Have you noticed that in a garden it is easier to experience God than nearly anywhere else? Praying while sitting in or working in a garden is a direct connection to our Creator. Why is that? Because it’s a return to the Garden of Paradise, the Garden of Eden. The close relationship that God intended to have with all of his human creations was first brought into reality here. He wants to restore for us the closeness that our first parents, Adam and Eve, lost.
Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so…. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:11-13 NIV).
One of my favorite chores is mowing the lawn. It’s good therapy. In the summertime, it gives me a weekly opportunity to turn something scraggy and problematic into a smooth expanse of beautiful green. As I’m riding the mower, my inner child remembers playing in the expansive yard of my grandfather’s childhood home. It’s a wonderful memory. I felt more peaceful and accepted and free to be myself when my grandparents took me there for a week every summer.
When my parents came to live with Ralph and me, my dad sometimes commented on how much I enjoyed mowing the lawn. He said that it made him reminisce about how much he used to enjoy mowing. And then he always added: “I liked it so much that I never let anyone else do it.”
Why did he like it that much?
During my teen years, he grew a vegetable garden in the side yard. It became one of his hobbies. I didn’t pay much attention to it and he didn’t invite me to. Only after I bought my first house did I discover the joy of planting seeds, impatiently waiting for them to sprout, and finally delighting over them as they turned into something on my dinner plate with a better flavor than anything I bought in a store.
I was participating in God’s miracle of creation as well has the generosity of his abundance. My zucchinis grew huge and multiplied so much that I gave them away and still had too many!
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” (Genesis 1:29 NIV)
Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:16 ESV)
Blaise from Uganda tells the story of how he used his garden to help someone learn of Abba-Father’s great love for her:
After planting watermelons in one of my gardens of 10 acres, I looked around and saw a lady. I didn’t know her history, but I invited her to have the other 10 acres of land for planting beans. I wanted her to plant beans because this would improve the nitrogen in the soil, which would benefit my fruits. It was a 50-50 deal, but to her it meant a lot more. She wondered how a stranger could give her all that land.
Some of the people who found out about it were not happy. I wondered why. Then one day she came to thank me. She said that she never expected anyone on Earth to love her and give her such a generous offer. She explained that she had been rejected by her husband 20 years ago and the whole community turned against her. Now she saw a miracle in her life: God had brought someone to show her his love. She told me that my offer had given her peace and joy simply because she felt God’s love. He treated her special, choosing her to have that free land instead of anyone else in her village.
Praise God! You don’t know how high you are raising up a soul when you share generously. You don’t know how much you will show God’s loving closeness to someone.
As we can see from Blaise’s story, a garden can produce not just plants but miracles too. The woman he helped received the miracle of hearing God choose her above all others.
God’s voice is easier to hear in a garden — or out in any beautiful place in nature — than anywhere else. Perhaps you have other special places where it’s easier to hear your Divine Daddy speaking to you, such as going on retreat or talking to a spiritual director. Not everyone can own a garden, but anyone can decorate a room with pictures of flowers and some live potted plants, and use it as a prayer room.
The only place better is where we can adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist, for (as we learned on Day 12) he is the gateway to Heaven. He is our Mediator opening up communication between us and the Father.
It was in a garden that God spoke to a friend of mine to give me a message that I had not heard directly. This was back in 1978 when I was becoming Catholic but it was a struggle. Though I longed to receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, I was still listening to the old Protestant messages that were embedded in my memories, telling me that I should never become a Catholic.
I had met my friend Mary in a Catholic Charismatic prayer group. The Lord had led me to this group and yet I still could not hear him inviting me to become Catholic. The noise of my Protestant upbringing was too loud.
Mary knew of my struggle. One day while tending to her garden, she heard God say, very distinctly, “Tell Terry to plant her roots in My soil.” She knew he meant the Catholic Church, and so did I when she gave me the message.
However, at first she resisted telling me. She replied to God, “But she won’t like hearing this.” And she wondered if it was just her imagination speaking — a voice she could ignore.
“Tell Terry to plant her roots in My soil,” the Father’s voice boomed more vehemently.
“But what if she won’t believe me?” Mary wondered.
“Tell Terry to plant her roots in My soil!”
So she got up from the garden, went inside, picked up the phone and called me. When I answered, she said, “Terry, I’ve got something to tell you. I almost didn’t call you because I don’t think you’ll like hearing this. God told me to tell you this while I was gardening. He had to tell it to me three times before I agreed to call you.”
“What is it?” I asked. I knew my friend was not the type of person who exaggerates or hears false messages. Normally, when someone says, “God gave me a message to tell you,” they are really trying to impose their own will onto ours. They want to be God’s prophet out of egoism, not humility. But Mary was not like that.
As soon as she gave me the message, I knew beyond all doubt that God was speaking through her. I knew it because I recognized the message. Father God had already been whispering into my heart, through the Holy Spirit, the command to stop attending Catholic Mass as a Protestant.
A few days after Mary’s phone call, I contacted the priest of the parish that Ralph and I had been attending. He gave me instructions and brought me all the way into the Catholic Faith. And what a joy it’s been to enter into the fullness of Christianity with all of its sacraments and other advantages of being Catholic!
Can you guess why Mary heard God’s message for me in a garden? And not anywhere else?
One of my childhood’s greatest treasures came from my grandmother. Nana gifted me with a small, framed picture of garden flowers. Imprinted on it was a little poem:
The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.
Although I had not yet planted my first garden, these words resonated in my soul throughout my teen years. I didn’t know why at the time.
It’s part of a longer work by Dorothy Frances Gurney (1858 – 1932), an English poet and hymn writer. Her father was an Anglican priest. Her husband, Gerald, was also an Anglican priest, but the two of them became Catholic in 1919. Perhaps she was my first patron saint!
The Lord God planted a garden
In the first white days of the world,
And He set there an angel warden
In a garment of light enfurled.
So near to the peace of heaven,
That the hawk might nest with the wren,
For there in the cool of the even
God walked with the first of men.
And I dream that these garden-closes
With their shade and their sun-flecked sod
And their lilies and bowers of roses,
Were laid by the hand of God.
The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.
For He broke it for us in a garden
Under the olive-trees
Where the angel of strength was the warden
And the soul of the world found ease.
“The Lord God planted a garden in the first white days of the world” — the Garden of Paradise in which “God walked with the first of men.” God’s first desire for his relationship with humans was to be in close communion, walking together and talking as a loving Father with his beloved child. Today when we walk through a garden or any beautiful place that he created, we re-enter Abba’s first desire for us. Jesus restored this communion when he broke open the gate to Paradise through his “yes” in offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane “under the olive trees”.
God has been walking through gardens with people since he first created humankind. He planted the first garden (“their shade and their sun-flecked sod and their lilies and bowers of roses, were laid by the hand of God”) and intended it to be a place of friendship and nourishment, feeding both the soul and the body.
Do you know what the first sin of our first human father was? Disobedience, yes. He ate from the tree that God had forbidden. But it’s a much larger problem than that. We know that our first mother succumbed to temptation because she listened to the seductive tricks of the serpent and she allowed herself to be fooled by him. But what was Adam’s temptation?
Our first father — like many fathers since — failed to serve his family as their protector against evil. Adam represents the man who has been given the truth but does not protect his soul-mate (and by extension, their children) from the lies of the devil. Where was Adam when Eve saw the serpent? And listened to the serpent? He was with her (see Genesis 3:6). Silently watching. Silently cooperating with the lie because he did not speak up. Silently agreeing to the sin when he accepted the evil fruit that Eve gave to him.
What then do you suppose was Adam’s image of God? A Father who is silent when temptation strikes? Remember that Adam hid from God after the sin. He thought that he actually could hide! He is the father who teaches by his own behaviors the misconception that we can do whatever we please because the Father doesn’t see us; God is not always with us.
What was your human father’s prayer life like? His church involvement? His sharing of the faith with the family? How did he handle temptations? What did he teach about holiness and about how to handle temptations? Did he lead the family in fighting against evil? Or did he leave that mostly to the wife while he sat idly nearby, satisfied with his worldly pursuits and personal ideas of what’s good and what’s bad?
How did your parents show you God’s garden?
We’ve been looking at the human authority figures who have negatively affected our image of God’s Fatherhood in order to identify the misconceptions that we hold about Abba and for the purpose of seeing and understanding him more clearly. It’s equally important to look for examples of how the humans in our upbringing have given us a good picture of Abba — and thank them if we can.
My parents had introduced me to the beauty of nature as soon as I was old enough to travel with them on vacation. Every summer, they took me and my sister and brother on an adventure that invariably included nature’s wonders. We hiked mountain trails and we row-boated across lakes.
One year, my parents gave me a camera for Christmas. This initiated a life-long fascination with photography, which for me is the art of trying to capture a moment of God’s splendorous presence.
I have always felt closest to God when looking at the graceful lines of rolling hills and the jagged intrusion of rocky mountaintops against soft skies. Or the colorful array of flowers carpeting a field. Or the pattern of waves on the beach gently smoothing out stones over the long course of time.
Another treasure from childhood, which still adorns a special place in my house, is one of my first needlepoints. It says, “Seen as God sees them, all things are beautiful.”
How did I learn the truth of that? From the perspective I have now, looking back over six decades of my life, I realize that my Divine Daddy had walked with me through all of the beautiful places I visited.
Here in Florida, there’s a wildflower called lantana. When we moved into the house we built, lantanas decorated the yard and we cultivated them as bushes.
Much of our property is wild, and it’s intriguing to walk through it and notice how it changes every month and every year. A group of wild-grown Apostle Irises popped up near our driveway; how appropriate! And our yard, which had been nothing but weeds and dirt patches when we built the house, was sodded by God himself; the grass amazingly spread to full coverage, starting from a few shoots that we didn’t plant.
You’ve felt it, too, right? The gracefulness of a flying bird captures our attention, and deep in our soul we feel the grace of God. The old adage, “stop and smell the roses,” is an invitation to slow down from our distractions and busy agendas to connect with God the Creator-Father. He is walking beside us always, but we are not always aware. The beauty of nature was designed by God to make us aware.
The lessons of nature’s beauty
Why do we waste so much time in front of the television when we could be delightfully entertained sitting in our back yards watching the shows that God produces? And they’re all commercial-free! The dewdrops on the screen that covered the lanai of my previous house were, in my opinion, far more interesting than sitcoms and talk shows and violent “action” movies. When the sun hits these tiny globes of water, they sparkle like shiny diamonds, and when God touches them with a gentle morning breeze, they twinkle like glittering stars. It’s fun to watch!
It was also awe-inspiring. Just think, God placed those dewdrops on my lanai screen for me to enjoy! He created them with me in mind!
It’s sad that we miss a lot of the shows he produces. Many are never seen by human eyes. What a waste! So many dewdrops never get appreciated.
Ahhh, but that’s not true. God sees every dew drop in the entire world, and he thoroughly enjoys watching them twinkle in the sunlight. He started entertaining himself with dewdrops long before he created people with whom to share the spectacular view. Right now, wherever there are dewdrops, he’s grinning from the pleasure they are giving him.
If he gets this delighted over simple dewdrops, imagine how wonderfully happy he feels about you. You are far more important to him than mere drops of water. Nothing that’s good about you escapes his notice. He smiles over every nice gesture, every kind deed, every helpful outreach, every use of your gifts and talents. He gets more excited by you than what he sees in nature.
Think of the last time you walked by a stream. God carved the earth to put that stream right there, knowing that someday you’d be there to see it. What’s your favorite place in nature to visit on a day off or on a whole vacation? God created it to give you pleasure, to uplift you, to give you respite from the stresses you’ve endured. Which window in your house do you most enjoy looking through? What do you see outside? God knew you’d eventually live in this house when he designed that masterpiece of a view.
Your Divine Daddy did all of this in order to help you sense his nearness. That’s how special you are to him!
When tragedy comes like an earthquake and destroys some of the beauty in your life, Abba wants to give you his fatherly comfort to lean into.
When stress becomes overwhelming, Abba is inviting you to walk with him through a quiet garden somewhere far from the deafening noises of the world.
When a loved one breaks your heart, Abba is offering to you his heart where butterflies gently flit on a soft breeze as a reminder that it’s good to curl up in a cocoon for a while but new life awaits.
When a difficult decision challenges you with uncertainty, Abba is inviting you to find a quiet, beautiful place where you can be alone with him. He will speak to you. Shhh! Too many thoughts? Gaze at a leaf growing on a tree. See how it’s attached firmly to the branch by a thin stem. When the branch sways in the wind, the leaf you’re watching moves in harmony with the branch and all the other leaves.
Jesus spoke of himself as a vine to which we are attached. (See John 15:1-4.) Since he only said what the Father wanted to convey, we know that Abba is using the tree you now see and the leaf that catches your attention.
“I am the branch,” he says. “You are that leaf. Apart from me you can do nothing but fall to the ground and wither. Together, we move in harmony. Relax in this truth and then think about the decision you’re facing. Which choice peacefully floats on the breeze with Me? Which option does no harm to the other leaves? I’ve planted the answer in your heart, like a flower that will soon open and spread the fragrance of My love into the world.”
Your spiritual garden
Jesus taught us that the Father is like a farmer sowing seeds:
As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop — a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. (Matthew 13:4-8 NIV)
If we are fertile soil, Abba-Father plants seeds within us, waits patiently for them to sprout, and delights over us when we bear good fruit.
Our reactions to life’s happenings reveal what kind of soil we’ve cultivated for our lives. Our reactions are based on how much we truly believe that God loves us and cares about us in all things and no matter what.
For example, if we are chronic complainers, our soil is shallow. In other words, our relationship with the Father is shallow. When life heats up, our trials burn up any trust in God’s fatherhood that has sprouted. We need to examine why we assume that difficulties are evidence that God does not care about us. This requires digging deeper into the soil and fertilizing it with the truths about God’s fatherhood that you’ve been learning throughout this 30-day journey into the Father’s heart.
Furthermore, if our dirt has been trampled down by people who cruelly walked all over us, making us hard and our hearts cynical, and if we remain unhealed of this degrading treatment, the seeds of love that the Father sows in us are easily stolen away by the devil who is telling us that we don’t deserve better treatment or that we must seek revenge.
If we get angry easily, especially when we are unable to control our circumstances or we’re unable to control that other person who has been sinning against us, this means that our lives are thorny. The Father keeps planting seeds of his blessings within us, but our prickly attitudes choke the growth of these blessings. We need to examine why we get so easily upset. We need to consider why controlling our circumstances and controlling other people makes us feel good. The answers, when revealed in the light of truth, become machetes chopping a path through the thorns.
Sometimes we listen to the truth only on the surface of the soil because we’ve been hardened by falsehoods. We hear the truth, but the winds of distraction or turmoil or false impressions blow it away. For example, we hear that God forgives us when we repent, but we have a hard time admitting our sins because when we were children we didn’t understand the love behind the punishments that our parents meted out. Thus today we’d rather fool ourselves into thinking that a sin is not a sin in order to avoid what is really a wrong image of God the Father.
If our dirt is rocky, if we’re hard-headed and hard-hearted, and if we like throwing hard words at others, the seeds of love that God sows in us won’t reach the soft soil underneath where the roots can grow. We need to be pulverized by the hardships of life (and you thought your life shouldn’t be so dramatic). The setbacks and persecutions that so easily make us falter in our faith will either harden us or teach us compassion — it’s our choice.
Sometimes we accept the truth joyfully but it doesn’t last. We feel God’s love only while life is easy. When the rocks stub our toes, we forget about Abba-Father’s love and we try to deal with the problems our own way. We get rid of the person who’s hurting us. We jump to solutions without praying for discernment. We get angry with God instead of seeing our sufferings as a connection to Christ on the Cross.
Sometimes we listen only half-heartedly to the truth. We let worldliness, anxieties, and cravings choke it off. We know about God’s love, but we neglect to quiet down long enough to bask in it. We get too busy with our own agendas, too busy solving problems, too busy rushing into decisions and the fulfillment of our desires. We fail to wait on God’s perfect timing and wisdom.
To let the truth sink in deeply, where it reaches fertile ground, we have to dig out the falsehoods that we believe and we have to learn why they are false. When the truth penetrates into the depths of our hearts, our lives become fertile soil and we bear good fruit — and lots of it! If our dirt is fertile ground for new growth, and if we let Abba-Father nourish us with his Word and refresh us with his healing waters, his love will sprout within us, our awareness of being loved will grow and grow until it blossoms, and we’ll produce a bountiful harvest of great love for others, because what we receive is meant to be shared.
Fertilizer for your garden
Rich soil is fertilized soil, and you know what fertilizer is made of? Oh how stinky it smells!
The natural fertilizers that hit the proverbial fans in our everyday lives can enrich our soil. For example, when we’re so busy that we don’t take enough time to sit quietly with the Lord and pray, life gets harder. Things go wrong. Mishaps bump into us — or rather I should say, we stumble into mishaps because we’re not paying attention to God’s directions. How stinky must life get before we slow down and listen to the Lord?
When we don’t take time to humbly listen, our hardened hearts are like the path that’s been packed down so hard (usually from other people trampling on us) that the seeds lie on the surface as bird food. God’s help never has a chance to take root in us.
When we do ask God for help, he doesn’t answer our prayers like a magic genie. He waits to see how much we’re willing to trust him. Our Divine Daddy wants to increase our trust. The only way for that to happen is for us to discover that trusting him, despite obstacles and fears and personal wishes, really does produce good results. But if our faith is rocky, we soon begin to tell God how he should solve our problems, as if we know better than he does!
Sometimes we listen to what others are telling us instead of trusting the Father’s voice. If what we hear in prayer does not contradict scripture and Church teachings, we should dare to trust it. We all have good-intentioned advisors amongst our friends and family who have not heard what the Lord is telling us; their worldly or misinformed advice is like thorns that choke out the truth. Our soil can be rich and fertile, but if we don’t trust what God is telling us, the seeds he gave us will have no chance to do any good.
To succeed as rich soil that produces good results, benefiting from God’s abundance, we have to submit to his hoe, letting him turn under everything bad that happens to us so that it rots into fertilizer that nourishes us and strengthens who we become.
The community garden
Nancy shares this story:
I was eating coleslaw with my fried shrimp and God said, “Look at the coleslaw. What’s the main ingredient? Cabbage! The coleslaw started out as a head of cabbage. Has the cabbage changed in any way because of the other ingredients that it’s mixed with? Not at all. It’s still cabbage. But you didn’t ask the waitress for a head of cabbage; you ordered coleslaw. Why? Because cabbage that’s chopped and mixed with mayonnaise, vinegar, salt, sugar, and spices appeal to the taste buds much more than a plain piece of cabbage.”
I wondered, “Yeah … so what’s your point, Jesus?”
“The cabbage in the coleslaw is no less than what it was created to be. But if it had not given up each stage of its existence (the seed dying in fertile soil to become a sprout, the sprout growing into a head, the head chopped into slaw, the slaw mixed with other produce), it would not have become a delightful salad for your nourishment.”
Nancy’s parable of the coleslaw points out that true Christian faith is more than just sprouting as seedlings from good soil. Faith is bland unless it becomes part of a salad, mixing what’s good about us with the good in others for the sake of nourishing those who want Jesus to minister to them. Or to put it another way: Faith is pointless unless we put it to use as part of a parish community and other faith-based groups that have a mission of serving others.
As seeds, we sink into the fertile soil alone, but we don’t sprout alone. Growing requires Father God’s participation as he waters us and gives us warm sunshine. However, our strongest flavors that help others in the biggest way come from the hardships we’ve endured. So Jesus comes along and plucks us out of the comfortable ground to do an important work for his kingdom.
Meanwhile, life on earth chops us into slaw, ruining our nicely shaped cabbage head. Instinctively, we try to pull ourselves back together. Even if we understand the value of using our troubles for the good of others, the fact is we’re still shredded and our flavor is still limited. We need to mix it up with others. We need to find people who are like mayonnaise and spices for us. We need to become part of a community of other vegetables and fruits. (Yes, even people who are “fruits” and “nuts” add flavor to the salad!)
Only as a community can we offer the world a taste of what God’s kingdom is really like. Only together do we make a good harvest in the kingdom of God. Christ’s love, power, and salvation are revealed through our teamwork and collaboration with one another, not through our isolated individuality.
Identify what the Father has planted in you
Think about the richness of your soil. Notice what’s growing in your daily circumstances. What decisions and behaviors are producing God’s love and nourishing others? Here is where you truly believe that God loves you.
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© 2020 by Terry A. Modica
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