f Morning Rose Prayer Gardens: 02/01/2012 - 03/01/2012

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lent 2012, Week 1

Fast from bitterness; turn to forgiveness.
Fast from hatred; return good for evil. 

                It was a relatively small patch that I had dug at the back-end of the yard to the rental house; I was planning a vegetable garden. I was an undergraduate at MSU, being a decade older than my class mates, and knew that growing my own food was a necessity; I did not have parents supporting my education.
          I dug a portion of the sod and broke up clumps, picked stones and broken glass from the soil, raked it smooth and mounded the edges to help direct water. Purchasing seeds, I then planted the early season crops of peas, radishes, kales and a few herbs. I planned in a few weeks to purchase starter plants for vegetables that took longer to mature such as eggplants, tomatoes and peppers.
         I returned home rather late after classes one day, about a week later, and again headed to the back of the yard to water the seedlings before sunset. A few feet away I stopped dead in my tracks, saddened by the state of my garden patch. The mounded edges had been kicked into the lawn,  two thirds of the patch had been covered over with pieces of hand-dug sod and the remaining third was trampled. Apparently I had unknowingly encroached into the neighbor’s property.
         Disheartened, I cleaned up what remained but knew I did not have enough time in my schedule to expand the now even smaller patch.
Soon afterwards, as weather permitted, I planted starters of tomatoes and eggplants in the remaining section of garden. In another garden area bordering the house I tucked in some zucchini seeds.
Throughout the summer when I was in my room, I would often hear the neighbor mowing his yard and anxiously hoped my plants were safe. They were often covered in lawn clippings but never really damaged.
It wasn't long until the fruits of my labor ripened and canning and freezing commenced. There is something about tomato and zucchini plants in that I always underestimate their production. Even with the smaller plot I had an overabundance.
Photographer: Travis Juriga, 2010
Washing the vegetables I looked out the window over the kitchen sink. Sitting in the shade of a large sycamore tree I noticed the woman who lived with the man who mowed the lawn that covered my plants with debris. What I saw was just another woman on a hot August day trying to find a cool place to sit. I had lived next to her for almost a year and never knew her name. After all, I was just another student in the rental house next door.
Picking up a small cardboard box, I carefully laid newspapers in the bottom and up the sides. I placed a few small zucchini to one side and then piled several large tomatoes on the other. I took a deep breath and in a tee-shirt wet and stained from canning headed out the screened side door.
Approaching the woman I introduced myself and held out the box of vegetables. I could tell by the look on her face she was surprised to see me. I think she realized for the first time that I, the student next door, was closer to her own age and not a teenager.
        As she accepted my gift she seemed dumbfounded by my presence. She never rose from the lawn chair nor told me her name. Avoiding eye contact, she spoke a barely audible “Thanks.”
Feeling rejected, but without bitterness, I turned away and went back to my kitchen to continue putting food by. Looking again through the window I noticed my neighbor had left her shady area and taken my gift with her.
That September I found a room in a house closer to campus. Before I moved away I kicked the mounded edges of dirt into the little patch that had been my garden, smoothed it over and dusted it with seeds for new lawn. I patted down my pant legs and ‘shook the dust from my sandals’, I knew I had already moved on.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Lent 2012

A Lenten Fast

I like the season of Lent, it is a time to ‘reset’ my balance point. It is a spiritual time for fresh seeds and new growth. The word Lent is derived from Old English lencten which means ‘lengthen’ and refers to the increase of daylight hours. It is a period of transition from late winter to early spring…the time of developing roots.
When I returned to the church as an adult, Lent took on a new definition from that which I had been taught as a child. I no longer saw Lent as a time for suffering through meatless Fridays and weeks without candy, or attending solemn church services under the dedicated watch of habited nuns.
I’m not a catechist who teaches about the Church and don’t know all the formal rules and fancy words for this liturgical season. What I do know is that it is a time to practice prayer and charity, a time of offering up to Our Lord little bits of myself.  
I and many Christians ‘give up’ something during Lent. I don’t remember exactly when the concept took hold, but at some point I chose ‘to do’ something rather than ‘not do’. One year during a late winter retreat a small handout was distributed and the idea of  ‘giving up’, or fasting, took on a whole new purpose. Here is what it said:
o     Fast from bitterness; turn to forgiveness
o     Fast from hatred; return good for evil
o     Fast from negativism; be positive
o     Fast from complaining; be grateful
o     Fast from pessimism; be an optimist
o     Fast from harsh judgments; think kindly thoughts
o     Fast from worry; trust in Divine Providence
o     Fast from discouragement; be full of hope
o     Fast from anger; be more patient
o     Fast from pettiness; be more mature
o     Fast from gloom; enjoy the beauty around you
o     Fast from jealousy; pray for trust
o     Fast from gossiping; control your thoughts
o     Fast from sin; turn to virtue

Maybe I should consider hanging this list on the fridge for more than the 40 days of Lent.

Friday, February 10, 2012


Seeking Food
(Journal entry, winter of 2011)

                I like to feed the birds, and consequently the mice, deer and squirrels benefit.
           It is mid-January and a light snow has been falling most of the day. The birds are hungry for suet and sunflower seeds to keep them warm, and I have joyfully obliged them by filling the feeders.
                I watch the coppery fox squirrel as it hops across the snow in my neighbor’s yard. It climbs the utility pole and deftly walks across the wire over the busy road. Making a ninety degree turn, it follows the wire across my yard to the stately white pine and makes a short leap into its boughs. I know it is heading for the fresh supply of seed.
                I’d decided during the previous week to stop fussing over the squirrels that visit my avian food source; I’m sure Saint Francis is proud of me. Instead, I stopped at the feed store and picked up some corn and peanuts for the frisky visitors. From the shed I rummaged a large saucer feeder and its chain, hung it about six feet away from the bird feeders, filled it and waited for my furry friends to find it.  It is bewildering to me that, over a week later, the corn and peanuts are still relatively untouched.
                The squirrel has now dropped from the pine boughs and totters across the stockade fence. It leaps down into a smaller evergreen, scurries under the bird feeders to another shrub, wiggles its way up between the branches, hops on the window sill and with a determined leap hurls itself on the thistle feeder. With one more little hop it reaches the final destination and lands on top of the feeder with sunflower seeds.
                This is its routine, a well known course to acquire a few morsels of food. It has habitually followed this path and never looked off to the side where a much more nourishing feast awaits.
A more filling bounty is so close. It lies just beyond the meager bits of gratification found in the routine of  daily life. All that is needed is to break a habit and go beyond what is so familiar.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Releasing Constriction


The beautiful ten foot Colorado Blue Spruce suddenly took a turn for the worse. Something was killing it and the groundskeeper asked me to have a look. The usual causes of sickness had been eliminated; the soil was tested, the fertilizer checked, watering evaluated and common pests researched. Whatever herculean effort was extended to find a cure was minimally effective and at times the decline appeared to accelerate.
As I scooched on my side under the boughs I noticed the tell-tale sign of a narrow bulge around the base of the trunk. Scraping off the mulch and pulling back the ground cloth my suspicion was confirmed; a piece of hemp wrapped around the trunk had not been cut free from the ball when it was planted several years ago. The tree had been girdled.
To kill a tree or shrub doesn’t take a lot of effort or chemicals. It is a rather simple task, one that a mouse can complete in a matter of hours by chewing through the bark in a ring around the trunk.  This damage to the vascular system stops the flow of nourishment from tree to root and starvation is imminent.
A more frequent form of girdling is caused by carelessness. I have seen it too often. Hardwoods that were added to the landscape years earlier show sudden signs of decline. Often it is the crown or a major branch and sometimes, as with the Blue Spruce, the whole tree is affected.
This type of girdling is a result of something barely noticeable. It can be a nylon string, wire or band left behind on a branch when a tag is removed. Or as mentioned, a simple piece of rope cut from the burlap but not unwound from the trunk. As the trunk or branch grows and increases in circumference, the cord left behind will strangle this otherwise healthy specimen.
I think of how careless words can girdle the hearts of children, as when they are made to feel insignificant or worthless. A simple phrase spoken with meanness can stunt a portion of their development. When the same harsh words are repeatedly spoken they twist into a rope that, when left undiscovered, destroys what looks to be a sound and vibrant being.
A fortunate few seek to find the mental constriction. When they discover the forgotten band or twisted rope of words that had lain hidden for years, un-girdling their hearts is liberating. The binding is removed and if not too late nourishment once again flows, slowly at first and often with fits and starts.
Like the tree or shrub a scar will always remain where the constriction had occurred, becoming less pronounced as healing takes place. If the damage is deep and nourishment blocked for too long, thriving will never be an option. One cannot recover what has died and I worry about those whose hearts have hardened. I wonder if like the Blue Spruce they too will wither away.
I scan the landscape to spot the tell-tale signs of constriction. When I can I do what I can to promote healing, even if it is simply to pray. The first step is to pull away the debris.