The Soul and Soil


Every time I visit my mother’s house, I get the tour of the garden and plants. She shows me which have been repotted, which have started to bloom, and which, sadly, have seen better days. There are almost always new acquisitions as well. These plants need constant vigilance. They don’t take care of themselves. When my mother is away, I receive detailed instructions on the horticultural maintenance of the house. There are different measurements of water for each of these green friends and one flower, the orchid, has its own food measured out a 1/4 cup at a time. Of course, I also have to be careful to distinguish the real plants from the fake. I’ve watered plastic more times than I’d like to admit.

Gardening is rich with spiritual parallels. Both our first reading and our Gospel this weekend take up the image of a vineyard. In the Prophet Isaiah, we hear God speak of his people Israel as a vineyard he himself planted: “he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines.” Settling them in the Promised Land, clearing away their enemies, God expected abundant fruit from his chosen people, “but what it yielded was wild grapes.” As a result, he let it go to ruin: “take way its hedge, give it to grazing, break through its wall, let it be trampled!” This foreshadows the invasions and eventual exile that will befall Israel. In the Gospel, Jesus makes a clear allusion to this passage in Isaiah, using the same image of the vineyard to crushing effect: “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”

The soul is like soil. Whatever we plant in it will grow, either for good or evil (Gal 6:8). Like God with his vineyard, we need to clear the soil of stones, set up a hedge and attend to the vines. Like plants, the soul requires vigilance. Good advice for a healthy interior garden is found in St. Paul this weekend: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things.” Focusing the mind on such things is like setting stones in a wall around our interior life. They provide protection from the weeds and vermin. Clearing out all the junk and nourishing the soul with what is true, just and lovely ensures a choice crop. But we can’t rely on our own strength. As a farmer looks for rain, so “in everything,...with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” That is the true Miracle-Gro.