For several years, I was blessed to spend the summers tending a large vegetable garden on a friend’s farm. Garden Therapy, as I affectionately called this time, was a great teacher. I learned the excitement of seeing little seedlings poke their heads above the earth for the first time. I witnessed the dedication of the loving gardener (my friend), nurturing her baby crops through to harvest, fully committed to their thrival, not just survival. And one of my most treasured lessons…with time and patience, nature (read: our gracious God) can turn our scraps, our waste into rich soil. God can turn the remnants of something good into something so great, so filled with creative potential and generative power.
Recently, I’ve been studying The Song of Songs. This little book of the Bible, from my humble perspective, holds the key to coming to know in a very personal way, the beautiful love of God for each human soul. This Love personified is Jesus, and more particularly in The Song of Songs, He is Christ the Bridegroom.
Throughout The Song of Songs, as in many other places in the Scriptures, we encounter the analogy of our hearts as a garden, a vineyard. As I am studying the Song, with the guidance of many great mystical Saints throughout the ages,* I’m spending time reflecting on my personal vineyard – the place deep in my heart where Jesus abides.
“I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit.”
All that preparation…for a crop of bad fruit! Something more than good planning and preparation is required: a loving Gardener with the dedication and know-how to tend to the daily weeding, pruning, turning, re-planting needed. If I want to yield good fruit for the Kingdom, I need to invite Jesus to help me tend my vineyard heart.
As I’ve spent time reflecting in my vineyard with Jesus, the Divine Gardener, He has helped me recognize the spiritual weeds that take root in my heart.
- Lies about who I am (i.e.: unworthy, less than, not enough, failure)
- Distortions about how my worthiness is measured (i.e.: achievements, physical appearance, possessions, income, health)
- Shame flowing from what I’ve done or what’s been done to me
- Regrets, resentments, guilt
Keeping the weeds from taking space or nutrients away from the “good fruit” growing in my heart requires commitment and consistency on my part. But mostly it requires my willingness to allow Jesus to get His hands in there and guide the work. On a daily basis, my prayer may sound like, “Jesus I rebuke the lie that “I should be ashamed of myself” and I claim the truth that You have clothed me in Your garment of dignity and grace. Jesus, plant Your truths deeply in my heart.
Rebuke the weed. Claim the fruit.
Jesus, I rebuke all regret and guilt I am feeling about x. I claim the truth that You have made me new and You are making my relationships new over and over again. Thank You, Jesus.
The Little Foxes
“Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes,
That made havoc of the vineyards,
For our vineyards are in flower.”
The Song of Songs 2:15
In The Song of Songs, the Bridegroom warns the Bride that they must be vigilant not only in tending the weeds that are always sprouting up but they must also “catch the little foxes that made havoc of our vineyard”. While the weeds sprout up from “the inside,” foxes are exterior creatures, and cunning ones. Saints such as John of the Cross and Francis de Sales teach us that these “little foxes” are the many temptations, negative voices, and distractions that disrupt our interior peace and loving conversation with Christ.
Notice the emphasis on the word “little” in the verse from The Song of Songs above. We must ask the Gardener’s help in identifying and catching these sly foxes while they are little! Lest they grow, gaining strength and territory in our hearts, thus becoming more difficult to oust.
Can you identify any little foxes roaming amongst the vineyard of your heart?
What spiritual weeds need to be uprooted?
I want to close by sharing the Lord’s promise to help us in tending, weeding and shooing the foxes from our hearts. His vision of the beautiful fruit-bearing vineyard of a heart committed to cooperating with His grace and gentle gardening is beautiful and hopeful.
“The Lord will surely comfort Zion
and will look with compassion on all her ruins;
he will make her deserts like Eden,
her wastelands like the garden of the Lord.
Joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the sound of singing.”
We can take Isaiah 51:3 and personalize the wording.
“The Bridegroom will surely comfort me
And He will look with compassion on all my weakness and woundedness;
He will make my desert heart like Eden,
My wastelands like the garden of the Lord.
Joy and gladness will be found in me,
Thanksgiving and the sound of singing.”
Let’s take this vision into our prayer time, asking the Lord to reveal any weeds or foxes in our midst. Let us recommit, telling Him again and again of our desire to yield good fruit for Him. Let us nurture this peaceful place in our hearts; a garden where Jesus finds rest for His Sacred Heart.
* The teachings on The Song of Songs from Saints including Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Bernard of Clairvoux, Francis de Sales and Terese of Lisieux, are compiled in a treasure of a book which has guided my study of The Song of Songs. The book, The Cantata of Love, a Verse by Verse Reading of the Song of Songs, was written by Blaise Arminjon, S.J. and is available through Ignatius Press.