Perennial gardens, perennial lives

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

Two months ago my husband announced, "The chive plant is dead." It certainly looked dead. Normally the plant is St. Paddy's Day green, nearly a foot tall and even bigger around. But by mid-winter none of our windows gets full sun, so the plant had shriveled to a few khaki tufts. Nonetheless, I assured my husband that it would be just fine. Then I cut it down to its roots. My husband looked at the few sprigs that peeked through the soil and said, "Definitely dead now."

I gave it some plant food and started it on a heliotropic routine: morning sun in the kitchen, then in the guest room for the afternoon sun. After a week, it had a half-dozen new shoots, and now, two months later, it's thriving - as lush and large as ever.

When my husband asked how I knew it would recover, I said it's because chive plants are perennials. Which made me think about what it means to be a perennial. "The Oxford English Dictionary" gives a range of meanings, from "remaining alive through a number of years; said especially of a herb which dies down to the root and shoots up afresh every year" to "enduring, lasting, permanent, never-failing, continual, perpetual; everlasting, eternal."

So even when the plant shrivels and dies, is buried under dead leaves and snow, the root (the permanent part of the perennial which produces and nourishes the rest) endures. Right now in New England, we're seeing everywhere signs of life perennial as new green shoots poke through last year's broken stalks and withered leaves.

These sprigs of spring remind me of where our roots are. The Bible tells us that we are "rooted and grounded in love" (Eph. 3:17), and that "God is love" (I John 4:8). So we are rooted and grounded in God Himself, whom the Bible also calls our life (see Deut. 30:20).

Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Church of Christ, Scientist, wrote that "because God is Life, all Life is eternal" ("Unity of Good," page 37). Again and again, in sermon, letter, essay, and book, this woman who was twice widowed, explains what that means practically for you and me. She assures us in "Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896" that "the Father's great Love that He hath bestowed upon us" holds us "in endless Life and one eternal round of harmonious being" (page 77). She urged us to remember that "the truth of being is perennial" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 265).

The truth is, that our being is perennial, though life and goodness are sometimes, like the sun, hidden by clouds, and sometimes, like the perennials in our gardens, buried beneath dead leaves and snow.

I saw something of this truth several years ago, when a special friend died suddenly. I was standing by the open coffin with her only child, his two cousins, and my husband. We were all crying.

Although we five are from three different religious traditions, we all accept to some degree the Bible's promise of immortality. Standing there that day, I so much wanted us to recognize something of my friend's - and our own - immortality, and to feel the great love of God. So I acknowledged God's love for us all, including for my friend. I acknowledged that because He loves us, we can feel it, no matter what.

After some moments I remembered St. Paul's words, that "in Him [God] we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). The implication of these words dawned on me: that my friend did not ultimately live in the body that lay in the coffin. Her root remained in the ever-living God. Whether or not I could see her, she continued to thrive in Him, and always would. We live in Him eternally, even when this fact is hidden by how little we understand Him, even when it's buried beneath confusion and fears.

I looked again at the body. It wore my friend's clothes and had her hairstyle, but in essence it wasn't her. The five of us all seemed to see this at once, and we agreed aloud that the body was not our friend, mother, aunt. She would always be much more than that body. What a relief!

That day, this sudden glimpse of life perennial - enduring despite the grave - dried our tears. Today, the perennials in my garden remind me that my friend is thriving still, and we will meet again.

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