by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM June 20, 2021
Timing may not be everything, but it is certainly something. That’s what my teacher, the garden, keeps gently reminding me. So far, my grade in the school of flower wisdom may be barely hovering above a C, but I’m open, and I’m paying attention, and I’m learning, and that surely counts for something, doesn’t it?
Last spring, as soon as the last petal of tulips had fallen to the ground, I cut back the leaves and the stem. Too early, it turned out, because this spring the tulips that emerged were stunted and deformed. I learned—too late for last season—that after the flower is finished blooming, the leaves should be allowed to grow and soak up the sunshine to help nourish the bulbs underground. Lesson learned.
This spring, perhaps overcompensating, I declined to cut back my first ever peony until her flowers had shriveled completely and gone to seed. Too late, I learned, for the seed pods that grew in place of the blossoms took nourishment away from any new growth. Lesson learned once again.
After a week of temperatures in the 80’s this spring, I presumed warm weather was here to stay, and in my eagerness for greening, I planted in the yard a young bush I had been harboring inside. When the temperature dipped to the 30’s the following week, the leaves turned transparent white in protest and dropped one by one like a character in O. Henry’s “The Last Leaf.” I imagined the bush looking at me every time I walked by, totally baffled by my planting ignorance. I’m consoled that my near fatal bad timing has been redeemed by the tender new leaves reappearing at a painfully slow pace.
The list goes on and so do the learnings. A not-yet-blooming black-eyed Susan I had transplanted and carefully nurtured was mowed down yesterday by a landscaper who, I’m quite sure, thought he was clearing an out of the way patch of weeds. Nature is at the mercy of our actions, and thankfully, Nature can be both forgiving and resilient.
I’m led to muse about how this translates to the life of the spirit. Certainly, we can be impatient with the slow work of transformation and try with all our might to hasten deep, inner soul work. We learn the process can’t be speeded up. Or we can be aware of the need to change a behavior or move away from a critical attitude, and yet drag our spiritual feet in moving forward. We can confuse our desire for genuine spiritual wholeness with the reality that we first need to cultivate the soil of readiness that makes possible the fullness of blossoming later.
As we tend to the garden of the Holy One’s wisdom, may we learn to forgive ourselves for decisions made in haste or words sincerely offered but shared at a moment that is less than optimal. May we learn to cultivate patience and attentiveness at every stage of spiritual development. And may we add one more lesson to the school of flower wisdom: Mary Oliver’s deep knowing that, for some things, there are no wrong seasons.
It didn’t behave
like anything you had
ever imagined. The wind
tore at the trees, the rain
fell for days slant and hard.
The back of the hand
to everything. I watched
the trees bow and their leaves fall
and crawl back into the earth.
As though, that was that.
This was one hurricane
I lived through, the other one
was of a different sort, and
lasted longer. Then
I felt my own leaves giving up and
falling. The back of the hand to
everything. But listen now to what happened
to the actual trees;
toward the end of that summer they
pushed new leaves from their stubbed limbs.
It was the wrong season, yes,
but they couldn’t stop. They
looked like telephone poles and didn’t
care. And after the leaves came
blossoms. For some things
there are no wrong seasons.
Which is what I dream of for me.
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on any lesson the natural world has shared with you.
How did you, or how might you integrate that learning into your life?
Give thanks for the blessings of creation all around you and to the Creator who has formed and shaped our beautiful world.
Featured Image: Mike Erskine, Unsplash
June 23-30: Please hold in your prayer all who will be part of a guided retreat I’m offering at the IHM Spirituality Center in Malvern, PA.
The Sisters of IHM (Immaculata) have a rich connection and shared heritage with my Congregation, the Sisters of IHM (Scranton), so I’m especially delighted to spend the week of retreat in their good company.
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