An Easter Garden
As some of you know, I teach World Religions at nearby Salve Regina University. I do this because, with all of the fighting over religion going on in our world, I feel that in some small way, I am contributing to mutual understanding, respect, and peace in this world. In my classes I focus on those things which unite us as people of different faiths. Some of the people whose work have influenced my own are Joseph Campbell (The hero with a Thousand Faces, The Power of Myth), and the psychologist Carl Jung, especially his teaching on archetypes. These two brilliant thinkers teach us that there are universal spiritual themes which are shared by all human beings, across cultures, across historical timeframes, across religions. Certain universal themes emerge in the stories and dreams and rituals of all peoples. One of these universal themes is the primordial garden.
For Jews and Christians, of course, this garden appears in the very beginning: the Garden of Eden. In Hebrew the word Eden actually means “Delight:” the Garden of Delight. Eden is described in the book of Genesis as lush, verdant, an oasis in the the stark, fierce Middle Eastern landscape. What a powerful image this verdant garden must have been for desert people. In this Garden of Delight, people lived in right relationship with God, with one another, and with all creation.
In your own dream life, do you ever dream of such a primordial garden? A place bursting with luxuriant life? I have such a recurring dream. About twenty years ago I travelled to Vancouver, and hiked in the Rain Forest there. I was all by myself. I felt tiny, there among the massive, ancient trees. But safe, protected somehow, at home. Ever since that time, I have had a recurring dream of myself in that Rain Forest, but on a bicycle, coasting down hill both ways – there is no struggling pedaling up hills in dreams -the wind in my hair! Feeling free, and fully alive! Have you ever had a similar dream? Reminiscent of a primordial garden? The Garden of Delight?
It is a dream I wish would have no end. But as we know, reality is not all downhill coasting and verdant gardens. Real life, yours and mine, is made up of other experiences as well. We all have excruciating uphill climbs, barren wasteland stretches, fierce landscapes without and within, which we must also somehow traverse. Which brings us to another biblical garden which none of us can avoid: the Garden of Gethsemane. Literally “Gethsemane” means: “Olive press.” Last week, Holy Week for Christians around the world, we read once again the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, located by the Mount of Olives, when he was literally “pressed,” to the extremity of human suffering, crying out to God, “Is there any way that this cup can be removed from me???” We have all had our own Garden of Gethsemane experiences in our lives.
For me it was when my children were two, three, and six, and my marriage ended. The poverty level for a family of four at that time was $39,000. I was making $20,000, half the poverty level. Ashamed of my own poverty, when no one was around, I would go into the food pantry at the church where I served as Associate Pastor, for food to feed my children. I would say enthusiastically to my children, “How about breakfast for dinner?” “Yay!” they would exclaim, thinking it was fun. Little did they know that cereal was all we could afford, all we had.
During my own Gethsemane time, I was reading a bedtime story to my children, a book my sister had given my daughter for Christmas: “The Secret Garden,” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This is a story about a young girl, 8-10 years old, whose parents have died of cholera, so she ends up living in a huge house in England with her mean uncle, who travels for his work, so is never there. In her grief and loss, she wanders the overgrown grounds, and discovers a Secret Garden.
It turns out that her uncle is grieving the loss of his wife, who had been an avid gardener. The little girl also discovers a hidden room in the rambling house. Locked away in the room is an “invalid” cousin. She befriends him, and each day regales him with tales of her Secret Garden. He begins to come back to life. Finally, she convinces the servants to put him in his wheelchair, and let him venture outside. The sunshine and fresh air invigorate the child. Before long, these two grieving cousins, are literally blooming into new life. As I read this book to my children every night for our bedtime story, I too began to come back to life.
At that same time my brother-in-law, who owns a nursery, asked if I wanted all of the sick or wounded trees and shrubs from what he called “the hospital wing” of his nursery. The yard of my home was a barren wasteland. I accepted his offer, and planted nineteen trees, as well as countless shrubs. For each tree, I dug a hole three feet wide by three feet deep. The vigorous physical exercise provided an outlet for all of the anger I felt over my divorce. I too began to bloom into new life.
Gethsemane is not the final garden. According to the Gospel of John, the Easter Gospel we read this Sunday, Jesus’ tomb was in a garden. We read that when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, she thought Jesus was the gardener! I do not think she made a mistake. I think Jesus IS a gardener. Jesus is a gardener who wants to bring us back to Life, verdant, lush, abundant, resurrected Life!
A few months ago I received an amazing invitation. A woman heard about a ministry I serve, Church Beyond the Walls, and asked if she could volunteer to write grants for this ministry. Church Beyond the Walls is an outdoor street church, which ministers to people from all walks of life, many of them experiencing homelessness, loss, trauma, or their own Garden of Gethsemane. Last week this woman asked if I could go to a meeting to apply for a grant to begin a community Garden for Church Beyond the Walls and other similar nearby ministries.
I was in shock and awe! But because it was Holy Week, I was not able to attend the meeting. “Is there someone you could send in your place?” she asked. Immediately I thought of a member of our community, Pasquale, who is a gardener, who studies food as medicine, and nutritional healing, whose name, ironically, means “Easter.” He was thrilled to go in my place, and much more qualified than I. After the meeting he told me how the idea of this community garden, was like a blooming, a blossoming, within him. He is so excited to begin this project.
I think we will call it the Easter Garden! How many lives will be resurrected by our Easter Garden, and by Jesus, the Gardener? I am convinced that Mary Magdalene did not “mistake” Jesus for the gardener. I think Jesus IS, in fact, the Gardener. I believe Jesus wants to bring all of us back to Life, verdant, abundant, new, resurrected Life!
This day, may you see glimpses of resurrection Life in all you encounter,
and may you reflect the One who is OUR Resurrection and OUR Life to all you encounter!
Linda Forsberg, Copyright March 29, 2016
Photos: Linda at Glacier National Park; Linda walking up Multnomah Falls, Oregon; Te, Redwood National Park, CA; Linda, 100 kilometer bicycle ride, Nova Scotia; Linda, White Sands National Park, NM; Linda hiking Kitchen Mesa, Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, NM; Glen Manor gardens, Portsmouth, RI; Linda Jedediah Smith State Redwood Park, CA; Sylvie planting Easter flowers; Sylvie and I making a Secret Garden for mommy’s birthday; Community Garden, Fairfield, CT; Garden near Mount Hood, OR