“How can there be weeds? … An enemy has done this!” (Mt 13:27-28)
I am not a great gardener. There are great gardeners in my family, but I am not one of them. I appreciate beautiful gardens and I've had moments of inspiration, but it's safe to say that gardening is not my gift.
When I first started coming to Cochecton I spent some time weeding a strip of garden that traces along an old unused tennis court. It looked nice then and freed up some decorative trees planted by a previous owner. Then fall and winter came and I addressed issues indoors. The following year small weeds reappeared and I was too busy with other projects to tend to them. I sighed and embraced an old saying which is attributed to gardeners and disappointed sports fans: “Wait til next year!” Well, next year came and went, and the weeds just came – they didn't “went”.
This summer the indoor projects are virtually finished and there's no more excuses. I had to address the small jungle that God made out of the nice garden bed I created a few years earlier. So I got to work and found that some weed were easy and some were tougher. Some small bushes had thorns and deep roots. I got tired faster than I used to and wanted to find other less taxing projects – but remained committed to this work. It had become more than a garden – it had become and adversary.
Something strange happened. Identifying the garden as an adversary made me realize that I inadvertently articulated a relationship with the garden. Once I realized that, why did the relationship have to be adversarial? It is, after all, part of God's creation and once I allowed for that, I discovered that my relationship with it improved. The garden was becoming a friend, no longer an adversary. I decided to take it in stages. This is not a race. I can take my time. I was still tired, sweaty and dirty but we were making progress together and hopefully creating something of beauty we could both be proud of.
As that particular project drew to a close, I had a wonderful sense of satisfaction and realized if I maintain the garden with small bits of intention and love, the work of beauty will stay present and I won't have to wait until next year, I can enjoy my friend's company this year.
It shouldn't surprise anyone that I want to make a metaphor out of this gardening lesson! While I was pulling weeds and lamenting that I'd already done this and how the tangle got that thick again, I realized that's how a prayer practice is also. Like any spiritual practice a lack of consistency can make it seem like we're starting at the beginning...again. It can seem daunting and too big. Yet, when there's a resolve, amazing things can happen. When I began my own prayer practice up here, there was a lot of time and no excuses! Somehow sitting quietly in contemplative prayer can seem daunting for long periods of time. There are inner voices, saying “Stop wasting time, do something! Fix something! Go buy something! You forgot to call so and so! Aren't you supposed to be writing a blog?” So many voices and issues surfaced even as I began to prepare myself. But I've done this before and I've had wonderful experiences with contemplative prayer. Why does it seem like starting over?
So the inner voices started, but the call and desire to enter into a new practice of prayer was stronger and so I sat remembering to breathe and be open to God's presence here and now. Not lamenting the past or planning for the future. This moment is a time to be wholly present in the present, without calling on God, just resting in God. There is a familiarity with the prayer forms and the wonderful feelings I enter. There is also a familiarity with the unwelcome interruption of thoughts and concerns. Occasionally out of the blue, or so it seems, a memory or a fear will intrude. I'll groan inwardly for a moment and think, “I thought I was past that!” I begin to think of my prayer time as the garden where weeds can reappear. Old hurts, memories, and fears can be different shapes of spiritual weeds with thorns or deep roots. Some, thankfully are only on the surface and can be dismissed easily. Others require more time and care.
The purpose of contemplative prayer is to try to empty our thoughts and allow God space to come in. Yet even in these “weeded” moments, God does come in with healing grace and in the soothing silence of warm love lets me know that all will be well. Like gardening I can be patient and take my time. Nothing has to be perfect immediately. There are no extra points for finding a fast track to prayer. God is not an adversary or judge, but a friend wanting what's best for me and helping me find it.