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.
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.