During last week’s garden retreat, one of our volunteers asked me about the social aspects of gardening. The question gave me pause. I am, largely, a solitary gardener. As such, I’m in tune with the many ways that gardening bolsters my prayer life and aids in my conversion. I also give space in my reflections to the role of gardening in healing both my own wounded places and those of the wider world. But I rarely have the experience of gardening as corporate prayer.
This volunteer and his wife, who was also on the retreat, shared with our group the importance of gardening to their married life and the many ways that working the soil together draws them closer. Others on our retreat named similar experiences. Two of our group were a mother-daughter team who had come on the retreat together as a way of sharing a time of contemplative garden work. Another retreatant shared his experience gardening with indigenous people using ancient techniques, and another about gardening with juvenile convicts.
These stories enriched our time together by illuminating the sacramental force of our garden work. And they reminded me that we do not garden for or with ourselves alone. Gardening is a way of channeling our creativity, which is to say a way of inviting the Holy Spirit to flow through our bodies and to guide our hands in bringing forth beauty from the created world. This experience of openness to the Spirit is extremely intimate, and it deepens our awareness of the fundamental unity of body, mind, and spirit. When we share that experience with another or others, it nourishes a kind of intimacy that words alone cannot touch. At the same time, we grow together in relationship with one another and with God.
The healing that comes from this kind of intimacy with one another, ourselves, the land itself, and God is subtle and not immediately apparent. And yet, over time, our communal working and praying attunes us to the quiet movement of the Spirit within and among us, knitting us more and more fully together.
This conjoining of our spirits with another through the Holy Spirit was obvious on the last morning of our retreat. The seven of us gathered under our grandmother oak in the small cloister. Holding hands, we spoke aloud our thanks, hopes, praise, and awe for the work of God unfolding in and through us. We then laid hands on one another as we anointed each other’s hands with holy oil, much as we had anointed the soil with our sweat in the previous three days.
Looking into the tears in one volunteer’s eyes I could see my own soul reflected there, my own gratitude and my own need for the grace that God so freely gives to us all. Hearing the tremble of another guest’s voice as she spoke aloud her praise for the beauty of God’s creation, I could hear my own awe and reverence. I believe we were all more whole after our few days together.
As our guesthouse prepares to close for August, I offer my thanks for the support of all those who have labored to bring forth beauty on our grounds over the years, and especially to this year’s garden volunteers: Wendy, Mike, Yanick, Randy, Kelly, Jacob, Robin, Robin (there were two!), Puck, Steve, Beth (twice!), Brenda, Lorraine, Hannah, Tessa, Bo, Sunny, Stuart, Meg, and Ken.
If you’re interested in joining future garden volunteer retreats, please check our retreat listings.
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