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Praying in the Garden

Sr Kathleen Ireson has been a keen gardener all her life.
She describes here how the garden can draw her to prayer.

First and foremost, time in the garden puts life back into perspective. When I’m caught up in whatever happens to be ‘the concern of the moment’, a turn round the garden really helps. There I re-connect with the natural world of which I am a part, sense again its rhythm - and slow down! It seems to me that however we look at it, we are seasonal creatures: the daily cycle from the morning until night, the rhythm of the seasons or the span of a lifetime, the rhythm of rise and fall is always the same. Going out into the garden is always a blessing.
After a quick overall scan, something usually catches my eye. A plant in full vigour, full of flower and bursting with life and colour, leads to joy and wonder at the sheer marvel of plant life and praise for the miracle of creation. Or perhaps I notice something ailing and unhappy. What’s wrong? Too dry? Too wet? Needs a boost? Under attack from a hidden pest? Plants don’t always succeed and they’re quick to show it. Not unlike us, I think, and so at times I find the garden a very good place for a bit of quite reflection on life in general, and of the need of forgiveness of self and others.
But more than anything, I think a garden is a place for remembering and giving thanks. Maybe a tree planted to mark a special occasion or a cutting from a friend’s garden now grown to maturity takes me back over time and I’m reliving many happy memories from the past. On another day I’ll find myself talking to the plants! Take for example the Californian Poppy which has the tendency to change its place over time; it just doesn’t want to settle down anywhere. I’ll be telling it ‘You’re just like so-and-so, I never know where I’ll come across her next’, the kind of person who’s at home in any company, often in quite unexpected places, but always happy, cheerful and loving life – a tonic to meet!
Matching plants with people can be a fascinating exercise: I think of the Penstemon, especially the old varieties, a plant that’s no trouble and calls for no special treatment; yet unfailingly comes up year after year. So like another old friend who’ll never let me down, someone totally reliable and with a heart of gold. I think too of the Agapanthus, tall and independent, standing out from the crowd, attractive at all seasons, in bud as in full flower and on into a long-lasting and lovely seed head. Sadly my thoughts turn to someone no longer with us, a lovely person in every way and a real privilege to have known.

I read somewhere that ‘we are our neighbours’ environment’ and I give thanks to God for the beauty of the natural world we find in our gardens.

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