This week I spent long hours in the garden. My plant of choice has been is roses-red ones and white ones. It has been cool, so they are getting a good start before the hot weather sets in. I have also planted peonies, salvias, lilies and other beauties. I know that the work I do now will give family and friends joy all summer long.
For centuries the garden has been a metaphor for the spiritual life. As a garden goes through seasons, so we experience seasons of the soul.
We know summers when we are filled with devotion and inspiration like a garden in full bloom. We also go through autumns when winds of change cause us distress and loss, like a tree losing its leaves. In the winter of the soul, we may feel quiet as a snow-covered landscape and wonder what (if anything) is going on; we may even feel loneliness and longing as if God were absent.
During other times we may experience a springtime of new life, opportunities to grow in faith and love, nurtured by the water of grace and the sun of divine love. It is a challenge to adapt to these different seasons of the soul, continuing to love God and neighbor whatever the weather!
In the garden of the spiritual life, the virtues are seen as a great variety of new and different growing things, from seeds to mature plants. There are flowers, fruits, trees, and all manner of verdure. St. Julian of Norwich wrote poetry and composed music describing the “greening of the soul,” reminding us that we can possess within us great beauty that pleases God.
The garden metaphor also teaches us that the life of our spirit is not static. It moves and changes just as the world of nature does. However, this can be quite difficult for us! Most of us like things to stay the same. When things change we have to rethink things. Things which used to work no longer do and so we must try something else. This necessarily involves a search or struggle. Yet, like the garden, our growth and development depends upon processes of change and transformation.
The Lord has sometimes been called The Soul’s Gardener, which reminds us that it is his work that beautifies this interior garden. And St. Teresa of Avila taught her sisters that the Lord takes delight in spending time with us when we go within to pray. What an encouragement, that God tends us and takes kindly care of spiritual progress. Only love could explain such attention from so great a God!
If you were to imagine a fruit, flower or tree growing in the garden of your soul, what would it be?
Copyright 2014, Julie Paavola