Retreat garden

Published on 28 Jul 2019
Door to gardening shed

by Teresa McCaffery

‘Do I see the basis for an article here?’.  This challenge by brother Alan as I stripped ivy off the apple tree branches while on retreat at St Beuno’s merits a response.

I could write about Ivy.  It is a beautiful plant, a haven for birds and insects, which seems to be able to live in harmony with the trees that support it, but I feel that it must be draining the energy of trees whose function is to produce apples for us to enjoy.  I gently strip the tendrils off the great branches that have grown on these aged trees.  I find that the ivy has taken root INSIDE the hollow branches of one tree and formed a grotesque crown on the top of another.  The stems and leaves can be peeled off, but the roots are strong, and run deep among the roots of the apple trees.

There is much to be learned this way about our own nature.  All of us are made by God and are inherently good.  Our energy goes into many activities, all of them containing at least a seed of good.  Some things we do develop very easily and strongly, they need no help, but other activities may struggle for space and nutrients.  Do we need to do a little trimming and pruning, or to give some little or delicate plant more space?  We cannot always uproot an activity or attitude that is strongly and deeply rooted in our constitution and background.

But I was not the only person in the garden.  Other retreatants sat peacefully in the sun, calmed by the quiet orderliness of the green space, some expanded their horizons by looking out across the valley, views made possible by careful management of our trees.  A wasp collecting wood for its nest and a study of the dandelion in its stages of development can make us cry out in wonder at the greatness of God.  I saw gardeners keeping the paths and grass tidy and had a grandstand view of the builders lifting a coping stone off the chimney.  A staff member walked slowly up the great stairway enjoying a quiet conversation with a colleague, my own director enjoyed a walk before his morning sessions started.

Gardens are important!

In gardens we see God quite literally at work.  I never met anyone yet who could make leaf or flower, though we make many copies.  We make artificial flowers and paint and draw them in many ways because they are beautiful as only God can make them beautiful, but to sit in a garden is to see God at work, to help in a garden is to help God at work.  The first time ever I was asked to see God at work on retreat I imagined Him wearing a gardening apron holding a trowel.

The garden at St. Beuno’s is large and forgiving.  It is letting us make space for a few more cars and a boiler house.  I am sure the staff must heave a small sigh over the costs of maintaining ‘the grounds’ but the garden is not just space to be managed.  It is a place where God is manifestly at work and, like all workpeople, readily to be found.