A quiet Sunday with Meister Eckhart

I’m not in the least orthodox when it comes to sabbaths and such like, but since I launched off in praise of the monastic life a couple of days ago, and I deliberately took a complete break from gardening today,  I thought it would be a good time to mention the third major aspect of Benedict’s rule known as lectio divina – divine reading, study, prayer and meditation – that’s supposed to fill the times in monastic life when you’re not working or praying in the chapel. Sleep, you’ll notice, comes a poor fourth! This kind of “quiet time” – to use a deliberately non religious way of describing it – is, for me, an essential component of being human. I’ve always been a voracious reader, but this kind of reading is a bit different because in the way I’ve learned to do it, I choose a book by casting a wide net  – for instance recently I’ve been reading a lot of deep ecology, much of which has a strong spiritual component without nailing any particular god into a box of any kind at all.

Today it was Meister Eckhart – 13th century Dominican theologian who was posthumously found guilty of heresy by a Pope who was also later found guilty of it – you couldn’t make it up! Anyway, without getting into his spirituality, which is very challenging but also very relevant to today, the way of lectio divina is to read very small sections, if necessarily over and over, and then ponder what they might mean, and I don’t suggest  by that, trying to figure out what it might have meant to some imaginary reader when it was written, but what it means and demands of me today. It’s a very slow way of reading and meditating that involves putting the book down a lot, getting out of the way and letting it speak, and I was doing a bit of it on the allotment today because it helps me to flourish when my life has balance and discipline.  Work (allotment, cooking and all that stuff) + prayer (WTF – remember?) + study. Some activities – like botanical drawing and writing seem to involve all three!

Anyway the sun was shining and we got out the fold-up chairs and read together in silence.  But I kept being distracted by the plants because I felt sure I could hear them growing. The Swiss chard, in particular seemed to be making a proper exhibition of itself, chomping up sunshine and rainwater and unfurling itself almost in front of our eyes. I fell to reflecting how small is our contribution to the allotment. A bit of digging and hoeing; a bit of lifting and hammering and raking; the odd backache. The rest is sun, rain and soil and the rewards are generous beyond all human reason.

Today we came back with enough asparagus for a few stalks each, some green leaves, radishes and salad onions.  Together they made a salad to gladden the heart. There doesn’t seem to be any ‘because’ in allotmenteering.  Any conceivable human explanation of what we are doing and how it happens would fall laughably short of an absolute reality that refuses to name itself. The book fell shut on my lap and I dozed in the sun as if I were one of the plants. I’ve never seen this phenomenon described in the gardening press but it’s real – I mean really real!


Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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