Awareness in the Garden
“Good morning Oak tee!” they all repeat.
“Good morning birds nest!” I say in a quieter voice.
“Good morning birds nest!”
“Good morning Pecan tree,” I say in a firm indoor voice.
“Good morning Garden Gnome,” I whisper to a group of kindergartners as we make our way past the garden gnome and find our places around the pond.
“Good morning Garden Gnome,” some of them actually attempt to whisper.
Today the lily pad has two flowers. One flower is fully opened and the other is partially opened. The children gasp as two connected dragonflies swoop down and land on a lily pad for a split second before zooming off.
“Why are they connected?!” a couple of students cry out.
“They are making babies.” I continue in the calm, quiet voice I hope they will someday mimic.
“What else do you notice about the pond?”
“There are two flowers!”
“I see a tadpole!”
I let them continue until they can think of nothing else new about the pond.
“Today your task is to find a bee and watch it. When you are done watching it, come and tell me about it.”
They stand up and start stumbling about the plants, flowers, picking up stumps and trampling throughout the garden.
The first and most important lesson we learn in the garden is awareness. As a gardener your best tools are your own eyes. We practice this by slowing down our bodies and practicing watching all of God’s creation that envelopes us and then attempting to explain it. This task requires me to listen to every single detail of every student’s observations no matter how trivial it may seem. In fact, the more trivial the details shared the better. That tiny detail that the student notices tells me that he or she is becoming more observant.
We work on this particular task for at least two weeks through different activities. After all, if Newton hadn’t first observed the apple falling then he might not have written the law of gravity. If Alexander Fleming hadn’t noticed a new growth on one of his petri dishes, he may not have discovered penicillin. Awareness is the first step to any scientific experimentation and discovery. But it is also the first step in our spiritual path. We must always be aware of our own sins to be able to seek forgiveness and repentance. In The Path to Salvation, Saint Theophan the Recluse says,
“The awakening of the sinner is that act of divine grace in his heart, the consequence of which he , as one awakened from sleep, sees his sinfulness, senses the danger of his situation, begins to fear for himself and to care about deliverance from his misfortune and salvation. Previously, he was like a blind man, unfeeling and uncaring with regard to salvation; now he sees, senses and cares.”
In the awakening from sinfulness, we must see and be aware of our sins. In the same way the prodigal son became aware of his uncleanness and turned towards his father for forgiveness of his many sins.
The garden is a safe place to train our children to this awareness because there is so much to be aware of. There is always something going on in the garden whether it be the buzzing of bees, the clang of the cicadas or the croak of a toad. Today I ask them what they see that is new in the garden and tomorrow they will ask themselves what is it that is new within me.
I leave you with a poem by Williams Wordsworth:
It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquility;
The gentleness of heaven broods o’er the Sea;
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder—everlastingly.
Dear child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouched by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham’s bosom all the year;
And worshipp’st at the Temple’s inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.