Gardens of the Heart

Psalm 1
Blessed are the man and the woman
who have grown beyond their greed
and have put an end to their hatred
and no longer nourish illusions.
But they delight in the way things are
and keep their hearts open, day and night.
They are like trees planted near flowing rivers,
which bear fruit when they are ready.
Their leaves will not fall or wither.
Everything they do will succeed.
Translation by Stephen Mitchell

Gardens have been much on my heart and in my mind of late.  Perhaps this is because our Sunday worship is in a garden; perhaps because of the vibrancy of the colors of the late summer flowers; perhaps because of the lushness of the fruits and vegetables of the summer harvest.  Whatever the reason, I know that gardens are important to our understanding of God and our experience of Christian faith.  Human existence begins in a garden.  Jesus prayed in a garden the night before his crucifixion.  The empty tomb of the Resurrection was in a garden.

Like a garden, our souls need tending and nurturing.  Prayer, meditation, the Sacraments and the word of God in Scripture all nourish our souls.  We are created beings who are more closely linked with creation than we often realize.

We are fortunate at St. Mary’s to be in the midst of magnificent gardens and amazing natural beauty.  The historic Afton Town Square Park, Carpenter Nature Center, Afton State Park, St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park and even our own Memorial Garden offer beautiful trees, flowers and landscaping to reconnect us to God and creation.  And I know that many of you have attractive yards and gardens at your own homes.

Take some time this summer to “stop and smell the roses.”  Explore the gardens and landscapes of the St. Croix Valley, or the natural beauty of the state and regional park system.  Turn off the air conditioner and open the windows of your home or automobile to let in the sounds and smells of creation.  Tend your soul so it too may grow and flourish in the love of God and the glory of God’s creation.  Store up the energy of the sun for the fallow season of winter that is all too close at hand.

As you enjoy the created beauty of the world, take a moment to reflect on our relationships with the whole of creation.  Below are some reflections on those relationships by others.  Perhaps you will be able to add your own experience of nature to the list.  Enjoy, and God bless you.

“The soul cannot thrive in the absence of a garden.”

— Thomas Moore

“There is a little plant called reverence in the corner of my soul’s garden, which I love to have watered once a week.”

— Oliver Wendell Holmes
Grant me the ability to be alone,
May it be my custom to go outdoors each day
among the trees and grasses
among all growing things
and there may I be alone,
and enter into prayer
to talk with the one
that I belong to.
Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav

“I thank You God for this most amazing day; for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.”

— e.e. cummings

Be Transformed by the Renewing of Your Minds

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

BCP pages 280, 291, 515, 528 and 540

The great collect of renewal, one of the most beautiful and powerful Anglican prayers, appears more often in the Book of Common Prayer than any other.  We hear it on Good Friday, at the Easter Vigil, and at the ordinations of bishops, priests and deacons.  It proclaims the mighty power of God to transform weakness, brokenness and age into perfection—holy perfection.

Its frequent repetition supports the concept that this transformation and renewal is not something locked at a certain point in time but is continuous and ongoing.  Indeed, each day God calls us to transformation and renewal.  It is said that the great scholar and reformer, Martin Luther, ran from his bed to wash in the baptismal font of his church each morning as a sacramental act of continuous transformation and renewal in each of God’s children.

The Church uses many sacramental signs to remind us of our continuing call to renewal and transformation.  The water in the baptismal font at the door of the church, the sprinkling (or aspurging) of all the people with the holy waters of baptism, and the sacramental cycles of the Church Year all remind us that we are ever beginning again; never complete in this world.

Another sacramental symbol of renewal and transformation is the butterfly.  From the earliest days of Christianity, the butterfly was associated with the celebration of Easter.  The symbolism is clear enough really.  Jesus was born and lived among us (the caterpillar stage), he died and was buried (the chrysalis stage), and he rose in a new and transformed state at Easter (the butterfly stage).

The butterfly is not only symbolic of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, but also of our own.  We too are born, will die, and are assured of resurrection to eternal life.  The butterfly is a symbol of hope in Jesus’ everlasting promise of salvation.  It is also a reminder that we are called to renew and transform ourselves; always seeking to more fully live into God’s call to us as sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ.

At this time of year, there are many symbols of renewal and transformation all around us.  Trees that appeared dead spring forth with leaves and newness of life.  Flower bulbs long buried under the snow and frozen ground astonish us with their sudden profusion of brilliant flowers.  And before long, the butterflies will be adorning the trees, bushes and flowers as well.

In these Great Fifty Days of Easter, open yourselves to experience the power of God’s renewing and transforming Spirit.  Seek out ways to continue to mature and flower as a beloved child of God.  Let the healing power of the Risen Christ empower you to stretch and grow in newness of life.

As Paul writes to the Church in Rome, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!