As you know, I am not a gardener and never have been. That’s my brother’s gift not mine. We inherited all our greenery and garden from the people who owned the house before us and have done precious little to it since. Our actual garden is a scraggily little plot outside our Rec-room window that boasts a rose bush, some irises and my beloved Rose O’Sharron.
To a large extent nature and I have ignored each other. I was content with an attitude of indifference, except when it came to the big things like the Rockies or the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. But during my Sabbatical a few years ago I promised myself I would try and change that. Every morning that the weather allowed I would go out and do my daily mediations followed up by some time sitting enjoying my backyard. This was often the tricky part. I had finished the important stuff and sometimes literally had to force myself to stay put, stay outside. I watched the birds cavorting in the tree. I enjoyed the squirrels’ acrobatics as they jumped from hydro wires to pine trees. And I marvelled at how the leaves on the trees could look so different in colour depending on the day and the sun. But that all ended when my sabbatical ending. Too much to do of a morning to spend time sitting in the backyard.
But then Covid came along and I was at home more. The call of nature began to draw me out again. I began to tend my scraggy little garden plot. I weeded it. I trimmed my bushes. And if no one was listening I would chat with them words of encouragement.
This year, we upped our game. We bought flowers and planted them in our garden. Now I have no idea what they are. The names on the pots sounded vaguely familiar. They looked pretty so we bought them and planted them and scolded the dog when she trampled over them. The coup d’gras was our tomato plants. We planted four of them. They turned out to be quite the education.
For example, I discovered that I have a bit of a competitive streak. My sons planted tomatoes this year too. We would chat regularly and compare notes: how big have your plants grown? Any buds? Any flowers? How many flowers have turned into tomatoes? Most of the time my sons’ plants were besting mine. Which led to lesson number 2: There was precious little I could do to change that! I could water them. I could put some fertilizer on them. Put them in the sun. But after that – it was up to the bees and the sun and the plants. Mother Nature apparently did not need my help. I was extraneous, unnecessary, irrelevant. And it was a humbling and amazing feeling. Truth be told, much of life is beyond my control. It is good to be reminded to lighten up and let go.
It is much the way I felt when I look up at the stars at night and take in the vastness of it: the stars thousands of light years away, the moon, the magnitude of it all not to mention the uncharted space and galaxies far beyond our own. I realized how small and insignificant I and my problems are. I, we as humans, are not the center of the universe! We are just a tiny speck within it!! It’s so awesome and awe inspiring!! Humbling! If my knees weren’t cranky and I wasn’t afraid I wouldn’t be able to get up again, I’d get down on my knees and offer up a humungous prayer of thanks. Instead, again if no one is looking, I arch my back and look to the skies and offer up a litany of “thankyou,thankyou,thankyou…”
I have discovered a wonderful author in the last few years, although she’s been around for ages, Anne Lamott. She has written a book on prayer called: Help, Thanks, Wow. In her chapter on Thanks, she talks about the different kinds of “thank” prayers. There is the Defcon prayer for those times when you’ve dodged a bullet or woken up to discover it was all a dream your child did not drown. And your response comes from deep inside you: thank you… There is the sigh of relief thank you prayer where you sing praises for finding your passport in the nick of time to go to the airport or your brakes held when that kid ran out in front of you or your health issues turned out to be only allergies and not cancer.
And there are the thanks for friend and blessings and even for the crappy times when life seems horrible but if you’re paying attention a crack of light gets through or the darkness peals back a bit and you learn something incredibly profound about yourself, the world or the other that changes you forever and the only thing you can say is “thank you.”
Lamott also says that it is easy to say thank you when things are going well. But I tend to disagree. Those are the times I take for granted – much like my garden. Those times become like my daily saying grace. I say grace before most meal although I often totally forget to say it at breakfast time. It is hard to be thankful when I would rather still be sleeping. And well, frankly, another bowl of granola is hard to get excited about. But I suspect that saying grace is more a reflex action, something I do by rote rather than imbue with thanksgiving. To be honest, I had trouble remembering the words when I went to write them down – just like the way I sometimes do when asked to say the Lord’s Prayer out of context! So, no, I think it is hard to say thanks for the ordinary things. They are too plentiful and hence too easy to take for granted – that is without a little self discipline.
So, when I read our passage from Matthew I was struck by the call to “consider.” Consider the lilies of the valley. Consider the birds. Consider the grass and the trees and insects and the fleas. Consider them because in the eyes of the Holy they are important. As Jesus says: “King Solomon in all his glory is not clothed like one of these.”
I know that this text is ostensibly about “not to worry.” But this time around it became an invitation to consider the world around us: its beauty, grandeur and mystery. Consider how things grow. Consider the gift of the land beneath your feet. Consider how little of it depends on us. Consider it – pay attention to it – and say thank you! Because while it may not need us, we need it!
Anne Lamott says gratitude is useless unless we are moved to service. She says God isn’t interested in our waving our hands or raising our voices in praise. God is interested in our praise leading to service, to sharing. In the context of my garden meanderings, I think God would like us to do more than look at and marvel at the world we are a part of, more than even saying thankyouthankyouthankyou. God would like us to consider them in how we live and how we act. God would like us to protect the creation of which we are a part.
Which leads me to my other favourite author, Barbara Brown Taylor who coincidentally sent out a Facebook post this week on how much she loves her bonsai trees. She loves them, she says, because they will not be ignored. The life in them depends upon the life in her. They need her to give them the right amount of water, the right amount of sunlight and when it gets chilly to bring them indoors or else, they will die. She knows this from experience having left them out in the cold once and lost two of them. So, this year, she put out three new plants, her bonsai Trinity, and committed herself to them. She thanked them for calling her to mindfulness every single day! Because - the life in them depends upon the life in her! In turn they respond with such beauty.
If you think about that, it is true of so much of life. It is also a riff on the theme of my garden has taught me: that the life in me depends upon the life in it.
So, on this Thanksgiving Weekend let us “consider” the life around us. Let us consider how tiny we are in comparison to its majesty. Let us consider how intricately, interconnected we all are with the lilies, the birds, the air, the grass. And say: thank youthankyouthankyou. Acknowledging the life in it and the life in us depend upon each other. Amen