When I told my colleague Kristin King Carroccino about my ideas for starting a Lenten garden she sent me this article about what she and her family have done in the past. I love the way she incorporates her own need for transformation with that of the transformation that occurs in the garden.
A few years ago, in an attempt to illustrate to our children the message of Lent, a time of God working in the fertile soil of our hearts to grow something new and a time that we also remember the barren feeling of Jesus being in the tomb at the end of Holy Week, we purchased a square glass container from a local craft-making supply store with the intent to cultivate a simple garden. For the first couple of years, we simply added potting soil to the container, and then allowed it to remain dormant until about half way through Holy Week, when we added a sprinkling of wheat berries to the top half inch of soil, watered them, and then watched them sprout and burst forth into gangly life by Easter morning.
Then, my husband began the process of pursuing ordination as a priest in the Episcopal Church, and found himself volunteering to help with Ash Wednesday services one year at our local parish. Somehow, he managed to bring some leftover ash home later that evening around the time we were getting ready to put fresh, black soil into our Lenten glass container. We decided to place the ashes below the soil in the container, thus adding a silty grey layer below the weight of the blackness above. We often paused over the next few weeks to glance at the stark container on our family altar as we were vacuuming the living room or tossing a toy to one of our cats or watching the kids host an impromptu dance party.
The following year, my husband, now a seminarian, wasn’t able to produce a handful of ashes to bring home on Ash Wednesday, so we created our own by each writing on a piece of paper a habit or characteristic we would like to have transformed during Lent and then burning it outdoors in a large metal bowl. We collected the chunky ashes, which were more tiny bits of white paper than powdery dried palm leaf ashes from church, and made them the foundation of our glass container garden. Now we could even more vividly imagine the transformative process of God taking the parts of ourselves we wished to bury and miraculously turning that offering we gave into the new life of the wheat sprouts sending tenacious white roots down into the dark muck and stretching new green growth to the heavens. Humus offering us humans a glimpse of the Great Mystery.