"These days the portion of Eden for which I am responsible is fairly modest. . . . It is a small house in a small garden in a small neighborhood. But it is large enough . . . Large enough...
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"These days the portion of Eden for which I am responsible is fairly modest. . . . It is a small house in a small garden in a small neighborhood. But it is large enough . . . Large enough to hold everything dear."
Digging In tells the story of the author's move into an early twentieth-century cottage with a long abandoned back yard, and the work that he and his family had to do to bring a garden to life there. It is the story of the way that the garden became the ground upon which deeper relationships with his family, friends, and neighbors began to blossom and grow.
Written in the gentle, revealing prose for which Benson is acclaimed, this is a lyrical and wise book, beautifully evoking the wonder of planting and seasons, humorously recalling the challenges and the struggles of the labor itself, and carefully observing the simple truths and timeless joys that were there to be found.
The story of a small garden large enough to hold everything in life that really matters. ^"^""" These days the portion of Eden for which I am responsible is fairly modest. . . . It is a small house in a small garden in a small neighborhood. But it is large enough . . . Large enough to hold everything dear." ^Digging In" tells the story of the author's move into an early twentieth-century cottage with a long abandoned back yard, and the work that he and his family had to do to bring a garden to life there. It is the story of the way that the garden became the ground upon which deeper relationships with his family, friends, and neighbors began to blossom and grow. ^Written in the gentle, revealing prose for which Benson is acclaimed, this is a lyrical and wise book, beautifully evoking the wonder of planting and seasons, humorously recalling the challenges and the struggles of the labor itself, and carefully observing the simple truths and timeless joys that were there to be
Reviewed in 2/12/2007 issue of Publishers Weekly. Digging In: Tending to Life in Your Own Backyard Benson, well known for his books on prayer and meditation, turns his heart toward home in this lovely book about putting down roots. When he and his wife, whom he calls the "master planner," moved to a Victorian cottage in a city neighborhood, its yard, sloped and nearly bare of grass, became their canvas. Fencing, rose garden, fountain, pool and studio were all added, vicarious treats for readers as Benson transplants into words the spiritual truths he unearthed during each project. He''s a gentle guide through the ups and downs of lawn care, fence painting, fountain placement and pool installation. Throughout, he combs his memories, encouraging readers to do the same. He laughs at himself as he takes the small, quotidian details of creating a home and life and nurtures them into the larger spiritual meaning of how to live in "this place where we have dug ourselves in." Benson''s words soothe and lull, but just as often burst into a glorious bloom of epiphanies that will dazzle readers, gardeners or not. "If we are to have any roots at all, we must find them in the places where we are now, on this day," he writes. (Apr. 17) Praise for Digging In "Now this is what gardening is really about! It's not only about getting your hands dirty, but it's the experiences and life lessons that grow from the garden. Robert Benson's story is touching, funny, and delightful. I want to see Robert's garden!" Rebecca Kolls, host of the nationally-syndicated Rebecca's Garden on NBC and HG-TV, author of the book by the same title, and publisher of Seasons By Rebecca magazine "An enjoyable read for seasoned and beginning gardeners. Robert Benson gives people inspiration." John Carloftis, contributing editor, Garden Design magazine " Digging In is a classic of gentle memoir. I will never look at a garden in the same way again, and neither will you. This is Benson at the top of his game." Phyllis Tickle, author of more than two dozen books, including her latest, The Night Offices and The Divine Hours series " Digging In is thoroughly wonderful. Benson's writing is spare, simple, understated, always faintly humorousand very forceful without seeming to be. As he writes about digging holes for a fence and growing roses, he also uses his spade and shovel to turn over the reader's heart. Before you know it, you are in that garden, invested in its development, and strangely affected by roses you've never seen and a fountain you've never heard. The book delivers what it promisesit digs deep." Paula D'Arcy, speaker and retreat leader, and author of several books, including Gift of the Red Bird, Sacred Threshold, and Song for Sarah. "When one is alert to the tenderness of ordinary thingsfinches and fence posts and fish friesand when one has a way with words, one is likely to pen books that invite a reader to consider her own ordinary life anew and honor the hidden arts of tending and nurture that gentle our world. Robert Benson does just that in Digging In." Wendy M. Wright, professor of theology, Creighton University, and author of Seasons of a Family's Life and Sacred Dwelling "Charming, unique, poignant, special, and dear describe this remarkable little book. In reading these pages it is as though I've being given permission to look through Robert Benson's window. What I see touches me deeply: love, life, creativity and dreams, growth, humor, hard work, beauty of the earth, blossoms, contemplation, and delight." Macrina Wiederkehr, OSB, author of The Song of the Seed "Robert Benson reminds us of what we too often forgetthat the ground we walk upon is sacred. With the creative eye of a novelist and the playfulness of a poet, he tutors us in the art of really knowing the place where we live and celebrating the wonders in our own backyards." Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, coauthors of Spiritual Literacy and directors of SpiritualityandPractice.com More Praise for Previous Books by Robert Benson "Benson's tone remains chatty and down-to-earth, and the analogies he draws hit the mark ...." The New York Times Book Review "Benson writes mellifluously with original insights and welcome humor .... [He] captures a world in which time slows down and material things become of less importance .... Charming and elegantly written . . . that rare gift, a thought-provoking record of his own spiritual quest .... Willa Cather's phrase, 'They will be done in art as it is in heaven' could serve as an epigraph to (his) fine work." Publisher's Weekly "The author's language is graceful and his ideas graced ...." American Benedictine Review "A joy to read ... so personal that the reader will feel he knows Robert Benson as an old friend. It is disappointing to awaken from the text and realize otherwise .... The characters and locations ... become a meditation and talisman for a deeper existence." Bookpage "In looking at his own life with candor and hope, Robert Benson helps us to look at our own. His words have the ring of truth." Frederick Buechner, acclaimed author of more than 30 novels and non-fiction books, including his latest, Secrets in the Dark "An eloquent, warmhearted guide to enriching our lives ...." ForbesBookClub.com "Benson's deceptively sneaky storytelling sneaks up on you. His style ... a fusion of gentleness, raw truth, and quiet power." Nikki Grimes,award-winning author of Bronx Masquerade "Robert's Benson's prose delights the ear like poetry .... He gently guides readers toward a life in which simple duties take on divine significance." Liz Curtis Higgs, award-winning, best-selling author of more than 25 novels and books, including her latest, Embrace Grace "Refreshingly candid, funny, and deeply serious." Knoxville News-Sentinel "A sort of contemplative bask .... This memoir is like a beach towel left on the cabana clothesline, lifting in the tropical breeze, calling less attention to itself than to the prevailing winds which point one wise man toward another way home." The Nashville Scene "He sows broadly and deeply, a universal read." Praying magazine "[Benson's] easy prose, artful story, and theological sensitivity combine to invite us ... to the Story." Relevant magazine "Again and again, Robert Benson speaks to my heart." Luci Shaw, writer-in-residence, Regent College, and author of numerous books and eight volumes of poetry, including her latest, What the Light Was Like "A kind of sanctified eavesdropping .... Because of Benson's courage and honesty, we hear and learn." Weavings journ
Robert Benson is a popular author, spiritual director and conference speaker. He is the author of six previous books, including Living Prayer, Venite : A Book of Daily Prayer, Digging In: Tending to Life in Your Own Backyard, Home by Another Way: Notes from the Caribbean, The Body Broken: Answering God's Call to Love One Another and Between the Dreaming and the Coming True. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
WE SPENT THE FIRST YEARS of our marriage out in the suburbs about fifteen minutes east of Nashville. But we were not really suburbanites at heart. We like sidewalks and old trees, front porches and old cottages, and restaurants within walking distance.
To the constant curiosity of our suburban neighbors in those days, the two of us did our best to turn our small tract house in an ordinary subdivision into a Victorian cottage,
inside and out. We whitewashed the brick exterior and grew privet hedges around the front edge of the yard and down the sides, trying to grow them tall and unruly and impenetrable to the eyes of people driving by. We put in white board fences and a potting shed and a kitchen garden. We hunkered down behind the hedges and piped opera out the window into the backyard and generally did our best to live as though Rosamunde Pilcher and Miss Jane Marple were just around the corner instead of a Wal-Mart.
One April evening we sat in the yard enjoying a golden sunset, a particular moment we both clearly recall. Surrounded by the first fresh blooms of the lower garden, we were watching the goldfinches come to the feeders. We talked about how good it was going to be to have a summer where we were only maintaining the garden instead of building it, to have a chance to sit and enjoy the season rather than work so hard. We both recall a gentle breeze that evening we thought was the leading edge of a warm front we hoped might bring us a welcome shower. The gentle breeze turned out to be the front edge of the winds of change. My children were coming.
The complete story of how the two of us became the four of us is complicated, and some of it is not even mine to tell. In those days we saw my two young children on Thursday evenings and every other weekend and at holidays. But a fast-moving and surprising series of circumstances and conversations conspired to produce our invitation for them to come to live with us. It was not something we ever planned on doing, but it seemed the right thing when we did it, and it seems the right thing these years later. When they said yes, our world changed very quickly.
Within a few days, we put the suburban house on the market and sold it. We started looking for a house large enough to hold us all, in a neighborhood where the children would be zoned to the schools we all agreed were the right ones for them. We found a circa 1910 cottage in an old Victorian-style neighborhood in the heart of the city, a neighborhood called Sunnyside, no less. Ms. Pilcher and Ms. Marple would have been pleased. Within another month, we were packed up and moved. We had an old house to live in and a new home to make.
“The journey through time…is a journey in search,” wrote Frederick Buechner. “We search for a self to be. We search for other selves to love. We search for work to do.” Our search for those things often leads us to places we never imagined we would go, places we never imagined we would live. Not very many of us live in the same neighborhood or the same city or the same state we grew up in.
The nature of the society in which we live has most of us on the move most of the time—from job to job, town to town, and all too often from relationship to relationship. Being transplanted is something that happens one way or another to most all of us. Putting down new roots is not
always an easy thing to do. The roots from which we came are often buried deeply in soil that we have long since left, or at least most of us have. We go back to visit from time to time—holidays,
reunions, weddings, funerals, and other moments in which milestones are marked. The older we get, the truer it is that some of the people who put down the roots from which we grew are gone now. They have joined the crowd of folks “whom we have loved but no longer see,” as the old prayer books call them.
We visit our roots, one might say, but the truth is that someone else planted those roots. We grew up, and we went away to find our own futures, make our own homes, and put down our own roots. Wherever we went away to, we are the ones who must do the digging in.
We search for our own selves, for work to call our own, and for others to love. If we are to have any roots at all, we must find them in the places where we are now, on this day. If we are to make a home, if we are to deeply belong to the places in which we find ourselves, we must dig ourselves
in somehow. It is in such digging in that we can most tenderly recall the places we came from, most deeply appreciate where we are, and most clearly see who we may yet become. How well we fulfill our dreams and hopes for a place to belong might just come down to how well we tend to the life that is lived in our own backyard. Whether our place is large or small, urban or rural, our first home or our last, a cottage or a condo, these are the places where we must put down roots.
Bloom Where You Are Planted was the title of a book I readwhen I was a teenager. And I later came to laugh at the notion of it, it sounded so sweet and so naive. A lot of things about the sixties were like that. Later still, I finally caught on.
We have no other choice, actually. And so we may as well dig in.