The book I’ve just finished reading is Margaret Rose Realy’s Cultivating God’s Garden Through Lent. I’m going to concede it took me a long time to open this one, because I had several stupid book-fears:
- That the book would be tied to the upper Midwest’s seasons, and would be all out of sync for a southern gardener.
- That the book would be too nice for me. Margaret is a really nice person.
- That I wouldn’t like it, and that would be awkward, since Margaret and I are writing friends.
We’re all relieved to report my fears were unfounded.
What You Actually Get
The book is a series of reflections that run daily through Lent to Easter Sunday. It’s more or less set up to be a one-a-day format, but I found I was pretty happy reading the whole thing over the course of three or four days. You could start this one at any time before or during Lent and not feel discombobulated. The reflections are a mix of genres, mostly personal essays and loads of gardening and nature stories — I find Margaret is strongest as a writer when she’s telling stories, and she tells lots of stories. The spirituality is entirely Catholic, but with very strong crossover-potential, as it centers on one’s personal relationship with Christ as a disciple, not on any particular type of prayer or devotion.
Why the Book Made Me Cry, and I Mean that in a Good Way
Margaret’s been-there-done-that in the world of personal suffering, and she tells a few stories that give you a glimpse at her big picture. Thus when she writes gently, it’s not some wishy-washy mall-generated faithy-ism. It’s gentle like your mother telling you to put on your big girl pants and own-up to the reality of your life — that God loves you, that you are forgivable, and also that you need to let go of the ugliness. Letting go of the ugliness, your own and all that the world has piled on top of you, is ultimately what this book is about.
Who Should buy this Book?
If you are an outdoorsmen or gardener looking for sound spiritual reflections, this is your book. There’s a very strong thread following God’s work in the natural world, and I think people who don’t go outside much won’t appreciate it. If you aren’t the kind of person who watches storms roll in, this isn’t for you. You won’t know what Margaret’s talking about when she describes one, or explains how a particular year’s unusual weather affected the plants, or how a greenhouse and a hothouse are different.
I’d also recommend this as an ideal book for a ladies’ Bible study or discipleship group* regardless of where the participants fall on the nature-affinity scale, because a week’s worth of reflections won’t take long to read and will provide tons of fodder for launching a discussion. Enough of the reflections are focused on personal or spiritual topics that for a group-read it doesn’t matter so much if not everyone can appreciate what it’s like to dig around the base of tree looking for rot.
Finally I’d say that if you have often been at a loss to understand the many agricultural parables our Lord uses, this book makes a strong start in relating them, vividly and poignantly.
If you are the type of person who has always wanted a “prayer garden” of some type, your other book this Lent is A Garden of Visible Prayer: Creating a Personal Sacred Space One Step at a Time. This is a how-to, and yes, it works if you follow the instructions. No, you don’t even have to have a garden; if all you have is a corner where you can put a few potted plants and a nice chair, you’re good, this book will get you going.
*I think maybe men like more structure? That’s my experience. Whereas sheesh, women, you can read them your favorite paragraph at the start of the evening and your work is done: The feelings will start flowing, and next thing you know the punch is going flat and no one has touched the finger sandwiches and finally you have to call it a night and argue over whose kids are going scarf down the leftover brownies in a massive sugar-binge Saturday morning, and who gets to scoot out with nothing for their children to fight over come daybreak.