A beginner [in prayer] must look upon himself as making a garden, wherein our Lord may take His delight, but in a soil unfruitful, and abounding in weeds. His Majesty roots up the weeds, and has to plant good herbs. …so that He may come often for His pleasure into this garden, and delight Himself in the midst of these virtues.
from The Life of St. Teresa of Avila
St. Teresa uses an analogy to help us understand our relationship to the Lord, we are the Lord’s garden. Jesus longs to walk amongst the flowers of our garden-soul and make us his dwelling place. Weeds in the garden choke the flowers or food that have been planned and planted. They hinder the beauty, the accessibility and the effectiveness of the garden.
No need to argue that we are weedy – that is obvious. It is the job of the gardener to uproot the weeds, to clear the soil, to plant the flowers. He has a plan and a timeline, it is our task to submit to his activity and cooperate with his work.
We find the primary activities of God’s plan for tending the garden of the human soul in Matthew 10:7,8. Jesus sends out the twelve disciples on their precedent setting mission, giving them the following instructions. They were to:
1. Awaken Hope – Proclaim the good news: the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near
2. Restore to Health – Cure the sick: relieve hindrances to wholeness
3. Return to Innocence – Raise the dead: animate and reenergize what once was alive
4. Remove Shame – Cleanse the lepers: restore to community
5. Establish truth – Cast out demons: eliminate spiritual lies, provide spiritual truth
Each of these activities provides a return to health, life and proper normalcy. This is the Lord’s intention for us and his means of weeding our souls.
Awaken Hope – Proclaim the Good News: the Kingdom of Heaven has come near
The sequence of these instructions is significant. The first task of God’s weeding is to proclaim the good news: The Kingdom of heaven is near. This assurance awakens our hope. We are so convinced of and consumed by our deficits, our sins, our wrongs, that it is hard to believe that there is hope for us. That’s why God begins the work of weeding the garden of our soul by letting us know He is near.
God’s reign begins here. Right exactly where we are. We don’t need to move toward it – It has drawn close to us. The Kingdom of Heaven is wherever God has his say so. This kingly authority and power of God has approached us and is as close as our skin.
God’s character of love and grace is shown in the post fruit-eating episode of Genesis two and three. Adam and Eve have screwed up and in their shame they hide from God, the one they’ve disappointed. What does God do? God seeks them out, wanting to stay in relationship with them. God names their reality, they have disobeyed God’s instructions and as a result there are consequences they must bear. Yet God does not leave them as they are found, cowering and clothed in fig leaves; he covers them with soft, durable and warm animal skins. (Perhaps foreshadowing of the need for blood sacrifices?) God’s next act of love is a confusing and profoundly loving thing, he banishes them from the garden, so that they may die an earthly death and be reborn into eternity.
From the Garden of Eden, where death was unleashed to the Garden of the Resurrection where life defeats death, God’s love awakens our hope.
(This material is taken from the retreat, “Shaped at the Garden.” Contact me or look at the events page for information about participating in this retreat.)
I really like the term “awaken hope.” It says to me that I already have it (Him who is it) within me by baptismal infilling. It needs to be “awakened” rather than “strived for” as something I need but do not have – “the kingdom of God is within [me]” by virtue of my baptism.
In The Book of Common Prayer, there is a prayer in the service for “Early Evening,” that echoes the need we have the awakening of hope.
“Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen.” (pg. 139)
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