When we are feeling burned out, distracted from what we ought to be doing and conflicted, let us walk in the garden, breathe in the aroma of the flowers in bloom, the beauty of the brightly colored flowers and focus on the busyness of the bees or other lifeforms as they move about the garden in their daily routines, assigned to them from the beginning of time.
If we sit and take in all that is going on our stress levels will naturally come down and we will find ourselves growing more and more at ease and at peace.
Why is this?
The Garden, according to the Bible, is the true home of human kind. God created a space in Genesis from which he populated the earth, fashioned us from the earth and breathed life into our very being. God then placed us in the garden to tend the soil and the creatures that come from it (including ourselves) and gave us the opportunity to share in God’s loving kindness the fruits of His creation. God even desired to share intimately in our daily lives, coming to walk with us (Adam) in the evening hours.
Thus we were at peace in this idyllic setting with all of creation.
But then Satan entered the picture. He was an angel of light, Lucifer, who sought to be like God and in his jealousy, sought to destroy the relationship between God and humankind. He injected confusion and created doubt, leading Adam and Eve to sin by turning away from God and desiring to have their own way. This led God to evict them from his Garden where they had known no strife and now, in their nakedness, they discovered that they were ill-prepared to care for themselves in this new, much harsher environment of their own creation. No longer would plants grow and yield their produce on their own accord but now the earth needed to be plowed, the soil tended, seeds planted, the plants watered and pruned, tended from sun up to sundown. No longer did man have the luxury to lounge about but had to work and often work hard, backbreaking jobs in order to survive in this hostile environment.
In addition, the animals which had been friends and neighbors in the Garden, were now competitors and often fought man for dominance over the land, the water and the sky. The snake became man’s mortal enemy. And man found himself no longer the caretaker but the destroyer of his fellow creatures.
Enter Cain and Abel, sons of Adam and Eve. In Genesis 4:9-11, we read of the ultimate breakdown of peace with Cain killing his brother out of jealousy, the same sin that brought the great ‘angel of light.’ Lucifer, down to the Pit.
Cain was the oldest. And as such, was the inheritor of all the family assets, including status, wealth and the land. His name, meant spear or metalworker. He was the cultivator of crops.
Abel, on the other hand, was the tender of sheep. His name meant vapor or nothingness. And in a patriarchal society Abel, as the younger brother, had no standing to inherit. He was a non-person, marginalized. De-humanized. Expendable.
Yet God sees not as we do… Throughout the Bible. God shows a ‘preferred option for the poor and vulnerable’ often raises up the meek and the lowly while lowering the exalted. Abel humbled himself when offering the first fruits of his flock and found favor with God, while Cain did only what was expected and proscribed by the law.
As a result, when God accepted Abel’s offering over that of Cain, Cain became jealous and indignant. Cain felt his authority challenged and took vengeance on his brother, killing Abel as a sign of his power.
In doing this, Cain broke his relationship with God, his (deceased) brother and even the very earth (now polluted with the blood of Abel) which, in turn, cried out to the Lord, cursing Cain and his descendants.
God heard the cry of the earth and banished Cain from his homeland.
Genesis 2 reminds us that we were created for love. That to be in relationship with God, neighbor and the earth is our true destiny. In breaking this relationship, Cain no longer had a homeland, a place of rest. Cain no longer tilled the soil, or cared for the earth. Cain alienated himself from all that was good -- God, land and family.
Eventually, Cain became a founder of a city. A civilization of laws that favored political ecology over that of a relationship with the land. Through the enforcement of systemic sin – oppression, racism, war, violence – Cain maintained his power influence by keeping the people subject to his control. In so doing, Cain endangers the life of all.
A far cry from the role of Gardener, which Adam and Eve were given in the Garden. Tools for planting and tilling. Cain turned these tools to weapons of war – the sword and the spear.
Yet God would not abandon his people forever. The Prophet Isaiah proclaimed the day would come (Is. 2:4) when weapons would be beat into gardening instruments (plowshares and pruning hooks) once again and peace would rule the earth. That day, the Day of Salvation by the Lord.
Then we would see the reversal of the violence begun by Cain. And war will be no more.
And the Garden will return, with Jesus, the Master Gardener to guide us.
It was not by accident that Mary Magdalen, on leaving the empty tomb, encountered Jesus and thought he was a gardener. Gardeners stay close to the land, tending to the needs of all… God, neighbor (including animals and plants) and earth (and its resources).
The lesson from Cain and Abel is to avoid sin and live in relationship with all of creation, lifting up one another’s needs and striving to be gardeners like Jesus, tilling the soil of souls and spreading seeds of faith wherever we go.
Beginning within ourselves -- our own personal garden of peace and tranquility -- where the Lord eagerly awaits us at any time of the day.
John De Gano is a deacon at St. Catherine of Alexandria parish in Riverside.