Gardening with Peter

January 16, 2024 in Uncategorized

Gavin Thomas Murphy runs a website called Gratitude In All Things where he looks to Ignatian Spirituality for strength and inspiration.

Tears flowed freely when I heard the news that my 89-year-old friend Peter Hannan SJ was taken to intensive care, and I felt deeply sad when one of his friends told me he had died. I was lucky to have known this wonderful gardener and spiritual teacher during the later stage of his life. I became friends with him after responding to an invitation to help out in the grounds of Manresa Jesuit Centre of Spirituality. As we gardened, we easily slipped into deep conversation and I appreciated Peter’s gentle smile, contemplative wisdom and robust strength. Here I suggest three ways in which Peter showed me how to love:

  1. Listen to inner knowledge: Peter had an academic background especially during the first half of his life, but he later realised that it was inner or experiential knowledge that truly satisfied the soul. He invited me to grow in this personal wisdom through paying attention to the glimpses of love in my day, intuitively naming what they say to me, savouring their truth and goodness, and learning to believe and own this love for myself.  
  2. Share unfinished works: As a writer, Peter generously shared his notes with me which included growth in personal wisdom, insights into faith and spirituality, and bringing scripture to life through imagination and feelings. I felt moved to share some of my own writings with him such as an unpublished poem that expressed my vulnerabilities. He received it with great sensitivity, as if holding something sacred, and tentatively shared his thoughts with me.
  3. Create beauty everywhere: Peter believed in a garden full of colourful flowers and leaves. He showed me how to take care of the little things, e.g., nurturing potted plants in their early days as well as the bigger things, e.g., moving compost and digging up the roots of unwanted shrubs. He taught me the value of time when it was enough to leave an unfinished task for another day. He joyfully laboured in his garden every day, and like his writing, was a beautiful sight indeed.

Help us to be happy like you
(Peter Hannan SJ, 1934-2023)

Your sensitive smile, a sign of your master,
Your physical strength, a reminder of a great oak,
Your listening ear, nourishing like a river.

Rest sweetly, brother, rest sweetly, friend,
Keep us forever in your heavenly heart.

Warm us with your wholesome stories,
Guide us with your gardening hand.

We smile for you, for you are smiling at us,
Help us to be happy like you.