“Contemplative practice is a skill, a discipline that facilitates a process that is out of one’s direct control, but it does not have the capacity to determine an outcome. A gardener for example, does not actually grow plants. The gardener practices finely honed skills, such as cultivating soil, watering, feeding, weeding, pruning. But there is nothing the gardener can do to make the plants grow. However, if the gardener does not do what a gardener is supposed to do, the plants are not as likely to flourish.” Laird, Martin, Into the Silent Land, (New Yor, NY, Oxford University Press, 2006), 53-54.
I grew up on six acres in a small town in Washington. My dad worked a full time job in town and also single handedly took care of all six acres. He mowed the pastures by hand (no riding mower for him). He also tended three gardens on the main section of our property surrounding our home. We had a flower garden, a vegetable garden and a low-lying vine veggie garden (edged with the most fragrant lilac bushes).
I could say I helped with the gardens, but only like a six-year-old “helps” you carry your luggage through an airport. My dad planned, roto-tilled, fertilized, planted, watered and cared for all of the gardens. Again, my part was small, but fun. He would give me a handful of seeds and say, “Ok, now, use your finger to make a hole, drop 2-3 seeds in it, cover it gently and repeat.”
I would get on my hands and knees, down into that rich, dark soil and make little finger-sized holes. I was careful to put just the right amount of seeds into the holes before I moved on. It was wonderful time spent with my dad and it was lots of fun waiting for the seeds to push their way up through the surface.
My little process of planting seeds helped us along toward planting a garden. And even though my dad bought the seeds, prepared the soil, planted, and watered, neither me nor my dad actually grew plants. Nature, at the hand of God, did its work. Seeds opened and sent down little roots, plants grew, vegetables developed and then we ate the fruit of our labor.
All of the spiritual practices we participate in are merely the planting of the seeds, the tilling of the soil, the watering of the plants. God Himself is the one who grows us. Spiritual practices get us into His presence so that He may do his good work in us and then through us.