Sermon: April 29, 2018
By Rev. Dagmar Bollinger
It is spring! Don’t you just love the miracle of nature bursting into exuberant greenery and brilliant color? Swedenborgians like to say that we are what we love. I wholeheartedly believe this because I am a passionate gardener who loves few things more than digging my hands into the rich soil of the vegetable and flower beds that surround my home.
I live in Ann Arbor, which was founded by Germans who have always been, and still are, avid gardeners. My neighbors on the Old Westside of town have kept this tradition not only alive, but have elevated it into an art that borders on spiritual practice. One of my neighbors told me: “Every day, I go out and thank the ground. Life is burgeoning all around us, all the time,” she said. “If we can just appreciate that, it’s a big deal.”
She is right. It is a big deal, and increasingly people are paying attention to what makes our food grow and where it is coming from. Indeed, I find it interesting that keeping a garden for growing food used to be a necessity not too long ago; now, growing and consuming local food is trendy and ecologically correct. Who would have guessed that back on the farm in Northern Germany where I grew up?
Why do I love gardening so much? After all, it is hard work. Gardens require tilling and preparing the soil, watering, planting, more watering, weeding, more watering and more weeding. From this activity comes the realization that although we seem to be doing the work, it is not by our strength or power that the garden grows. God alone grows the plants. This is obvious to any of us who has been humbled and awed by the miracle of
life when seeing a seedling push its tiny green head above ground, lean toward the sun and unfurl its first set of leaves. Each bit of plant life, as all life, is simply fulfilling its mission to grow and be.
An ancient principle of correspondences claims that everything material has a spiritual equivalent. Accordingly, the earthly garden mirrors the spiritual garden that is the inner state of our soul. When we tend to our earthly garden, or enjoy someone else’s garden—even the houseplants in our homes—we garner endless spiritual lessons from our inner garden: here dwells patience and an appreciation for the natural order of things; no
fertilizer can force a flower to bloom before its time. Here resides mindfulness as we learn to notice changes in the plants under our care and discern what they need to thrive. Here abides interdependence; we wouldn’t have carrots, corn or cherries without the bees, birds, and bats dispersing the pollen. In a garden, we naturally accept the cycle of life, death, and rebirth as we say good bye to the joy of seasonal colors and let flowerbeds rest in peace, anticipating their budding and blooming again.
By honoring and tending the cycles of growth in our earthly gardens, we cultivate our divinity and acknowledge that God is in charge of our inner garden as well. For sure, we have autonomy as human beings. We are able to weed out the destructive forces in our lives. We can water our thirsty minds and spirits with knowledge that may sprout into truth and wisdom as we get older. We can fertilize our souls with prayer and meditation. We can create rich compost by digesting the Word of God as it reveals itself anew each day; we can produce ripe fruit by doing honest work, loving our neighbors, and being useful members of our local and global communities.
We can do all of that, but in the end, we must let go of our lives, our imagined control, our perceived power, so that God may raise us up into God’s heavenly garden. Ultimately, only God can regenerate us, mature us, and grow us spiritually. In our inner garden, as in our outer garden, God is the master gardener. Jesus said: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you
can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Therefore, just as the fruits of growing a garden exceed the doing, that is, the weeding and seeding and countless other tasks, so do the riches of tending a spiritual garden surpass the striving. We rejoice in the sacred space created. We cherish every spiritual quality nurtured within that reflects the Divine handiwork. And because we are created in the image of God, we celebrate the freedom to play our part in the natural miracle of life. Jesus said: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” (John 15:16)
Emanuel Swedenborg maintained a sophisticated garden in Stockholm that still attracts many visitors. It leads from the outside walls through three gates into successively more beautiful gardens representing what he saw as the three states of heaven: natural, spiritual, and celestial—the last being the innermost heaven displaying the ost spectacular profusion of color. Swedenborg believed that for a person who embraces goodness and truth, the evolution into ever more inward states of delight and joy never ceases. I truly believe that. Toiling in, or simply contemplating a garden, merges our outer being with our inner being. In God’s garden, we find spiritual plants growing abundantly: holiness, grace, strength, healing, forgiveness, restoration, reconciliation, wisdom, and love. Let us tend our spiritual gardens every day so that we may sow the seeds yielding ripe fruit not only in our lives, but in those of others as well.