The following is a reflection from Jane Lee Wolfe, St. James, Woodstock parishioner and Director of Bog Chapel, Inc. an educational not-for-profit organization that focuses on the spiritual health and spiritual fitness of human beings, from youth through old age.
How do we make the changes in our lives that would allow us to live in the Garden of Eden? We “think” it sounds like a lovely place with all its plants and creatures and good weather all the time, but we can’t even drum up the energy to stand at the gate and look at it, much less return to our birthplace.
Why is that? Because unconsciously we know that we have to change in order to return. To live in the Garden of Eden we have to give up wanting everyone to be just like us. We are happy in our orchard, all oranges, all fruits like us. We don’t want to live in that messy place where everything grows and overgrows and some of it is dangerous. We love our orchard and we can build fences against invasive species and not nice creatures, particularly other human beings we don’t like or are unused to.
The Garden of Eden has everything in it. We have to be smart and honest to live there. We have to learn that some of the plants are toxic to us, but not all; and those that are toxic to us may be life-giving to other living things. Same with some of the creatures – some support and enhance human life, some support and enhance other forms of life. We have to learn this and respect it. We do not – cannot – simply eliminate the dangerous and inconvenient.
We also have to learn how to repent in order to live in the Garden of Eden. Living there does not mean you will never harm another thing or lie about something. It means you will have the honesty and integrity and sense of safety enough to be honest about what you’ve done wrong and turn yourself in to the authority of the Garden, namely God. You present yourself in chains and handcuffs that you have willfully put on. I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned; and I know my wickedness only too well.
Are we willing to repent? To walk into God’s presence and say, yes I killed something, yes, I destroyed another person’s confidence, yes, I got angry and took my anger out on someone I should not have? Are we willing to be so honest that we do not lie about our sins? That we honor them and ask to be forgiven for them? Are we willing to lose the risk of banishment from the Garden for a future we do not know and cannot understand? Or would we rather continue lying, down-playing our sinfulness (it really wasn’t that bad), and saying to ourselves, oh well, basically I’m a pretty good person so it doesn’t matter that much.
We must learn that repentance is a sign of health. Running away from sin is a sign of terrible weakness and what’s worse, a sign of a badly damaged sense of self; a sense of self that says human beings, especially you, are horrible, worthless creatures that need no nurture but only to be reined in and punished for impertinence. This heresy is widespread: Take statements that say you should love God and your neighbor – period. This is a deep perversion of the great commandment. You are to love God with all your being and your neighbor as yourself. It is God, then neighbor/self: 1, 2/2, not 1, 2, 3 or what is generally spouted 1, 2 – God, neighbor, no self at all.
Your Self is beautiful, an expression of your soul. It is not your pitiful, arrogant ego trying to triumph here and there. It is humble and beautiful and self-assured in tiny ways that add up to immense holiness.
You don’t have to rein it in or punish it, you have to let it bloom and be holy and beautiful. You have to let it repent when it needs to, which will be often, but you have to let it grow, so that it can live smart and holy in its native land, the Garden of Eden into which it was born and to which it must return.