Narrative The Mystery of Eden
The Garden Within
Sitting behind the house of a dear friend of mine, having a cup of coffee, I am graced by the soft morning light that makes its way through gray clouds. Gentle gusts of wind move through the leaves of a locust tree and make their way to where we are seated. The breeze is refreshing. My hands embrace a cup of freshly brewed coffee that has both milk and honey (a mixture my friend says is "The Promised Land in a Cup"). On this particular morning my friend reminds me that "perspective is everything"; I could not agree more. In contrast to the surrounding yards... I am immersed in a garden. Tall trees of all kinds and floral colors create a perimeter where thought can soar. Blush roses and blood-orange lilies enter my contemplative gaze and make audible the inaudible voices of nature. At this moment I become consciously aware that if I were to glance over my left shoulder all of this perception would be over-shadowed by a gigantic water tower that looms above the roof of the house. I choose not to look over my shoulder. In a few minutes when I walk through the house on my way back into the world, off to work, I will see glimpses of the city's industrial park where the tree line is thin. The urban elements that surround my friend's home only serve to enhance my appreciation for the refuge and peace this place offers me.
Many of us recognize the Garden of Eden as a physical location that existed for a period of time in Earth's distant past, a place where man was able to walk with God. As the story goes, immediately following mankind's exile from Eden, our earliest ancestors were forbidden to return there. The scriptures record that the Garden and the Tree of Life within were thereafter guarded by a mystical sword that flashed back-and-forth ensuring that man would no longer be allowed to possess both knowledge (the knowledge of good and evil) and life eternal. Today, either our eyes deceive us or this Garden has vanished from the face of the planet. Eden today seems to be more a symbol of purity and innocence than an actual place we could visit to encounter grace.
As I drive to work I begin to think deeply about the mystery of Eden and the Cup of the Promised Land. Whether these places are in fact geographical locations or are purely spiritual refuges... my perception of them as either "origin" or "destination" suddenly seems of importance to me. The popular opinion held by most seems to be that ever since mankind was banished from the Garden at "The Fall of Man", the Earth and particularly the people that dwell in it have been moving along paths toward destruction. "Times are getting worse." I often hear, "A good man is hard to find!" Others remain hopeful that a new Eden awaits us.
Personally, I wonder if there may be an alternative perspective.
I have recently begun to think of the Garden of Eden as the place where our temporal universe and the realm of the eternal converge. Thinking of the descriptions from the Bible that tell of Eden, a place where four rivers come together, lush and green, and thriving with life. I like to imagine that two of these rivers (the Pishon and Gihon) were spiritual springs that have since quelled and that the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (the two that remain today) brought in the earthly waters. I imagine that perhaps the Garden once provided man with a place in which to encounter the heavenly realms, a middle-ground with rich soil cultivated by spiritual waters, a ground upon which the true experience of God was in full bloom.
I believe our own spiritual cultivations, if they are true, can produce eternal gardens in which our friends, families, and loved ones may experience the goodness of God. Isn't this exactly how we have been taught to pray "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven ..."?
I often love to sit and reflect on the times and the places that have represented "Eden" for me. Most of these memories involve elements of the natural world and also being in community with those whom I love most. Both nature and our loved ones are good at hiding us from the world and creating a "space" for us; they create for us places that time cannot touch, where the eternal is welcome and may become known. These spaces are heavenly gardens that are accessible from earth.
Mankind is far removed from the Garden. From the Garden to the village, from the village to the town, from the town to the city. States and nations; we have become part of established societies. But, have the urban bricks of our society built up a high wall around us... a high wall that blocks our view of the distant horizon and stifles our wonder of what is beyond?
Is the countryside now just a place that is barely visible and that can only be seen by those who dare to climb the heights of the city-wall and bravely peer into the distant unknown. How might a person shout back down the wall, how might a person describe to their friends and begin to put into words the sights they have seen? What language can dare to touch the true experience of the Divine?
Only memories perhaps...
Three young boys, just filled up on garden-fresh vegetables, country ham, and fried okra. Three young boys with smiles that reach their eyes. Fishing poles held overhead as short legs whip through tall grass. Over creek and under branch. Up this trail or down that trail? Only one worry in their minds. Only one worry in their worlds. Shall they go to the upper pond or the lower pond? Mystery will await them at either. How many fish will they bring back? Fresh, fried fish for dinner... a true country delight.
Memories such as these bring the warmth of country summers to dreary days in winter cities. Harvesting the fruits of our memory is the best way to beautify our gaze. Only when we begin to look through beautiful eyes will our perspectives begin to be transfigured.
The gravel road to Granny's house. A cedar plank fence affront a long ranch house. Here, you are veiled from the outside world. At Granny's house you are special. Everyone lines up at the door, each sibling does not dare enter before receiving a tight hug and more than one kiss. At Granny's a greeting hug may span three minutes, but the effects are lasting and eternal. Many cats gather at the back door to be fed at dusk, the tall cedars become a softening canvas as the night approaches, for stories of "Barron", the not-so-best dog they ever owned, and then Taffy, the best dog ever! Taffy, the dog that befriended the multitude of cats. In the distance is Barren's old, rickety, cedar plank dog house still visible, just visible, outside the darkening tree line. The birds perch on this branch and flutter to that branch. From maple to walnut, and then from oak to cedar. The branches twitch until we can no longer see them and the trees become a subtle silhouette etched into the night sky. Pa Daryl stokes the wood burning stove. The smell of burnt wood and the comforting scent of hand-knitted afghans cover us; they keep us warm long after we have left the hearth of their warmth. There will be goody-bags and ginger ales for the trip home; a peaceful trip back home, to the city, not beyond the reach of a Granny's love.
I once asked my Granny what her fondest memories were. Turns out they were with her Granny (her mother's mother). Grandma Beal. Perhaps it was her kindness that my Granny has passed on to me. Here are my Granny's words regarding Grandma Beal:
"Every summer we would go spend a week or two with Grandma, each one of us children (away from the rest) would have a week alone with Grandma. And she loved us all and she loved us to death. And we couldn't do any wrong when we were down there, except that when we did something wrong we got our butt whipped ha ha ha, and we got sat in the chair... but, we didn't do any wrong ha ha ha.
She didn't have any running water, we had to pump the water out back. She had a cow when I first went there, in the city! She tried to teach me how to milk the cow. And she had chickens... a whole big chicken yard. I would go and get the eggs every day, she taught me how to do that. She had a garden, and she had a plum tree that was delicious (delicious prunes), and aaah, peaches!! She had peach trees all-in-one-lot, every kind of peach you can imagine, and when they were hot from the sun and ready to eat she always knew. By helping Grandma we learned country life early."
Through our memories... I think we can bring country-life to the city, as spiritual waters to urban stone. I have heard it said that "prayer is the art of presence." A person's presence can without a doubt soften hearts of the hardest stone. It is indeed people like my grandparents that teach us the art of presence, and where did they learn it?! My Pa Daryl has one of the most peaceful presences such as this. I had often wondered how he was so able to nourish his spiritual "Garden" (that is: his presence). Here is a memory he shared, that has continued to shape him, and that now shapes me:
"I was raised on a farm. We had a ninety-six acre farm that was an extension of my grandfather's (my father's father's) four-hundred acre farm. For me, I was the youngest of nine children, and what I remember was that when my mom and dad first started they lived in the bottom of what we call a hollow; they lived in a log cabin. At the hollow's base it was no wider than two-hundred feet and opened-up beyond the hill into our family farm. Later on, my parents moved up to the hill. If I remember correctly the house was 12-by-24 feet, with an attic up there, and then later-on they finally cut wood off of our own property and made three little rooms on the back.
I think the one thing that I really enjoyed was... in that hollow where my mother and dad had that log cabin, I went back over there, and there was a spring that ran down beside it. And I went down there when I was young, maybe in the sixth-seventh grade, and I wanted to camp out. So what I did is... I cut some trees, small trees, and I made like, a lean-to. And I made a bed. I used grass-string for the mattress and I had a dog, a Collie-dog, and we would go over there. I draped some cloth for the front of it, and we would lay inside, and you could hear the water going by... and it was just real peaceful."
Later Pa Daryl would give me more details of how at that time the log cabin was no longer there but, that there was only the reminisce of an old, small barn down there. "The roof of my lean-to," he said, "was made from a scrap of tin. Me and Collie-dog would lay down there most nights and even if it started to rain we would stay down in the hollow until the morning."
In my mind, I imagine what the rain may have sounded like on the roof of Pa Daryl's lean-to. Storing away such memories in our hearts, I believe, will allow us access to a stillness and peace even when we find ourselves among unsettling times.
Eden exists within us, if we remain in exile it is because we have banished ourselves.
Dr. Lauerence Kant had this to say: "Lost we wander in the wilderness trying to find an oasis, not realizing that both the wilderness and the oasis are inside us." So, if we continue to wander in the wilderness it is of our own choosing. But, once we enter into the Promised Land, the water flowing in that land will become a Cup that we can offer to others. When will we allow the eternal waters of memory to soften and reshape the grounds of our hearts? Because only then will we discover how our hearts and homes may become an eternal Garden that offers protection and belonging to all those we encounter.
Eden can be found within us, if we allow the Divine to come near to us.
Bill Hudson # July 25, 2014