Sometimes I wonder: what makes a decorative garden “work”?
Running beneath all the landscaping techniques which escape the average viewer like myself, I think there’s one fundamental feature to aesthetic gardens that succeed: a good garden draws you in. It beckons to you, inviting you to enter.
After all, this is why we make these gardens. Far from serving any utility, we make them for the simple purpose of taking delight in them, for walking through them.
It just so happens that our God seems to be of a similar mind. At the dawn of creation, right after forming man, the first thing he did was make a garden. And then, in between his conversations with man, he strolled about in this garden “in the cool of the day,” delighting in it. (Personally, I always picture God walking through a Japanese garden, along curved bridges over ponds and past lanterns beside rounded bushes….)
But this first garden is not our God’s favorite garden.
His favorite garden is the heart of the Virgin Mary. And as with the first garden, he himself planted this garden of her heart and then walked in its midst. For what is the Immaculate Conception but God’s creation of his finest garden? And what is the Annunciation but God’s coming to stroll in the midst of that garden, finding it even more lovely than the first one?
And he doesn’t stop there. He insists on making each of our hearts fertile places where he can come and labor, sculpting mulch beds, planting tree groves, shaping serpentine ponds – until our hearts are places he can delight in, where he can walk in the cool of the day.
Question, though: is it good news that God chooses to make our hearts fair gardens where he can walk about? Of course it’s good news, but what kind of good news?
It’s the kind of good news that should scare the heck out of us.
I mean, this is the LORD of Hosts. This is the God who, when Moses asked his name, said that he is best named as I AM – pure, unadulterated, unqualified Being. This is the God concerning whom, when the Israelites saw him alighting on Mount Sinai, they told Moses, “You speak to us, and we will hear; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.”
And this Lord wants to sit down and make himself comfortable in us? Can you imagine what this God needs to do to make himself comfortable somewhere? The kinds of gardens that this God fancies are places like the Virgin Mary’s heart – strong and deep enough to take on the suffering and death of the whole world and live to tell about it. The kinds of flowers that this God likes are the kind that have the scent of that love and truth which can demolish kingdoms and push aside oceans. When this God decides he’s made a garden nice enough to take a stroll in, it’s not because it looks like the kind of things we print on our get-well cards – it’s because it has, in an expression of C. S. Lewis, “beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron.”
The degree of change that this demands in each of us is truly terrifying, and many of us are often in the act of running away from this fearsome and glorious Gardener.
But our God likes his gardens. And if only we assent to leaving our gate open (at least a little!), he will come in. And he will get to work. And he will make our heart a garden where he, the LORD of Hosts, can walk in the cool of the day.
Image: Claude Monet, The Japanese Bridge