Living Prayer Chapter 4 – Planting Sweet Peas

Are there cycles in your life that you are aware of?  Is there a distinct pattern that you can claim that in some way makes you distinctly who you are?  Chances are some will say yes and some will say no.  There are those who can tell you exactly what they look forward to and when and remember all the wonderful things that make certain times special.  But there are also those who hardly remember and coast from season to season paying little attention to anything.  Which one are you?  Is your life of prayer this way too?

In this chapter, Robert Benson takes us on a journey through his yearly rhythm and tells us how special each time is to him and those he shares his life with. One such important time for him is planting Sweet Peas on St. Valentines day.  Regardless of the weather, he has a tradition of planting sweet peas on that day and he does this because his grandmother told him that if he wants Sweet Peas in the Spring, he needs to plant them on St. Valentine’s Day, in Tennessee, anyway.  What is significant about this for him is that it reminds him of how he longs for the new season of Spring at that particular time late in Winter.  It calls him to attention of the cycles in his life and reminds him that there will be light and there will be dark, there will be good and there will be bad as life ebbs and flows. 

This is true of a life of prayer as well.  Benson says that, “In some ways it is a journey without a destination; we have already arrived all the time.”  In prayer we will go through ups and downs and unless we are willing to live in the seasons we are in danger of letting the valuable lessons of grace pass us by.  Sadly, most will just try to rush from season to season, whether in prayer or in life to try and cover as much ground as possible while paying as little attention as possible.  “Progress“, says Benson, “is measured not by the amount of ground that is covered; it is measured by the amount of attention that is paid.  We must pay attention to the seasons that surround us and we must live out the season in which we find ourselves.”  What might this mean for our seasons as the People of God?

In the tradition of our faith the Liturgical Calendar has helped shape us as God’s people.  The calendar marks out for us the seasons of Lent and Advent and Christmas and the Epiphany, and Pentecost among others.  In the calendar there are times of waiting, darkness, joy, anticipation, and ascension that move us through the great story of our faith in a way that we can learn to remember.  “The story that is told over and over and over by the liturgical calendar can open our hearts and minds and ears to our own story if we listen.  It will teach us that there will be times for us when our prayer will be that of those who live in darkness and times when it will be that of those who live in the light.” 

What makes the calendar so important to us is that it reminds us again and again of the new life around the corner.  Whether we are stuck in prayer, in a bad spot in life, joyful or indifferent, as we remember with the Church the great story of old we learn with the saints that God is doing a new work in this world; in our lives, even if we cannot perceive it yet.  To believe that there is new life after the dark and for us to live in the future hope of God’s promise for this world, we must pay attention to ensure we don’t lose sight.  This is why for Benson, even in the snow, it makes sense to faithfully plant Sweet Peas on St. Valentine’s Day and wait for Spring.

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