Oct 27 2013

The Garden of God

GG9645This past Friday I had a chance to go to Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois to photograph.  This natural area is located in the Shawnee National Forest and is only a little over an hour from where I now live.  This was my first time to photograph this beautiful place.  I say it was my first time to photograph Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois but it was not my first time to photograph a Garden of the Gods.  There are at least three such places that use this name in America.  A few years ago I photographed at Garden of the Gods in Colorado.  It too is a beautiful place.  I haven’t visited Garden of the Gods in Hawaii but would like to one day.

CO-Garden-of-the-Gods-Siamese-Twins-077I’m not exactly sure why people have chosen to call these special locations “Garden of the Gods.”  Nor am I clear why it is “Gods” rather than “God” in the name.  As a Christian I affirm that there is but one God and that this God is the Maker of heaven and earth.  This God, interestingly enough, takes great delight in gardens.  The biblical story begins with the Garden of Eden and closes with a description of the New Jerusalem that is described as a city with many features of a garden.  In between there are lots of other references to gardens.

In the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery we’re told that in the Bible a garden is an image of both nature and sacred space.  The writer says “At a literal, physical level the garden is a place of life richly nourished, well attended to and appointed for the enjoyment of its human owners or residents.  As such, it is a touchstone of such motifs as provision, beauty, abundance and the satisfaction of human need.  Next to heaven, it is the preeminent image of human longing.” 

GG6892The word “paradise” is of Persian origin and referred to a walled garden.  I find that very interesting since we often refer to heaven as paradise.  When one of the thieves that was crucified with Jesus asked to be remembered when he came into his kingdom he heard him reply, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)  The New Jerusalem, noted above, is a walled city with wonderful life-giving trees inside and a flowing stream. (Revelation 21)  Some have suggested that the Garden of Eden might have been walled as well since the Bible says that the entrance was guarded by an angel once Adam and Eve were expelled from it. (Genesis 3:24)  Though it may have been an enclosed garden it was open to God.  Genesis 3:8 speaks of God “walking in the garden in the cool of the day.”   The garden was where God met with and talked to His creatures.

GG9503Although God can meet us whenever and wherever He chooses, I know that many people, myself included, feel God’s presence and hear His call frequently in the natural gardens of the world.  I am not a gardener but I have heard many people say that gardening is a spiritual experience for them.  They sense God’s presence in their gardens and talk to Him there.  For me this often happens in our national and state parks or other places of special beauty.  Ultimately, however, we might be wise to view the earth itself as the Garden of God.  This is the place He has put us to live out our lives and to commune with Him.

In Genesis 2:15 we read that God told the first humans that it was their job “to take care” of the Garden.  Hopefully we realize that this is still our job.  When we remember how important gardens seem to be to God and realize that it is in the garden that He comes to visit us, we should find plenty of motivation to be good stewards of the Garden of God.  It is in our best interest both physically and spiritually.


(The second picture was taken at Garden of the Gods in Colorado.  The other three were taken this past Friday at Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois.)

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.


(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.)

Aug 4 2010

Paradise Lost?

Reflection Lakes 236I have spent the last three days in Paradise.  Really!  I have been at the Paradise area in Mount Rainier National Park.  The name given to this gorgeous place is fitting.  The Paradise area sits below lofty Mount Rainier and is world famous for its wildflower display each summer.  John Muir once described Paradise Meadows as “the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountaintop wanderings.”  The meadows are still covered with wildflowers today but the presence of millions of visitors has come with a price.  Many sections of the fragile landscape has been trampled. 


Paradise 408Today there seem to be as many signs warning park visitors to stay on the trails as there are wildflowers.  As several have noted in recent years, we seem to be loving our national parks to death!  Paradise Meadows is still beautiful but for it to remain that way for future generations to enjoy park visitors like myself must be very careful not to tred off marked trails.


The Bible describes another Paradise God created long long ago.  Unfortunately, it too has been marred by the “footprint” of its visitors.  With nearly seven billion people inhabiting planet earth today it is more important than ever before that we exercise caution and restraint as we live out our lives on this fragile planet. Perhaps we need more signs (like the one shown below asking people in many different languages to exercise caution) reminding us that if we’re not careful we will lose what we have.


Paradise 653The Bible actually contains many signs warning us not to abuse the land. Ecologists and scientists over the years have posted numerous warning signs. The destruction that has already occurred to God’s Creation should likewise serve as a sign.


It is obvious to me that Paradise has not yet been lost but it has certainly been damaged.  Will the generations that follow us be able to enjoy what we do today?  That’s up to us.




(The top image of Mount Rainier was taken at Reflection Lakes yesterday.  The flowers and sign were both taken at Paradise Meadows.)