This coming Sunday we have the joy of worshipping amidst the beauty of God's creation during our Parish Picnic. The setting of this event, amongst the trees, reminds me of the privilege we have to be surrounded by such natural beauty. While the church has a history of building grand and stunning spaces in which to worship, bedecked with towering architecture and intricately wrought stained glass and carvings, these spaces all speak to a more natural and rustic archetype.
In Genesis 2 we are given the account of the planting of the Garden of Eden and the setting of Adam and Eve within that garden. This garden was marked boundaries and it had a space within it, the center, that was set apart by the presence of the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was in this garden, which Ezekiel 28 describes as the Garden of God and as the holy mountain of God, that God communed with Adam and Eve. He walked with them in the garden and enjoyed an unbroken and unfettered relationship those whom He created in His image and likeness.
This place, this garden, was where the divine interacted with the mortal and was, therefore, a temple. As the garden was decorated with the natural beauty of creation, so too was the tabernacle and temple of Israel to be decorated with natural images of plants and trees. The tabernacle and temple of Israel were intended to bring the mind back to the first temple, to the Garden of Eden itself.
Some of the most grand cathedrals humanity has constructed have continued this theme. They are often constructed with ceilings painted blue to mimic the blue of the sky and natural imagery bedecking the walls and ceilings to continue that homage to the created world itself. This is not done out of worship of creation, but out of appreciation and acknowledgement that what God has created is inherently beautiful, and that the temple God fashioned for himself, the Garden of Eden, was a pattern which we would do well to emulate.
One lesson I'm reminded of as I contemplate this reality is that God is said to have planted the Garden of Eden. He did not build it; He planted it. This means that He did not force it, but allowed it to grow, and through the tender watch care of His hands, He formed (not forced) it into a place that was set apart for Him to commune with His creatures. This is the example of Jesus, who appeared to the disciples as a Gardener after His resurrection, and is consistent with God himself being described as a Potter, who forms and shapes us and the world. These processes of gardening and pottery require deft hands and patience, not brute force and haste; it requires things to be formed, not forced, and coincides with the qualities of patience and meekness and gentleness that are to be lauded in us as Christ's followers and which are described as the fruits of the Holy Spirit in us.
We are an impatient people and we can, at times, be a brutish and violent people; we see something that we want to accomplish and we want to force it, not form it, into the image and likeness of what our eyes see as ideal. We see a tree in the way and we cut it down; we see see an inconvenient hilltop and we blow it up; we see a crisis and we so often look to force and strength as the most effective, and sometimes the sole, solution to that crisis. We do this not just with things, but with people as well. We hear an ideology that differs from ours and we get angry, and yell, and try to force our ideology onto them. We see a behavior that we do not like and we mutter under our breath, "I outta knock their block off for that." We get cut off in traffic and we shake our fist, betraying a mind that sees strength, or power, or intimidation as the way to right the wrong that was done to us.
One of the beauties of this magnificent natural world around us is that we are reminded that God formed, not forced, the natural world into a garden in which He could commune with humanity, and that humanity itself was formed, not forced, into His image and likeness. The example of Jesus himself is that strength, force, and power are not what would grow and form God's Kingdom, but rather love, kindness, compassion, meekness, humility, and a whole litany of character traits that are often mocked by those in power. In fact, Jesus shows that while His strength was such that He could have commanded legions of angels to come to His rescue He willingly put aside that strength so that His love for the world could prevail.
This requires patience, though, which is something I'm all-too-often guilty of being very short of. Pray for me as I seek to have patience with the Divine Gardener; I will also pray for each of you to seek to cultivate that patience in your own lives. We are messengers of the Good News of the Gospel, that God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to himself, that God is not angry, that God loves us, that God has forgiven us, and that God will never leave us; this message cannot be forced into the lives of others, it must be formed, and it is formed the way a riverbed is formed, even into the hardest of stone, by the constant flowing presence of that reality as it is consistently lived by those who follow Christ.
(As published in St. Luke's weekly newsletter, 9/05/18)