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Gardening the heart. 2 – ‘Seasons of life, seasons of the Spirit’


“See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth;
 the season of singing has come, the cooing of dove  is heard in our land.
 The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
 Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me .” (Song of Songs 2:11-13)

How sensitised or desensitised are you to seasons in nature, and to the season that you might be in in your life or spiritual journey? Being outdoors, experiencing nature’s seasonality, albeit differently in Northern and Southern hemispheres, can help connect us with the different seasons within our own lives. Connection with the soil, digging or weeding, cultivating plants in pots or garden borders, caring for trees, is very grounding and nurturing, physically, mentally, emotionally, as well as spiritually.

Sue Stuart-Smith, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, one of many medical and psychological professionals re-examining the value of gardening as therapy, poses the question: “Why does coaxing seeds into growth or a fierce pruning session refresh the spirits so?” She comments from her own experience of gardening that “a session in the garden can leave you feeling dead on your feet, but strangely renewed inside’ and from a professional psychologist viewpoint that ‘in our secular and consumerist world, we have lost touch with many of the rituals that can help us navigate our way through life. Gardening is a form of ritual; as well as creating beauty around us, it works within our minds, as a symbolic act.[1]Sue Stuart-Smith ‘Horticultural therapy’ gardening makes us feel renewed inside’, The Telegraph website 31 May 2014.

Life’s journey in the ordinary run of things, for all ages brings times of new birth, of growth, pruning, fruitfulness as well as losses of natural and more extreme kinds, and with the latter an emotional roller coaster of grief, anger, confusion, despair. This immediate chapter of human history, with the complexity and distressing reality of suffering and loss of all kinds, not least death caused by Covid 19, requires us to reflect deeply, individually and collectively to seek God for meaning, fresh hope and his sustaining and resourcing through uncertainty.

What experience do you have of intentionally being in nature, exploring gardens or outdoor spaces, using the physical senses and spiritual ‘eyes and hears of your heart’ to observe and listen externally, and also inwardly to God, to your own heart, to the needs of others?

Take a moment to ‘be’ outdoors in a garden, park, field or woodland. Perhaps choose an easy gardening task, or simply walk slowly, or find a comfortable spot to sit still. Whatever you choose, intentionally quieten your heart and mind, and invite the Holy Spirit to help you connect with your heart before the Lord, and with your senses to what is around you. Notice nature’s seasonal hallmarks or the stage of vegetable or plants growth cycles. Enjoy the smells, sounds, textures, shapes, colours and structures. The words below might help you to voice a conversation with God, or to listen for his voice. They might stir a word, a picture or a touch from God. Sit with what comes up.

Spring: stirring, green blades rising, pushing, struggling, freedom, frost-hardened ground, surprises hope, joy, resurrection, morning, dew, life from death, signs, wilderness, compelling, fresh, longing, renewal, awakening, spark, newness, promise, sowing,
Summer: heat, sun, deep shade, light and dark, shadows, arid, lush, flourish, saturated, coolness, thirst for water, ripening, blossoming, scent, satisfaction, achievement, connectedness, lazy, relax, carefree, colour, longing, loveliness, nurturing, growing.
Autumn: quietening, loss, grief, fruitfulness, pruning, mulching, colour fading, falling, letting go, ripening, compression, gathering in, gratitude, sadness, dying, consolidation, folding, retirement, contentment, reaping, harvest, separation.
Winter: spacious, emptiness, silent, bare essentials, skeletal, damp, cold, warmth, pain, hopelessness, waiting, hoping, calm, desolate, passing, lifeless, transforming, stark, restlessness, death, peace, resolution, preparation, furrow, acceptance.

What experience do you have of encouraging others, whether family member, friend or neighbour in the midst of their current life circumstances to explore gardens or outdoor spaces, to grow plants and vegetables, to be awake to the senses, to observe and listen externally and also inwardly to God and to their own heart?

When did you last handle soil or expend energy digging over soil, prepare the ground for planting, sow seeds, prick out seedlings, water dry ground, compost or harvest, or perhaps help to plant a tree, or just observe?

Gardening the Heart is busy preparing seasonal reflections that combine reflection on the season, related processes in nature and cultivation with images, scripture, poetry and quotes. These resources are designed as a ‘mini- retreat’ for use either online indoors or outdoors by individuals. We will be circulating them across our parish, including in our local care home. The hope is also that they can be used by patients in hospital.

The next article in this series will look at Jesus, the true vine, as our role model for outdoor teaching and reflection on the kingdom of God, some practical ideas for using the outdoors as a resource for discipleship and healing. Gardening the Heart’s ‘Seasonal Treasure-Spring’ series of reflections will also be included to enjoy yourself or with others.


[We are pleased to welcome Rachel Woods as a guest author here on the Village Hope Blog. Rachel was introduced in the Spring issue of Village Link. To find out more, visit Rachel’s website and order her booklet, ‘Into the Garden’ (S136) from Grove Books.]

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1Sue Stuart-Smith ‘Horticultural therapy’ gardening makes us feel renewed inside’, The Telegraph website 31 May 2014.
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