St. Thérèse of Lisieux came to my mind and heart this week as I planted more native pollinator plants with some children connected with my church. We now have forty native species growing alongside the established (non-native) plants in the children’s garden areas within our urban campus. I thought of the diversity of St. Thérèse’s flowers growing in the garden of God, as cardinal flower nestles alongside foam flower and Jacob’s ladder, with some mountain mint peaking in. And I remembered the gospel:
“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”(Matthew 6:28b-29)
We began the project with the children two years ago on Pentecost as a way of cooperating with the Holy Spirit’s work of renewing the face of the earth. That first year we planted eight individual plants from eight unique species. Now in this third year the gardens showcase forty native species all supporting the complex web of life that begins with capturing energy from the sun. The original little community of turtlehead, black cohosh, Pennsylvania sedge, and cinnamon fern (among others) grew last year to include these and more: great blue lobelia, rock polypody, woodland stonecrop, Christmas fern, and early meadow rue. This spring some sun-loving natives joined the crew, including swamp milkweed, echinacea (purple cone flowers), baptisia, purple lovegrass, foxglove beardtongue, and Cherokee sedge.
Two years ago I could name and identify none of these plants. I could not describe to you if they would behave as runners or clumpers, if they liked shade or sun, if their flowers fascinatingly sat on the ground in spring (like wild ginger’s!) or were a showy fall pink (like turtlehead’s). Two years ago there was soil and possibility and permission to experiment with what could be.
One thing about being able to see possibility is that one doesn’t necessarily know what is being perceived. Just that something that could be wishes to be. Something aspires to come into existence that is not now here. And that one could cooperate to midwife that possibility into existence. So, where there was soil two years ago, now there is a small community of native plants supporting the local web of life.
We planted the native species alongside the existing plants in our little woodland garden. Wild ginger, Virginia bluebells and alumroot, for instance, peak out from underneath a shrub. Jacob’s ladder, roundleaf ragwort, and great blue lobelias meet the existing ground cover.
In some ways two models coexist: one of uniformity and aesthetic functionality, another of diversity and a bit more aesthetic wildness, but of deep import in the web of life. I wonder about the church and this meeting point of uniformity and diversity. I consider the invitation to unity, not uniformity, but I wonder how much diversity the church is willing to welcome, how much space it can hold for non-uniform things to grow and to flourish in all their complexity.
Noticing new possibility is primarily a movement of hope:
“See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the wilderness I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers.”(Isaiah 43:19)
It is sensing what could be, or what is emerging, and not primarily judgement on what currently is. This is often misunderstood. And I think this fear of judgement underlies some of the anxiety and strong resistance within the church to what is possible and the clinging to what is, as it is.
As I step back from the garden, I pay attention to this meeting point of the existing plants and the new community tucked around it. The native plants placed on the border of the Japanese pachysandra seem smaller in size than some of the plants of the same species deeper back in the garden, who are nestled together with other native species. I wonder about the flourishing of the native plants as a community and the frontline that some inhabit, surviving, but not thriving to the same extent.
This little garden of God will grow in the coming months in ways I can only imagine. Literally. What will rattlesnake master look like, or how will anise hyssop taste? I literally have no idea. Will the woodland sunflower grow taller than the fence behind it? I sure hope not.
But I think of St. Thérèse, the Little Flower, and find courage and humility in her. I consider the lilies and am less anxious. I will rest in tonight’s blue flower full moon and be at peace for a time.