Saturday, April 04, 2015


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (3/28/2015)


          When first I met her, she was trembling, agitated, and terrified.  Her husband wasn’t unable to reassure her.  They’d been stopped by a California Highway Motorcycle Patrolman on the Ventura Freeway on their way to my office. 


          The patrol officer pulled them over because the man hadn’t signaled a lane change.  Black polished, knee-high boots, jodhpurs, a jacket, helmet, and dark glasses, the officer walked to the back of the man’s car and asked him to turn on his turn signals.  The left turn signal wasn’t operating.


          The officer said, “I could tell that you were a responsible driver from the way you handled your vehicle.  When you didn’t signal a lane change, I though your turn signal wasn’t operating.  I won’t write you up to get the defect repaired.  Just get it fixed.  Have a good day and drive safely.”


          The woman had escaped a Nazi concentration camp when she was fifteen.  Her family had been killed.  She came to America an orphan.  He was born and raised in Chicago, had become a successful accountant, was a Cubs fan, and had moved to Sherman Oaks to retire.  They were both active members of a synagogue and devout Jews.  The man knew that he hadn’t done anything illegal and was curious, calm, and thought the officer courteous.  As soon as she saw in the side mirror the black boots, jodhpurs, and helmet, she thought pogrom, persecution, holocaust, and death camps.  For her the police were a terror, for him a reassurance.  A lovely woman, there was always tentativeness with her, a caution bordering on suspicion.


          Think of an adolescent spending six months in the terrors of combat.


          Our histories shape the way we perceive our experiences.  Even our black lab, Petite, who had been severely abused before we adopted her, views large male strangers with fear and hostility, barking and then running upstairs.  After a year of love and affection, she is a little less fearful and skittish, but not completely.  The admonition, “Get over it,” is an insult.


          During the Graeco-Roman times and all through the Middle Ages up to Nathaniel Hawthorne, the countryside and the forest were seen as places of danger.  The city was the place of safety.  Our words “heathen” and “pagan” originally referred to people who lived in the hinterlands.  Saint Augustine (354-430) called his great theological treatise, De Civitate Dei (The City of God.)  Now, people speak vacuously of “a cathedral of pines.”  Attitudes have changed a bit.  People are prone to wander out in nature to find themselves while riots, murders, and mayhem are products of the city.


          A garden is essentially a cultivated forest in the city, a place of safety where we communicate with the tangible while our spirits soar.  The Book of Common Prayer has a particularly felicitous way of putting it: “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”  While referring to the water, wine, and bread of the sacraments, it doesn’t restrict the “outward and visible signs” of God’s presence from the experiences in a garden, the feel of soil drifting through one’s fingers, the sweet smell of a rose, the astringent aroma of the pines,  the flavor of a tomato, the elemental quality of the whole thing.


          We don’t get out bearings through the frivolous or the ephemeral.  Our touches of divinity are in the elemental.  Without such an experience we’re disconnected from ourselves, as though we are strangers within our own skin.  Gardening is not an option for spiritual welfare.  It is essential.  With spring approaching, it’s time to get a shovel, a rake, a trowel, and a hoe, the basic tools of our spiritual welfare.


          First, there’s the cleanup, getting rid of all the debris and trash clogging our lives.  Then, there’s preparing the soil as in getting our values right, values that enhance rather than undermine our welfare.  Next, we plant the right stuff.  After that we nourish ourselves, and, finally, we bear fruit and beauty.


          What better way to get it right than with those “outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace” in a garden!

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2015

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at and logs at