Gardening at home is a private thing; it’s when I look really bad and after a lot of it, smell even worse. It is something I have always done alone…for more than the obvious above-mentioned reasons. It feels similar to being in the Adoration chapel, and a time of intimate conversation with God. In the garden I feel as if I can touch Him, lay my hands upon His very skin. I find it to be a very personal and sensory connection with the Creator. I remember getting goose-bumps the first time I read this verse by Edna St. Vincent Millay, “God, I can push the grass apart and lay my finger on thy heart.” I still get all bubbly inside when I read it.
Working in the gardens at the retreat center with volunteers is different, like going to Mass; it is a public gathering as community. We present ourselves differently at church by our dress, interactions with one another, and our way of being present with God.
There is a willing vulnerability when praying alone with Our Lord, and like most private conversations, a freedom within that seclusion. I remember a close friend explaining his sense of being vulnerable when he married and knelt down to pray for the first time with his wife at his side. His hesitancy of being that exposed to another person, a nakedness of soul if you will, took some time to get over. I know I have boldness in private prayer that I would be hard pressed to reveal in the presence of another.
This boldness is present when I garden, too. The conversation is not a monologue either. I listen, or try to, for the whisper of insight. But in a few days, this intimacy with God in my garden is going to change.
Three friends, volunteers from the gardening society at the retreat center, are coming to my gardens. They have become aware of my increasing physical limitations from an arthritic spine, and the loss of strength in my arms. I am grateful, humbled, humiliated, tearful, and awash with a whole lot of emotions. I am feeling exposed and opened to being judged by the state of my gardens. After all, I am the St. Francis Garden Society Coordinator and people have expectations of amazing landscape designs on the property of such a person. I am humbled that my prayers for help were answered, and so quickly, and surprised by the anxiety of what that answer involves.
I will have to let go of my hermitic tendencies and learn a way to be willing and accepting of others in my private life. I must learn about receiving charity with the same joy in which I gave it. I must disarm the shame I feel for being the one in need.
My friends will be here in a few days. As they toil in my yard cleaning out flower beds, I will make them fresh tomato soup from what was picked off the vines that grew among the weeds.
In the mean time I will try to figure out how to manage the coexistence of anxiety and gratefulness swirling in my heart. Answered prayers are sometimes disconcerting even while they are full of grace.