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Franciscan Friday: Spring Fugue


 This Friday, guest blogger and Secular Franciscan Susan Burke, facing her garden, reflects on caring–or not caring–for things we care for.

This morning I made myself a pot of coffee and thought I’d settle down with Morning Prayer. That’s what I thought—until I opened the door to the back porch and remembered I hadn’t watered the hanging petunia for more than a week. Purple and white blossoms, all Easter-y it is.

I hauled it down, along with the wilting impatiens and the drying geranium, and took them to the hose in the yard. While directing the stream, I glanced around. Lilacs in aromatherapeutic bloom, iris spears staunchly at attention—last year’s chives, periwinkle, winter jasmine muscling their way over everything as usual, and it’s only April. Wild blackberry wands sprouting, honeysuckle entwining, ailanthus and fox grapes lying in wait—all the old familiar weeds were gathering their strength. The oncoming invasion was palpable.

Returning to the porch, I couldn’t avoid, on the table under the re-hung petunia, the little plastic pots housing lettuce and tomato seedlings—acquired two weeks ago and now steadily outgrowing their tiny vessels. Dry, too. Water, water, water. And, omigosh, the pansies! The pansies given to me last September, meant to be planted, never planted, yet now valiantly blooming in their plastic wombs set down in the front “garden” seven months ago.

Do you see where this is going? I still hadn’t sat down to pray. I was running hither and yon with an enormous watering can, filling, spilling, refilling, trying to assuage my guilt and to salvage the beauty and bounty I had intended to grace my world.

I believe “neglect” is the operative word here, in concert with “good intentions,” the ones the nuns warned us were hell’s paving stones. Theological debates on the fact of hell aside, this world has enough troubles of its own, to paraphrase another teacher we all know and love. That teacher is the source and reminder of another, more powerful, operative word: “grace.”

Grace is given, every minute, every second. We intend to receive and make the most of it, but grace is often set aside “until I can get to it” or “when the circumstances are more propitious.” I can see the results of such inattention in the neglect of my struggling plants, in my blindness to the march of the weeds, in discovering my daily prayer book two hours later, perched upside down on my couch, unread. Things die, things are smothered, things are never used, things are left undone, even though we “mean well.”

We can neglect our flowers, and the results are right in front of us. We can neglect our time with God, and the results are more subtle but more substantial. We can neglect the poor and the marginalized, and the results are often invisible but in fact devastating, to them and to us. FMS and other missioner groups, as they can, work to repair that neglect.

All of these levels of neglect are connected. So, in the spirit of ongoing conversion animated by grace, I shall deliver the literal water of life to my Easter-y petunia and its companions in this season of resurrection. As the psalm in this morning’s reading said (yes, I finally got to it): “I called to the Lord in my distress; he has answered and freed me. . . . The Lord is at my side as my helper. . . . The Lord is my strength and my song.”

Susan Burke is a Secular Franciscan, a spiritual director, a part-time hospital chaplain, an editor, and a mother and grandmother of one each, as well as a cat owner of two.

Susan Burke is a Secular Franciscan, a per-diem chaplain at a medical center in Virginia, and a spiritual director.