There are indigenous religious traditions in which people recognize a special connection to a particular “spirit animal” or a totem—a non-human being, either real or mythical, usually an animal, but sometimes a plant, element or celestial body. They can be many things including helpers, guides, teachers and protectors. They are symbols of connection to the natural world and to the Spirit that animates and gives life to us all. They represent traits that people have or characteristics they want to have, and they serve as reminders to people of how to cooperate with what is—in themselves, in society and in the created world.
These days, my spiritual totem is the carrot. I know that sounds funny, but hear me out.
Have you ever pulled a carrot out of a garden bed, or tried to, only to find yourself straining unsuccessfully? Except for the short varieties, you need to use a garden fork to loosen the area around most carrots to get them out. Some carrot types can reach down over a foot into the soil searching for water and anchoring the plant firmly in the ground. What tenacity! What determination to hold tight to life! The lesson for me is that when you’re feeling pulled and challenged, stay close to your source of nourishment and safety. Stay rooted in God.
If you’ve managed to get a carrot to release its hold on the soil, you would have found it covered in fine root hairs that extend out in all directions to access minerals, vitamins and nutrients of all kinds. In addition to finding food, recent research shows that plants effectively communicate through chemicals released in the air and underground. If one plant is attacked by pests, chemical signals serve as a warning and stimulate protective mechanisms. The lesson? Reach out. Connect with others for mutual support. Absorb the practical information you need. Be open and sensitive. Stay rooted in God, the Source and ground of your very being.
As a farmer and a contemplative, I often think and even pray in garden metaphors and why not? Jesus did. Spiritual giants from Augustine to Merton saw nature as the first bible—God’s self-revelation. And if a taproot—especially one that is bright, beautiful and feeds others—isn’t a good symbol for finding a stable, grounded sense of security in the Lord during times of dramatic change and uncertainty, I don’t know what is. The humble carrot reminds me that my real life is hidden with Christ in God and that spring, renewal and resurrection will happen.
What’s your totem for this chapter in your life or our collective lived experience? What part of God’s creation inspires or comforts you? There’s a lot to be said for the value of imagination in prayer and contemplation, so be creative and childlike. Are you attracted to the gentle caregiving of a mama cat with her kittens, the strength of an oak, the light-hearted playfulness of a river otter or the unfolding beauty of the peony? How does your totem reflect and reveal the Creator’s love and closeness, and help you stay connected? Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas—we’d love to hear them!