This Christmas I received as a gift the book Organic Prayer by Nancy Roth. This intriguing book on contemplative prayer uses images such as gardening and soil preparation to talk about the spiritual life. The author portrays a form of prayer in which we cultivate the earth around us and the earth in turn cultivates our souls. Each chapter ends with “spadework” or simple prayer exercises for body, heart, and mind.
The first part of the book begins by relating a remark made by John Jeavons in 1991. Jeavons was a highly regarded leader in the organic gardening movement, and he pioneered bio-intensive farming methods. (I once prepared a four-square kitchen garden using his double-dug planting bed method; and it was the beginning of the end for my arthritic shoulder! It was the best garden I ever made, though.) At a conference Jeavons once said, “I want you all to stop growing crops. Instead, you must begin growing soil.”
By growing soil, Jeavons meant that attention must be paid to the nutrients and composition of soil, not just on what was desired as a crop. The health of the soil was responsible for the size and tastiness of the vegetables, and it could not be neglected. Soil is the foundation of a garden and we have to work with what we are given. We might wish for the best loamy soil possible, but it doesn’t happen just because we wish it.
So it is with prayer, says author Nancy Roth. “Prayer based upon reality grows not out of thin air or wishful thinking, but from the soil of what is. The growth begins “underground,” as our roots find nourishment deep in the soil of truth. We must first consider our place in creation, our identity as human beings, and our assumptions about God.” In other words, our prayer life is the soil from which our relationship with God grows. If we don’t grow the soil, we don’t grow with God. Our tendency is to focus on the crops, or what we want from God, rather than on the relationship.
Friendships begin with attention. Have you ever become friends with someone you ignored? I doubt it! Relationships deepen, mellow, and became more fulfilling when loving attention is paid to the other. Desire, rather than duty, is the basis for our prayer life with God. “Wasting time with God” means that we hang out with God, cultivate the friendship, share good times and bad, and bring our whole self to our prayer life. We grow the soil day by day.
The bleak winter months are a great time to consult seed catalogs. It is also a great time to grow the soil for your prayer garden! Prayer should not be something other-worldly, but help us to discover the sacredness of our day-to-day living. Nancy Roth says, “It helps us to discover God’s presence in new ways: within us and within nature as well as infinitely beyond us, known through creation’s mysteries and miracles, from compost to columbines. It opens our hearts to compassion for the rest of God’s creation, and our minds to the truth that we are all interconnected.”
In the coming year I pray for health and wholeness for each and everyone one of you. We are all interconnected, so let us pray for each other. May your soil grow rich and deep, and may you be deeply blessed by your Creator–who loves you more than you could ever know.
See you in church,