Hortus Enclosus, or, Paradise Now

Saint Eggburt’s, the movable A-frame chicken house that Bill and Pia built, is now beneath the two pine trees in a new enclosure.   Bill tilled the soil in front of Saint Aidan’s, built a raised bed around the tree stump, and, as I write at my desk, he is putting deer fencing around the yard.  This means we’ll have a garden of vegetables, flowers, and herbs to tend right outside the kitchen door. 

Garden, Unknown German Master, 1410

Garden, Unknown German Master, 1410

There’s something settling about knowing I’ll be going out before dawn in my bare feet in summertime, with my cup of coffee, to look at the magic that’s occurred in the cottage garden during the night.  I’ll clip herbs for cooking, bite into fresh tomatoes hot from the sun, gather bouquets for visitors.  And weed furiously, of course, and kill slugs, and curse vermin.   

Today is depressingly cold, windy, and dark.  I’ve just finished the website postings for the week, but I still need to compose the newsletter that goes to the subscribers, and, to keep to my discipline, look for art for the Hours of Mary which will go up on the website in May.  In addition, my desk is piled high with correspondence etc…

I can hear Bill putting in the posts for the deer fence.   I would love to curl up in an afghan and watch a movie, but that won’t happen today.  But when my work is done, I’ll order some plants for the sisters’ kitchen garden, and then … order hollyhocks, perennial sunflowers, and a clematis, for the old-fashioned cottage garden prepared so beautifully by the chickens scratching and fertilizing and bathing in the dirt outside the kitchen door, and then finished lovingly by Bill who wants those tomatoes.  There’s color in my mind’s eye if not out the window.   

Bill just called upstairs, “It’s sleeting out!”  The sleet sounds like somebody’s throwing sand at the window.  Looking outside again I see a blooming apricot tree in the back of the truck that he and Sister Helena Marie will plant tomorrow.  It’s supposed to rain all week, but it will get warmer, and at the end of next week – it will be May.   

The website posting this week is about Emmaus – the hiddenness of Jesus until the sign of the breaking of the bread.  And yesterday I searched for art for the Hours of Mary on the theme of “hortus conclusus”, the enclosed garden (Song of Songs 4:12).  Besides the hidden garden of Mary’s womb, the hortus conclusus is both paradise lost and the paradise to be.  

But life is about making paradise here and now – creating gardens of color and beauty and nourishment for other people not out of nostalgia but out of a sense of simple justice and common sense.  This world, this planet is our garden, a paradise we’re losing perhaps forever.  My mother told me the story of a saint when asked what he’d do if the world were to end tomorrow replied that he’d just continue hoeing his garden.

If I worship Thee for fear of hell burn me in hell.  If I worship Thee for hope of heaven, bar me from its gates.  But if I worship Thee for Thine own sake, let me love Thee in the sunshine of Thy beauty,  said Rabia, the Sufi mystic.

Not for Paradise lost or found do we garden and pray and worship.  But for Love now.  The integration of all of this: sleet, slugs, ticks, for the promised taste of a warm ripe tomato,  the scent of a soft apricot rubbing against my cheek, food on the table, scraps in the compost bin, the first killing frost;  enclosed within the cycles of life, death, transformation, the hidden signs of Paradise Now.

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