Good Zeal

The Praying Plant

The peacock plantA couple of years ago my parents sent a surprise for my feast day, a basket with three potted plants from a local florist. At the time I knew nothing about any of the plants other than that they were tropical (liking warmth and humidity), they needed bright but not direct sunlight and they ought not be excessively watered. I was not very successful with one plant, but the other two have done well enough in my office in spite of the fact that my blinds stay mostly closed most of the time. They sit on a bookcase between my office windows, one on each side of a framed photo of the monastic community. A modern style crucifix hangs on the wall above them.

One evening I walked into my office after supper and noticed that nearly all of the oval-shaped leaves were standing upright, seemingly facing each other or whispering to one another a shady secret. I stood there puzzled. Earlier in the day the leaves were in their usual horizontal position. I approached the plant with much curiosity. Why was it doing that? I remembered that sunflowers will turn and face one another if the sun is not out, but this was not that scenario. Besides, these were leaves, not flowers. The plant looked healthy. “Weird,” I thought.

I was too busy about many other things to research the names of the plants or to learn why that one plant folded up its leaves as it did. As time passed, I learned to live with the plant and its funny habit. A little water now and then and an occasional turn of the two pots are all that seem necessary to keep the simple plants happy.

Last September, my office plants were borrowed for an environment in one of the retreat center meeting rooms. And, wouldn’t you know, I really missed them. Now, I know that people make friends with animals, but plants?! Really? “Therese, you really are losing it,” I told myself.

In January, I was called upon to set up an environment for a community meeting. Very quickly I thought about using the community portrait, a copy of the Rule, and the plants from my office. During the meetings someone asked, “What kind of plant is that?” “I don’t know,” I replied. Sister Michelle was quick to pull out her phone and use the plant identifying app; “A peacock plant,” she said.

The peacock plant (calathea makoyana) has another common name, “cathedral windows,” because of the semi-translucent quality of its leaves. It belongs to family of plants that are popularly referred to as “prayer plants” because of their tendency to fold their leaves up in the evenings, resembling hands folded in prayer.

Since I have learned this bit of trivia, I have a bit more affection for my office companions. The second plant doesn’t move, but the two together seem to keep a prayer vigil for the monastic community whose framed portrait is situated just beneath the crucifix. When I turn and see the leaves repositioning themselves, I am reminded that the day is drawing to a close, it is time to close up the office, and it is time to exchange work for prayer. There is nothing like a plant to teach you about the rhythm of monastic prayer!

By Sister Therese Haydel, OSB

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