Journeys of holiness can be found in the garden or in the kitchenBy: Maureen Daly
As Vigen Guroian, professor of religious studies in Orthodox Christianity at the University of Virginia, has written, you don’t have to cram a book on theology to find what is holy. Writers like Guroian have shared in words their encounters with the holy, which they have found in landscapes, in hobbies or in something as simple as preparing food.
For Guroian, he shares his journey toward holiness through the adventures in his garden.
“I have said on occasion that I think gardening is nearer to godliness than theology,” Guroian has written.
“I have said on occasion that I think gardening is nearer to godliness than theology.” –Vigen Guroian
Gardening is not just about making the world beautiful but about allowing the activity to transform us, he writes.
His books take readers through various journeys in a garden. One book begins as he gardens at beginning of Lent, a lean time of fasting and preparation. Another chronicles Guroian leaving his garden in Maryland and planting a new one in Virginia.
“There is an ascetic aspect to gardening: cleaning the ground and laboring for beauty to occur, as the ascetical experience of the Christian life roots out sins and shortcomings.”
Even the smells in a garden can be transformative as they can draw the gardener closer to God.
“In my garden there are hedges of wild roses, honeysuckle, wisteria, peonies. Before you see them, you catch their scent. They are present in a mystical way. I am enveloped by scent, as when in prayer I experience God.”
Peggy Rosenthal, author, retreat director and member of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Rochester, NY, doesn’t write about finding holiness outdoors but rather in reading poetry and in knitting.
In her blog for “Image,” a magazine on art and faith, Rosenthal described a meditation method used for poetry and knitting. She reads one line of a poem and meditates on it for the time it takes to knit a row. Knitting slows her pace of the reading and the meditating.
“All of my books have been about holiness in creativity,” she said. “What interested me about knitting and about any creative work with the hands, carpentry or crocheting or whatever, is that the meditative dimension of doing a repeated activity, using the hands, focuses the body’s attention, and thus leaves a part of the mind free for meditation.”
We are created to be creative, she said, and creating something puts human beings in harmony with the Divine Presence.
David Carl Olson, a minister of the First Unitarian Church in Baltimore and owner of 180 cookbooks, finds lessons of holiness in cooking.
“Knowing when to be attentive and when to let things be. Some things have to cook for a long time. Knowing the difference is important,” he said.
Sometimes you have to pay attention to one thing you’re cooking, he said, and sometimes you have to pay attention to everything.
Cooking, he said, teaches him “what the Buddhist monk said to the hot dog salesman: Make me one with everything.”
Daly is a freelance writer in Baltimore.