Jul 6 2011

Paradise: Past, Present and Future

I have long been an admirer of the writings of Thomas Merton.  Currently I am rereading one of my favorite books by this deceased Trappist monk, No Man Is An Island.  Last night I came across a passage that I had forgotten about but that certainly speaks to those interested in “seeing Creation.”

At the conclusion to the chapter, “Asceticism and Sacrifice,” Merton writes: “All nature is meant to make us think of paradise.  Woods, fields, valleys, the rivers and the sea, the clouds traveling across the sky, light and darkness, sun and stars, remind us that the world was first created as a paradise for the first Adam, and that in spite of his sin and ours, it will once again become a paradise when we are all risen from death in the second Adam.”  Merton goes on to say, “Heaven is even now mirrored in created things.  All God’s creatures invite us to forget our vain cares and enter into our own hearts, which God Himself has made to be His paradise and our own.  If we have God dwelling within us, making our souls His paradise, then the world around us can also become for us what it was meant to be for Adam—his paradise.”

Merton gives us much to think about here.  He teaches us that all the natural world serves as a reminder to us of the paradise God created in the very beginning.  In the Garden of Eden everything was good and humans walked in fellowship with God.  Sin eventually marred Creation (and continues to today) but the Scriptures point to a day when there will be “a new heaven and a new earth.” (Rev. 21:1)  This is a great source of hope for us—paradise will one day be restored!  But as Merton points out, even now heaven is “mirrored in created things.”  In Creation we experience a “foretaste of glory divine.”  Merton says even the animals around us call us to “forget our vain cares” and call us to move our hearts in the Creator’s direction.  It is in Him, first and foremost, that we experience paradise.

Another thing Merton teaches us is that a fellowship with God is necessary for us truly to find in Creation the paradise the Creator intended for both Adam and us.  He elaborates on this when he says, “if we seek paradise outside ourselves, we cannot have paradise in our hearts.  If we have no peace within ourselves, we have no peace with what is around us.  Only the man who is free from attachment finds that creatures have become his friends.  As long as he is attached to them, they speak to him only of his own desires.  Or they remind him of his sins.  When he is selfish, they serve his selfishness.  When he is pure, they speak to him of God.”  Here we are reminded that the person who longs to see God in His Creation must put God first in his or her life.  When our lives are focused primarily on Him then we will see God everywhere we look.  We will see Him in all that He has made.  Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” (Matthew 5:8) apply here.  The closer we are to God the more places we will see Him and the more we will experience paradise here on earth.

–Chuck

(Both of the images above were taken near Hazard, Kentucky.  I took the top picture at Buckhorn Lake State Park a few years ago.  The fawn was photographed a couple of weeks ago.)