Unexpected Surprises – Blessings From God We Rarely Notice

Autumn beauty

This morning was garden morning at the Mustard Seed House. Unfortunately none of my usual helpers were able to come, but as this was my first time out in the garden for a week I was still eager to get out there.

First I wandered round our side garden where an amazing variety of greens – zen, mizuna, arugula, bok choy, spinach, collards and some that I think may have cross pollinated – have self seeded from last year’s compost. Yes I know that means it doesn’t get hot enough but to be honest I kind of like this unexpected bonus and they tend to be the healthiest greens in the garden at this season.

pansies

Then I explored the front garden where I planted pansies last week. This too is thriving. The leeks and chard are the best we have ever grown, and thanks to Kristin Carrrocino’s encouragement we have a new crop of cauliflowers, broccoli, kale and spinach slowly moving towards harvest.

Autumn hydrangea surprise

 

Last I headed to the back garden where I planned to plant garlic. It almost didn’t get done because I was inspired by the unexpected surprises of autumn colours, not just in the leaves but in the beautiful changes the hydrangeas have undergone in the last few days. I soon had my camera out exploring all the amazing and surprising changes in the garden. Not all of them are good unfortunately, the slugs have had a hey day in the hostas and the morning glory is taking over but these surprises seemed trivial compared to the awe inspiring sense of entering int the presence of God I experienced.

planting garlic

 

last week I wrote this prayer about pausing to look and see God in the moment. I was reminded of it this morning as I too paused to breathe in the presence of God around me.

Lord Jesus Christ,
May we pause to look
and see you in this moment.
Mountains red and white with morning sun,
Quiet gaps between traffic flow,
Smiling faces welcoming the day.
Lord jesus Christ,
May we draw breath,
and reflect on your presence,
enlivening all things,
sustaining all things,
transforming all things.
Lord Jesus Christ,
May this moment call me to respond
with just living,
generous giving,
grateful actions.

My unexpected surprises were not finished there though. Having planted my garlic I wandered inside for a cup of coffee and my attention was caught by this amazing orchid.

flowering orchid

It is at least 10 years old and every year I tell myself – I must repot it, it is so pot bound that there is no way it will flower this year. Yet it does. This year 16 flower spikes so far and still counting. This too is an unexpected blessing from God, a surprise that I almost missed because I was eager to move on to my next task.

How often do I miss the unexpected surprises of God because I am too busy, too distracted, too focused on work? How often do I fail to pause and breathe in the presence of God they reveal? And how often do I fail to respond with praise, with thanksgiving and with generosity towards others out of those blessings?

Gardening is always a good reminder to me of my need to pause and enter the presence of God. What provides that much needed prompting in your life?

Five Business Lessons From the Garden

Gomphrena pink zazzle shoing tiny yellow flowers

Gomphrena pink zazzle shoing tiny yellow flowers

Many of you know that I have been reading a lot lately about Social entrepreneurship, business and imagination. Lots of new and stimulating books out there but probably the greatest lessons I have learned in this regard come from the garden, and as I read some of the books on my pile it seems that many of them just reiterate what I am learning:

  1. There is no failure in the garden – if something doesn’t work this year, try again immediately or next year or plant in a different place in the garden. One of the primary tenants of social entrepreneurship is fail well, some even say we need to become masters at failure. (see Imagination First 187) Failure is not disaster it is a learnable skill that is necessary for success.
  2. Plan for surprise – there is nothing more wonderful than going out in the garden and discovering something totally unexpected. Developing a business is a little like that too. Routine can stifle our imagination. We need to regularly rinse out our expectations (Imagination First 158) and allow the random unexpected happenings to take over. This year for example my best autumn greens in the garden are a patch just behind my raised beds that self seeded. One of my garden helpers almost covered them over thinking they were weeds. Fortunately I stopped him in time and have just encouraged everyone to walk around the patch. This unexpected surprise has provided an amazing harvest for my green smoothies.
  3. Look, listen and learn. Stillness is a fertile breeding ground for ideas (43). Wandering through my garden with no other intention than to breathe in the stillness of God and admire the flowers gives unexpected rewards. For example, to fill in my flower pots which had been decimated by the summer drought here in Seattle, I planted gomphrena – I knew nothing about it but the plants in the garden nursery caught my attention. Usually I look at them from a distance but a few days ago I walked close and was stunned by the beauty. The wonder of the leaves covered in dew and then the emergence of tiny yellow flowers has awed and stirred me.

    Gomphrena covered in dew

    Gomphrena covered in dew

  4. All good things begin small. We are easily overwhelmed by the immensity of the problems in our world- gun violence, poverty, sex trafficking, climate change – no matter what the issue we want to respond to, we can easily become powerless because our own small efforts seem so trivial. But every plant grows from a tiny seed – a seed that germinates in darkness away from the world. Forcing it into the light too soon destroys it.
  5. Share with others. Gardeners are the worlds greatest sharers or cross pollinators. They love to talk about their garden designs, share recipes, produce and techniques. they love to hear the stories others have to share and never feel they know it all. Along the way they learn, rethink their ideas, experiment and come up with new and creative plans that improve their harvests. For too long we have thought that the way to effective business is to hold our ideas to ourselves – patents and copyrights though sometimes necessary to protect our intellectual rights can also stifle creativity and new design. When we share all of us benefit.

Labyrinths in Lavender

I love the combination of walking and fragrance. Probably my favourite combination is lavender and labyrinths. I talked about labyrinths in a previous post and in my recent book Return to Our Senses. Recently I have discovered a number of such labyrinths that I thought you might enjoy.

A couple of years ago I posted this beautiful photo of a lavender labyrinth in Kastellaun Germany.

Lavender labyrinth Kastellaun Germany

Lavender labyrinth Kastellaun Germany

 

This one in Yorkshire England 

 

Yorkshire lavedner garden

Yorkshire lavedner garden

This at Cherry Point Farm Michigan

Cherry Point Farm labyrinth

Cherry Point Farm labyrinth

And this one at Tebri Vineyards in Oregon

Labyrinth Tebri Vineyards Oregon

And yet another from Latitudes of Lavender also in Oregon

latitudes of Lavender labyrinth

latitudes of Lavender labyrinth

And if you are looking for some good music to aid your meditation while labyrinth walking, consider this beautiful music by Hildegard von Bingen

Spirituality of Gardening Seminar this Weekend

Last chance to sign up for the To Garden with God seminar at the Mustard Seed House on Saturday. Or contact me for details of the seminar in Port Townsend May 25th.

garden.seminar.2013

Shopper’s Guide to Pesticide – Which Fruit Can You Eat?

Tomatoes and summer squash - Are they safe?

Tomatoes and summer squash – Are they safe?

The 2013 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides is out. If you are concerned about eating supermarket food but cannot afford to go totally organic here is the latest guide on what gets the most pesticide spray. Maybe like us you just want to start your own garden and target those crops that receive the most spray.

The Dirty Dozen for 2013
  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Cherry tomatoes
  4. Cucumbers
  5. Grapes
  6. Hot peppers
  7. Nectarines (imported)
  8. Peaches
  9. Potatoes
  10. Spinach
  11. Strawberries
  12. Sweet bell peppers

Dirty Dozen Plus category to highlight two crops – domestically-grown summer squash and leafy greens, specifically kale and collards. These crops did not meet traditional Dirty Dozen™ criteria but were commonly contaminated with pesticides exceptionally toxic to the nervous system.

The Clean Fifteen for 2013
  1. Asparagus
  2. Avocados
  3. Cabbage
  4. Cantaloupe
  5. Sweet corn
  6. Eggplant
  7. Grapefruit
  8. Kiwi
  9. Mangoes
  10. Mushrooms
  11. Onions
  12. Papayas
  13. Pineapples
  14. Sweet peas (frozen)
  15. Sweet potatoes

So why should you care. Listen to what Dr Alex Lu of Harvard has to say

Wild Camano – Seeing the Bounty God Has Provided

On the Wild Camano tour

The Wild Camano tour is over. On Saturday a small group of us gathered on the future site of the Mustard Seed Village on Camano island to tour the land, identify edible species and plant a beginning garden. It was an amazing experience.

With the help of Nancy and Greg from Shambala Farms and Nursery we identified and sampled a broad variety of potential additions to our diet.  The rich abundance of God’s world is incredible. There are so many edible, nutritious and delicious plants around us that we don’t even notice. Wild salad greens like purslane and miner’s lettuce. Wild berries like strawberries, salmonberries and elderberries. Nettles and ferns. It is so easy to pass them by without even noticing. It is even easier to ignore their potential as part of our diet.

Andy Wade samples a local salad green

Yesterday I published two posts on simplicity. In Simplicity isn’t Simple I stated

I’m not sure that it is really possible to simplify one’s food budget and remain healthy, unless one produces some of one’s own food.

As we walked on Camano I realized that gardening is not the only way to supplement our diet, however. The art of foraging for food in the wild is becoming more popular as people open their eyes to the amazing bounty of God’s world. Nuts, berries, greens and mushrooms are but a few of the delicacies we can enjoy. Seattle, Denver and Los Angeles are but a few of the growing numbers of cities that provide residents with the opportunity to map their fruit trees and share their produce with others.

Small beginnings - a kitchen garden mound at the Mustard Seed Village

Of course wild berries will not sustain the hoped for community at the Mustard Seed Village for very long. So it was a real delight to be able to put another small stake in the ground and get to work on a kitchen garden. We moved ferns and native plants to a mound of dirt close by the new construction. Then we added herbs like rosemary and lovage, with an aronia berry bush to crown our achievement. Not much and it may not survive the summer but it is another small step in our dream for the development of the Mustard Seed Village.

Creating a Sacred Space – Stir the Senses

Several years ago Tom and I had the privilege of visiting St Catherine’s monastery in the Sinai desert. This is one of the oldest working monasteries in existence, and monastic life in the area dates back to the 4th century.

I still remember visiting the Greek orthodox church with its amazing collection of icons, chalices, manuscripts and works of art. Heavy incense filled the room. It was a feast for all my senses and a powerful reminder that for many early Christians places of worship were designed to usher us into the kingdom of heaven.

Sacred spaces should stir all our senses, and there is no better place to imagine how this could be accomplished than in the garden. The Irish poet and mystic John O’Donohue said that our senses are the gateway to the soul. And its true. A beautiful flower not only delights our eyes but also touches something inside our hearts. The fragrance of a rose transports us to a place of divine encounter. Even weeding becomes a contemplative act that invites us to touch, smell and enjoy.

Beauty - the glory of God

Sight: Gardens are a place to experience the richness of the glory of God. Savouring every nuance of light, colour, texture and sound touches and transforms our souls, not only revealing the visible world but sometimes the invisible as well. Gardens shimmer with the presence of God and in their midst we often feel that the veil between earth and heaven is nonexistent.

lavender

Smell: A pleasant fragrance in the air awakens our sense of smell. It also often stirs our memories which isn’t surprising as scent is our strongest connection to memory. So as you plan your sacred space consider the fragrances that awaken your memories of loved ones, special places and significant events. How can you incorporate these in your garden?

Blackberry feast

Taste: Fruit, vegetables, edible flowers, and herbs are a delightful aspect of any garden and should be included in any sacred space. Every flavour-filled bite is a foretaste of the kingdom banquet feast. It is also a reminder of the generosity of a God who fills all of us with lavish abundance. My friend Craig Goodwin, planted his vegetable garden in the shape of a labyrinth, a wonderful way to blend the sacred and the edible

Parrots on camelia

Hearing: Many of us love the silence of sacred spaces within a garden. But silence in a garden is never empty. It is filled with the sounds of wind in the trees, the buzzing of bees, the melodies of songbirds, and the sounds of circardas, frogs, and other garden creatures. Wind chimes, fountains, and waterfalls can all enhance the delight that garden sounds provide for us.

tree bark

Touch: Have you ever run your hands through a bush just to experience the sensual delight of its texture? Lamb’s tongue feels like velvet. Tree bark feels like paper. Cacti draw us to touch their spines and prickles. And often what we reach out to with our hands reflects our inner state of mind. Touching can comfort our distress, make us feel loved or help us express our angst.

So as you plan your garden sacred space take time to reflect on not the ways that your interaction with nature draws you into the presence of God by stirring your senses. Pretend you are entering a cathedral and imagine yourself decorating this space as a glimpse of the kingdom of God.

This post is part of a series on creating sacred space check out the previous posts:

Creating Sacred Spaces – Do We Really Need Churches?

Every Garden Needs A Sacred Space

Reclaiming a Sacred Space – Cheasty Greenspace: A Place of Goodness and Grace by Mary De Jong

Every Garden Needs A Sacred Space

Celtic cross in the garden

What is sacred space and how do we create it?

As many of you know I love to ask the question What makes you feel close to God? Interaction with nature is the commonest response I get. I believe there is a craving deep within all of us to connect to God in the midst of the created world. Gardening, hiking, bird watching, photographing nature and even petting the dog are all activities that can draw us into the presence of God with a sense of reverence and awe. These sacred spaces need to be recognized and nurtured as much as possible. 

It is the garden that most often draws me into the presence of God in this way and I delight in creating the spaces that nurture these encounters. There are many forms of sacred space within a garden and many ways to enhance it. Here are a few to consider, some of which I will expand on in the next couple of weeks.

1. A place to reflect: What invites you to sit, reflect and meditate? Perhaps it is a garden seat in a secluded corner of the garden or a water feature in which you can see your own reflection, or a collection of your favourite flowers. Consider ways that you could include these elements in your garden.

2. A place to pray. What stirs you to prayer when you go into your garden? Is it the sound of chimes blowing in the wind or that same reflective corner in which you sit to reflect? Is it a cross or garden statue, a plaque with a simple prayer or bible verse or a labyrinth, even an altar can be incorporated into a garden as invitation to prayer.

3. A place to rest. God invites us to slow down and rest in the divine presence. What in your garden already offers this special invitation? What else could you incorporate to further extend this invitation?

4. A place to celebrate. A the centre of gospel message is the invitation to enter the kingdom of God and join in the banquet feast of God. Incorporating places for hospitality in the garden can open your sacred space to friends and strangers near and far.

5. A place to remember. Memorial gardens are important in many cultures often reminding us of loved ones who have gone before. But gardens can stir memories in other ways too. Plants take on a special and often sacred significance when they are given to us by family and friends.

6. A Biblical garden. The practice of planting herbs, flowers and trees mentioned in the Bible is a longstanding tradition. I was delighted when discovered this website on biblical gardens.

7. A healing garden. A growing trend in hospitals, prisons and other institutions is the development of a garden that invites patients and inmates to wander, reduce their stress and relax. In the process many find and unexpected healing and wholeness.

So what makes a garden (wild or cultivated) sacred for you? What draws you into the presence of God in a special way? I would love to know. 

This post is the second in a series on creating sacred spaces. As I mentioned yesterday, I will focus on the creation of sacred space in gardens and other natural environments, but I look forward to contributions from others who create sacred space in other environments too.

 

Creating Sacred Spaces – Do We Really Need Churches?

I am starting a series on Creating Sacred Space and decided to begin by reposting this very popular post from last year which is adapted from my book Return to Our Senses. What is sacred space for you? Where do you you feel closest to God? How can nurture such spaces? If you would like to contribute a post for this series please let me know.

Godspace

Our annual Celtic retreat is coming. We hold it in August on a beautiful parcel of undeveloped land on Camano Island north of Seattle. There are no buildings. Our sanctuary is a cathedral of trees – cedar and maple and alder that rise above is in a breathtaking green canopy. I particularly love to sit in the early mornings before anyone else is awake, drinking in the beauty of God’s awe inspiring creation. This is a sacred space for me, what is often called a thin space where the veil between heaven and earth seems to be translucent and the glory of God shines through in a special way.

Special places where we feel almost physically embraced by the love of God are important places of prayer for all of us. Be they a comfortable old armchair we return to day by day, a special place to walk or a…

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Time to Garden

Its garden day at the Mustard Seed House. We will be transplanting tomatoes, and other summer vegetables, weeding and tidying up the porch (I hope). Our garden never looks as tidy as we would like but it produces lots of food – including these wonderful early greens (had our first garden salad this week).

Early garden greens grown under row covers.

Early garden greens grown under row covers.

All of this reminded me that I have not mentioned how you can be a part of our garden efforts here;

  1. If you live in Seattle and would like to participate in our garden days – good times of food, fellowship and gardening – let me know
  2. I have started over 120 tomato plants, and more basil and squash – obviously more than we can plant. Each year we sell vegetable starts as a small fundraiser for MSA so if you would like to buy your plants from us (sorry only if you can pick them up) here is the order form.
  3. And it is also time to sign up for the Spirituality of Gardening seminar on May 18th.
  4. Those of you who do not live in the Seattle area may like to consider developing your own garden community and perhaps, like other groups we are connected to,  you would like to use To Garden With God as a resource – lots of garden reflections, liturgies and prayers to start your garden days with. Even recipes to help you with what to do with the produce. It is available in black and white, colour and ebook versions. You can even get it together with Snohomish soap’s wonderful hand cream and garden soap in our garden bundle.

garden.seminar.2013