Fires are raging in Northern California, with more than 14 THOUSAND firefighters on the scene! Republicans and Democrats are hurling fiery words at each other like toddlers do with food. The U.S. is aflame because of racial division and injustice. Doesn’t it sometimes feel like it’s all going up in flames? Since fires like these represent “hell”, what image stands for “heaven”? A powerful, and often overlooked, symbol of paradise (now and later), and the Gospel, is a garden.
The Bible starts in a garden of goodness. One could say the first commandment in the Sacred Story is for us to be good gardeners (note: while the translation in Genesis 1:28 often says to “subdue” the earth, it can also be translated “marinate” or “preserve”; which seem to better fit the life and Divinity Jesus models for us). The Christ frequently uses agricultural or nature references to tell us about living in heaven on earth. When the Christ rises from the dead, He’s first seen in a garden—and is even mistaken for a gardener! What’s more, the revelatory image we get at the end of the Bible for the ever after, is one of a garden-city.
What, then, does “garden” as symbol for heaven and aspect of the Gospel mean? Unity, harmony, healing, wholeness, connection, and interdependence come to mind. You know how when you tear the limb off an animal, medical miracles aside, it’s gone for good? Yet, when you cut a limb off a plant, it grows back? Paradise is like that! The Gospel, as an announcement that heaven is here and we’re in the healing hands of Jesus, reminds us that from the very stumps of trees cut down years ago, vibrant baby trees burst forth. Gardens teem with life, organically turning loss into gain. It’s as if, within a garden there is no real death, as each passing seamlessly leads to more life. This is the spirit of heaven and energy of the Gospel!
Jesus calls upon the intimate, interdependent, and unified nature of a garden as the path to flourishing in John 15, when he says “I am the vine, and you are the branches.” To be plugged into the Source of life, and deeply connected with others, is to live an exquisitely fruitful life. While, to not, is to be like a sapling refusing to put its roots into the nourishing soil, because it wants to “live” independent and free! Ironically, because I didn’t remember it, in this same passage Jesus also says disconnected and fruitless branches get thrown into the fire. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say: The choice between heaven, as Spirit’s sweet gift, or a hell, of our making, is continuously before us, as individuals, communities, and beyond!
Spoiler alert, heaven and the Good News, at least on this “side”, is NOT minus pain. Part of being in the garden and connected to the Vine, as Jesus says, means being pruned, which I know both hurts and yields bigger/better fruit. Isn’t it crazy how attached we get to the “crap” that hinders and harms us, and needs to be “cut out”? The magic of gardens, though, is from the place that’s pruned springs new, vivacious life!
On that topic, isn’t there something deeply healing, nourishing at a soul level, life-giving, soothing, and centering about being in a plant-filled paradise? In the Bible the picture of original human flourishing features Adam and Eve naked and unashamed as they communed with one another and the Divine. Likewise, its final image of awesomeness is of a city-garden with the water and tree of life for the healing and enlivening of anyone who wants it! Yet, while Eden was closed to Adam and Eve for eating the forbidden fruit, the gates of God’s garden of goodness in Revelation 21-22 are NEVER shut, as the Spirit and the bride say, “Come”, to everyone who is thirsty, hurting, lost, or alone. Doesn’t that sound like an invitation to return to being blissfully “naked”, unashamed, and in intimate community?
While much more could be said, this seems like enough and a good landing place. May these musings bless you. May the garden of your life be bountiful and beautiful. May you grow in connection and unity. And may heaven hug and hold your heart forevermore!
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