Not quite past autumn, but not yet winter, November is a difficult month to describe. Dried grass fronds and flower heads full of seeds sway in the late fall breeze, the berries and fruits of trees and shrubs glisten with frost. This is the month when nature goes dormant, a time to be wrapped in restfulness. Summer has ended and all that remains are the products of a season now past.
I remember in early summer the abundant bright-magenta blossoms of the Prairie Fire crabapple that is now adorned with deep red pomes, and it makes me mindful of how the flowering of moral virtues helps produce our fruitfulness.
As I go about the garden and fields collecting ripened seeds for next year’s growth, there is an anticipation of sowing goodness; a lovely metaphor from Our Lord for spreading his word.
The thing about being a sower, as a farmer or a gardener, is understanding all that took place in order to produce the fertile seeds that I now hold in my hand. We gather them from plants that had been successfully developed and grown before us. We know what the seed’s purpose is, what fruit it will produce, and how it will feed us in body or spirit.
As with our great ancestry of Catholic saints, there was a desire by those men and women who endeavored before us to determine what needed to be grown, and how to make the growth more abundant. They tried to strengthen them, over time, or further develop what is not yet “just right” — just as we do with those virtues that by grace are planted in our soul.
If a plant expresses dormancy — a state of resting, a time of minimal activity — it will have worked through a productive season and developed fruit and seed; it must rest. Many organisms require this cycle of “downtime.” Without it the future holds reduced productivity and impaired vitality — plants don’t flower, animals become obese and people distraught. Dormancy is the time when roots expand; when the overt activities of life decrease, and we become grounded in the soil of purpose.
This is when the true purpose of dormancy develops in us and our lives of faith. It is the time after we have prepared the soil of our soul and planted the seeds that Our Lord has given us to sow. We’ve worked, yoked to the Holy Spirit, and pulled the weeds, strengthened what was weak, watered with the word, and shared what was produced for the spiritual health of others.
Now, like the plants, we rest from active production (our evangelizing work), knowing that the seeds we’ve gathered that are to be sown merely await the movement of the Lord. We are in a fallow season, and all the work we’ve done, whether in the garden or in our soul, settles in for a period of dormancy and becomes the dream for future growth. When we will again “Sow for yourselves justice, reap the reward of loyalty; break up for yourselves a new field, for it is time to seek the LORD…” (Hos 10:12)
We work, we pray, we contemplate, and, by doing so, we grow ever deeper our roots of faith. Our ability to produce good results is greater from these periods of inactivity; for we gather ourselves before the Lord, seeking out his embrace and awaiting the next season and its fruitfulness.
Margaret Rose Realy is a Benedictine Oblate and the author of “A Garden Catechism: 100 Plants in Christian Tradition and How to Grow Them” (OSV, 2022).