My ecological conversion: a garden story

by | Oct 6, 2021 | Blog, News and Updates | 1 comment

It was a quiet late May evening in Windom – my small childhood southwestern Minnesota hometown. Having finished planting our large vegetable garden, I sat with my mother on the backdoor steps of our three-bedroom stucco house, sipping ice cold lemonade.

The newly planted garden was but a short distance away. The air was moist with the petrichor of the recently turned soil, seasoned with whisps of sweetness from the freshly mowed grass, and the piney scent from the tall spruce trees artfully placed about the yard.

Through the lacy pine branches, the late evening sky signaled the day’s impending end with shades of pinkish red orange and contrasting shades of grey. A soft high pitched insect chorus lulled us into restful meditation.

Then spontaneously harmonizing with that peaceful flow came my mother’s words: “Only God can make the garden grow.” Those faith-filled words stirred up something deep within me, but my 12-year-old self could not name it, so I just held them in silence for many years.

Indeed, my adolescent persona required a certain kind of rebellion at being “forced” to help weed, tend, and harvest the garden produce. Yet secretly, I loved working in the garden.

I was quite awestruck by the fact that you could put this hard, flat, little yellow thing in the ground, and weeks later you could find a sweet corn plant in its place! It was only some 30 years later that I would be able to name what had so deeply moved me that evening.

Years later, on my 25th jubilee as a Sister of St. Francis I had the privilege of going on a pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy, and the region of Umbria, the “Franciscan Holy Land,” where St. Francis and St. Clare lived.

As we journeyed from place to place, no one could miss the lush verdancy of the fertile fields of sunflowers and the vineyards covering the rolling hills. Those striking vistas combined with St. Francis’ Canticle of the Creatures reawakened my many “garden experiences” and the profound sense of awe and wonder I experienced that evening with my mother.

Like me, but in their own time and place, St. Francis and St. Clare came to know well what I had only tasted on that late May evening – the vestiges of an incarnate God cradling them in love and mercy in the miraculous, lush nest of creation!

For about 30 years I lived in Chicago. Though admittedly, there are many conveniences to city life, I always had a real love-hate relationship with those environs.

Everything is huge, impersonal, paved over, fast-paced, human built, constantly in motion, competitive – often violent. For me, the “saving grace” was the park system that abuts Lake Michigan.

There, some semblance of intimacy with the web of life pervaded amid trees, grass, flowers, open sky; people smiled and greeted one another; and, Lake Michigan stretches out to the horizon, while the rhythm of the waves lap against the sands of extensive beaches setting the tone and pace of more peaceful living.

The manifestations of the sacred there are quite distinct from those found in all the cavernous cathedrals that dot street corners of that sprawling metropolis.

Yes, St. Francis was definitely “on to something!” The vestiges of the incarnate God can be seen all around us – if we not only look but open our eyes to see!

This story is part of the October 2021 Laudato Si’ Encounter. This spiritual resource is produced monthly for Laudato Si’ Animators, Laudato Si’ Circles, and everyday Catholics to use and help them grow closer to our Creator. For similar stories, visit the Laudato Si’ Movement website here.

Dawn M. Nothwehr, O.S.F., Ph.D.
Dawn M. Nothwehr, O.S.F., Ph.D.

Dawn M. Nothwehr, O.S.F., Ph.D., is a Theological Consultant for Laudato Si’ Movement. She holds The Erica and Harry John Family endowed Chair in Catholic Theological Ethics at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, where she teaches courses in environmental ethics, racial justice, and fundamental moral theology.

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Raphael Bedan
Raphael Bedan
5 days ago

Nice story!