Ask any child what is their favourite food and few would answer, “silverbeet”. For gardeners however, beets, greens and root vegetables are respected regulars in any garden; reliable, frost-tolerant and responsive to a little regular watering. Winter crops in particular are highly regarded for their nutrition, if not their taste. Gardening is always a work of cooperation with the natural world and those who plant in the hope of harvest sometimes stand in a place of triumph over the elements, and sometimes heartbreak at loss.
Each area of Compassion service has its own gardening story to tell. Among the minor triumphs is the Soup Kitchen garden which contributes herbs and vegetables to the work of providing two meals each day, six days each week, to whoever is hungry. Flowers too, are a blessing. The delight of a few flowers in the Soup Kitchen dining room, the guest rooms and gathering spaces at St Joseph’s Home Silverstream, Our Lady’s Home of Compassion Island Bay or the Old Convent at Hiruhārama-Jerusalem, signal hospitality and welcome; a moment of pause that helps “feed the soul”.
There is of course, the well-documented story of the medicinal plants and natural remedies which Suzanne Aubert perfected and produced during her time in Hawke’s Bay. Thanks to Bishop Pompallier, Suzanne already knew something of Māori language and customs when she arrived in Auckland in 1860. It was through her friend and colleague Peata Hoki, however, that the world of Māori really opened up for her. Peata shared with Suzanne knowledge of rongoā and tikanga; plants for healing and the practices of nurture. In turn, Suzanne shared her knowledge of nursing practice, medicinal preparation, massage and physical therapy. She too lived a spirituality of openness and love for people, a tradition of attending to the whole person, not just the obvious wounds.
There are no simple words to describe the richness of the exchange between these two women. They recognised in each other’s experience an ancestral wisdom, and with deep respect, they shared the work of planting for a new season.
So let’s ponder – What am I prepared to share?