Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian

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Dirt Therapy Redux

Mary Magdalene and the Gardener

Resurrection stories. U&U is an ongoing collection of resurrection stories — that before too long I would like to turn into an actual book. It seems that now I may just have carved out some time to actually do it.

Last week I chose to leave a job that I loved. You see the garden in which I so lovingly toiled had become a bit too overgrown with weeds. Weeds suck up all the water and crowd out the sun. Its hard to stay healthy and whole in a garden choked by weeds. Its nearly impossible to grow.

So I decided to uproot myself and with God’s help, to plant myself anew in life giving soil.

“Now the green blade riseth” is my favorite Easter hymn.

So it seems very apropos to repost Dirt Therapy once again.

So here we go….

Once upon an Eastertide, a little boy came home singing the Pete Seeger song: “Inch by inch, row by row, Lord, please help my garden grow”. At school the little boy, along with his class, had planted bean seeds in jelly jars. Each day they tended their little glass gardens, checking the moist dark earth. Some of the children drowned their seeds with love. While others, their seeds withered from neglect. While others, theirs actually and miraculously sprouted and grew.

Tiny green shoots poked their heads into the fluorescent light. Slender green vines wound around the inside of the jars.

And then one day — the little boy proudly brought his home and set it down on the kitchen table. His mom asked, “Okay, my little sweet potato, what’s this?” And the little boy replied:

”That’s Jesus, mom. That’s Jesus in a jar.”

It wasn’t exactly “Now the green blade riseth” but it was sweet indeed. That sweet little boy was my son Jacob (now 28 years old!). Sadly the little Jesus vine did not survive very long — but don’t blame Jacob. Sadly, you see, plants often came home to my house to die.

Even though I quite ironically once worked at plant store called “Great Plants Alive” most of the plants that crossed my threshold sadly met an untimely death.

And back in the day when I still had a backyard, I was quite happy to just let Mother Earth be my gardener. So whatever grew — grew –and whatever withered – withered. My yard was a little city patch of green. And since I had no green thumb, this was my rule:

If it’s green let it grow.

My lawn was covered with crab grass, wild violets, clover, and dandelions. The fence was covered with tangled honeysuckle vines, ghetto pines, a struggling maple tree, and poison ivy. Plastic baseball bats and dead tennis balls dotted my lawn. A sad little wagon and outgrown bicycles littered the grass.

Occasionally I would attempt to tame this wilding place with my lawn mower and a weed whacker. But much more often, I would retreat and recline in a plastic chair on the patio to read a good book.

If it’s green let it grow.

My manic-depressive mom, Mary Lou was quite the gardener. While I have been blessed with her bipolar brain, God did not see to bestow upon me her green thumb. And hers was very green indeed.

When I was growing up, my mother could lash out like lightning just as easily as she could erupt in joy. Her highs and lows were beyond her control. My mom did the best she could.

And she did her very best in the garden.

Mary Lou was totally at home in her rock garden. She relished her trips to the local greenhouses and she spared no expense at the nursery.

The back of the station wagon would be overloaded with peat moss and potting soil, flats of flowers, hydrangeas and azaleas, and a shrub or two — or three.

The lawn would be littered with empty plastic pots, as she dug down deep in the dirt planting geraniums, petunias, and marigolds. I have a snapshot of her doing just this. Her sun kissed skin is freckled and bronze; her auburn hair peaks out from her kerchief; and golden hoops dangle from her ears. Gorgeous.

Resplendent and radiant, digging in the dirt, all is right with her soul.

Digging in the dirt is therapy.

Sowing seeds is therapy.

Fertilizing the soil is therapy.

Watering the ground is therapy.

Gardening is therapy.

Dirt therapy.

Wordless, holistic, holy, hopeful, dirty therapy.

My mother’s daughter, namely me, no longer has a backyard. But I do have a little balcony. And each Eastertide I plant my little English garden in half a dozen clay pots. I am partial to bright colors: Shasta daises; hibiscus; and geraniums. I am partial to plants of the forgiving kind, the kind that forgive me if I don’t water them as often as I should.

A little Miracle Grow, a little sunshine, a little dirt, and all is right with my soul. At least for a little while.

In the beginning, the Creator walked in the cool of the wet garden at the time of the evening breeze. God made us out of the dirt of the garden. God made us out of the dirt of paradise.

And so in all the deaths we die — both large and small — we return to the Garden. We go down into the dirt like seeds forgotten and buried in the dark earth.

So as we are in the beginning, we are in the end. The Alpha is also the Omega.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary of Magdala, came to the garden and she saw that the stone was rolled away. And there stood the Gardener, the same Gardener who had walked at the time of the evening breeze. Mary did not know him until he called her by name. And then she knew. Here stands the very tiller, the very tender, the very lover of my soul.

Now the green blade riseth.

Dirt therapy.



Mary of Magdala, Seven Times Out of Her Mind

"Mary of Magdala", pencil and  watercolor Art Uniting People Exhibit  @Convergence, May 6 thru June 13, 2014

“Mary of Magdala”, pencil and watercolor
Art Uniting People Exhibit
@Convergence, May 6 thru June 13, 2014

Mary of Magdala had her own name. She was attached to a town but not attached to any man. She was a woman of means –perhaps a weaver, a seamstress, a merchant.  We know not — only that she was NOT a prostitute. And out of her purse — she among others — paid the traveling expenses of the itinerant preacher – Jesus of Galilee.

Why?   Because she was a woman gone mad in seven different ways. Seven times she lost her mind. Seven times she got it back. Seven demons the Lord cast out. We do not know their names. But just imagine… Losing a home… Losing a child… Losing a lover… Losing your livelihood… Losing your friends…. Losing your anchor… Losing your soul….

Mary of Magdala is by far my favorite saint for so, so many reasons. But most of all she is my favorite saint because she loses her mind these seven times. Biblically speaking, Mary of Magdala gets it back in just a few verses. But very truly I tell you, this is not how it usually goes. And how do I know this? I know this because, like my favorite saint, I have lost my mind but five times. Five times I have found myself a patient at Dominion Hospital. Inside of three years I was admitted five times over. And it is that first time that I remember the most.

They do not lock you in on the cancer ward. They do not lock you in on the cardiac ward. But if there is something wrong with your brain, society believes you have to be restrained. Hearing the nurse turn the key in the lock that seals you off from the real world is surreal. And the truth be-told — a very small number of folks like me can be a danger – mostly to ourselves. And that is how I bought my ticket to Dominion. Having crashed and burned as rector of Holy Cross, I did not want to wake up anymore. So I answered all the questions and filled out all the forms. I handed over my shoelaces, belt and keys and then a psych tech led me to my bed. And on that bed, I prayed that my manic-depressive demons be cast out. Deeply depleted and despondent, I had no earthly clue how this would happen or how long it would take.

It took ten days.

I took a ten-day cruise on the luxury liner, the good ship Dominion. This is the itinerary. Wake up call at 6:00. Shower and dress by 6:30. Breakfast at 7:00. Community Meeting at 8:00. Group Therapy at 10:00. Psychiatrist at 11:00. Lunch at noon. Fresh air and exercise at 1:00. Art therapy at 2:00. Social worker at 3:00. Yoga at 4:00. Dinner at 5:00. Free time from 6:00 to 8:00 . Safety check at 9:00. Off to bed at 10:00.  Bed check, bed check, bed check every fifteen minutes. And then get up the next day and do it all again.

Believe it or not, I loved it. It was like heaven to me. I might as well have been staying at the Hilton — but not like any Hilton I had stayed in before. The meals were of course mediocre but I did not have to make them. The accommodations were basic but all I had to do was make my bed. The activities director choreographed all our days. Dinner companions, sparring partners, and newfound friends and foes were all provided – at no extra cost. All I had to do was show up. And showing up was just about all that I could do.

My first few days were a bit of a bipolar blur. I remember standing in line and getting little plastic cups with little colored pills. I remember eating with a spoon because I couldn’t be trusted with a fork. I remember chocolate milk being the highlight of my day. I remember trying to sleep when so many demons seemed to stay awake.

On a psych ward you are never alone. Surrounded by staff it can be a bit suffocating. There are psychiatrists, social workers, psych nurses, and therapists of every kind. There are EEG and EKG and ECT techs. There are orderlies dressed in white. There is a safety check every morning and a safety check every night. Three times a day you get escorted to the dining hall. Twice a day they strap your arm in a blood pressure cuff, listen to your heart with a stethoscope, and take your temperature. As if all our moods could be measured thus.

And then round and round we’d go to group after group. The room would change. The leader would be different. We’d sit in different places all with the same faces. Like a game of musical chairs, round and round we’d go with different melodies playing in our heads. Dizzy and disoriented, not knowing just where to stop.

Yes, it was all a bipolar blur, except for the art room. I could barely wait each day to go to the art room. There was no talking in the art room. There were no awkward therapeutic moments in the art room. There were no embarrassing secrets to reveal in the art room. While the group therapy rooms were claustrophobic, the art room was bathed in light. Most of the rooms on the psych ward were as dull as dishwater. Not so, the art room — it practically danced with color. And when I could barely string two words together, I could string beads in the art room. When I was sure that my brain was broken, I could make a collage in the art room. When I had no idea how dark my moods were, I could still color Crayola style in the art room. When I could barely pick myself up, I could pick up a paintbrush in the art room.

Discharged after ten days, the art room was no more. At least I thought it was no more. But I was blessed to spend the next ten days under the roof of a very dear friend. And the very dear friend had a church on the edge of the Rappahannock River. And the church had a watercolor class where I spent part of each of my days. My art supplies were simple indeed. I had three brushes, a plastic box filled with squares of paint, and a cup of water. I pulled a book off the shelf and it being a church it was filled with saints. So day after day, I painted the saints one after the other. It seemed just a bipolar exercise  — until I painted Mary of Magdala.  And so my favorite saint became the  patron saint of my moods and my madness.

Mary of Magdala lost her mind seven times and seven times she got it back. And so with me, five times I lost my mind  and five times I have gotten it back. I got it back by the grace of God, God’s gift of medicine, God’s gift of therapy, God’s gift of love. This is good news, good news indeed.

“Do not look for the living among the dead” the angel said and Mary of Magdala ran from the empty tomb to tell the others.

And as a “mental health” evangelist – like Mary of Magdala who came before me  – I am called to proclaim the same.

Pax vobiscum,


P.S. “Art Uniting People” celebrates creativity, recovery and healing. All of the artists whose work is part of the exhibit live and flourish with a mental health, addiction, or developmental  issue. The  exhibit is on display through June 13 at Convergence, 1801 North Quaker Lane, Alexandria, Va.