The Daily Muse
Thoughts from an Austin Garden -- February 2008
Last update: February 25
Videotape reels as garden ornaments.
February 7 - evening
A beautiful week here in Austin. I have been taking a few days to re-orient myself before I begin my new position at Austin Area Inter-Religious Ministries. I actually spent a few days this week just weeding - a good spiritual practice. My thanks to the many people who have written congratulating me on my new job - I remain very excited about the work ahead and appreciate your kind words. The new adventure begins Monday!
In addition to weeding I did a little watching this week - meaning election returns. I am very impressed by both of the Democratic finalists and wanted to share these videos with you...
The allee and garden open to the winter sky.
February 10 - evening
Another gorgeous image from my sister.
Tomorrow I start my new adventure with Austin Area Inter-Religious Ministries. I am very excited about the work that lies ahead and ask for your participation, your good will, and your prayers.
Speaking of prayers, earlier today I offered a reflection on "gardening as prayer" to my church congregation, St. John's Methodist Church. Our pastor, Bobbi Kaye Jones, is using the Lenten season to focus on the practice of prayer and my reflection was the first of these personal testimonies. Mine turned out a bit more like a sermon than I intended, but I was pleased with the result. Our community seemed to enjoy it as well. I thought you might appreciate it, so here goes...
I find that every time I am asked to give a talk like this I grow as a result and so I am always thankful for the invitation. So, thank you for the invitation and thank you for listening.
Dear Lord, I offer these words up as the work of a grateful heart – may they inspire us all to grow with you.
I am sure that when my friends Bobbi Kaye and Liz Stewart asked me to offer a reflection on gardening as prayer, they imagined that I’d wax poetic about the ordinarily sacred things that gardeners work with: the soil we till, the trees that shade us, the flowers that brighten our days, rain in times of drought, and time spent simply being with creation.
I could easily spend these few minutes doing nothing but conjuring up garden reveries, for I believe that every time you pay attention to any of those things they can serve as portals to the divine.
In fact one Tibetan Buddhist teacher believes that is exactly what prayer is, listen: “Praying is not about asking – it is about paying attention. It is opening your eyes and ears to what was there all along.”
Here is another Buddhist verse dear to this gardener’s heart: "The song of birds, the voices of insects - all are means of conveying truth to the mind; in flowers and grasses we see messages of the Way. The scholar, pure and clear of mind, serene and open of heart, should find in everything what nourishes him."
I believe that with all of my soul.
However, I also believe that beyond paying attention, there is prayer in doing…
And what gardeners do is grow.
How do we grow?
Well, gardeners grow with our hands, and our backs, and with our sweat… In fact, you might say that we pray with our hands, our backs and our sweat.
And believe me, in Texas, neither gardening or praying is for the feint of heart!
However, there are rewards for calloused hands, pinched backs and sweaty clothes. For by growing things – we find that we too will grow.
And here is the heart of the matter - when we grow, God grows with us.
There is a Muslim saying that, “God is beautiful and God loves beautiful things.”
So, as a gardener I believe that when we make the world more beautiful - God smiles, God grows.
In my Sunday school class here a few weeks ago one of our members was talking about reading Joel Osteen’s latest book about the importance of not getting stuck – he said that he felt challenged by this to try to further his own personal growth.
God wants us to grow. In fact, I believe that God needs us to grow.
I am sure that you are all familiar with the Book of James, written by Jesus’s own brother. In a particularly beautiful passage James says, “Humbly accept the word planted in you.”
When I listen for that word in my own life I hear. “Grow!”
James told us that we grow by doing – “that faith without works is dead.” You can’t call yourself a gardener if you don’t pull the weeds.
So, what is the opposite of growing? Joel Osteen says it is getting stuck. Others feel the consequences are even more dire – do you remember the old Bob Dylan line, “He not busy being born is busy dying?”
Gardeners, particularly Texas gardeners, know that death, like compost, happens.
But, our job as gardeners is to always find a way for life to go on, for new growth to occur, for things to be born. Our calling is to nourish small patches of the earth with our hearts and hands. Our response to the word planted in us is our prayer.
The Latin root of the word prayer means “to ask for” or to petition.
But, to me, this is a one-dimensional way to think of prayer and if we don’t grow beyond it - we are bound to get stuck. I think that prayer is about being in relation – constantly listening for the word and adjusting our inner compass to its call.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d be lying if I told you I’ve never prayed for rain… but I honestly don’t believe that that is the way God works… I certainly know that it is not the way that my garden works.
The wisest garden proverb states that the best fertilizer for a garden is the gardeners shadow… meaning his or her attention - because when a gardener pays attention he stands ready to respond to whatever threats or opportunities that might appear.
Likewise, God works through us and grows through us when we pay attention and when we act.
We are "His" gardeners, "His" hands here on earth – and every time we nourish the earth and one another we are all lifted towards the kingdom that we were taught to pray for.
Pay attention. Pray with your eyes and ears - The Kingdom of Grace is all around us. We can hear in a bird’s song and in the laughter of children. We can see it in a flower and in a smile. And when we pray with our hands, our backs, and our sweat we are doing our part to make God’s Kingdom a real and present reality.
Yes, God’s grace, his garden is already spread out over the earth – it can be seen. Just look around this room.
While the kingdom is easily seen, it is not so easy to do - but that is our charge – we must humbly accept that word which is planted in us. We must say yes to life, and love, and growing.
My friend, Michael Benedikt, is a University of Texas professor. He is the son of two holocaust survivors who were rescued from Nazi death camps. He understands the differences between people who are busy being born and those who are busy dealing death.
He recently wrote a new book titled; God is the Good We Do. It begins with a series of poems. Here is an excerpt from one:
Tell your children that they matter to you,
that they matter to others,
that they matter to every living thing
that feels their touch.
Teach them that they have a sacred and ancient mission
to turn sun and rain into seed and flower,
to turn foe into friend
and harm into harmlessness.
Benedikt's poems ends:
Send them to read all things about God,
that they may hear God's praises in every land
and love "him."
But bid them remember this:
that in the end
God is the good they do;
God is in their hands too.
The Kingdom of God is in our prayers, it is in our hands. May we all grow in Peace. Amen.
February 15 - evening
Speaking of Michael Benedikt.... here is a piece I produced about his book, God is the Good We Do.
February 25 - evening
Magnolia "Dr. Merrill" (Magnolia x loebneri)
Ninety two degrees today! Yikes! I hope that is not some sort of omen for the summer to come. I spent a good part of this past weekend working in the garden and it felt like April not February, but today felt like June. Pretty scary.
On a cheerier note - everywhere I look, I see trees in flower. Peaches. plums, pears, magnolias, and redbuds are blooming all over the city. A cool front is supposed to pass through at any moment and chase the heat away. I am determined to be optimistic about its chances and have refused to turn the AC on. If I wake up in a pool of sweat that will change. Maybe we are in luck... I hear the windchimes kicking up on the back porch. I must go investigate... keep cool!