"Consider our hearts as gardens, with beauty and nourishment to offer others, with weeds that need tending, with pruning to be done. It is work to keep a garden paradise."
An Absorbing Book
Once in a while you find a treasure of a book that takes over from everything else you planned to do and absorbs you, delighted, for an hour, or two, or three. That’s what “Landscapes of Prayer: Finding God in your World and your Life,” by Margaret Silf (2011, Lion Hudson), did for me. In it is such a wealth of story, metaphor, insight and gorgeous imagery – it could fuel a year of spiritual reflection. I used it for a private retreat and did not get past the first chapter.
Silf writes that different landscapes help us discover “…the story God is weaving in your life and in the world.” The places we frequent, and those we visit, take root in our souls and leave an imprint. When we meditate on them with an openness to God, God uses them to speak to spaces in our souls.
Each chapter explores a different type of landscape, leading us through stories, suggesting themes, gifting us with superb photos, ending with questions to aid us in our encounter with God. The nine landscapes are: Garden, Mountain, Seashore, Forest, River, Jungle, Desert, Cave and Night Sky. A landscape for everyone in every season of life.
“The best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow,” is the quote beginning the first chapter, with a photo of an open gate under a vine-covered arbor. An enticing little section of a path, disappears around a corner, and on we go, turning a page, guided to consider our hearts as gardens, with beauty and nourishment to offer others, with weeds that need tending, with pruning to be done. It is work to keep a garden paradise.
A story is told of a woman who dropped a lovely teapot, breaking the spout. Instead of casting it aside, she loved it so much she planted a miniature garden within it, and always after it, “…reminded her that even in our brokenness we can be even more lovingly tended and cherished than when we were whole.”
Silf is a gifted, unobtrusive writer, and a valuable spiritual companion. Each of her chapters contains a paraphrased Bible story for meditation, such as, “A Meeting with the Gardener,” on Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Christ. The mountain chapter retells the Transfiguration story, and the Seashore chapter uses the story of the disciples eating breakfast with the resurrected Jesus, from John 21.
Each chapter ends with a series of questions that prompt deeper reflection and invite us to pray. At their close, a few echoing sentences close out the experience. The seashore chapter ends with, “Tomorrow you will walk once more on virgin sand.”
“Landscapes of Prayer” is a wonderful gift book for anyone who prays, or who wants to pray, and a terrific resource for planning spiritual formation experiences.
Colleen Scheid is a member of “Friends of the Groom” theater company, and a freelance writer of drama, articles and fiction.