An Underground Perspective

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   November 7, 2021

Autumn planting is all about taking the long view. Quite a different feel from the season of spring where seeds are broadcast in sunshine and increasing warmth, causing them to sprout within a week’s time. In autumn, everything pauses and slows down. First frost hovers in the forecast. All about us appears to be in decline or decay. And that, paradoxically, is exactly when we’re summoned to burrow spring bulbs into the cold ground of fall. Clearly, this is not the season of immediate gratification and rapid results. This is the season of hope-filled, patient waiting.

Sandra Grunewald, Unsplash

Last week I did some autumn planting of a half dozen narcissus. I’ve always loved their cheerful, cupped faces set against tones of bright orange and pale yellow and creamy white. I hold childhood memories of scrutinizing winter dirt once snow had thawed, searching for barely visible eruptions of green. The spring air was heavy with a comforting certainty that the coming alive of spring would surely follow the hibernation and hiddenness of winter. And as expected, some weeks later, persistent shoots would poke through the thawed earth and grow into narcissus buds.

I felt a particular empathy for the gnarled bulbs I held in my hands last week. I admired their willingness to be buried. Buried more than six inches deep, my instructions read, and covered well. Buried into a silence that is dark. Buried into a time of quiet waiting. Buried into the unknown future. Buried in an act of trust that the harshness of winter is not the final word.

It’s no coincidence that autumn planting takes place before or near the feast of All Souls. That’s the day when we remember all those whose lives once visible and cherished among us have been transformed into the radiant presence of risen life. That’s the time that challenges our faith in all that’s taking place beyond our sight, in all that is birthing a new aliveness, impelled by the grace of the Holy One.

At times we may feel ourselves ushered into a season of enveloping darkness by sudden or subtly changing circumstances. We or those we love and care for may feel our lives so full of loss that they read like the story of Job. We may be buried under anxiety or shame or a sense of failure. We may struggle with the blanketing darkness of depression. We may carry heartache so crushing that wholeness and healing seem like an impossible dream. We may feel unable to lift our head above the weight of a diagnosis or the termination of a desperately needed job. We may come to awareness of an exquisite pain: owning our inability to save another we deeply love, someone who is right now in such a space. We may, in a word, feel ourselves buried. And buried deep.

Christine Caine offers an autumn perspective that juxtaposes how we may feel in such times and what might actually be unfolding:

“When you’re in a dark place,” she writes, “you may sometimes think you’ve been buried. But perhaps, you’ve actually been planted.”

Perhaps we’ve actually been planted. If so, then what fresh and unexpected blessings might the Holy One be inviting us into in this underground season? What practices of surrender and letting go are required so that the grace of the divine may be most fully active in us? What deep inner soul work, what reserves of patience and hope and trust, shall we be cultivating?

MohammadHosein Mohebbi, Unsplash

Here in the Northern hemisphere when everything above ground seems to speak of departure and the finality of endings, let us plant spring bulbs. Let us plant bulbs in the emphatic belief that resurrection is coming, and it will not be denied. May it be so!


Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
You may want to place before you a flower bulb or an image of one.
What longings in your own heart need to be more deeply planted, rooted, or nurtured?
Ask the Holy One to bless the deepest desires you hold for yourself and for our world.
Offer a simple act of trust in the power of the divine to bring to completion the dreams buried within you.

Featured image:   Maarten van den Heuvel, Unsplash

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5 thoughts on “An Underground Perspective”

  1. Sr. Chris, thank you for the wisdom of this post. I have been in a 6 week darker place and this has given me a sense of hope. You are truly a blessing.

  2. Thank you …..i have a detached retina which i had surgery to fix 3wks ago…am now that bulb in the ground…waitin………….for a green shoot of eyesight in that eye….patience….
    Thank you again…

  3. I couldn`t take my eyes of that awesome photo by MohammedHousein!!! I will hold it in my mind`s eye and reflect on your words Chris and ponder why you chose that particular photo.

  4. Thank you for this piece Sister Chris, it is so thought provoking and appreciated. Over the weekend I put out the fall bulbs here in GA. Sometimes they get fooled by a mild winter and pop up in January. That is always a surprise and a treat. Gardening is so meditative. You might enjoy a book that I read Spring and Fall to remind me that I am planting and harvesting more than the actual seeds. Mindfulness in the Garden is a book by landscape architect Zachiah Murray with a forward by the Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn. Stay well and warm while we wait for the appearance of Spring and all of its many blessings. Namaste, Barb Jaqutih

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