During the winter months, my home office, which also serves as my prayer room, is transformed into a summerlike garden. Bringing climate sensitive plants indoors during the cold weather has become an annual ritual that adds new life to the interior space. With the sun having free range through two large windows, my green friends continue to thrive, their new leaves offering a reprieve from winter’s barren landscape.
Although some plant lovers claim that talking to plants contributes to a plant’s vitality, I find that when my plants talk to me, they revitalize my spiritual life. They remind me that growth can take place all year round, even during the most unlikely times.
Inevitably, my leafy roommates turn their faces toward the sun, reminding me that the Son of God never ceases drawing us to himself, regardless of how we respond. Unlike plants that instinctively seek light, I’m not always so well disposed. When I turn my face from God, I fall short of the person God is calling me to be, and my life lacks luster.
When it comes to caring for plants, observation is key. Drooping leaves signal the need for water, whereas yellow leaves mean I’ve overwatered the plant. Similarly, seeds planted at baptism need to be tended. They cannot thrive without the sacraments.
If we take Jesus at his word and believe that he is living water, then every encounter with Jesus through the sacraments is necessary for spiritual growth. Eucharist is the life stream for Catholics, but if we receive Eucharist without a proper disposition, or flood our soul with mundane concerns and distractions when we receive him, our souls are like leaves on a plant that turn yellow.
God’s grace is not diminished by our lack of attention, but our soul is unable to absorb all that God has to give us. Until we are thirsting for living water, we may be taking the life-saving gift of Eucharist for granted.
Being deprived of frequent holy Communion during the pandemic has caused many to realize how much they miss it. However, thirsting for Eucharist is actually a grace working deep within the soul.
Spiritual deserts are nothing new. When David was in the wilderness of Judah, his thirst caused him to cry out: “O God, you are the God whom I seek; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth parched and lifeless without water” (Ps 63:2).
Current conditions, external and internal, have left many unable to receive holy Communion as frequently as in times past. Rather than lament what is beyond our control, it should prompt us to make frequent Spiritual Communions and search for ways to be Eucharist to others.
Like plants, our soul also requires more than living water. Jesus said, “Not everyone who cries ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of God but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21).
Although fertilizer boosts the growth of plants, similarly not every good work looks or smells appealing. Caring for a sick friend or family member, setting aside personal agendas to help a person in need or holding back an unkind remark are ways to be Eucharist to others. When our actions go unnoticed or unappreciated by all except by the one who never takes his eyes off of us, so much the better.
I admit that while plants teach me about God and the hidden work of grace, they do not make very good prayer partners. I am easily distracted by their beauty when my monkey mind leaps from leaf to leaf. Therefore, closing my eyes to outside distractions helps me focus on the indwelling presence of the Holy Trinity.
Making adjustments to limit distractions is not so different than bringing plants indoors during winter. We will never rid ourselves of distractions entirely, which also keeps us humble.
If, and when, God decides to possess our mind and heart completely, it will happen, but only when God deems that it’s in our best interest. In the meantime, we put forth our best effort by doing our part and then leaving the dispensing of divine gifts to God.
Although the season of gift giving has passed, God never tires of bestowing his gifts on us. There could be no greater reassurance as we embark upon another year, amid a myriad of uncertainties, because the Light of the World continues to draw us even during the darkest of times.
Barbara Hughes is an author, retreat facilitator and spiritual guide. She lives in Virginia Beach and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.