The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. ~ Genesis 1:12
I stand on the edge of the black pavement that borders the desert garden at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. A dull metal garden arbor, a portal laced with green vines and not much taller and wider than a person separates me from the interior of Eden.
A small, nondescript wooden sign says in block letters, “Please Visit Our Healing Garden.” Who can resist such an invitation? I say a prayer, hold my breath, and walk through the thin arbor. “I come to the garden alone” while the sun rises faintly from the east. The hard pavement gives way to a soft winding path of sand and fine cinder.
I stop at the first curve on the path. A small baby bunny appears from underneath a clump of bright yellow desert marigolds. She looks around, sniffs the air, and returns to her hiding place. Mourning doves look down upon me from the tree branches overhead. Their soft, haunting cooing lifts my heart with a mixture of joy and sadness as I walk down the path. I gaze upon a white barked tree where the Franciscans have placed a sign which reads, “Peace and Good.” It is good.
The garden is coming alive as the morning light warms the earth. The desert willows stand like sentries on this windless morning. Roadrunners dart here and there when they feel my presence. I hope they know where they are going; they do not seem to follow any particular path. It is good to wander.
The meditation chapel sits just inside the outer edge of the garden. The words above the doorway read, “Give Me a Quiet Place.” I stop, look, and listen to the garden. “Beauty surrounds us, but usually we need to be walking in a garden to know it,” said Rumi. The melodies of the birds, the quietness of the rabbits, the sun, the yellow, purple, and red blooms of the prickly pear cactus warm my heart.
Yesterday’s rain has brought a splendor of color this morning. Everything seems brighter. I meander through the garden looking at the cactus blooms, laughing at the roadrunners, and receiving the morning sun.
A family has placed a memorial for their daughter, Kristine Kay Burr, next to a rose bush. A sculpture of a gentle hand holds a child with these words inscribed on a rock, “I will not forget you. I have carried you in the palm of my hand,” (Isaiah 49:15). I pray for Kristine, her family, and all those who have lost loved ones at an early age. It seems like the “birds hush their singing.”
“We all walk through the Garden whether we know it or not,” says Rohr. Where are our healing gardens? Our Eden’s? What soothes and restores our souls?
I walk at a snail’s pace in concentric circles from one end of the garden to the other. There is so much to see. On my way out, I notice two older men trimming flower buds from the hanging pots. “Supposing” them to be the gardeners, I say, “The garden is beautiful.” “Thank you,” they say as they continue their work.
“How long have you been gardening here?” I ask. “Oh, ten or fifteen years. Quite a while. We don’t do any heavy lifting anymore. Just light work. Make sure the plants have water and trim the flowers in the hanging baskets.”
“See that plant you’re standing next to?” I look down at the thorny plant with petite bright red flowers. “Yeah,” I say. “It’s a Christ Thorn Plant,” the gardener says. He walks over and shows me the thick green thorny stem. “It’s like Jesus’ crown of thorns.” “Yeah, I can see it.”
I look from the Christ Thorn Plant to all the blooming desert marigolds, the agave, the octopus cactus, and the willows. Birds swoop in and out of the garden. And the sun continues its ascent. A stone’s throw away from the Christ Plant lays the Monarch Way Station full of milkweed and nectar sources.
“Do the monarchs come through here?” I ask the old gardeners.
“A bunch of them came through a couple of weeks ago. That’s something to see. I look forward to the monarchs coming every year.”
The Biblical narrative begins in “the garden,” says Rohr, where Adam and Eve walk in proximity with our Creator and the Spirit’s love and peace. They “know no shame” (Genesis 2:25). They leave the garden, and we leave as well. As we mature though, we return to the garden, paradise, because “it is good” (Genesis 1:12) and heals our souls. Amen.
Peace and Good,