September 1 has been designated for us as World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. Pope Francis asks us to “let our prayer be inspired anew by closeness to nature which spontaneously leads us to God the Creator.” (Message Sept. 1, 2019).
Closeness to Nature! But I live surrounded by concrete and tall buildings in the middle of Yokohama, Japan, with its population of 3.7 million people and extensive industries. What chance have I got to get close to nature with such surroundings and with the limited mobility of age? I used to turn on the golf channel, not so much for the golf, but just to see green turf.
But then I found a more alive and practical way to get close to nature and so let my prayer be inspired. I sow seeds in a planter inside on my window sill. I sprinkle the seeds over the soil and then cover them with a thin layer of finer soil. I water them and then watch them grow. To see green shoots come forth can be a truly religious experience if we let it. This step is important: just quietly gaze at the young shoots and ponder St. Paul’s words, “God makes plants grow....we are partners working together for God.” (1 Corinthians 3:7 - 9).
Many years ago, I had a long talk with an Australian Jesuit. Fr. Charlie Mayne who at that time was spiritual director to a group of indigenous sisters in Papua New Guinea. He told me that he has found that the Sisters could pray much better after working in the soil in their garden patch. This echoes Pope Francis’ words in his message, “Let us also learn to listen to indigenous peoples whose age old wisdom can teach us how to live in a better relationship with the environment.”
As a practical point I suggest seeds that have short germination times. Personally, I like salads so I plant baby leaf lettuce salad mix, garden cress and arugula rocket. Psychologists have found that growing seeds even in a small pot beside beside a patient’s bed or in the room of an aged person has a salutary effect on health. Some school teachers have found that a plant pot can so often soothe even the most raucous child.
The soil and the human spirit have a deep connection. Indeed, she is our Mother Earth. She can inspire our prayer of gratitude to our gentle God. Even we inner city dwellers can experience the benevolent care of our loving God who makes all things grow.
Columban Fr. Barry Cairns lives and works in Japan.