Archive for April 2011

nearer to godliness than theology

April 26, 2011

On Sunday I spent some time with the words of  Vigen Guroian, an Armenian Orthodox theologian, who writes:

… I think gardening is nearer to godliness than theology. (By “theology” I mean the kind of formal written discourse that my special guild of academic theologians does, not the praise of God and communion with divine life that ought to inspire theology at its core.) True gardeners are both iconographers and theologians insofar as these activities are the fruit of prayer “without ceasing.” Likewise, true gardeners never cease to garden, not even in their sleep, because gardening is not just something they do. It is how they live. (More here.)

Reading Gurioan’s words I was overwhelmed by the need to tend to some green things, which is a little difficult to do in a Manhattan studio apartment. I settled for chopping the stems off a bunch of wilted kale and sticking it in a glass of water to perk up. Then I took my book to the park.

Although the air is beginning to feel like spring, it’s still a little early for lolling on the ground. The grass is too patchy to protect bottoms and elbows from the damp, muddy earth. But I was not the only person to ignore this. The park was packed with families, with young couples, with dogs and their walkers, each doing a dance with their environment and with each other, doing their best to maximize joy and minimize messiness.

When I got home, Bob was waiting in the hall, as usual, with arched back and bottle-brush tail. Once he confirms my identity it takes him about five seconds to go from I’m-a-fierce-scary-cat to I’m-a-sad-little-kitten-who-never-gets-enough-love. It’s so interesting to watch his tiny body get possessed by waves of aggression, wheedling, torpor, gentleness. To some extent, I’ve been able to shape his behavior over these last months, to gradually win this once-wary stray’s trust. But I would be foolish to take what you might call his “moods” personally. Those moments of extreme sweetness, along with the spells of must-bite-toes, have more to do with his unfathomable wiring than with anything I’ve introduced. So I do my best to demonstrate that good things happen for kitties when I’m around, to gentle him when there is an opening, but otherwise let him work out whatever his mysterious kitten system demands.

By the time I got home from the park, the kale had perked up quite nicely. But even when it involves plants, a simple sequence of input >> results really isn’t much like gardening. Part of what makes gardening so enthralling, so mystical, is that despite a gardener’s deep attentiveness, her careful discernment about what a particular organism requires, she learns over and over again that her ability to fix the fate of a plant is about as sure as her ability to command the weather, to compose the soil, to legislate a whole world of predators of and pollinators.

No matter how much you study, or even how much you practice, a garden never stops surprising you– not unlike the placid lap kitty who, without warning, decides to climb you like a tree, claws out. Or like the possessed puss that, for whatever reason, suddenly decides he’s had enough racing around the apartment and would prefer to methodically bathe your feet for awhile.