To Pray in a Garden

To Pray in a Garden May 22, 2023

a vegetable garden
image via Pixabay

“Pray in a garden,” said Holly the witch. “It’s what Jesus did. Jesus didn’t pray in a church.”

This is good advice, because the panic doesn’t let up when I walk into a church. I have stopped having panic in my backyard vegetable garden.

Ever since Jimmy told me my stalker is dead, the fear has steadily drained away.

Last week a friend slipped me some money for garden plants, so even though we are still on a knife edge I have the things I wanted. In the community garden, one raised bed with popcorn, winter squash, pole beans and a rainbow of sunflowers; one raised bed with mixed lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers and two heirloom tomatoes. In the garden at home, my old strawberries. Three colors of potato. Three colors of heirloom tomato. Three different species of summer squash. Cilantro, tarragon, oregano, basil and rosemary. A compact Four Sisters patch with popcorn, sunflowers, pole beans and winter squash. Mixed greens for the guinea pig in the shady bed I can’t fill with anything else.  It’s not the garden I planned all winter, but it’s the one I got and the one I like. I like the backyard patch even better than the community garden, now. It’s so quiet.

I could never have imagined that my backyard could be quiet. No barking dog. No ranting neighbor. Just quiet.

When I came out this morning, I found the corn in the backyard patch had sprouted. It’s always an anxious thing, waiting for corn to sprout. It always takes a day or two longer than you thought, and when they do come up, they look like grass. The bed I planted the corn in was just my backyard with the soil turned over, so there are little blades of grass sticking up everywhere.  I only know the corn from the grass because it’s planted in a circle in one exact spot. I can’t weed around the corn at first, for fear of destroying a tiny stalk by mistake. I have to wait until it gets several inches high, at which point corn distinguishes itself from grass and there is no question.

We know that raising grain and weeds together up to a point is a sacred act, because there’s a whole parable about it.

 “Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?”

“An enemy did this.”

 ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No, because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

There I go again, believing in God.

Maybe I could even talk to him.

I pulled weeds in other places, a good distance from that corn. I pulled the tall grass on the edges of the planters where Jimmy’s mower doesn’t reach. I got a good armload of weeds and piled them on top of the compost heap, which is starting to heat up for the year.  That is the most magical, numinous thing that I know of: when you heap up a pile of dead things in your garden, and come back after a rain to find they’ve gotten warm. They are alive again, in a different form. They’re becoming something they weren’t. They’re becoming earth, soil, which is also a living thing, and has warmth and life in it.

“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.”

There I go again, believing in resurrection.

There was a noise on the roof, which drew my attention because there’s so little noise in the yard now. I looked up to see a bird perched by the chimney, silhouetted against a bright sky so I couldn’t see any color or markings. The head was tiny, so for a split second I thought it might be that hawk again, but of course it wasn’t.  As it moved, I realized it was just a fat pigeon. There have been pigeons in our gutters for years. They come down and eat the birdseed we leave. Pigeons and I get along. They are plump, affable, talkative birds that mill around in flocks and aren’t very clever. Pigeons are the sheep of the bird kingdom, and I like sheep.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me,  as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 

I am also a plump and talkative herd animal who isn’t very clever. I am downright gullible.  I am a pigeon and a sheep. For this I have suffered, a lot. Lately I am particularly embarrassed. It would be much better if I were a hawk.

No, actually, I don’t think it would.

Better to get taken advantage of a thousand times than to be somebody who hurts others.

I don’t want to be a Lost Girl. I want to be someone who believes the lost can be found even if it kills me.

I suppose Jesus and I agree on that.

There I go again, believing in Jesus.

“Jesus, I liked it better when I thought I knew where you were. Life was bad enough when I thought there was a Church I could trust to tell me exactly what to do to make you happy. Now that I know what an abusive mother she is, I can’t trust her to tell me what to do for fear I’ll be abusing someone else. Now that I know she’s lied about who, exactly, is intrinsically disordered, I don’t know how I can trust that you don’t despise me. And my religious trauma is too severe to participate in her rituals even though I want to. I think I’ve been imagining I could earn your approval by being generous with my poor neighbors, but that has blown up in my face spectacularly. I am completely out of resources. There is nothing I can do that will impress you. All I can do is wait for you, because I have nothing left.” 

No answer but quiet, beautiful quiet, impossible quiet. It was so quiet I could hear the buzzing of the transformer box on the light pole on the alley. It was so quiet I could hear the murmurs of the pigeons on the roof. It was so quiet, I swore I could hear the corn growing and the compost returning to life.

That’s where I am today. I am praying in a garden.




Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.




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