Garden of the Heart

field_of_wildflowers_istock_long.jpgPrayer for the Seventeenth Day of Lent

Bless, O God, the pure ideas of the heart blown in
on sympathetic winds to germinate on fertile
ground, and help us nurture them. Protect them
from a summer day too hot, a storm too violent.
Make them resilient and able to withstand the overzealous,
kindly meant attention from a relative or friend who snips
the eagerest of sprouts—for symmetry, to spare us

Make in each of us a garden, well supplied with sun and rain.
Teach us husbandry and grant us patience for the weeding
and the cultivation. Thus, believing you began the planting as
a gift of work and purpose, may we tend and not abandon it.
And what of trust? How can we know a grand idea from a
fantasy? If heaven-sent, it will be sturdy and exuberant. Its fruit
will heal the sick or feed the hungry, shade the weary, school
the would-be wise, or simply yield delight, a place of beauty
radiant with love, a feast for famished eyes.


Saved by Grace


Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles, Duccio di Buoninsegna, c. 1308-1311

Meditation for the Sixteenth Day of Lent

I got off to a bad start in Christianity. In Sunday School
I learned that I was supposed to want to be like Jesus,
but I secretly wanted to be like Carolyn Chandler, who
was adorable and blond and athletically talented and
whose grandmother sewed beautiful dresses for her
out of starched gingham with grosgrain ribbon trim.
Jesus didn’t own a single pretty dress, not to mention
sturdy shoes or a change of underwear, and the
speeches he made and the miracles he performed
didn’t seem to be working for him in terms of career
success. He died a miserable death, and he still had to
go to Hell—those three days were no cakewalk. We’re
told that he finally got to Heaven, where, as far as
anybody knew, he had to sit around with God a
hundred percent of forever. I pictured them side by
side in deck chairs in an otherwise empty room,
making polite conversation, receiving the occasional
visitor—maybe Paul and his ilk, whose idea of a good
time was to suffer gladly in the name of the Lord. Can
you teach grateful suffering to an eight-year-old? One
must, I think, experience despair at least once (more, if
one is not an exceptionally quick study) and be
redeemed—not by an infusion of cash or a rise to
stardom but by grace, freely given and entirely
undeserved—to perceive that Jesus Christ is alive and
well and working miracles in one’s body, mind, and
spirit, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.


Adapted from Annagrammatica’s Little Book of Affirmationsby Mary Campbell



Madonna and Child, Filippo Lippi and Workshop, 1447-1448

Meditation for the Fourteenth Day of Lent

This day I will be smarter than I was the day before.
I will learn about Colombia or Filippo Lippi or
Frederick Douglass or the Great Barrier Reef, and I
will study how to open up my heart.

This day I will be kinder than I was the day before. I
will not say Perhaps I should…. No, I shall do.
Somebody needs what I can give: a smile, but not
just that; a call, but more than that; a mitzvah, and
another. I will go to see my sister and will wrap her
in my arms and say I love you fifty times.

This day I will be stronger than I was the day
before. I shall lunch on crisp romaine and grated
cheddar cheese and pomegranate juice, with
butterscotch pudding for dessert, and I will walk a
mile no matter if it snows.

This day I will listen to more music—Aaron
Copland’s Saturday Night Waltz plays on the radio
as I write—and I will contemplate chords and
arpeggios and the key of B flat major.

This day I will be prayerful, more than I was
yesterday, and meditate and drink in God’s own
gentleness, petitioning for naught but love and
peace, for what else does a person need once one
has been hauled out of the pit?

And I will be more grateful than I’ve ever been
before, because another vast and malleable day is
added to my years, a day of scattered sunlight and
of friendship and of spring’s slow, adamant
approach, a day in which I count breaths and say
Thank you for each one, a day in which I hear my
neighbor crooning to her baby girl and I recall with
transient glee and startling precision my half-
century-ago young motherhood.

This day I will be more astonished than I was the
day before, because how can I fail to be surprised
when, all my plans and projects notwithstanding, I
don’t have the ghost of an idea what the next hour

This day I will love my life more than I loved it the
day before, because there is no future in loving the
past—a beautiful garden, to be sure, but one that is
frozen in memory. Only this day do new grasses
emerge from moist earth. Only now do sweet,
warm winds lift dry leaves and ruffle my hair, stroke
my face, and tell me their secrets. Only this day
grows according to my purpose, and God’s grace.


Father-Mother, Make Me Wise


The 400-year-old Angel Oak in Angel Oak Park, on Johns Island, South Carolina, one of the largest oak trees on the planet —

A Prayer for the Tenth Day of Lent

. . . the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. —James 3:17

Father-Mother, make me wise as with the wisdom
of an oak tree, which knows from an acorn when
and how to grow, to bud, to send forth fruit, to
rest. Untaught, it soaks its food out of the earth,
absorbs the minerals it needs, no more, and
senses where the spring originates. It shoots out
sturdy roots and capillaries thence and rises from
the ground in measured increments according to
the season. Sap dispenses nourishment to every
inch of bark and foliage; all is necessary, nothing
wasted. Yet, though economical, its yield is lush. It
thrives! The wind blows through its million leaves
whose shimmering is like applause after a fine
production at the opera. And why not? Just in
the course of living, it gives generously beauty,
shade, and oxygen. Does it know, do you
suppose, how dear it is? They say that trees speak
to each other. Oh, that we could know its
language. Just imagine all the wisdom it

Father-Mother, I could do much worse than to be
sturdy, economical, and generous as is the oak.
May I so grow, and thrive, and bless. Amen.

In Winter’s Time

Do the Chickadees Have Large Talons?


A Poem for the Eighth Day of Lent

Listen to the nuthatch, to the titmouse and the chickadee.
Even as the branch that bears them aches beneath its frigid load
of ice and snow, the birds are brazen, will not be deterred.
They know the time has come to sing their waning-winter song.
Full-throated, lustily they screech: Chee-chee! Chee-chee! Chee-chee!
The light has changed. The days are longer; now the sun draws closer
to the earth, glows more benignly, as it nears the equinox.

Birdbrain, do you scoff? And yet they know what you do not:
that creatures in their subterranean retreats are stirring,
seeds are swelling, ice is thinning on the lakes and streams,
the darkness shortens. Still the earth will not be hurried;
it awakens when it ought to, languid in its movements
till the sun returns, sap rises, leaves burst forth. Be patient.
Spring will come when all of winter’s lessons have been learned.

Winter Harvest

rabbit-in-winter-outdoorlife-comA Poem for the Sixth Day of Lent

What moves beneath the snow on this still night?
What quivers in the moonlight? Some brash
rabbit seeking vegetation that has managed to
survive the killing frost? Trees are brittle, Mr.
Rabbit, and the leaves are dead. You’d better seek
your den and save your energy for spring. The
cats are on the prowl tonight, and hawks wait

But the rabbit is resourceful. There are frozen
berries, sparse among the shrubs, and tender
bark if one knows where to look. A clever rabbit
can live by his wits till spring comes with her
banquet of delights. Now we do the things we
must—a meager harvest is superior to none—
while even now, through winter’s long, cold
night, the earth prepares to greet the sun.


Prayer for the Fourth Day of Lent

God Almighty, lift me up above the
muck and the cacophony of city
streets and alleys. Raise my eyes to see the
distant pines along the Catalinas’
rocky slopes, for I would squint at billboard
signs instead and think the world a cluttered
space, polluted with the dank detritus
of the disenchanted citizens who
dutifully make their five-times-weekly
tedious commute from dwelling place to
office, factory, or field and back again.

God, lift my eyes an inch, no more, from level
with the rooftops and the fences upward
to infinity, where suns and planets,
moons and asteroids abide, where stars are
born and die, not fading quietly, not
they—oh, no, with agitation, flash and
flare, spectacular displays of light in
motion, a magnificent explosion
called immodestly a supernova,
brighter than entire galaxies. Then
let me look again on humankind and
see not weary resignation but in
each an exquisite parade of color,
light, and form, a singularity
beside which all celestial phenomena
are seen to pall. We are created in your
image, God of Glory, after all….

Only Yesterday


Christ Handing the Keys of the Kingdom to St. Peter, Pietro Perugino, 1481-1482

A Prayer for the Third Day of Lent

There are too many children in Heaven today,
and on the earth too many friends with broken
hearts and empty arms. Shadows lie too broad
and fade too soon as night falls early on a
wailing world.

Dear God, when will the grieving end? When can
we once again hear bright, clear laughter, songs
of innocence and curiosity, voices yet to deepen,
and not wonder if those voices will be hushed
before they mellow and grow wise?

The faces in the crowd are stiff and cynical,
uninclined to open to a stranger’s smile. We have
too much to carry now—suspicion, wariness, the
armored layers of our souls, which yesterday
were covered only with a scarf against the odd
chill wind. Spare us, God, the weight of
vengeance, far too heavy to be borne by mortals
such as we.

Where are whimsy, merriment, and joy today?
Do they patter with the feet of children on the
crowded streets of Heaven? Can’t you see we
need them here, before our sorrow palls the
feeble sunlight that remains?

Dear God, what would you have us do with all
the love we bear for those who have been torn
away? Might it find its way to someone whose
uneasy spirit even now turns poisonous? Can we
make, amid the flood of pain and anger, islands of
humanity where troubled hearts can lay their


A Prayer for the Second Day of Lent


Très Riches Heures du duc de BerryLimbourg brothers, 1411-1416

Lead Me to the Feast

Dear God, make me ready for salvation—
for the time when I can trust the guideposts
and not need to see the destination.
There are enemies around me, shadows
moving in the undergrowth, and I don’t
know their names, I only sense their sneering
hatred, feel a loathsome force that steals from
nature’s generosity and drowns out
her sweet song.

It is offered—freedom from all pain,
anxiety, regret—but I’m not ready
for it yet, and it is too genteel to
press. It waits, out in the clearing, like a
tree in richest fruitage, past midsummer,
brazenly displaying plump, pure
nourishment… but, unlike the orchard
down the road a way, this tree and its
companions will not drop their bounty
when the days grow short, the evenings chill.

Still I hesitate. Do I deserve such
freedom? What have I achieved to merit
love? Forgiveness I am hesitant to
claim while I continue to transgress, and
there is forage for the taking, too,
enough to keep a body from starvation…
food sufficient for the day.

But you have higher aspirations for your
children. You would more than satisfy our
hunger. You would have us eat of life
abundant, drink of grace, and drown our
senses in the sweet, clear nectar of
eternal love.

Dear God, make me ready for salvation.
Fit me for the garments you have fashioned—
joy, compassion, peace. Lead me, trusting,
willing, to the feast. Amen.


Image from the Duc de Barry’s Book of Hours.

The book of hours is a Christian devotional book popular in the Middle Ages. It is the most common type of surviving medieval illuminated manuscript…. Each manuscript book of hours is unique in one way or another, but most contain a similar collection of texts, prayers and psalms, often with appropriate decorations, for Christian devotion. Illumination or decoration is minimal in many examples, often restricted to decorated capital letters at the start of psalms and other prayers, but books made for wealthy patrons may be extremely lavish, with full-page miniatures. —Wikipedia