Last week I was working out in a corner of our backyard where I decided to create a meditation garden. The area, which had once been home to a swing set, had become overrun with weeds and was, for the most part, lost space. I came up with the idea for the garden last year when pandemic gave me ample opportunity to work outside.
I figured this year I’d be ahead of the game. It was early in the season. How bad could it be? Bad. I spent three hours sitting in the dirt one Saturday morning with a spade and a bucket making very slow progress. Inch by inch, hour by hour, I cleared small patches by hand to make sure I didn’t pull out the rare native trillium or the glistening green leaves of vinca ground cover along with the invasive weeds.
About two hours into the project, when I considered quitting, I remembered that the vision of a peaceful meditation garden was nice, but the greater goal was to allow the journey to become the meditation. Sure, it will be wonderful to one day sit on a meditation bench surrounded by carefully placed stepping stones and intentionally planted flowers, but the real lessons of the meditation garden—as in so many aspects of life—are learned along the way, in the weeds, so to speak.
Weeding, like raking leaves or shoveling snow, is one of those exercises in futility. You do it knowing you’ll need to do it again, probably sooner rather than later. The repetitive motion and beauty of the natural world suspend you in time in a way. You are there, working, but you are also everywhere—talking silently to God, letting your mind wander where it will, mentally working out problems you haven’t been able to solve, breathing deep and listening hard for the still small voice that is rustling nearby.
From my seat right now, I can see my progress on the garden and the work that remains. There is satisfaction in the accomplishment, but, more than that, there is excitement over the possibilities. I’m no longer hung up on the Instagram-worthy final product but joyful over what I might discover along the way, whether that’s the mundane miracle of a small toad hopping away from the shadow of my hand and surprising me for a brief moment, or a deep sense of God’s presence, reassuring me that, as St. Julian of Norwich said, “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
When we think about Scripture, it is often on the journey that the great spiritual lessons occur—drawing water from a well, on a trek up a mountain, on a boat waiting to pull up a net full of fish, on the road to Emmaus. Our faith story is full of Aha! moments that occurred amid the ordinary tasks of everyday life. When we rush through those tasks to get to a goal, we risk missing the lesson, drowning out the voice of the Spirit, trampling over God right there in our midst.
Back when I wrote my book Everyday Divine, I did so not only to share methods of praying in the busyness of our days but to learn for myself how to pray without ceasing through the seeming “drudgery” of life. But the drudgery is precisely where God lives—in the laundry we fold, in the lawns we mow, in the vegetables we chop, in the weeds we pull.
What task or project has you wishing you could leapfrog over it to get to the end result? Can you take a deep breath and make the journey the goal? Can you create a meditation garden right where you are today, even if you never set foot outside?
This column originally appeared in the June 2, 2021, issue of Catholic New York.