I have never been a person with what avid gardeners call ‘green thumbs’, even though I do have a penchant for plants and flowers. Back home in Singapore, I had very little time to care for plants in the parish setting. Some kind parishioners having been generous, once gave me a few pots of Gloxinia when I mentioned that I loved their vibrant hues, but I could never quite make them bloom a second time after their first flowering.
Having lived in Washington DC for almost a year now, I have come to appreciate how the seasons affect the flora in a way that I have only read about in books and seen in the movies. Spring has been a most spectacular time, where I have seen the magnificent blossoming Cherry trees ushering in the start of a whole cascade of vibrant colours from the multitudinous plants that can be found in gardens and parks. If at all there is an upside to my time away from the familiarity and comforts of home, it would be the experience of the joys and breathtaking beauty that Spring presents, almost surreptitiously, to a soul that had been hitherto chilled by the utterly pallid and charmless character of Winter.
A few doors down from my residence here in DC, along the same street, I have made an acquaintance with Mr Brown, a kindly gentleman whose garden has been a most delightful distraction for my daily walk to school. Ewan, as he insists I address him, is a retired journalist with the local Washington Post, a fellow Catholic, who lives alone in a very charming and elegantly refurbished late 19th century house. At the back of his house stands a plot of land, in which Ewan uses to cultivate vegetables and fruit bearing plants. In the front of the house is a very well tended to garden in which I saw, for the first time in my life, a pink Peony bush in full bloom. These fleeting beauties have since passed their prime, and it is Hydrangea season now. I passed Ewan’s cottage-like house recently and stopped to chat with him about this plants, with me in the sidewalk and him in his garden. A low white wooden fence separated us. The setting was as idyllic as could be.
The topic of conversation turned to his stunning Hydrangeas in the prime of their blossoming. I noticed that some of them were pink and some were violet, almost blue-ish, and asked Ewan if they were different strains or breeds. It’s rather amazing what interesting nuggets of information one can be a recipient of in chance meetings like these across garden fences. I found out that if one desires violet or blue-hued Hydrangeas instead of pink ones, one needs only put a handful of copper coins in the ground where the Hydrangeas are, and in the following year, the desired-for colour would appear. Apparently, the copper leaches into the soil, and affects the colour of the blooms. The Hydrangea flowers, apparently, are nature’s litmus.
Thankful for this piece of garden-trivia, I bade Ewan a good day, and headed back to the castle down the street, which I call home. It slowly dawned on me in the days following our conversation, that our spiritual life, and indeed, almost every other aspect of our lives behaves much like Hydrangea plants.
Spiritual Masters have always been quick to point out that our lives are very much influenced by what we expose them to. A mind and heart that is exposed to mainly wholesome stories, good examples and godliness in its multifarious forms will end up with a much greater chance of being an image or even a replica of what it was exposed to than if it were to be exposed instead to examples of selfishness, evil, anger, lust and greed. But here is where the paradigm of the copper coins affecting the Hydrangea finds its limits.
What has been planted in our hearts are not copper coins that turns our later blooms blue or violet, but is the Holy Spirit through baptism. It is not magic, though. God requires very much our cooperation so that our lives will bear the fruit that glorifies Him through the lives that we will lead. Like what I mentioned a few weeks ago, every parent becomes a great influence for the soul he or she is a caretaker of. But this is never an easy task because the human heart is hardly ever easily conditioned and guided. The gift of the free-will is that proverbial double-edged sword which can become the cause of a soul’s sanctification or its downfall and eventual fall from grace. It is a great gift to know that this freedom is a precious gift that comes from God.
And it is a greater gift and grace to want to cooperate with this gift for an outcome that glorifies the giver of the gifts, rather than to bite the hand that has given the gift. Or the ‘green-thumb’ that gives life to the blooming lives that are ours.