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Putting the Garden to Bed

Autumn is a season that invites us to slow down. The bling of Autumn with vibrant colors quickens our step for a few weeks and then inevitably leads to bare branches and seemingly empty fields. As the season unfolds the trees and plants get ready for a long sleep. For New Englanders the cold months give the appearance that Nature is dormant. In truth much is happening below the surface. The bulbs planted in the Fall are storing energy for the Spring. The trees are summoning sap in anticipation of buds months away, in March and April.

For those of us who garden, it is a time to allow the plants to rest. As the summer and autumn plants die back, instead of cutting them back and raking them up, we allow the milkweed, goldenrod, sunflower to remain upright for a time, providing seeds for the birds who are migrating or wintering over. In time these plants will fall to nourish the soil.

Bernd Heinrich a biologist, in his classic book 'A Year in the Maine Woods', invites the reader to discern the signs of nature at work below the surface. Understanding the subtle workings of insects and birds and plants he is able to notice even in the snows of February, that the first indicators of springtime are emerging. He writes: 'The subtle matters and the spectacular distracts'.

Autumn and Winter are seasons that invite those of us in the northern hemisphere to slow down and rest. So it is for the spiritual journey too. As the days become shorter we humans naturally slow down. Yet, as with the subtle signs in the natural world, so too is the Spirit at work, inviting us to both rest and notice. To notice what is going on within and around us. As the theologian Søren Kierkegaard said: 'The Creator is always present simply waiting to be found.'

There are, I think, three aspects to the spiritual journey: Resting (being quiet), noticing (what is going on, often, below the surface) and responding (to what we have noticed, heard, felt, learned). Our culture encourages a response. Summed up in the statement: 'Don't just stand there, do something!' Yet, if we don't allow ourselves to first be quiet, so as to notice what is important, we are at risk of being reactive rather than proactive.

Taking time to be quiet, to rest, so as to notice what matters is truly, countercultural. Being quiet/resting creates space for us to notice the subtle movement that so often accompanies wisdom.

In allowing ourselves to move beyond the human compulsion to 'do something', we may find ourselves dropping down into a deep place, where the Creator of all that is good, lasting and true is to be found. We may find ourselves the recipients and conduits of wisdom.

Gardeners and farmers know that for the land to remain fertile it must be allowed to die back and for a time to go fallow.

A casual observer might think nothing is happening. But the gardener knows that just below the surface the essentials for life are being summoned.

The gardener, the farmer, the lover of nature has faith that even now, the forces of life and renewal are at work. This is both an ecological and theological truth. And so I say, to myself and to you, let us enter upon a season of rest, of quiet. In doing so let us find comfort in our faith, that even now the signs of renewal are at work.

May it be so. For those of us with the eyes to see, the ears to hear, a heart to feel and a mind to know. My friends, rest well.

With you on the journey ~ Kent Harrop

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