He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Saturday, July 11, 2015

40 Days in the Garden: Meditations on Pascha

During the course of the Easter season this year, my goal was to continue my Lenten meditations which had been so valuable to my spiritual life.  Just as with Lent, I wanted to deepen my practice of Christianity over the course of a season all too easily forgotten after the family dinner and egg hunts.

In the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, the Easter season is about as long as the Lenten season.  Accordingly, I wanted to dedicate the same amount of effort.  Thus I have duplicated the format of my meditations, though I actually spent much more time on them.  Instead of using only the length of the Easter season, I took much longer, almost twice as long in fact.

In part, this is because the Easter season is the greater of the two, but it is also true that it is because my life has been exceedingly busy and there have been many wonderful fruits to enjoy.  I like to think that unlike the desert, the garden is a place in which we can relax a bit and take more time in our meditations.

I really enjoyed using my experience with my maternal grandparent's farm and my paternal grandparent's garden to write these meditations, interlaced with lessons from the Gospels and the Saints.  As before, my intent was to reflect the value of the liturgical life which helps us to bridge Heaven and earth, and so each meditation has a spiritual implication to match each experience of the garden and can help us on our way in our journey to return to the Garden of Paradise which waits for those who are friends of God.

Pascha - In the garden, it is easy to give in to the temptation to gorge ourselves on the sweet fruits and vegetables that grow so large and abundant there, especially after experiencing the hunger pangs and dryness of the desert where the food is sparse.  We can quickly make ourselves sick by feasting too greedily after the fast, thus losing the gentle nourishment of the garden's bounty.

In the same way, it is tempting to gorge ourselves on the experience of spiritual sweetness once we enter the spiritual garden, to break our fasting with such feasting that we make ourselves sick as we quickly become reliant on the feelings of spiritual sweetness rather than on the suffering Lord who died and rose again for our sake.  Thus we can lose the nourishment of the spiritual garden of Pascha if we forget the moderation and self-control we learned in the spiritual desert.

Day 1 - In the garden, we must remove the deep-seated rocks, weeds, and debris which keep the plants from growing to their full potential.

So too in the garden of our spiritual lives we must remove the deep-seated pride, addictions, and the old grudges to which we cling. In this way, we can begin to grow to our full potential as people of healing, peace, and purest love.

Day 2 - In the garden, we seek the counsel of the experienced gardener and follow the advice we are given by the gardener who has been cultivating and harvesting for many years.

In the same way, we should seek the counsel of the experienced cultivator of the garden of the spiritual life and follow the advice we are given so that the spiritual harvest may be abundant for us and for all those we love.

Day 3 - In the garden, we must faithfully cultivate it so that it brings forth all the good fruits that we need. The untended garden gradually becomes a dead garden, and the dead garden gradually becomes a desert. Let us keep ourselves from going back into the desert by our loving diligence, tending the garden so that we can remain in it!

Day 4 - In the garden, we must carefully avoid crushing underfoot the small plants which are growing so that they can produce great fruits and vegetables, especially when the plants are young and their growth is easily turned to a slow death.  Instead, we should promote their growth, removing the weeds that would strangle them, watering them with the clean water from the river, and ensuring that we do not block the light of the sun from reaching them.

So too in the garden of the spiritual life, we must carefully avoid crushing the spirits of those who are growing in the spiritual life, especially those who are newer to the narrow way and have not yet developed spiritual resilience, because their spiritual growth is easily frustrated and they may abandon the path of the Master.  Instead, we should help them struggle against their evil habits which strangle those who seek to grow in the spiritual life, showering them with the Word of He who brings the Living Water, and clearing any obstacles between them and the Son.

Day 5 - In the garden, the luscious fruits and vegetables upon which we feast are the product of both our difficult labors and the natural gifts we accept and use for our good.

So too in the spiritual garden of life, it is through both accepting the gifts we have been given and embracing the difficult labors of prayer, fasting, and giving to those in need which bring forth the best spiritual fruits.

Day 6 - In the garden, we can choose to be gardeners who cultivate life amidst the cycle of life and death, or we can choose to be destroyers of life amidst the cycle of life and death.

In the same way, we have a choice in the garden of the spiritual life.  Will we choose to cultivate life in the spiritual garden we long to dwell in, or will we choose to avoid the work of cultivation and allow the destruction of the spiritual life, never to see the Garden from which we first came and to which we long to return?

Day 8 - In the garden, we must sacrifice our immediate desires for the full nutritional value of plants which have grown long enough to be sufficient for our true nourishment. Rather than plucking the fruit before it is ready, the wise gardener waits, and it is often the most patient gardener who can enjoy the best crop.

So too in the spiritual garden of our lives, we must sacrifice our immediate desires so that we can grow into the fullness of the spiritual life, waiting with great patience until we are ready to leave the vine that grounds us and enter the household which is prepared for us, finally fit to take our place at the table of divine love.

Day 9 - In the garden, we must protect our crop from pests and thieves, not because we do not want others to partake of the crop, but precisely because we want a crop so bountiful that we can be very generous with it after the harvest, because we want to give to those who have not the strength to take.

So too in the spiritual garden of life, we must protect our spiritual fruits from the Evil One and his minions, not because we do not want others to share in the bounty of our Lord, but precisely because we want to preserve the strength we will need to bring others with us into the Kingdom, because we want to help our brothers and sisters in their weakness as the Lord has aided us in our weakness to become strong in Him!

Day 11 - In the garden, we work hard each day that we are able so that we might produce good fruit. This work can become tedious and wearisome, but we have the power to keep our focus on the fruits of our labors so that we can do our work with the joy of knowing that it will benefit us and those we love.

So too in the spiritual garden of life, we work hard each day to pray intensely and love humbly so that we might produce good spiritual fruits.  This work can seem tedious and wearisome, but so long as we focus upon bearing good fruits for the sake of those we love, we can work with joy in our hearts.

Day 12 - In the garden, there are times when the hailstorm flattens the crop, when the winds toss the fruit from the trees, or the floods wash away the new shoots. We can either grow bitter and ungrateful, lamenting our ill fortune, or we can learn to be grateful for the many gentle rains, the many light breezes, and the many sunny skies which so often escape our notice unless we are reminded of what it is to have rough weather.

So too in the spiritual garden of life, there are times when a storm of despair flattens our joy, when the chaos of life tosses the fruits of discipline away from us, or the flood of flattery washes away our budding humility.  We can grow bitter and angry, cursing the circumstances, or we can be grateful for the opportunity to learn that our spiritual fruits are a gift, to be accepted with joy along with many other gifts He gives to us.

Day 14 - In the garden, we must be close to the earth to cultivate the plants which will grow into luscious fruits and vegetables.  We must bend low, where it is impossible to maintain a proud posture, and dig our hands into the soil, the same earth in which our ancestors are buried.

In the same way, working in the spiritual garden requires us to bend low in humility, leaving behind the silly posturing of pride in ourselves as we kneel before the Lord.  We must dig our hands into the dirt of our souls to root out our sins, remembering that one day soon we too shall die, as did our ancestors.

Day 15 - In the garden, we prune back the vines so that they bear greater fruit as they grow once again.

So too in the spiritual garden of our lives, we are pruned back by the difficulties of life, forced to choose between clinging to our unhealthy attachments and reaching out in love to others. When we choose to reach out in love to others rather than clinging to our unhealthy attachments, we are pruned in such a way that we bear greater fruit as we grow from the experience of sacrificing our transient desires for the long-term benefit of others.

Day 16 - In the garden, we find that the fruits and vegetables have a flavor and lushness which surpasses that of the food we ate before. We no longer want to return to the sustenance that barely nourishes us, to the pleasures of a plate which is full of the wispy breads and sugar cane that quickly leave us feeling empty once again.

So too in the spiritual garden of our lives, the fruits of our difficult spiritual work which rests on a life of cultivating virtue far surpass the fruits of the easy living we subsisted on before. We no longer want to return to our striving for money, fame, or affection because we have learned that they quickly leave us with more of the same emptiness we sought to fill by attaining them.

Day 19 - In the garden, we are builders who construct a trellis, dig an irrigation ditch, or put up a fence. We build not to bring ourselves recognition through awards or fame, but because we want our building to support the growing of the best fruits for our family and neighbors in need.

So too in the spiritual garden of life, we are builders who construct daily routines to provide a structure which supports our growth, dig out unproductive parts of our lives so that there is room for the living water necessary for the fullest life, and put up fences to keep out things that hinder our growth. We build these things not to impress others or ourselves, but so that our lives produce the best fruits of the purest love for our family and our neighbors.

Day 20 - In the garden, we must remember that it is often the death of the seed that brings forth new life for the next generation of plants.  Our fruits and vegetables are born out of a quiet death, an emptying of their life into fertile soil so that life can continue more abundantly and beautifully when it flowers anew in the springtime.

In the same way, we must remember that in the spiritual garden, the death of the ego is the seed of a renewed spiritual life.  Spiritual fruits are born from a quiet death of our selfishness, from the choice to empty ourselves of our transient desires so that life can continue more abundantly and beautifully.  When we clear the weeds of the passions from our souls, the spiritual life flowers anew, bringing about a springtime of the soul.

Day 21 - In the garden, the sunlight is brilliant and beautiful, giving its energy to our crops so that they might grow healthy and ripe. Though we grumble about the heat of the day and the sweat on our brows, wearing hats to shield us from its rays, and we cannot look at the sun directly without danger, it is nonetheless necessary to bring us nourishment from the plants we cultivate. The lush food from the garden is worth bearing the heat of the sun's rays for many days.

So too in the spiritual garden of life, the Son's light is shining upon us to give us the energy we need for the spiritual life, to nourish our souls by brightening the relationships we cultivate with His love. Though we cannot yet see Him in his brilliant glory, and we often try to hide from the rays of his love because they prompt us to grow and change, the transformation He facilitates in us is worth bearing the pain of our glorious transformation.

Day 23 - While the garden is for producing good fruit, nutritious and substantial food which sustains life, the well-tended garden is not merely a utilitarian venture. A garden lovingly cultivated is a place of great and simple beauty, a place in which the color palette and natural order of life in all its complexity result in a display of beauty that surpasses the finest painting and the grandest architecture. The garden shines in brilliant hues in the sunlight of a clear day and shimmers with the most luscious light refracted in the drops of water during the darkest storms.

So too in the spiritual garden of life, our lives are not merely a utilitarian venture; when cultivated with the most profound sacrificial love, we become a locus of spiritual beauty as our complicated lives are ever more infused by divine love, a divine love that shines forth in the brilliant hues of kindness and joy when life is clear of strife and shimmers with the light of compassion and grief for those who are lost in dark days filled with strife.

Day 25 - In the garden, it is easy to look out and notice that the fruits and vegetables are not as big as we might like, that the weeds are growing more quickly than we would prefer, and that the crop could be better. It is more difficult to notice that the garden is much bigger than last year's, that the weeds are more sparse than they were before, and that the crop will be more than enough to keep our table full.

So too in the spiritual garden of our lives, it is easy to notice how far we have yet to go. It is more difficult to notice our steady progress over the years, but oh the joy we find in gratitude when we do so, when we realize that our table is covered with many wonderful gifts.

Day 28 - In the garden, we learn that the sweet fruit of the vine, the grape, is not just an easy and delicious snack to be enjoyed briefly, but which gives us no lasting nourishment.  When it is crushed and fermented, it becomes a strong wine, a fortifying drink which gives us strength of heart for the coming days.

In a similar way, in the spiritual garden we learn that feelings of spiritual sweetness which we find in prayer are not just a pleasure to be enjoyed briefly.  When our hearts are broken and our spirit is leavened with the spiritual yeast of the Risen Son, the gifts of spiritual sweetness become a manifestation of divine love, proof enough for us that we can take courage and confront the coming days with the Lord by our side.

Day 29 - In the garden, we intuitively realize that producing a good crop means moving around in the dirt, getting dirty and sweaty as we exert ourselves to make sure that we cultivate the best crop our efforts can provide for those we love.

So too in the spiritual garden of life, we must realize that our lives bear the best fruits when we are willing to take the risk of moving around in the dirt of our lives, planting seeds of good habits where before there was only empty pleasure, exerting ourselves so that the good habits will grow into great virtues from the dirt of our fallen passions, our virtues drawing strength from the rich soil left behind when our sins have died and lay abandoned on the earth while we reach for the heavens.

Day 30 - In the garden, it is the vine which ascends the supports provided by the gardener, reaching the light of the sun, that grows many branches and bears rich fruit.

In the spiritual garden, Christ is the vine whose Ascension to Heaven allows us to reach the light of the Son of God, and it is by accepting His gift of the spiritual light of grace which helps us, the branches of the True Vine, to bear much spiritual fruit.

Day 32 - In the garden, when the dirt has turned to mud and the rows of plants have rows of puddles alongside them, it is easy to think that things are going wrong in the garden and that we need to clean it up so that it has a splendid appearance once again. But there is nothing wrong with the muddy garden; it is a garden overflowing with life and poised for growth when the sun's rays shine upon it again.

So too in the spiritual garden of life, it is easy to think that things are going wrong when our lives lack the splendid appearance they had previously. But there is nothing wrong with the life which lacks a splendid appearance when it is overflowing with the quiet joy of living and is ready for the profound spiritual growth that awaits the moment it is touched by the light of the Son.

Day 34 - In the garden, there is so much work which can be done that it is quite possible to forget to rest as we rush from plant to plant, watering and weeding our way through the day. It is good to work hard in the garden, and it is also good to rest, to take our ease in the light of the sun as the day comes to a close, letting our hands and feet rest as night draws near.

So too in the spiritual garden of life, there is so much spiritual work to be done that it is quite possible to forget to rest as we rush from prayer to prayer, reciting and reading our way through the liturgy. It is good to do our spiritual work, and it is also good to rest in the Lord, to take our ease in the light of His beloved Son, letting our minds and hearts rest as He draws near.

Day 35 - In the garden, we discover at the harvest how well we will eat over the course of the next year. The harvest will reflect the struggles we faced and the work we accomplished while we cultivated our crop in the garden. The greater our efforts, the greater our reward at harvest time.

So too in the spiritual garden of life, we discover at the harvest what fruits our love and prayer have produced. At the harvest, we learn how well we will fare in the course of the next life. The greater our efforts in the spiritual life, the greater our reward when the harvester of souls draws us into the greater garden of Paradise.

Day 37 - In the garden, all the flowers, trees, and crops we cultivate grow to their fullest potential when they grow near the river, the water of life which nourishes and cleanses all which lives, moves, and has being upon the earth.

So too in the spiritual garden of life, we grow to our fullest potential when we grow near the living water, that constant stream of the fullness of life we can only find in union with the divine One, the One in whom we live and move and have our being, the One with whom we sacrifice all we have so that all those we love might have living water with us in the eternal garden of Paradise.

Day 38 - In the garden, the fiery sun, which burns so hot that it would destroy us were we to draw near to it as we are, is the same sun which bestows its life-giving rays upon us and all the plants in the garden.  The sun sustains the plants that provide us with food, and it gives us light by which to navigate the world, by day because it is visible, and by night because its light is reflected by the moon.

In the same way, in the spiritual garden the Lord is a consuming fire of Love so fierce that it would destroy us to draw near to Him in our current  state; we must be reborn, made a new creation, and restored to the abundance of life once known to us in the Garden in order to be united with Him.  He sustains us with all the spiritual food we require by His Word, whose flesh and blood we must eat and drink in order to have life within us.  He is the Son who gives light to the world, and even in the dark night of the soul when we have turned away from Him, His light shines upon us, reflected by His gentle mother who desires for all to see the Son even when they are turned away from Him.

Day 39 - In the garden, we eventually want to follow the river to its source, to find the pure spring from which the water wells up and rushes down the mountain above to bring life to our crop.

So too in the spiritual garden of life, we eventually want to follow the stream of Living Water back to its source, following it to find that the water rushes down from the heavens to bring us truest life, a gift from above.

Day 40 - In the garden, we lovingly cultivate fine foods which can nourish us on our journey through our lives, food which will fuel us as we attempt to climb the mountain to find the spring at the summit which sends clear water down to the garden where we grow our crops to share with those we love.

So too in the spiritual garden of life, we lovingly cultivate virtuous habits which will sustain us on our journey throughout our spiritual lives, virtue which will preserve us as we attempt to climb to the heavens from which we have received the Living Water to help us grow our hearts so as to share our lives with love for all.

Note:  Photo credit goes to me.

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