By Margaret Rose Realy
As our journey through Lent picks up, we may be gaining confidence in our penitential practices, or, if you’re like me, losing momentum in the sameness of each day. Here is an idea for keeping your Lent fresh and growing.
St. Therese of the Child Jesus would carry in her pocket a string of beads with a tiny crucifix at the end. Each time she offered something up she would slide a bead toward the cross. Her goal was each day to bring 10 offerings to Jesus. I’ve made a similar string of prayerful faith beads for Lent, loving how its tiny weight in my pocket encouraged me to look for ways to be of service to others, or to offer up an abstinence or penance.
Garden lovers can expand on this simple practice by planting seeds of faith.
Easter brings us the promise of new growth, resurrection and new life, brought forth in light — and light is essential, spiritually and physically, for all living things.
This is no different for seeds. There are seeds, such as poppies and lettuces, that require light to germinate; they will fail to thrive if buried deep in soil, needing light and its warmth to break out of the seed’s case.
Other seeds actually need darkness to sprout; we can watch the tiny cotyledon push aside the soil and unfurl in the open air. Even if inhibited by a rock or piece of wood, the little plant will stretch its stem until it is free of the obstruction and eventually finds its place in the sun.
The miracle of plant seeds is that everything needed for growth is contained within it, just waiting to be called forth. The leafy embryo rests within and is fed by the endosperm, all of which is protected by the seed coat. The size of the seed doesn’t matter; it has all its DNA, is already fertile, and is literally hanging in the balance between its current static state and upcoming life. It is like there is a tiny glow at the center of every seed wanting to get out, a fleck of light seeking light beyond the darkness of the soil in which it was planted.
Whatever the seed, God intended for it to grow.
To begin a planter’s daily practice of counting your offerings, let’s expand on the concept of St. Therese’s beads. Go get some seeds for your garden — choose seeds that germinate readily, can be picked up and easily counted, like peas and beans, squash or courgetti, dill, sunflowers or marigolds. Buy more than one kind of seed if you want to fully embrace this practice, or if the family will join you in this during Lent — this offering of seeds is especially meaningful to children!
Pick up a seed tray (or a few) and buy some peat-free potting mix — not soil. You can get creative with seed trays, just look online for ideas.
Keep in mind how you plan to count your daily offerings — 10 seeds a day can really add up and require a lot of sunny space. Use a seed for each offering, or if you have a small garden or balcony, one seed for each day that ten offerings were accomplished.
As you plant the seeds, recall each offering, or consider the seed’s construction and how it relates to you: is the seed coat thick and needing to be chipped so that goodness can enter and begin to grow? Is the seed speckled or mottled, smooth or rough (like our lives in faith, contrasting or at times prickly in conflict)?
When planting your seeds and contemplating metaphorically or thinking back on acts of mercy, keep in mind that you are spiritually digging deeper and planting in hope of future glory. Keep watch over your seedlings as well as your soul and watch for new growth.
Remember: Much like those seeds to which the absence of light is essential, we too experience darkness for a reason. Without the experience of darkness we would not recognize the Light. We are planted in the seed-ground of the spirit, and from this comes the germination of faith.
Margaret Rose Realy is a Benedictine Oblate and the author of “A Garden Catechism: 100 Plants in Christian Tradition and How to Grow Them” (OSV, 2022).