Thursday, October 02, 2008

Tending Garden
Genesis 3:1-8, 22-24[1]
The Horse Whisperer is a film about what it takes to heal someone who has been deeply wounded—listening with the heart, being present with a person who is hurting in a way that shows we are paying attention, and above all, spending whatever time it takes. We find those qualities in the person of Tom Booker, a man who has a reputation for healing horses who’ve been injured. When fourteen-year-old Grace and her horse Pilgrim are hit by a truck, Grace loses her right leg and Pilgrim is so traumatized that no one can get near him. Grace’s mother refuses to have the horse put down, and she decides to drive Grace and Pilgrim to Montana in hopes of convincing Tom to help them. In perhaps one of the most profound scenes of the film, Tom sits in a field and waits patiently all day until Pilgrim gives up his fear and walks over to him. As one review puts it, the film “tutors us in the art of slowing down, being present, and quieting the heart.”[2]
We who live in the urban part of our society have a hard time with the concepts of being present, paying attention, and spending time. In our technology-filled world we’re all spinning our wheels faster and faster every year. When I was a boy, futurists predicted that technology would do away with the 40-hour work week. Yep, it did that alright. Now to keep your job you often have to work a minimum of 60 hours a week—if not more! And rather than making our jobs easier, our technology has made life even more stressful. Now we do 3 or 4 things at the same time—talk on the phone, send an email, check the news, schedule the coming week—a phenomenon some hair-brain called “time-deepening.” There’s nothing deeper about the way we spend our time! We’re skimming the surface, just getting through as many tasks as we can.
But I’m not really sure what it is that we are rushing so madly toward—we don’t do any better at being present or paying attention when we’re “off” than we do when we’re working. We are driven by dissatisfaction, impatience, hurry, and pressure. Can anyone in this mad, mad world really stop and smell the roses?
The story of Adam and Eve has something to say to us in this respect. Here are two people who have the privilege of actually living in paradise. How many times have you gone to a beautiful spot on vacation and wished you could move there? Well, Adam and Eve were “born and raised” in paradise, so to speak! More than that, they have the joy of getting to take part in actually shaping paradise because the Gardener who planted it gave them the task of taking care of it.[3]
If you’re like me, you might be thinking, “Wow! What I wouldn’t give to trade places with them!” But the tragic reality is that they were thinking the same thing! They have the incredible prospect of spending their lives caring for and shaping the Garden of Eden, and they trade it away for a pipe dream—the promise of becoming “like God!” As a result, they must scratch out a living from the dirt “East of Eden” and perpetuate the species through painful childbirth.[4] It doesn’t take any divine “curse” to accomplish that, because their own dissatisfaction is curse enough. But perhaps more importantly, the dissatisfaction of our original parents manifests itself in their entire family tree—from Cain who kills his brother to Lamech who boasts of murder to the generation of the Flood who scoff at Noah to the builders of the Tower of Babel who think they can reach heaven.[5] And it continues to this very day! We live among a whole race of people who spend their whole lives looking for something “else,” desperately seeking something “more,” but never quite able to find it.
As Adam and Eve found out, none of us can ever find happiness by trying to “escape” who we are and where we are.[6] Rather, our circumstances become the very means by which we can find a life that is more joyful, peaceful, and fulfilled. The way to find happiness is to do as the Gardener told our first parents—to tend the Garden of our lives!
In Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore shows us in many ways that the best way to find true happiness in life is to embrace life as it is. We cannot do this if we’re always in a hurry. To embrace life we have to pause, we have to take time so that we can enjoy the garden as well as the work of tending it. Living this way means paying attention—even to the mundane routines.[7] It means taking the time to pay attention to the details of our lives—our work and living spaces, what we’re actually thinking about as we go about our day, even our dreams and fantasies.[8]
Like a garden, life is something that takes cultivating if we’re going to find joy and fulfillment.[9] If we give ourselves to the work of tending the garden of life, it will “blossom forth according to its own designs and with its own predictable beauty.”[10] Something as simple as tending a garden may seem impossible in our “rat race” world. So how can we do it? We tend the garden of our lives by paying attention and taking time.
To change the metaphor, we tend the garden when we practice the ordinary routines of our lives “artfully”; in other words, when we do it as a work of art, even if it is “only” the everyday art of keeping house or maintaining a yard or tuning a car or preparing a meal.[11] That means taking the time and paying enough attention to do it consciously and intentionally—“soulfully”— as opposed to “mindlessly.”
To change the metaphor again, living this way means integrating our lives—work, home, play, faith. It means embracing the presence of the Lord God “walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze” (Gen. 3:8)—or at dawn, or in the heat of the day, or at midnight, whenever it is that we are tending our gardens.[12] As we embrace our lives and tend our gardens, we discover that we truly can live in the joy of our Creator.

[1] © 2008 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 9/28/08 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.
[2] Frederick and Mary Ann Brussat, Review of “The Horse Whisperer,” accessed at .
[3] Cf. Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, 48; cf. also Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 3.1.235, 254.
[4] Cf. Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 89; cf. also William E. Phipps, “Eve and Pandora Contrasted,” Theology Today 45(April 1988):36. He does a thorough job of tracing the origins of Christian misogyny in an interpretation of Genesis that reads the story of Pandora as the one who is the source of evil in the world into the story of Eve, contrary to the Genesis text which lays the shameful deed at the feet of both Adam and Eve.
[5] Cf. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 3.4:310-11.
[6] Cf. Brueggemann, Genesis, 53-54.
[7] Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul, 3-4.
[8] Moore, Care of the Soul, 285.
[9] Moore, Care of the Soul, xvii.
[10] Moore, Care of the Soul, xix.
[11] Moore, Care of the Soul, 289, 300.
[12] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Source of Life: The Holy Spirit and the Theology of Life, 51-54; cf. esp. 53: “The nearness of God which we perceive in the Spirit make us wholly living from within, and wakens all our vitality”; and 54: “When we are near the living God, everything else becomes ‘green’ and fertile, as it does in spring, said Hildegard of Bingen.”

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