The inner garden

“Supposing him to be the gardener…” (John 20:15).

Gordon MacDonald has a chapter entitled ‘Order in the Garden’ in his book ‘Ordering Your Private World’. I have often found his image of the garden very helpful and have found it to be a good way of describing my own life and walk with the Lord.

He begins the chapter with a stirring quote from a book by Howard Rutledge who ended up in prison for some years during the Vietnam war:

“During those longer periods of enforced reflection it became so much easier to separate the important from the trivial, the worthwhile from the waste. For example, in the past, I usually worked or played hard on Sundays and had no time for church. For years Phyllis [his wife] had encouraged me to join the family at church. She never nagged or scolded – she just kept hoping. But I was too busy, too preoccupied, to spend one or two short hours a week thinking about the really important things.

“Now the sights and sounds and smells of death were all around me. My hunger for spiritual food soon outdid my hunger for a steak. Now I wanted to know about that part of me that will never die. Now I wanted to talk about God and Christ and the church. But in Heartbreak [the name POWS gave their prison camp] solitary confinement, there was no pastor, no Sunday School teacher, no Bible, no hymnbook, no community of believers to guide and sustain me. I had completely neglected the spiritual dimension of my life. It took prison to show me how empty life is without God [italics added].”

MacDonald comments: ‘It took the pressure of a POW camp to show Rutledge that there was a centre to his private world that he had been neglecting virtually all of his life.’

He goes on to speak about this spiritual centre. MacDonald writes:

“For me the helpful metaphor for the inner spiritual centre has been a garden, a place of potent peace and tranquillity. This garden is a place where the Spirit of God comes to make self-disclosure, to share wisdom, to give affirmation or rebuke, to provide encouragement, and to give direction and guidance. When this garden is in proper order, it is a quiet place, and there is an absence of busyness, of defiling noise, of confusion.

“The inner garden is a delicate place, and if not properly maintained it will be quickly overrun by intrusive undergrowth. God does not often walk in disordered gardens. And that is why inner gardens that are ignored are said to be empty.” (p 161).

The Holy Scriptures are a key aspect to having order in one’s own garden. I have found writing a journal has been a great help in ordering my spiritual centre and MacDonald goes on to share a little bit of what that looks like for him. My own journal reflections naturally have a different shape but one of the most helpful features I have found has been to write Scripture verses in my journal entries as I go along. At first it was occasional and random, but the order increased as time went on. These days I begin each daily entry with a verse or two, or sometimes a paragraph, from the bible, usually flowing from that my morning readings. I don’t necessarily comment upon it but it has certainly helped in bringing order to my private world.

I’ve quoted this reference to Mary Magdalene mistaking Jesus for the ‘gardener’ from John 20:15 because it does seem to me that there is a small allusion in the background in John’s reference here. With the resurrection there is the ‘restoration of the new creation’ – the new garden of Eden taking place and here indeed is ‘the Gardener’. All the more reason to ensure that we allow him to direct matters in our gardens. Time to close with a horticultural poem:

What wond’rous life in this I lead!

Ripe apples drop about my head;

The luscious clusters of the vine

Upon my mouth do crush their wine;

The nectarine and curious peach

Into my hands themselves do reach;

Stumbling on melons as I pass,

Ensnar’d with flow’rs, I fall on grass.

(A stanza from Andrew Marvell’s poem ‘The Garden’).

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