Jane Lavery from Birmingham Archdiocese looks at poetry and some Bible gardens as she reflects on their beauty and power for our peace and well-being.
A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not,
Not God! in gardens! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign;
‘Tis very sure God walks in mine.
This has long been one of my favourite opening lines of a poem, not only because I love gardens, but also because I’m not really sure what ‘wot’ means! Does it mean God ‘knows’? Or perhaps God ‘says’? Or even God ‘made’? I know it could be any of these, as one of my favourite Bible verses is Genesis 1:31: “And God saw all that he had made, and indeed it was very good”. Wow, how wonderful! I’m still not sure, what ‘wot’ means, but Google suggests it is a derivative of ‘wit’ – meaning to know, and was coined by the poet, T E Brown in his poem ‘My Garden’.
God made the first garden in Eden, in the East, according to Genesis 2:8 and “He made all kinds of beautiful trees grow there and produce good fruit” (Genesis 2:9). And He also made sure it was watered well, and told the people He placed there to cultivate the Garden and take care of it (Genesis 2:15). God created a beautiful space, and put people there to look after it, because God loved everything in it, even the slugs! God loves everything that He made, and as He made everything, he loves the whole world with a deep, passionate love. He loves each one of his creatures, and He loves every human so much that he was willing to send His only Son to us to bring us all to New Life in Him. Sometimes, when life is not easy, it is difficult for us to remember this deep love we receive, not because of our own actions but simply because we are who we are, damaged and wounded by the complexities of daily existence. A garden, where you are surrounded by the beautiful, yet sometimes flawed things that God made and loves, is a very good space in which to think about God’s deep love for each one of us, in peace.
One of the most peaceful gardens I ever visited was the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives just outside Jerusalem. I found it peaceful, despite the many tourists who were there at the same time as I was, and despite what I already knew about the place. Because of course the Garden of Gethsemane is the place where Jesus suffered such great mental anguish, as he contemplated His upcoming suffering and painful death. But although I was irritated by people taking ‘selfies’, and was trying to imagine how Christ must has felt whilst He prayed there on the night before His death, I was so totally immersed in studying the twists and turns of the wonderfully ancient trees, admiring the rich colours of the leaves, and listening to and watching the garden’s flying inhabitants, that everything else seemed to melt away, and I felt at peace with myself and with the Creator, gazing in wonder at everything that was so beautifully made and loved.
Peace is difficult to find for everyone, particularly those of us who struggle with their mental health. The world news is dreadful, and we are all tussling with trying to make ends meet as the cost of living increases. But often there is no peace within ourselves – we are too harassed or worried or simply too tired to allow ourselves time to find some peace and quiet.
And so I think of a garden. The natural world has wonderful restorative powers. We often think of it as at rest, but have you ever watched bees and butterflies skimming around flowers in a garden to collect pollen? Or the ants busily collecting food to take back to the nest to feed their queen and her babies? None of them ever seems to stop! But the thing I love most about the natural world is the variety; those busy butterflies with their fantastic outfits, the birds flying around or perched in amusing patterns singing beautiful songs, the wonderful colours of the different flowers, the sounds of the wind or even the rain. And in recognising the glory of the natural world, and recognising that everything in it is made by God out of pure love, I feel more at peace within myself. And I thank God for all the gardens that have been created, and for the people who have tended and cared for them.
Watching the natural world at play, which it seems constantly to be, although with serious intent, always makes me feel more alive and at one with myself. Observing the busy tranquillity of a garden helps me to realise that I too am part of the natural world, and that I too am wonderfully made by God, as everything I’m watching is – even those things I don’t really like! And when I get my hands dirty – putting in plants or digging up weeds (which are simply plants growing in the wrong place!), I really feel much lighter and able to deal with the rest of my life. And I hope that everyone who visits a garden will be able to feel the same.
Here are some of the main gardens in the Bible, where the world was created; where humanity learned to live, worship and die; where Jesus prayed, suffered death and rose; and the heavenly garden city where all things will be reconciled in God’s presence.
8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
A Psalm of David.
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honour and majesty,
2 wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent;
3 you set the beams of your chambers on the waters;
you make the clouds your chariot;
you ride on the wings of the wind;
4 you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers.
5 You set the earth on its foundations,
so that it shall never be shaken.
6 You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
7 At your rebuke they flee;
at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
8 They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys,
to the place that you appointed for them.
9 You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.
10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills,
11 giving drink to every wild animal;
the wild asses quench their thirst.
12 By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation;
they sing among the branches.
13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
14 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle
and plants for people to cultivate,
to bring forth food from the earth
15 and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine
and bread to strengthen the human heart.
16 The trees of the field are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has its home in the fir trees.
18 The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.
19 You have made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.
20 You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.
21 The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
22 When the sun rises, they withdraw
and lie down in their dens.
23 People go out to their work
and to their labour until the evening.
24 O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures…
36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee and began to be grieved and agitated. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.”
41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
20Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’s head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed, 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb, 12 and she saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not touch me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and she told them that he had said these things to her.
22Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
Jane Lavery is a retired Primary head, who is completing a Masters in Theology, Ecology and Ethics. While studying, she has come to understand more fully the beauty and the interconnectedness of all of creation, and how spending time in the natural world restores a sense of well-being.