Life, gardening, and an Orthodox Easter.
Theologian Vigen Guroian experiences Easter as "a call to our senses." We'll explore his Eastern Orthodox sensibility that is at once more mystical and more earthy than the Christianity dominant in Western culture. And at this time of year and beyond, Vigen Guroian does real theology in his garden as richly as in church.
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Observations by Dr. Guroian:
Our culture is visually oriented, and becoming even more so with the advent of the home computer and the Internet. In the Christian religion, sight has frequently been proffered as a metaphor for the experience of God. The medieval theologians spoke of the "vision of God" as the summum bonum, the highest good of the Christian life. They singled out sight as the "mystical" sense, the one that draws us deepest into communion with God. Dare I contend with souls so wise? For I have a notion that smell, not sight, is the most mystical sense. The garden has persuaded me of this.
The metaphor of the vision of God was always liable to the criticism that it misrepresents divine mystery by promising too much. But it is not so with smell. Much like the rose I sensed in the nursery, God is mysteriously present in our lives. Although I had forgotten the scent and the rose was out of view, its fragrance awakened me to its presence. We may not see God face to face, or tangibly experience him in other ways; nonetheless, he avails himself to us as he did to Adam and Eve in the Garden.
After Adam and Eve were beguiled by the serpent and ate the forbidden fruit of the Tree, God commanded his angels to remove them from the Garden, and to guard the paths to it with a fiery sword. And so Adam and his wife were banished from the Garden and its light and abundant life and entered a place of darkness and gloom. They remained there in misery for six days, without anything to eat and no shelter. They wept inconsolably over what they had lost and where they were sent.
But on the seventh day, God took pity on the couple. He sent an angel who removed them from the dark place and led them into this bright world. The messenger showed them trees from which they could eat and satisfy their hunger. And when Adam and Eve saw the light and felt the warmth of this world, they rejoiced with exceeding gladness, saying, "Even though this place cannot compare with the home we have lost and its light is not nearly as bright or its fruit half as sweet, nevertheless, we are no longer in the darkness and can go on living." So they were cheerful.
Several summers ago my children found two turtles and put them in the vegetable garden. During a thaw the next February as I was digging up the soggy soil where the peas go, I lifted a heavy mound with my shovel, and then another. The two turtles had burrowed down for winter sleep, and I had rudely awakened them too soon. So I carried them to a corner of the garden where I would not disturb them and dug them in again. When my wife said that she feared the turtles might be dead, I said I did not think so (though I wasn't as sure as I sounded). I insisted that in spring they would come up. And they did in Easter week.
Lilies and hyacinths signify the resurrection, and I can understand why. But I have a pair of turtles that plant themselves in my garden each fall like two gigantic seeds and rise on Easter with earthen crowns upon their humbled heads. With the women at the tomb, I marvel. For "Christ did arise, Christ did awaken/Out of the virgin tomb, out of the tomb of light" (Armenian Ode for Ordinary Sundays). And he leads us back, back into the garden of delight.
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