We at the CDN are rejoicing in the new life of Easter. Flowers bloom in the yard, trees bud with leaves, seedlings germinate and sprout. What’s more, we are now fully vaccinated and can widen our social interactions (within CDC guidelines, of course). To celebrate, we drove down to visit our Dominican Sisters in Springfield, IL. We were greeted by Sr. Elyse Marie Ramirez, who is teaching our Contemporary Issues in Consecrated Life course. What a delight to see her in person rather than on Zoom! Elyse showed us around the beautiful motherhouse grounds and pointed out the flower beds she’s been tending.
Visiting with Springfield Dominicans Sisters Georgiana and Elyse
Our final destination was Jubilee Farm, the congregation’s Center for Ecology and Spirituality. Founded in 2000, the farm extends over 164 acres of grassy pasture, woods, and wetlands. It’s home to a vegetable garden, apple orchard, chickens and llamas, as well as a Creative Arts Center. We stayed overnight at La Casa, enjoying the hospitality of Sisters Sharon Zayac, Anita Cleary, and Rose Mary Riley. Friday morning dawned sunny and warm – a gorgeous day to spend roaming the land. Volunteers have helped with ecological restoration by planting native Illinois grasses and wildflowers. Their labors now bear fruit in an abundance of green and growing things.
Woodlands at Jubilee Farm
Sharon welcomed us and offered a stimulating reflection exercise. In addition to viewing the landscape, she invited us to spend time listening, eyes closed, to the soundscape of the environment. Notice the sounds of Earth (wind blowing, water bubbling), of living beings (trees whispering, birds chirping), and of human activity (my own breathing). Walking the trails took me over wooded hills, across grassy valleys, around ponds, along the creek, and by the apple orchard. The beauty around me, the new growth, the bird song – all filled my heart with peace and delight.
Trees in bloom and the pond fed by natural springs at Jubilee Farm
As I walked the prayer labyrinth, winding my way toward the center, I imagined Mary Magdalene in the garden on Easter morning, searching for Jesus. In John’s Resurrection narrative, the garden where Jesus is buried recalls the scene in Genesis 2:
The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed there the human being whom God had formed (v. 8). Out of the ground the Lord God made grow every tree that was delightful to look at and good for food (v. 9). The Lord God then took the human being and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it (v. 15).
I love this image of God planting the first garden and making trees grow to give delight and nourishment for all creatures. The garden, a figure for our planet Earth, is humanity’s home, the place where God has settled us. God formed us of Earth, and our purpose on Earth is to be co-cultivators with God. We are made to be caregivers for creation.
In John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene arrives on Easter morning in the garden of the New Creation. Here she encounters the Risen Christ, the true gardener who restores us to right relationship with God. We see in Jesus that God delights in giving life. Our Creator invites us to heal and bind up wounds, including the harm done to Earth. We are called to help in repairing what has been lost or destroyed, so as to share in God’s work of recreation.
Bridge over the Creek at Jubilee Farm
Looking around at the trees on Jubilee Farm, I thought of all the living creatures, from migratory birds and squirrels to tiny microorganisms, that find sustenance among their branches and roots. They delight in the trees as I do. Together we give thanks and praise to our Gardening God.
As a lifelong city dweller, I have much to learn about our mission to cultivate and care for Earth. I’m grateful to the Sisters at Jubilee Farm and all in our Dominican family who labor in the field of ecojustice and care for creation. They preach the goodness of creation with great joy.
Happy Earth Day!