My Lenten Garden

Spiritual insights are derived from simple, earthly actions


Earth Faith Virtue

My vegetable garden is a 4 x 10 planter box with gopher-proof screening and a weed-banning cloth. Its soil is enriched with root enzymes and minerals, wriggly worms, and rich humus. I nearly broke my back constructing it, but it was worth the anguish. I’ve got international participation from healthy, hearty heads of Swiss Chard, Russian Kale, and Chinese Cabbage. I save money while enjoying tasty vegetables without pesticide sprays. Growing from seed is a tricky process using small containers of sterile soil. The little sprouts have to adapt to being outdoors before being transplanted, or they can wilt from soil fungus, gnats, mites, or other issues before growing strong enough to withstand them.

Various weeds are a problem but not a major issue when I cover my box to prevent the neighbors’ parachute seeds from landing inside and taking root. But my outback lawn is a bigger chore that requires annual weeding on my hands and knees. If I don’t pluck out those thorny demons when ready to flower with seed, next year my lawn gets dense with them. I won’t use Round Up that can kill the honey bees that love my flowering plants, so I permit no easy solution like spraying the lawn. I prefer to actually get “down and dirty” to claw them out with hand tools. If I don’t do this, next year’s backyard is a nightmare.

Bear in mind, I once considered in my youth becoming a Carthusian ― those men and women who live in the communal solitude of separate enclosures “as essential elements lived not for their own sake, but as a privileged means of attaining intimacy with God.” Each cell has a private garden they attend to daily for grass-root communion. At other times they ponder Scripture or write a short memoir for the edification of others. Once a week members of a “Charterhouse,” a village composed of individual shelters, gather for a group “walk & talk social,” a hearty meal, and a mass celebration. Carthusians have never been eager for canonization, holding fast to their motto “Be a saint rather than be called one.” Despite that, many are so recognized.

It’s not hard for me to imagine some of the insights they derive from their gardening. A nun might ponder the need for a safe, wholesome village to raise up children: kids that she will never have. Delicate human infants are like sprouts that require careful nurturing and transplanting before being allowed to venture into the cold cruel world.

When Lent comes around every year, a monk may ponder getting rid of some prickly habit like cynicism, so it won’t multiply and grow roots too hard to extract. He might have been that rocket scientist that invents a “warp drive” for intergalactic travel but realizes he’s now venturing on his own star trek, “to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

They all realize sanctity is not so easily attained and requires getting down on one’s knees with praying hands. There is no magic formula to round up diabolical desires that infect the mind through social media. They don’t watch TV, browse a computer, listen to a radio, or read newspapers and magazines. Lent becomes an opportunity to amplify ongoing austerities, to achieve higher degrees of spiritual perfection in this life.

When I’m weeding on my hands and knees, I think about the monastic life I could have led. But then I sober up and realize that I’m doing so — by living alone and in my own obscure way.


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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