Sunday, November 1, 2009

Garden of Life

All Souls Day, which we celebrate Monday, Nov. 2, is one of my favorite feast days. Simply put, it fills me with indescribable hope. Below is a short reflection I wrote several years ago--shortly before entering the monastery. Possibly of further interest is the A Life Well Lived link to the left.

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

-- Br. Francis

Sitting at my desk, I look out the bedroom window at the back yard. Three things catch my attention there in the late afternoon sunlight. First is the young dogwood tree in the middle of the yard, the one my sister and I planted on the first anniversary of our father’s death. Next is the decorative windmill on one end of the little rock garden, the same windmill Dad fiddled with when he came to visit the day of my finger surgery more than two years ago – the last day I saw him alive and well. Then, there is the redwood-stained picnic table, the one he built himself probably 30 years ago. It made the trip from Findlay to Maumee because I couldn’t bear to part with it when we moved Mom into her condo.

In that table, I see the past, our entire family seated at it eating sweet corn on summer afternoons when it was too hot to eat inside. Or, sitting on it shelling peas with my brother after working in the garden, perhaps later playing a game of Monopoly on it with other kids from the neighborhood. I can still see everyone’s faces so clearly, but it was so long ago, and each of us has moved on in one way or another, and that table is faded and beginning to sag and rot.

In the windmill I see the present, in a way. No emotional attachment to it like with the table, except that is the one thing in my garden as it has taken shape these last couple years that my Dad touched shortly before he left this world. I remember him telling me that I needed to apply graphite powder to keep it turning smoothly. Dad always liked to fiddle around out in the yard and garden when we were kids, and when I look at that windmill slowly twirling in the breeze, it’s almost as if he’s out there right now fiddling around in my own garden.

Then there’s the young dogwood tree, the centerpiece of the yard I’ve worked so hard on. It was planted with shovels full of memories, of things left unsaid, of sorrow so deep it hurts to breathe. Yet, it survived its first winter in the ground and unfurled its leaves this spring for another growing season. Ten, 20 years, years from now, that sapling will be mature enough to dominate the entire yard, providing a canopy of twisted branches and blossoms while birds, squirrels and rabbits dart in and out of the shade it provides.

This is the future, new life springing out of the old, yesterday turning into tomorrow, fear giving way to hope. Who knows where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing when that tree reaches maturity. It doesn’t matter. It’s possible a storm could fell that tree, or perhaps a future owner of this property will cut it down. That windmill will eventually be a rusted piece of junk, and the picnic table will fall apart at some point. They are just things, and things come and go.

But for a short while at least, they provide something much more, serving as a reminder of the undying nature of the spirit. My father is not in that picnic table, that windmill nor the tree, yet they are objects that fit together somehow, tying his past to my future. And that future, I’m certain of it, consists of eternal glory in a garden that will make the one I’m gazing at now seem like a weed-infested sandlot.

The splendor of that joy will be the Garden of Life, where nothing rusts or rots away or dies. Here those in Christ will rest, undying spirits, each fully blooming, as we sing out to the Master Gardener who walks among us, the one who creates us, tends to us, and brings us into the fullness of life that only He can give.

I can’t wait to see it, to be part of it. Until then, I will tend my own garden, nurturing it with spirit animated by hope before it is immersed in complete joy.

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