Urban Garden Denver Blog


Thoughts on Seasons and the Soul

One of my favorite contemplative writers is Henri Nouwen, who was a Catholic priest in the 20th century. In a collection of Nouwen’s writings that are organized by season (the liturgical calendar), the editor, Michael Ford, has this observation on seasons:

The word “season” comes in fact from a Latin root meaning “to sow.” Living the Church’s year is a process of growth, even a transformational experience. It engages wth an entirely different rhythm, marching to the beat of a different drum. It is a journey from chronos, the chronological world of clocks and calendars, to kairos, time viewed as opportunity or encounter.  (Eternal Seaons, Michael Ford, Editor)

My hope this year is that as I move through the seasons of opportunity, I can draw closer to God. Perhaps in some small way, my garden can be a vehicle for the growth of my own soul, as I tend and contemplate, and take moments to operate more on earth-time and less on clock-time.


My Soul Needs Flowers

Spring is a great time to get excited about the upcoming season in the garden. The signs of life are evident in the buds swelling on the trees and the crocuses poking up through a spring snow.

Recently I was chatting with a friend about our gardens, and she was describing her plans for tomatoes, beans, squash and basil — lots of yummy and healthy vegetables and herbs. I do love tomatoes fresh from the garden, and they sounded enticing. But I described to my friend how my garden had changed over the past few years to all flowers. Even the sunny vegetable plot near my alley has been converted into a cutting garden so I can have bouquets around my house and on my desk at work. I know that vegetables are practical and healthy, and I love to buy gardenfresh produce at the farmer’s market. But I told my friend that I was at a point in life where I needed flowers and beauty for my soul more than vegetables for my body.

 After the conversation ended, I started thinking about my comment and reflected on why I felt such a strong need for flowers and beauty in my life. I realized that my passing comment to a friend was reflective of a deeper truth. The purpose of my garden isn’t just to have beautiful flowers; the act of gardening and the beauty in my garden nourish my soul.

 There are several different ways that gardening, and especially the beauty of flowers, satisfy something deep within me. First, there is the urge to create. Because my soul is created in the image of a creative God, I have an inborn urge to create. Other people may fulfill this desire through many different mediums — painting, music, handicrafts or woodworking. For me, gardening satisfies my creative urge. The palette of flower colors, shapes and varieties reminds me of an amazing Creator, and appreciating the variety and beauty does nourish my soul.

 Gardening puts me in touch with an ancient seasonal rhythm of nature. My daily life is often far removed from such larger cycles. It is easy to get lost in our DayTimer®, driving the carpool or checking things off our to-do list each day. The natural rhythms that I observe and enjoy in my garden are more amenable to contemplation and soulful reflection — the seasons of growing and dying, dormancy and the hope of new life. These are rhythms that resonate with my soul in a way that my daily calendar cannot.  

 The physical aspect of gardening is a great way to play in the dirt as an adult. The physical touch of organic material puts me closer to the raw stuff of life. So much of my day is spent in manufactured environments — inside the walls of my house, the metal in my car — or my office with artificial air and no windows. Being outdoors and touching the terra (earth) are good for my soul. The Bible says that God created humans from the dirt and breathed life into us. The tangible, physical nature of gardening is good for the intangible parts of my being. Kids aren’t the only ones who can enjoy and be energized by playing in the dirt.

 Finally, gardening reminds me that I am not in control; I am not the all-powerful center of the universe. I can do all the right things in my garden, but the hail, wind, sun, rain and snow do not answer to me. My garden is just one small piece of the bigger world. As I learn this lesson physically in my garden, it reminds my soul that it is not the center of the universe either. My physical garden and my soul are part of a bigger reality.

 All these aspects of gardening nourish my soul because I am reminded that I am a creative being and have the capacity to enjoy the garden. But I also am a created being, and my garden and my soul are part of something much bigger than both.

 And this time of year, with the buds swelling, there is hopefulness to gardening. Just as my soul withers without hope, so the garden offers a season of hope and new life. I can enjoy this day in the garden, but also look forward to the promises of tomorrow — the daffodils of spring, cosmos of summer, and chrysanthemums of fall, the berries of winter, and the cycle that begins again.

Copyright, © Carla Foote 2010  First published in MomSense magazine, March/April 2006

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