Sister Christine doesn't talk when she's working with her flowers. She tends to them silently, like a mother settling a brood of small children. She inspects the stem of one, picks a speck of dirt from the petal of another, straightens out a leaf, leans back to admire a branch.
Tenderly, one by one, a handful of daffodils and twigs are assigned their places in Sister Christine's arrangement, which will grace the refectory table at St. Margaret's House, an Episcopal convent in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Such work is her joy, the silence a canvas for her prayer.
"Yes, you can get on your knees and say an Our Father. But there are many different ways we express our love for God," said the 57-year-old nun. Formal prayers--including the daily Eucharist and the communal recitation of the Holy Office four times a day in the convent chapel--are the stabilizing and nurturing root system of her prayer life. But she said her personal spirituality truly flourishes when she's working with nature.
"This centers me," she said.
|"There's nothing more spiritual than watching what you've planted in the ground. You plant it, you nurture it, and God provides the sun and the rain...."|
"We each have our own way of being with God, and that's fine. Each person has to find their own way. There are formal ways that are very good. But there are also informal ways," she said. "I'm not a great reader. I tend to feel, look, touch, smell, taste--all are very important things to me."
The prayer life of a vowed religious tends to be more cerebral than sensual, she said. But in time, with some struggle, she grew confident in her own, informal approach. True to form, she is more comfortable practicing it than talking about it, which she did with some hesitation.
The British-born nun, whose habit one recent day consisted of sweater, corduroy cargo pants, sandals, and a simple black cross, has had a lifelong love of flowers.
She began growing them as a child in a small corner of her father's wee vegetable plot in Yorkshire: "He always left me a little spot."
"There's nothing more spiritual than watching what you've planted in the ground. You plant it, you nurture it, and God provides the sun and the rain and helps it to grow. You see the absolute mystery in what God has given to us in growing things...also the absolute beauty. There's beauty in the simplest of things--the flowers or the bark of a tree. Sometimes it behooves us to stop and look."