In an earlier article we reflected on the common call to safeguard and nurture planet Earth as a garden in which we must live in harmony with all other living beings. Today we received an email from Sr. Maria Annunciata OSB who sent us her “born in a garden” I may not have translated this article as well as I had wanted to and our only native Italian speaker Fr. Vincent is currently away.

«And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the East, and he put the man he had formed there. The Lord God made all sorts of beautiful and nourishing trees sprout out of the earth, among which was the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge… A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; then it divided into four tributaries.The first river was called the Pishon. It waters the whole land of Havilah … The second river is the Gihon. It flows in the land of  Ethiopia.The third river is the Tigris. It flows to the east of the land of Asshur. The fourth river is the Euphrates. The Lord God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden so that he might work it and care for it.» (Genesis 2:8-15). 

Eden is the name popularly given in Christian tradition to the scriptural Garden of Eden, the home of our primogenitors, our first parents Adam and Eve (Genesis 2). The word paradise is probably of Persian origin and signified originally a royal park or pleasure ground. The association of the term with the abode of our first parents does not occur in the Old-Testament Hebrew. It originated in the fact that the word παράδεισος parádeisos was adopted, though not exclusively, by the translators of the Septuagint to render the Hebrew for the Garden of Eden described in the second chapter of Genesis is derived from Sumerian 𒀀𒇉𒂔 edin, which means ‘steppe’ or ‘plain,’ or a steppe-like desert region. The garden occupies the eastern section of it; this word, too,גַּן־עֵדֶן gan-ʿḖḏen in Hebrew or Garden of God, which derives from the Akkadian edinnu, from the Sumerian word edin meaning ‘plain’ or ‘steppe,’ closely related to an Aramaic root word meaning ‘fruitful, well-watered.’ It was translated into Greek as, ‘garden’, giving rise to the name “earthly paradise.” In God’s plan, our first earthly home was a garden in which everything was extensively lush and flourishing because four rivers fed into it which had made its land copiously fertile and fruitful. 

Humanity was not created to live in small concrete boxes or the even smaller concrete apartment boxes within our cities.  Injustice and wars in the world lead us to concentrate more and more often on those effected by it their misery, uncertainty and poverty. It also effects, not to the same extent, those who are not poor. Modular buildings, thousand’s of identical windows, same balconies, doors, gates, bells, colours. At every turn, you get the impression of being in exactly the same place you were ten turns earlier. People orient ourselves by street names and house numbers and the numbers of stairs and interiors. I read that one of the first symptoms of dementia is being confused about time and place a loss of orientation. When we become older we often tend to forget how to get home. And therefore we tend not to go out as often; we tend to have fewer relationships and less stimuli and we begin to wonder what is causing this and to what effect.

Living without grace, in very small personal spaces, without a possibility to move around freely, to mitigate one’s anxiety with a beautiful view, or a walk in the garden, seeing a tree trunk’s crown that regales us with the sound of sea made by the rustling leaves. It doesn’t seem to mitigate our children’s anxieties nor the arguments within a marriage. How many family dramas would be avoided if we all had the right space within which we can be alone, a place where we can unburden our anger even if only for a moment; A garden in which as human beings we are able to calm our everyday restlessness.

We ourselves have created these conditions where everyone has to have to live within their own equipped boxes. Boxes for both the healthy and boxes, a little further afar and out of our embarrassed views, for those that are sick. Last but not least, we have at an even further distance from our own boxes the boxes for our elderly relatives. And when all is over and done with an even smaller box interred with our remains. This, if I might be so bold, is not the destiny God had in mind at all. 

Together we are able to reclaim that freedom and beauty to which we were originally summonsed. Dispelling the idea from our minds that all of the world is like this. Trees can still be planted, towers, at least those of scandal, ugly, speculative, scarring the wonder of the earth, can still be felled and make way for woods and gardens where men and women can live.

The effort of cultivating the land, planting trees, growing flowers is a ‘sign’ of the age. If we abolish the signs, we lose our bearings, we are informed by the Carthusian monks in that wonderful film Into Great Silence (click to watch on YouTube). During the spaziamentum, the weekly walk in which the monks come out of the silence of the cells and exchange thoughts, whilst walking two by two. In the film they walk in the forest—garden that surrounds La Grande Chartreuse. The garden itself is a sign. Walking during the spaziamentum is a sign. Each era needs its signs.

In poems, a word that appears in the first verse and also in the last generates an inclusion, a repetition that gives the whole meaning of the poem. The garden is our inclusion. St. Paul indicates the only description of heaven present in the Scriptures when he tells of being ‘caught up into paradise’ and having heard ‘inexpressible things, things that no man may repeat.’ (2 Corinthians 12: 3-4). The word paradise alludes to a garden, an enclosed and flourishing garden. It is a garden but not like the one mentioned in Genesis, because the garden-paradise to which we are called does not re-establish the creation but perfects it.

Created in a garden, called to safeguard and cultivate all of the earth as a garden, where we can return to, to live in peace; to the paradise garden of words, a harmony that has been achieved thanks to our efforts, accomplished.