given on Sunday, May 12, 2013
Scripture: Psalm 145, the Message
Spring 2013 has been challenging to say the least. We have broken so many norms of Missouri weather it just does not seem like the day on the calendar really matches the day we experience as we walk out our doors. There is such a personal longing to find spring in our steps, but also to find spring outside our closed windows and doors.
Who would have ever thought that just a week ago we were watching the last clumps of snow melt! This week, we watched clouds move in, drop buckets of rain, and then shuffle on—and I do mean shuffle as they move away so slowly.
I cannot help but connect my faith to God’s natural world. And I admit that this slow transition from winter to spring with birds singing, warm breezes and beautiful colors has certainly slowed my pace, too. During the weeks between Easter and Pentecost, I discovered an analogy that Teresa of Avila wrote in her autobiography. She, too, connected theology to nature.
Teresa of Avila was a 1500s Spanish nun who is classified as a mystic theologian. Understanding her style of theology is not difficult, though, as she explains faith in very concrete terms. This is why I found the excerpt from her autobiography so appealing. In Chapter 11, she uses the analogy of a gardener tending the plants as a way of understanding how one develops faith:
The beginner must think of himself as of one setting out to make a garden in which the Lord is to take His delight, yet in soil most unfruitful and full of weeds. His Majesty uproots the weeds and will set good plants in their stead. Let us suppose that this is already done — that a soul has resolved to practice prayer and has already begun to do so. We have now, by God‘s help, like good gardeners, to make these plants grow, and to water them carefully, so that they may not perish, but may produce flowers which shall send forth great fragrance to give refreshment to this Lord of ours, so that He may often come into the garden to take His pleasure and have His delight among these virtues.
Living in rural America, having planted a few gardens, Teresa’s words make so much sense to me. We all know that when a new seed is placed in the soil, there is so much more nurturing and care needed to assure the success of that seed reaching maturity and producing quality fruit.
Let us now consider how this garden can be watered, so that we may know what we have to do, what labour it will cost us, if the gain will outweigh the labour and for how long this labour must be borne. It seems to me that the garden can be watered in four ways: by taking the water from a well, which costs us great labour; or by a water-wheel and buckets, when the water is drawn by a windlass (I have sometimes drawn it in this way: it is less laborious than the other and gives more water); or by a stream or a brook, which waters the ground much better, for it saturates it more thoroughly and there is less need to water it often, so that the gardener‘s labour is much less; or by heavy rain, when the Lord waters it with no labour of ours, a way incomparably better than any of those which have been described.
Tending one’s faith development is an individual’s job, but it is also the responsibility of the Christian family. Just like seeds carefully planted in rich, black soil or seeds randomly dropped in gravel, new Christians need ‘gardening’ to produce the best fruits. Teresa of Avila compares us to gardeners gifted with knowledge and skills to nurture the seeds of faith:
And now I come to my point, which is the application of these four methods of watering by which the garden is to be kept fertile, for if it has no water it will be ruined. It has seemed possible to me in this way to explain something about the four degrees of prayer to which the Lord, of His goodness, has occasionally brought my soul. May He also of His goodness grant me to speak in such a way as to be of some profit to one of the persons who commanded me to write this book,108 whom in four months the Lord has brought to a point far beyond that which I have reached in seventeen years. He prepared himself better than I, and thus his garden, without labour on his part, is watered by all these four means, though he is still receiving the last watering only drop by drop; such progress is his garden making that soon, by the Lord‘s help, it will be submerged. It will be a pleasure to me for him to laugh at my explanation if he thinks it foolish.
She continues metaphor of the gardener explaining how prayer is part of the gardening process. She sees prayer as the water that provides the most basic nourishment needed to sustain life.
. . . And God is so good that when, for reasons known to His Majesty, perhaps to our great advantage, He is pleased that the well should be dry, we, like good gardeners, do all that in us lies, and He keeps the flowers alive without water and makes the virtues grow. By water here I mean tears — or, if there be none of these, tenderness and an interior feeling of devotion.
As gardeners and farmers, we all can sense that ultimate joy as the harvest begins and the fruits are gathered. We see the evidence of how well we did our job nurturing that first seed we dropped into the pillow-soft dirt. Consider how God looks upon us as we continue to nurture our own faith. He has watched as we faced all of life’s weeds and disasters. Yet, he also guided us through those experiences by providing us the Holy Spirit to be with us at all times.
Teresa of Avila tended her garden of convents and Christian communities with the care provided by the Holy Spirit. Her theology is mystical, which Wesley Wildman defines as “the mystical ascent of the soul to God,” but her work was earthly.
Mother Teresa, baptized Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, is one of those Holy Spirit filled gardeners of the 20th century. I found Mother Teresa’s poem “Do It Anyway” that includes advice for God’s gardeners today:
People are often unreasonable,
illogical and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind,
people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful,
you will win some false friends and true enemies;
If you are honest and frank,
people may cheat you;
Be honest anyway.
What you spend years building,
someone could destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness,
they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today,
people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have,
and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis,
it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
Today, Mothers Day 2013, let us follow the practice of mothers throughout time. Let us be gardeners to all children in God’s garden.
Dear Master Gardener,
As we tend our own personal gardens,
let us serve to nurture others
who need to learn more about their faith.
As we continue to weed out the un-Christian
thoughts and practices in our lives,
guide us in help others keep their own lives weeded.
As we learn more about nurturing our faith,
provide us your guidance through the Holy Spirit
so the harvest of faithful followers exceeds expectations.
[Citation note: The excerpt from Teresa of Avila’s autobiography was accessed on May 11, 21013 at http://www.intratext.com/IXT/ENG0032/_PI.HTM. ]