My secret life …
Late in 2014, I found myself retired for the third time and began the process of seeking volunteer opportunities. My first stop was at the Sisters of Providence. OK, it was Providential! I soon found myself caring for a Marian shrine near Providence Hall, but as Providence would have it, I stopped in at the White Violet Center to see about providing a bit of alpaca care and maybe some gardening. I had admired the charm of the alpacas for years and could hardly imagine actually providing hands-on care!
Monday mornings became my time to help out with the girl alpacas and this has become a regular and much-cherished part of my week. Mondays are also my time with sweet Pearl, the calico barn cat who keeps watch on the alpaca barn. Pearl helps teach me patience and appreciation of the small events of life and she, in turn, enjoys her weekly treat of canned cat food and some cuddle time. That is, when she is not exploring her territory, keeping the intrusive house sparrows at bay or bedding down for a nap in the hay.
The row-crop agriculture at the White Violet farm was a bit intimidating for my knees, but when I saw the Reflection Garden, the Rubicon was crossed (with muddy feet)! The Reflection Garden (the “garden”) immediately took me into its secret life. It is a place of quiet, retreat and the loveliness of creation. And, it was in need of a gardener to provide care and nurturing, battle the weeds, prune, trim and hold theological conversations with the soil, plants, stones and the friendly goldfish in the pond (not to mention frogs, toads, and bumblebees). The garden has become my therapist (“this hour is free!”), permitting hard work interspersed with meditation, a bit of contemplation and a closeness to the Spirit that is nothing short of remarkable. There are times when I can truly close off the world outside and the garden becomes all there is between me and the Trinity (a little epiphany is a fine thing). A lot of sweat equity is balanced with a peaceful harmony with creation (stop by, it is there for all).
Being at the Woods, and especially at the White Violet Center, is a delight! The sisters and the staff are wonderful and the deep emphasis on the care and nurturing of creation has reinvigorated my own love for the natural/created world. It has become a perfect outlet for the expression of my Franciscan approach to life and spirituality.
Well, it is time to weed (especially to arm for battle with the dreaded bindweed), feed the fish, watch for the latest plants to emerge or bloom, or maybe just sit quietly in the garden and see what the Spirit has in mind next. Stop in and visit the garden next time you pass into the Woods.
Peace and good!
You’ve pressed all my pleasure buttons, Tom. Volunteering with the SPs, Woods gardens, alpaca girls, cats (!) quiet time and hearing from the Spirit (lucky you!) Keep us posted as you get those Reflection Garden weeds under control. Hope you’ve been getting some of the spring rains we’ve been in enjoying in our Chicago gardens. We are so ready for Spring.
Beautiful article! I would so love to volunteer at the Woods if only I didn’t live so far away in California. As a visitor to St. Mary-of-the-Woods since childhood and a close connection to the SP’s, I so well know the beauty and peacefulness of the place.
Dad, absolutely great post! I love you and I’m so happy you’ve found the woods and the peace that it provides there. I enjoy my visits as well and sweet Pearl will definitely continue to flourish under your care. -Julie
Lovely post, Tom. We can’t thank you enough for all of your work!