Week 3 & 4

For this week’s discussion forum, I’d like you to reflect broadly on the space of the garden in the readings, from the material in Kristin King’s excerpted Gardens of Heaven to the passages from Swedenborg’s writings. Weave in some of your own life experiences in gardens, or garden-like spaces,  connecting them to the various green spaces that are described in the texts. Below you’ll find a sequence of images that you might wish to spend time looking at, and include in your thoughts: photographs and illustrations of Swedenborg’s garden in Stockholm, and various designs that Swedenborg liked to use in his theological works, including an image from Divine Love & Wisdom.
Click on each image to get a larger close-up.

How is the (spiritual) experience of nature in a garden different from experiencing nature in the “wild”– on the mountaintops of Yosemite, the lonely desert of Death Valley? How might we (re)think gardening as an inherently spiritual kind of praxis?

10 responses to “Week 3 & 4

  1. It was fascinating to read about and see a ketch of ES’s house, outbuildings, and garden. What a little Eden he created for himself. While reading about this, it occurred to me that I, too, need access to an environment that’s conducive to the contemplation of beauty and the things of eternity. I find this “space” both in my own garden and in wilderness, but in different ways. When I am working in the garden, whether weeding, planting, pruning, or doing fall clean-up, it feels more as though I am affecting IT. When I am in wilderness, whether walking along a path, across a meadow, sitting by a river, or whatever, IT is affecting ME> It’s as though the “pressure gradient” represented by myself and the garden is flowing from my mind into my hands and out into whatever I’m working on or just contemplating, while in wilderness it’s the other way around. In general. If I’m making any sense. 🙂

    In Conjugial Love (183) when the angels are expounding on love and wisdom they say, “Use effects this, because love by wisdom delight each in the other, and they play as it were like little children, as as they grow up, they enter into genial conjunction.” The thought of love and wisdom playing together “like children” is wonderful. Add a garden and it doesn’t get much better. I’m wondering how the NCE translates “genial conjunction”?

    When I read in Heaven and Hell (111) that Swedenborg defines the general correspondence of trees as “perceptions and firsthand knowledge of what is good and true,” I was delighted. That’s perfect. I actually am known to hug trees. My darling son-in-law, a confirmed secular humanist, is an arborist; he has a true affection for trees. I think he would enjoy hearing that about “his” trees.

    I was struck over and over by the beautiful ideas expressed in Kristin King’s book. In speaking of the process of repentance, reformation and regeneration, she sways, “This harvest, or process, remakes us in the image and likeness of the Creator. The ‘image’ is the effort we make to counter our selfish and sensual belief that our life is out own; the ‘likeness’ is the acknowledgement, freely given, that all life, including out own, is from God. When we know and feel that our life is a gift, we internalize the paradise, or garden, from which we originally expelled ourselves. And we bear fruit once more.” What wonderful, hopeful words.

    Years ago, following a “cancer adventure” and subsequent surgery/treatment/recovery, I spent a lot of time on my hands and knees pulling/digging weeds. Most of what I do in the garden now is fairly easy, since during that recovery time I worked very, very hard pulling invasive weeds out of the garden in order to make room for beautiful things that would follow a cycle of bloom and dormancy year after year. I ws vaguely aware at the time what a powerful metaphor I was acting out. I’m convinced that that hard work sped my recovery and return to full health. When I would become a bit depressed, I’d head outside, back to where I could see, hear, smell, feel and almost taste the things that are REAL. How completely delightful to read in King’s book, “. . .;and perhaps the most ephemeral, the [fragrances] from gardens and fields. These things do not simply reflect but actually contain spiritual essences: ‘every detail of nature is as it were a tunic, shealth or clothing enclosing spiritual things.'” AC

    As far as gardening as a spiritual practice, certainly. It’s been said, and I believe it’s true, that any task we undertake, no matter how mundane, can be spiritual practice; gardening must be one of those with the most potential for that. I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes from Elizabeth Barret Browning:
    Earth’s crammed with Heaven, and every common bush afire with God!

  2. I could wish that there was a way to edit our posts before the coach turns back into a pumpkin. Typos!

  3. I spent Thursday night through Sunday afternoon in San Francisco at the annual meeting of PCA (Pacific Coast Association of the Church of the New Jerusalem) and it was a garden of delights, especially Saturday. After breakfast Devin gave a talk on “Sermons in Stones – American Environmental Thought and Swedenborgian Nature Mysticism, and among other things he talked about bringing the spirit of nature indoors. To enter the sanctuary of the San Francisco church, you have to go through the garden, which is full of flowers and trees (yew, cedar, olive), and the birdbath (a metaphor/correspondence for drinking from the fountain of wisdom) is reproduced again in a stained glass window in the sanctuary – the rafters of the Gothic arches of the Arts & Crafts interior are great Madrone logs brought by wagon and installed as in nature, and landscapes by William Keith decorate the walls. There are tree branches above the reading desk and the chairs were fashioned without nails (mortise & tenon construction) and with seats woven from Sacramento River rushes.
    After Devin’s talk, Swedenborgian House of Studies student Yudai Hori, with Jim Lawrence facilitating discussion, talked about “Heaven and Earth: A Swedenborgian View of Ecology.” In explaining use and misuse of nature, he pointed out that in Divine Love and Wisdom (338), Swedenborg said that “evil” creatures were those that “destroy grasses, leaves, fruits, seeds, food and drink, and are harmful to beast and man.” What struck some of us was that, in gardening, Swedenborg actually was destroying grasses, leaves, etc. when weeding. That is one difference between the garden and the wild. In the wilderness, we attempt to live and let live (except for those who hunt and/or gather!), but in the garden we make decisions as to what plants are good and bad. In Ken Turley’s homily the next day, Ken talked about how we must ask, before doing something, “Is it loving? Is it wise? Is it of use?” and that seems to be part of the process in gardening (and, by correspondence, in our lives?) – weeding out what we feel is unloving, unwise or not useful. We know a lot more today about the uses of many things (including plants and animals) that were considered evil or useless in Swedenborg’s day (e.g. bats, now known to be extremely significant as predators upon insects which destroy crops – now endangered by White Nose Syndrome, with the potential of drastic effects upon agriculture). Many of those who are destroying the environment, contributing to the extinction of species, etc. are doing so with the intention of use, but without love or wisdom. Kyrie eleison! There is a lot to think about in the decisions about the environment – for example, the question of wind generators killing migrating birds and bats.
    After our business meeting, about a dozen of us went on an excursion to the Conservatory in Golden Gate Park, where we saw an amazing array of tropical plants – orchids, water lilies, bromeliads, and insectivorous pitcher plants. Afterwards we went to the Sutro heights above Seal Rocks and wandered among the trees. It was a spiritual experience for all of us, in the gardens and in the almost-wild groves overlooking the Pacific.

    Note: I found the easiest way for me to post this satisfactorily was to put it in a Word file first, then copy and paste in here…

    • Loved this, Helen! The San Francisco church is such holy ground. Our daughter and her husband were married in that sanctuary. What a place. It sounds like Assn was fabulous; I’m SO glad, and sorry that I wasn’t there.

      Thank you for quoting Ken, “Is it loving? Is it wise? Is it of use?” I”ve heard that before, but now am feeling that I need to write it on my hand or something!

      Thanks for the tip on Word. I’ll use our laptop from now on; our desktop is not feeling very well and wouldn’t allow me to cut and paste!

  4. I think the difference between the garden and nature is the difference between language and experience — the language will always tend to create false orders of the natural experience, much like the garden is a representation of imposed order on the natural experience.

    In Swedenborg’s time there was plenty of wildness!~ Nobody lacked for an authentic outdoors experience. The garden was an interpretation of nature — an ordering. There is someone in charge of the garden!
    Likewise, in language there is someone in charge of the order of language. The tension arises when the ordered language of the garden attempts to describe the natural (or spiritual or celestial) world. It tends to import the prejudices, cultural baggage, language limitations of the writer to describe the totality of nature. An impossible task.
    But still, the garden is how we order the world in our minds, and the bigger and more diverse a garden we have the more we can understand, however imperfectly, our surroundings.
    There is an emphasis in the vedic tradition of understanding the different states of consciousness that we have, and a feeling that only when we know what they are and can describe them in a common language, are we able to make further spiritual progress (or even know that we have made spritiual progress). So that is the praxis part, for me. The continuous importation of exotic species into our gardens, the growth of a larger vocabulary, and the possibility of greater empathy with others from faraway places who share our interest in the plants that are common to our respective gardens.

    I also think the garden is a metaphore for a Spritual experience that is different from the grove of trees that the older European churches originated in (and, Cathedral architecture refers to). A grove is natural in that nobody planted it, whereas a garden is planted very deliberately. A spacious grove with a high canopy of trees is a bit of accidental order in the chaos of the forest.

    • “. . . the garden is how we order the world in our minds, and the bigger and more diverse a garden we have the more we can understand, however imperfectly, our surroundings.” Yum.

  5. Glad to be back among those who can post. I had time to read the readings on my train ride into Boston today, and as I did some cleaning in my office I listened to the lecture. What struck me as I was cleaning is that I was organizing my office, one might say in the same way “gardens” organize nature. So this point seems to stick out in my mind. The wild vs. garden…

    I think back to the well written introduction to the Dictionary of Bible Imagery, where the author does a brilliant job of describing correspondences in a concise fashion. Basically, anything that helped the people of Israel get closer to God has a positive correspondence and anything that was harmful had a negative one. Garden’s, orchards, roads and cities tend to talk about things that are good and true of the church. This is contrast to wilderness, which as far as I know is never outright bad, but is always linked to temptation. As a Boy Scout (at one point), I can certainly speak with experience that “wild” nature has both beauty and danger in a way that a garden does not (though there are a few small biting dangers there too).

    I think we can look to the concept of wild nature as being a good one in the way that we can understand temptation as an opportunity. Engaging with wildness learning about it and approaching it well can make temptation a positive experience.

    A garden is “planned” nature and we view wild as “unplanned” nature. If we become more connected to the innocence and obedience that Swedenborg talks about the regenerate person being, wouldn’t that mean we would see the divine plan in wild nature? After all wild and garden are human terms, not divine.

    Only after getting a house did I start to garden. With the advent of a new child this year, our garden went to seed, which certainly said a great deal about our internal state as well. Gardening takes discipline and awareness. So does entering the wild.. the two may not be as far apart as they we think they are.

  6. I think I need to go and take a look at the introduction to the Dictionary of Bible Imagery. I used it this week, for the first time in ages, in preparing a devotion for the Advent collection that our Methodist church is printing. Isaiah 7: 10-25, curds and honey!

  7. Wrote this on Monday – must have not pushed the right button….
    So good to be back reading and reflecting on our course texts. I will be en route to San Francisco at 4 pm tomorrow, so will miss the interactive part of our class (again), but I will be thinking of you all. Is there any way to get a recap of the discussion?
    Karen, your image of digging up the weeds and fighting cancer was stirring and I have no doubt that it did help your healing and recovery. I wish you would write more about it for The Messenger as there is great insight and help for others in your experience.
    Helen, I loved your image of the SF church and the lectures/homilies given during the PCA meetings and worship. You tied them all together in relation to our readings in an insightful way. And, Devin, I hope your message on Sermons in Stones is written for the rest of us to enjoy. I have used stones several times in worship services and given each participant a stone to reflect on and find the aspect of truth that the stone reveals. It is amazing what comes forth.
    I have a garden of stones that is my medicine wheel, based on the Native American traditions. Each of the 36 stones has a wealth of insight to share as a mineral totem in relation to animal totems, plant totems and color. As one of the books I used to gain understanding of Medicine Wheels states: creating a medicine wheel creates sacred space and this has been so true for me and others that have used and experienced the wheel. I have a garden of plants and flowers, but I feel closest to the Divine in my garden of stones. Wonder what that says about me? Feels rather cold when I write it, but not when I experience it.
    Joe, I resonated with your analogy of garden and nature to language and experience and the limitation of language. It fit with Kristen King’s statement that correspondences are living things, not mere metaphors or linguistic place holders. Correspondences must be experienced just as gardens and nature and the wilderness. Devin, maybe the title of your upcoming book needs to be The Language of” Living” Things.
    And Kevin, wilderness does bring us to “temptations” in the Word. I had not thought about that. Are we in a state of wilderness being brought into a state of order (a garden) by participation with God? Is this regeneration? Or is this too simplistic?

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