Sweet, and Katz. Their fields of soy and corn are stunted, curled and dull. I pass by dark black holes that use to be their irrigation ponds, now lined with a cracked layer of dried mud. This insidious disaster is stealing their livelihood, leaving nothing but the violation of loss and hopelessness.
                I noticed the other day the rigidness of the corn stalks. Their hard and desiccated leaves are no longer a supple green, but dull silver and only a day or two away from turning dark tan. They looked pained as their leaves roll tightly in upon themselves, pointing toward the heavens, a congregation begging in prayer. The final act of violence by this vandal of summer was to lay low the stalks. A stiff breeze blew hot at 104 degrees, and the stalks unable to stand against the searing wind fell to the ground one against the other like dominoes.
                The trees are no less devastated; their suffering is just less obvious. The tips of limbs are flaccid, and hanging from them are dull limp leaves curling in. Towards the interior of the canopy are shards of vivid red and yellow leaves clinging uselessly by dried-out stems.
                Massive oak trees that were seedlings after the last 100 Year Drought are now in decline. Other beautiful mature trees that gave us shelter, shade and food are also on a slow march towards death. My bright yellow honeylocust, the aged apple tree, the crabapple and serviceberry—all in need of water. They are like dear friends, who all at once, are stricken by the same disaster. So many in need, can I not at least save one?
                Returning home after morning Mass I notice the homes of other parishioners with yards and gardens as devastated as mine. Before I reach the turn onto my road I see the homes of two families whose shallow wells have run dry. Equipment trucks are parked on what use to be green lawns. With attached derricks rotated and posted thirty feet high, the rotary drill cuts through rocks and despair. My heart aches for these not-so-distant neighbors.
                My heart also cries for my trees, for my neighbor’s woodlot behind the fence, for the stately evergreens at the retreat center that have sheltered four generations of souls into spiritual development. It is an obvious but disconcerting choice of who lives from what water remains underground. It is hard for a gardener to resign oneself to the loss of a mature tree whether from disease or drought.
The right choice may be to conserve water for families and to surrender one’s own wants for their well-being. It doesn’t make the decision any easier. Choosing what is right is not always so obvious, but it is easy to spot absolute truth, wanting what is best for another.
Like the corn stalks, I too will raise my arms in supplication for rain. I will pray not only for my neighbors’ wells, but also for our trees.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Summer 2012 Wider Focus

Wider Focus
Depression is a place where hopelessness prevails, where a deep sadness can’t be shaken. People feel despondent, inadequate, lack energy and have difficulty maintaining concentration or interest in life. There are a lot of reasons people struggle with this darkness; a traumatic event in the past, inability to manage oneself in a present situation, or chemical imbalances brought on by stress. Severe depression can create a sense that there is no way out, a narrowing of options, a profound and deep despair. It is grounded in a sense of purposelessness.
Like a lot of other people, I had struggled with depression. My world became dark and narrowed. I doubted myself and in doubting, my faith began to slip away. I had been told that to despair is to turn your back on God. I was despairing and couldn’t see My Lord. The storm of depression circled like a contracting funnel cloud, soon to be a tornado. 
Initially I didn’t recognize the warning signs. My vision was myopic and the focus intense on the “me” getting out of bed, getting through work, breathing. On my own I was not able to find what kept me from the peace I needed.  Finally I sought a therapist, one who shared the same religion and who I hoped would reignite my faith.
We had worked together for a while and on this day our session was challenging and seemed particularly long. A lot was covered and attempts were made to incorporate concepts from previous appointments. I was discouraged and believed I had lost momentum in the healing process. I felt drained, more so than usual, and was eager to return home.
                It was a warm August day and the heat seemed as oppressive as my thoughts. It took effort, but I decided to go outside and wander about the gardens. Focusing on spent flowers, I deadheaded by hand as I walked, tossing the exhausted seed heads to the ground.
                I heard a clear sharp trilling and looked up.     I didn’t recognize the high sweet melody of the bird that was on the other side of the yard.  I scanned the area from where I thought the sound had come.
The bird sent out another set of notes from the direction of the lilac bushes. My eyes kept trying to pin point where the little bird was, but I simply could not see it. Again it trilled its lovely song and again I scanned the lilac, to no avail. I was focusing intensely in one spot, sure the bird was there.
Then it came to me—on a lot of different levels—widen my field of vision and I will see movement. I realized how this applied to today’s therapy. From the first session and on, there were incremental advancements toward healing. I did not recognize the progression because I was only concentrating on the issues.
I also saw that this was true with my faith. My limited perspective was met by God’s panoramic view. Once I stop trying to focus in on one small area, a snapshot in time, then I saw the movement of God in my life and the movement of my life toward God.
I took a slow deep breath, calmly stood up straight and relaxed my focus. As my field of view widened to encompass what was in front of me, sure enough, movement became apparent. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Summer 2012 Compacted Soil

Compacted Soil

                I am surprised by a client’s property that has multiple soil types within the hundred acre site. I think about the earth under foot, about the microbes and all that is invisible to us that make the miracle of soil a thing that is able to sustain life.
There is wonder and amazement when I think about the soils of the earth. There are desert sands, rich bogs, nutrient filled clay, mysteriously dark topsoil, stagnant swamps, and frozen tundra,  just to name a few.
I think about my own interior landscape and its regions of soils, a topography that is as vast and undulating as that of the earth. The analogies and parables about soil are many, familiar, and worn. We have heard the expression about the Good Earth, barren soil, and the four soils of the sower in the Bible. There is another soil condition that is rarely considered when drawing on spirituality. It occurs from excessive and recurring pressure. Where all that is good and viable is pushed down and dies. It is called compaction.
Compaction is a condition farmers do their utmost to avoid, but can result if they do not attend to their fields properly. By working the fields too soon in the spring when the soil is wet, too frozen, or too “tender” to be tilled, the weight of the machinery compresses the soil below the surface. Of all agricultural situations, this is the most damaging to sustainability. Water cannot penetrate the compressed soil, nor plant roots, nor nutrients. The field has lost its tilth, which is the ability to support plant life. The resulting crop yields are minimal and resolving the problem of compaction is challenging. The farmer, as always, must forego expediency and remain attentive to the needs of the earth for it to be fruitful.
When soil becomes severely compacted it can no longer sustain life. It is no longer friable. The microbes and worms, and all the bacterium and earth-works that enliven and sustain the soil are no longer able to penetrate it. Think of an old dirt driveway where not even weeds or fungi can survive, it is beyond being a waste land, it is dead. This is a parched and barren piece of earth that no amount of tilling or amending with fertilizers can restore to support life. The very essence of its structure, at a molecular level, is beyond recovery. It can only be dug out, ground up, and tossed aside.
This analogy holds true for many individuals whose hearts have hardened. Their interior soil that should grow loving relationships has been destroyed. On their own without God, no amount of tilling and working will bring their hearts back to His intended purpose for it. Their hearts are impenetrable to all that is good, though goodness surrounds it on all sides.
God can still enter a hardened, compacted heart with slow and gentle persistence. Think of rain. A downpour on compacted soil will do nothing except run-off and dampen only the top few millimeters. Puddles form on the hard resistant surface and evaporate having never reached the interior.
A delicate persistent rain on compacted soil, impenetrable as it may be, as destroyed and incapable of responding to its true nature, this soothing incessant rain will penetrate. Gentle rain like truth sinks in and softens slowly. Once a heart is softened like the soil, God can amend.

Friday, July 20, 2012

2012 Summer Sweet


Being a work-study student in the 1980’s meant carrying a full class load of  16-18 credit hours and working 20 hours weekly for the university being attended. I was awarded this form of financial aid for two years as an undergraduate at Michigan State University before the Reagan Administration ended the program.
                Luckily the jobs I held were with the Botany Department. In the summer this included working the research arbors and orchards. I loved the opportunity to ride into the countryside on my knobby-tire ten-speed bike. With tools, water and lunch securely tied in the rear wire-baskets, and a straw hat slapping my back, I would ride along farm lanes and down dirt roads that led to the fields.
One early summer day I was chased down a hilly dirt path by a momma woodchuck. I had inadvertently ridden between her and her cubs. She charged, my legs shot up and out, and I screamed like a little girl. The bike sped down the bumpy slope with pedals spinning furiously. Amazingly, momma kept up for half the distance! When I finally came to a stop at the bottom, I laughed and cried from the exhilaration and fear.
The orchards of apples and vineyards of grapes were experimental pollen crosses. Once the fruit was collected for research in early autumn, what was left was free for the taking, and so I took.  There was a palm-sized apple that I loved best; coral colored, firm, sweet and when I bit into it, the juice ran down my arm like an overripe peach. It was considered a failure because within 48 hours of harvesting it turned soft and flavorless. I would pick and eat a couple of these apples as I worked, tuck a few in a bag for later that night, and repeat the process the next day until they were gone. I was forever after ruined for grocery store apples.
There were days that a graduate student and I would be out in the fields with the professor who was a consummate teacher. He would prattle on about growing trees and vines all the while we were working. I learned more about plants and soils from his casual conversations than I did in any of my classes. One of the lessons was about how a plant absorbs the flavor of the soil in which it grows.
Certain plants demonstrate this trait more than others. The taste of garlic, onions and grapes are affected by soil composition, especially grapes. Viticulture, the growing of grape vines, is considered a fine art that includes not only pruning, but also the location of the vineyard. Proper soil and land preparation are the keys to successful vine production and the first step toward obtaining good fruit.
If you are “into” wines, you are aware of how region, rainfall and horticultural practices all affect the taste. Soils vary by region. What is found in California or France is different than that of Michigan or Australia’s Hunter Valley. The soils are all suitable to fulfill the needs of the vine, yet each region will produce distinct differences in flavor.
There are similarities here to our fruitfulness, faith, and how we live and grow. God has placed us in different regions and we develop our roots of faith within that “soil.” Those of us growing up in rural areas working cattle or fields of wheat will express faith differently than someone from New York or Melbourne. We nurture our faith through different people and experiences which adds flavor to our expression of belief. Whether we grow up surrounded by reinforced concrete or open range, God’s fruit is still sweet and distinctly our own.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Summer 2012 Fallen and Flowering

 Fallen and Flowering 

                Agitated, annoyed and emotionally drained I needed the calming effect of a drive through the country. Riding in a car allows me to displace present and persisting mental challenges, and gives me a sense of “being away.”
                I headed north on a black-topped two lane road. It was a late spring morning and the clouds’ shadows were clearly defined. I watched them move across the fields and up the sides of bordering wind breaks and wood lots. I recalled a drive through the Smokey Mountains with a friend and watching the cloud shadows move up and down verdant slopes. My friend is an opera singer, and as I drove she practiced her music for an upcoming performance. The memory softens the hardness that I am trying to leave behind.
                I slowed the car as I came upon a pasture with a herd of Holstein milk cows. Their white markings contrasted against the black and glowed in the sunlight. Lowing softly they lumbered across the field. I smiled with the same delight as when I had bought the Lowell Herrero Holy Cow plate. He had painted Holsteins being herded by habited Benedictine Nuns across a furrowed field in a winter scene of farm buildings and heavy gray skies. I’m not a plate collector, but Holy Cow tickled me. I smiled as I watched the cows move away, looked at the pastoral scene a few seconds longer, and drove on.
                The road pointed straight to the distant horizon, no curves or hills. I passed farms and fields, homes and trees without notice or care. The low rumble of the car’s tires was soothing. Like a clothes dryers to babies or white noise for the sleepless, the rhythmic drone dulled my senses.
                I had been on the road for awhile when up ahead I saw a white flowering tree growing on a ditch-line slope. Its shape was odd and from a distance I thought it a very large shrub. As I neared I saw the tree had been broken in two. The sight of a tree split in half is not uncommon, but to see one split like this and flowering profusely was a reason to stop.
                The shattered tree was not fully matured, but still a good size. The trunk was split right down the center and half of the tree rested on the ground. What catastrophic event had assaulted it? What had broken it to its core, leaving it forever contorted? I parked the car. I wanted to touch this tree.
                I walked into the ditch and looked up the incline. I had a clear view of the tree’s trunk. The side closest to the road was smooth and had a silvery sheen. The center gash had large slices of exposed wood fanning out connecting the twisted, grounded portion. I tried to determine if it had been snow and ice that caused the break, or maybe lightning or a wind sheer. I decided it didn’t matter what had caused the damage, it was a wonder the tree had lived at all.
                The leaves on both halves were shiny and fully developed. I thought that there would be some distortion to their growth, at least on the damaged side. The prolific flowers were fragrant and newly opened. I could hear the buzzing of excited bees as they whirled, dizzily gathering pollen. By the looks of it, the tree would bear fruit and feed the community of birds or any number of wildlife.
Taking a few steps towards the tree I bent down under the flowering limbs and closer to its scarred frame. The wound was old, partially healed over and not as ugly with infection as I thought it would be. I was tentative about placing my finger tips, and then my palm against the smooth bark, but felt emotionally lighter after having touched its disfigured trunk.
The tree’s life had been shortened by the wounding; the damage had caused unexpected stress to its growth. Standing before that tree I was in awe because, though severely broken and damaged, it lived, and as it lives it flowers and bears fruit. I wondered if those of us who have been deeply wounded, and who are working with God to manage our pain, are living examples as beautiful and fruitful as this tree.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Summer 2012 The Lord's Candlestick

 The Lord’s Candlestick

I don’t like being wounded in the garden. I get annoyed when I give gentle loving care to my herbaceous buddies and they assault me.
I am often impaled by certain plants in the garden and try to give them a wide berth when pulling weeds.  Roses are the worst offenders and only earn my graces and a place in the garden if they flower prolifically, are not devoured by Japanese beetles, will survive harsh winters without cone covers and have built in defenses against fungal disease. If you’re a rosarian you know how few bushes will survive my criteria.
Raspberry bushes are another assailant. Black raspberry jelly was a regular and highly sought treat that my grandmother and I made for Christmas gifting. She and I would pick berries every year over the Fourth-of-July weekend. The berries always ripened on the fourth, which as a teenager I found disruptive to my social agenda. But worse than feeling indentured over the holiday, was armoring myself for protection from the thorny, fruited canes; laced shoes, thick Levi jeans, and heavy long sleeved shirts were essential. I appreciated the cloth barrier protecting me against the thorns, but it was often sunny and near 90 degrees. I was usually a sweaty mess before I ever reached the berry patch behind the garage.
The one assailant that I’d often forget about was the Yucca, also known as The Lord’s Candle Stick, St. Johns Palm or Graveyard Ghosts. In rural Appalachia they are regionally known as “meat hangers” for a very good reason. The tough fibrous leaves with their sharp tips were used to puncture meat and then knotted to form a loop with which to hang the meat for curing in smoke houses.
More than once I yelped when my bare legs were pricked by the Yucca’s pointy tipped leaves. On one occasion while mowing, I had been wounded once too often by a plant located near the edge of the lawn. Retaliation was meted out with a saw and spade, and the plant remained shriveling in the middle of the drive for weeks!
I love the architectural beauty of Yucca plants and their striking four to five foot stalk of creamy-white flowers. I had come to appreciate these handsome plants on a deeper level one day in early August, the month in Catholic tradition dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ.
It had been a cool summer and most of the perennials were flowering later than usual. I was cleaning up a small bed along the driveway that rarely needed attention. It was an established bed of scarlet Meidiland roses, Yuccas, coral daylilies and a long blooming cultivar of bright yellow yarrow. I was gingerly pulling the neighbor’s intrusive blue-flowering vinca vine from between rose canes and lance shaped leaves of the Yucca. Like most gardeners while working in a garden, I mentally process situations in my life. I think out possible options to issues and pray for those who come to mind. Often I have a note-pad and pen nearby for those God moments of inspiration that lead to later reflection—as this story did.
Yucca filamentosa
Kneeling on a pad in the driveway, resting one hand on the mulch, I reached in repeatedly with the other to remove the vine from between the Yucca leaves. Absentmindedly I stabbed my arm on one of the tips. I pulled back with a low murmur of pain, looked up at the massive flowering stalk and intended to have a short disgruntled conversation with God. Instead He decided to have a moment with me.
There, three feet over my head, against a clear, bright-blue sky was a glowing white oblong shape of flowers. I imagined I could almost see Jesus wearing his luminous white robes in the Transfiguration as it was told in the Bible. I was captivated, not too unlike the apostles, I’m sure.
The incongruity of the radiant flowers rising from the earthly whorl of piercing lance-shaped leaves reminded me of Jesus’ brief life. How his presence was wholly incongruent with this world. How he too would be pierced, and by a lance, and would rise past the violence and pain.
Through all this—the transfiguration and the passion—we were shown by Our Lord a way to be “of God” and not just for God. How we can live in a world of piercing sharpness that is discordant and not in harmony with the soul’s desire to be illuminated and illuminating. 
I studied the Yucca for a moment longer knowing my soul had become a little brighter from the small revelation. I knew on that day I would never see the Yucca in the same way again and never have.
Intending to return to my task of clearing vinca from the lance shaped leaves I noticed the flowering stalk was shading my face; a nice touch to end the lesson. The transfigured Jesus stands between me and the hot-white light of God. I reached for my notepad and pen, captivated again.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Summer 2012 Greehousing

Greenhouse Growing 
Greenhouses were great places to play hide-and-seek. My favorite place to hide as a child was under the wooden benches. I would walk between rows of benches and when nobody was looking, drop to my hands and knees scooching underneath into the tunnel-like structure. I could crawl along the length of the bench, about the width of a city block, but usually I stopped mid way. Lying on my side against the cool, hard-packed ground, I would look around under the wavy black ceiling of the benches. The surreal scene of distant legs and feet slowly moving to and fro as workers tended the crop made me giggle.
My family’s business was greenhousing, having been located a mile and a half outside Detroit in Ferndale. The store front was on Hilton Road. On Orchard St. there was about an acre under glass, three city lots of creosote-covered cold frames and two more lots of open field for planting-out. At the back of all this, on Lewiston Ave., was a garage as big as a pole barn and a cement pad for the numerous semi trucks that arrived from late autumn through early summer.
I was a child then and loved the benches of colorful flowers. There was the winter crop of gold toned cutting mums for floral shops, next came vibrant reds, pinks, and white geraniums. The rainbow myriad of annual flats ended the growing season.
Years later while living with my grandmother I learned that my father had sold the business, more precisely the land. Neither of his sons had wanted to follow in his footsteps, and asking a daughter would never have occurred to him. The greenhouses, family homes and all the structures were leveled. My heart broke as I watched the tons of brick and glass rubble bulldozed to the center of the property.
 Several decades passed and when the economy plummeted, I lost my job and retuned to my first love, greenhousing. Nothing compares to the clean, humid, oxygenated air found in a plant-filled greenhouse. There is a sense of accomplishment at the end of a growing season when the thousands of flats seeded up in February are sold. The customers, grateful for flats of flowers and vegetables, shared their stories about future gardens as they shopped and waited in line to pay.
One customer was having problems with plants and asked for my expertise, inviting me to her home. The single glass-framed hothouse was attached off the dining room. Her beautiful collection of common and exotic plants showed minor fungal infections and mites. I made suggestions for resolving these issues, marveled at her collection and complimented her on her skills. And that was that.
Driving home I realized that the plants she grew were not intended to ever leave the hothouse. They were there for her pleasure and those whom she chose to invite in. I thought about the difference between her and me on the view of the purpose of plants. Each of our collections was no less beautiful than the other’s. The difference is that hers were held close and what I grew went out.
Sharing our faith can be expressed in much the same way; a greenhouse versus a hothouse. In both there is growth and sharing, but one, the greenhouse, releases that beauty into the community. We can share our faith with only those whom we invite in or we can release it and let it go and grow in our world.
I no longer work greenhouses but fondly remember those years working at Beck’s Flowers in Jackson and growing plants that were shared with a clan of gardeners. I like the idea of sharing what I love with others, beginners or otherwise.