The Garden: Recapturing Eden

Garden 3

The pergola in the background is an entry way into another little garden dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is the new Eve.

The expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden was not a happy time for the ill-fated couple. God gave them Paradise where every living thing grew in abundance, but they apparently were not willing to settle for perfection; so, they decided to leave. I think they may have regretted that decision. So now we have to live with the consequence of their actions. Do I desire to get my foot back into Paradise? Umm, yeah.I figure that the best way to do that would be to reconstruct the original Garden in my own backyard. Yes, it’s a tall order, but there is something quite beautiful about this endeavor.

In the Middle Ages, cloister gardens were an essential part of monasteries. They served a twofold function: primarily as a place for contemplation and, practically, to grow herbs and vegetation for food. Most cloister gardens were often positioned at the heart of the monastery, enclosed by a cloister walkway, and adorned with columns. A monk’s prayer life would include peaceful walks through the cloister garden for the purpose of contemplation. What did these monks contemplate? I imagine they contemplated God first. If it were me walking through those hallways that enclosed the garden, I would be thinking, “Why were we so stupid?” Perhaps the cloister garden was a reminder of the Fall-an event in human history that illustrated our imperfections. Yet, at the same time, perhaps the cloister garden was a reminder of Paradise-a state and place of perfection where we enjoyed an intimate relationship with God, the Creator.

This is why I garden. I want to create a place that reminds me of God.

But like life, gardens are very difficult to grow and manage. It takes a lot of work, which, I believe, is an essential component to the contemplative life. Cloistered monks labored and toiled in the monastery, not only to maintain their livelihoods, but also to develop their spiritual lives. The Benedictines, an order of monks dating to the early 6th century, believed in the balance of prayer and work (ora et labora) as an essential component of monastic observance. So too, for me, gardening is a twofold activity: contemplation and labor-a perfect marriage of body and soul. Gardening, though laborious, has definitely served to enhance my interior life.

I think about God when I work.

I think about God when I see the fruits of my work.

I think about God when I share the fruits of my work with my friends.

Yes, I am trying to recapture the beauty of the Garden of Eden here in my own backyard. One day, I hope to take a step back into Paradise.

 

Noah's Ark

I specifically got this hammock because the base reminded me of Noah’s ark.

 

Garden 2

The front yard is as important as the primary garden in my backyard because it offers a foretaste of what is to come. It’s simple and unadorned.

 

Gates

I love entryways because they function almost like portals into another world.

 

Garden 1

Although my garden is primarily for the contemplation of God, it also serves as a place here I can invite my friends and family to gather for food and company. I grow my own vegetables not merely for decorative purposes, but also for consumption and sharing.

My Secular Urban Monastery

It started about a month ago when I first moved into my new home. I immediately worked in the garden, digging rocks and reworking the soil. Without a particular vision or plan in my head, I simply worked until I saw a shape emerge from the ground. I saw a vision of paradise. My first thought was a monastery. I was enamored with the idea that I could transform my urban home into a dwelling like a monk’s (I can only imagine) in the early Medieval period. In this world, I conceived of a place where I could construct paradise and recapture innocence once lost. Early monks had a similar vision: to recreate the garden of Eden and to place within it a humble cell that would become an abode of one who wanted to have an intimate conversation with God.

This is my attempt: to construct a monastic cell in the urban setting, so I can enter into conversation with God.

To many who do not quite understand my life, this endeavor may seem laughable, perhaps even ridiculous. To me, however, the vision is real and it finds its place in an authentic spirituality. For the last six years, I have worked excessively hard to fulfill the particularities of my vocation to serve others. For six years, I have worked tirelessly to support the lives of others so they would be able to experience God in the most meaningful and beautiful manner. I realized, most recently, that amidst my labor of love, I was beginning to lose the very thing that I was seeking in the beginning: intimacy with God. What do I mean? Simply, that I wanted to become God’s friend. Friendship, to me, is the most profound expression of our relationship with God. I am not so pretentious to believe that I have God as an intimate friend. Indeed, I am not privileged to possess any supernatural vision of Him. I just know, most profoundly and deeply, that God is here. Thus, I wish to build a home where He can dwell.

I have taken a leave of absence from my work and ministry to engage in this endeavor. The first week will be focused on constructing the monastic cell, both external and internal. This will entail working in my backyard to build a garden that will support the beauty of creation and express a profound truth in the paradise that we once lost.

Garden

In the foreground, I have built a vegetable garden, where I can find a source labor and sustenance. There are many spiritual implications here that we can explore at another time. In the background, there is an expansive space with lots of vegetation. This is the area that I will develop into a monastic walk. It will be laborious, but that is the greater part of this endeavor: I want to work hard to build a home for God to dwell.

The construction of an internal cell is the more challenging part. I have decided, like the garden, to construct in my prayer life a place where God can dwell. To do this, I will focus my day primarily on the Divine Office.

Desk

Here on my table is my trusted breviary with the psalms. There are seven hours of the day. At 6 am I pray Matins and Lauds, at 9 terce, at Noon sext, at 3 None, at 6 pm Vespers, and at 9 Compline. I love the Divine Office because it structures my day in a comprehensive and very profound manner. Contained within these prayers are the age-old thoughts and prayers of those who came before us in a two-thousand-year span of time. It is a remarkable prayer.

Within this one-week time frame, I will have constructed a physical dwelling and at the same time begin construction of an internal abode for me to spend time with God. It is an intentional, prayerful week of spending precious time with a God; yes, a God not bound by space and time, yet a God that is so closely accessible. Indeed, I will spend this time with Him in prayer and also the Sacraments, namely the Eucharist. I look forward to working, praying, and carving out precious moments in silence.

During the second week, I will spend time with my family and friends. Teresa of Avila tells us that the closest we will get to God, next to the Sacraments, is through our neighbor. Indeed, my family and friends will be the closest I will come to friendship with God. I treasure my family and friends for the very same reason that I treasure my relationship with God: both are real and they bring me happiness.

Home is

This home will be made to God to dwell and for my family, friends, and I to express the very thing that God wishes for all of us: happiness. This home is built for God where friends and family can share a meal and give thanks for one another. This dwelling place is the home where I can enter into my “cell” and once more recapture innocence in paradise once lost.

I pray that You may find my home pleasing and hope that my family and friends may find You there with me.

At None, a liturgical hour prayed at 3 in the afternoon, we find this from Psalms 127 and 128:

If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor; if the Lord does not watch over the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil.

In vain is your earlier rising, your going later to rest, you who toil for the bread you eat: when he pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber.

By the labor of your hands you shall eat. You will be happy and prosper.

Most of my day was spent in the yard, laboring in the ground (and planting a crop of potatoes) with the hope of completing the second part of my monastic garden: a contemplative walking path. It began with the installation of a pond. We were blessed to get some sun today and I am counting on having at least another half a day so I can continue working. How appropriate that the psalms I chose to pray for None were exacting in its message. Indeed, our labors are all in vain if the Lord does not Himself build our dwelling places. I pray and hope that my intentions for the monastic garden may not drift away in vain. My prayers, though imperfect at times of busy labor, are truly directed at the One whom I wish to dwell in this home: God.

It takes a true master to work and simultaneously pray. I would not dare consider myself a master in the truest sense of the word, for I have yet to wed my prayers to my labor. At times, it is apparent that my mind wanders off to another direction, sometimes even distracted by a thought of another thing to do. At other times, during those perfect moments of union with my work and God, I find utter peace and mutuality–as if work truly is my prayer. Here is the first fruit of that prayer: