Thursday, May 25, 2006

Three gardens

Was reading a short but wonderful article by a Prof. Rodney Delasanta, called Gardens of Good and Evil, in the May 2005 issue of First Things. (I know, it's May 2006 now, but I'll never catch up with my First Things reading). He looks at the archetypical story of the first Garden -- Eden -- and how the garden's loss has been dealt with.

The Christian view is that Eden, given to us by God, was lost by us through our refusal to live by its rules.

The Enlightenment and modernism, by way of throwing all that old stuff out, gave us Voltaire's maxim in Candide that "we must cultivate our own [man-made] garden." But this, says Delasanta, is "the garden of resignation, of suffering unfulfilled, the garden of disenchantment." Working in this garden is our necessary distraction from the pain of the long slow spiral to death and defeat. It can take your mind off the despair, but nothing more.

Postmodernists have worked out the final implications of Voltaire's vision in literature like Jose Luis Borges' The Garden of Forking Paths, a maze whose lanes lead nowhere and have no meaning. Wandering in that garden serves to pass the time, but you don't have a choice, really, they say. And everything's relative, so don't worry, be happy -- or despair and die, it's all the same.

No, thanks.

Back to the Christian vision.

Our defeat in the first Garden leads downhill to a second Garden, Gethsemane, where a man waits in anguish to sacrifice himself. Here the human race reaches a nadir; of all the human beings who surround Christ that night, one betrays him, others abandon and deny him, and the rest haul him off to be murdered. The Enemy has triumphed, it seems. He has set the stage for the ultimate sacrilege: mankind will murder God's Son. Game over.

Three days later, into a third Garden, Mary Magdalene comes early. But the tomb there is empty, the body gone. Panicked, she looks around, and sees a man; thinking he is the gardener, she begs him to tell her what happened. But he gives no explanation; he simply speaks her name. And she knows him, and knowing him, knows what has happened: the shame of the First Garden and the disaster of the Second have been redeemed utterly by the sacrifice that has just triumphed in the Third.

Thinking he is the gardener... But He is.

I'll take that vision over the other anytime.