Go Back to the Garden: Invitation to Formation

by Gwen Shipley, Spiritual Director


I grumbled while dressing to attend the evening lecture on “Extending the Harvest.” It was still early March and I have a love-hate relationship with gardening. I show up mostly when I feel like it. But I wanted to spend time with my daughter, so I went. Inspired, of course, I spent the next day clearing raised beds and pruning bushes! There were:

  • Breathtaking tendrils of baby yarrow daring greatly
  • Spent raspberry canes pleading for the dignity of removal, no longer fruitful
  • Several inches of black, fertile soil waiting to receive whatever comes next

It was amazing to see what life waited to be discovered under layers of dead leaves.


My body awakened with the fresh air and activity, my mind cleared, and my spirit stilled. In the uninterrupted solitude, restorative images begin to surface:

Age 3: Wandering, barely awake, into the yard; Spring morning, air just beginning to warm; finding Mom among flowers under a crisp, blue Colorado sky; airplane high overhead, engine humming. Perfect peace.

Age 6: Living in Washington; finding Mom randomly throughout the day a few yards from the farmhouse in the large strawberry patch, apron filling with bright red berries. She couldn’t resist bending to gather them whether on her way to the mailbox or coming in from hanging clothes; feeling loved, entirely cared for, completely at rest and immersed in the gifts of each moment sans worry or fear. Only concern: Being in touch with my source of sustenance.

Age 12: 9 am, before the temperature reached 105 degrees; water the garden while Mom “worked harvest.” If it was alive at the end of summer, they paid my way to camp with a friend; my first meaningful work.

Unlike Wendell Berry, the agricultural poet/theologian, my farming capital is spent. I’ve tried to recover it like I’ve tried to make myself like alfalfa sprouts. But please–I’ve done my time in the Columbia Basin and Yakima Valley blowsand. It’s over. And as to weather, I prefer it warm and sunny. So the post-lecture inspiration was short-lived.

A few days later, though, I felt a gentle nudge in prayer: Go back to the garden. I ignored it at first. (I’m not the only one, right?) It seems it’s only after getting there, that I remember why I love being there.

  • I remember the perfect peace, the integration of body, mind, spirit
  • I see nature’s cycle at play reminding me of God’s processes in my own life
  • I engage in meaningful work and experience deep gratitude
  • I become fully immersed in the present moment

So why do I resist? Maybe it’s the sore back, dirty fingernails and thorns. Maybe I feel inadequate or frustrate easily over a lack of productivity. Maybe it’s just too much work. Perhaps I forget why I go, and what actually happens there—for me, for it. Eventually I made my way.

To the rhythm of digging, snipping, and stopping occasionally to enjoy the sights and sounds, my mind drifted to another garden, a Genesis 3 garden where everything was good; where the first humans enjoyed all that was provided for all that was needed; where there was no fear or shame, just beautiful surroundings, meaningful work and good company. Peace and perfection.

It’s no wonder Joni Mitchell’s lament over having missed Woodstock comes to mind: “We’ve got to get back to the garden!”

Andrei Rublev’s painting, Trinity, suggests an open invitation. “Come,” says Father-Son-Spirit…

  • Enjoy us in silence, find us in solitude, settle with us in stillness
  • Participate in service
  • Listen in scripture
  • Learn in study
  • Join in surrender
  • Dance in celebration
  • Revel in nature…and endless more possibilities

As with gardening, so it is with spiritual practices. It’s easy to show up only when we feel like it.  It’s hard to remember why we do, and what is happening. And certainly life’s weather can impact desire. Yet, good guides remind us that spiritual practices are “an invitation to a journey” not an end in themselves. They are simply a doorway into being, and into being with God.

While I still don’t fancy myself a gardener, God has been profoundly present to me with the grace of renewed hope as I have responded to the invitation to spend time in my literal garden. It is a direct result of centering prayer, spiritual direction, attending to my body, surrendering to community and other spiritual practices, each intended to open to the voice of God and into which I feet invited—not the result of an approval-seeking, religious regimen.

Whatever your unique and specific path, you will experience greater joy and heightened awareness by intentionally making space for God, and with the companionship of a spiritual director. Our Spiritual Formation and Direction programs are designed to help you do just that in community with others. You can register now through our website, http://www.cfdmnorthwest.org.

It’s amazing, the Life that is waiting to be discovered…


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