Monday, October 19, 2009

The Keeper of the Garden

One of my favorite memories from boyhood was visiting the Calvin Nursery that my mom’s sisters Pat and Gloria Gardner owned and operated in Malibu under the name of Pat's husband, Joe Calvin. As a boy, I remember my cousin Michael taking my brother and me on wheel barrel rides through acres of tropical plants, flowers, and trees. The nursery occupied three levels, and at the top of the hillside was the house where we had many family gatherings. This was a working nursery that employed as many as 10 migrant workers who my aunts housed and fed every night -- no discount store version of the real thing. It was rough around the edges...in various stages of disrepair. But it also had a sense of wonder... a horse named “Harry,” a soda machine filled with glass bottles of cola and orange crush, a majestic peach colored macaw, and lots of great hiding places for us to discover. It was a mess in some ways…but it was also wild and beautiful....

I think it's fair to say that our lives often feel like an unkempt garden, a random, chaotic mess...that even so, have a wild beauty that must be discovered and cultivated. In John 14, Jesus is preparing his disciples for his approaching arrest and his physical absence from them. The message he gives them repeatedly is “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid… I will not leave you orphaned" (John 14: 1, 18). From infancy, one of our biggest fears is to be left alone. The face of our mothers is imprinted on our brains before we can even speak the word “mama” …and it’s the absence of this face, the realization that this face can go away, that unsettles us the most. None of us wants to feel alone…abandoned…without friends or family, let alone experience the loss of someone we love.
Yet many of us have been schooled in the idea that we are essentially alone; regardless of how many relatives we have, or how outgoing we are…we are alone in the universe. Life is essentially random and without ultimate purpose – that’s the message we hear from some quarters.

On top of this, we are very aware of our own imperfections and the messiness of our lives. Paul says as much in Romans 7:24 and then cries, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” In The Shack, Sarayu (a Hindi name which means 'Wind' - a beautiful name that Paul Young gives to the Holy Spirit), takes Mack on a tour of a Garden that is just outside the cabin and down a walkway. But this is no manicured and orderly “English Garden,” this is “chaos in color,” a wild spray of “flowers… randomly planted vegetables and herbs… confusing, stunning, and incredibly beautiful” that to Mack looked like a mess (The Shack, p. 131). Like this garden, the world we live in can seem random, disorderly, chaotic, but is this the deepest truth about it? No. Scripture says there is a deeper truth: that because of sin and evil we do experience alienation from God and one another, but “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Despair is not God’s plan for us. We are not a planet of orphans…alone in the universe and without ultimate purpose. Therefore, Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid" (John 14: 1, 18).

Why should we not be afraid? Because, what seems like chaos to you and me – is a living fractal to God. The Garden that Mack sees is a mess…to which Sarayu replies, “From above it’s a fractal….something considered simple and orderly that is actually composed of repeated patterns no matter how magnified.” What’s a fractal? Scientists have discovered that fractals are complex patterns that are created by what seems to be random or chaotic movements. These complex patterns are recursive (repeating indefinitely), and beautiful to behold at every level of magnification. Examples of fractals in nature are ice crystals, clouds, coastlines, lightening, mountains, and body systems like arteries and the human brain. Click the following link to see just some of the amazing fractals that occur in nature. http://webecoist.com/2008/09/07/17-amazing-examples-of-fractals-in-nature/

I love those old Charlie Brown TV specials, and one of my favorite ones was “It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” I love the scene where Charlie Brown goes 'trick-or-treating' with his friends. “I got candy,” says Lucy. “I got an apple” says Linus. “I got a rock!” says Charlie Brown. That’s the way we feel a lot of the time…like we're the ones who got stuck with the plain, ordinary rock, the broken egg yoke. But take a look, a good look, at that rock. It's filled with mountains and valleys and plains. Put a lot of these rocks together and you get a hillside, more of them and you get a mountain, and if you have enough rocks…you get the Sierra Nevada range or even Mount Everest. It’s just a rock; but at every scale of magnification, it is a thing of beauty -- it's a fractal!

Consider our position and place in the universe. It may seem, at first glance, to be random and inconsequential. But in fact, our universe is a fractal. Five hundred years ago we could only see a tiny part of this pattern, our own sun and moon, and the planets orbiting it. Today, with modern telescopes we can see that the cluster of planets in our solar system moves within a larger cluster of stars in the milky way galaxy, and that it too is a cluster of a hundred billion stars that moves within in a supercluster of of galaxies; and that supercluster within countless a universe of hundredsd of billions of galaxies like ours, each with hundres of billions of stars.

And all this we can see because earth is uniquely positioned, at the outer rim of our own spiral galaxy, such that we have maximum viewing range of the observable universe. Imagine walking into Staples Center to see your favorite recording artist with some cheap tickets near the top of the nose bleed section; but as you enter the usher says, “Oh, we’ve been expecting you.” You follow him, puzzled, down to the stage level, passing aisle after aisle until you come to the front row, center section. “There must be some mistake,” you reply. “No Sir, as the usher motions you to your seat… “These is no mistake. These are compliments of the Management. ” Now that’s what God has done for each of us as residents of planet earth . He’s given us front row seats to the greatest show in the universe. There is no mistake. This is no freak accident, it’s a fractal!

God loves fractals – God loves bringing order and beauty out of chaos. The Bible tells us that “in the beginning there was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep; while the Wind (Ruach /Spirit) of God swept over the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’” (Genesis 1: 1-2). We see chaos. We see a “formless void”…but the Spirit sees a fractal, swirling galaxies, planets, water molecules, forests, fish and birds in formation and you and me. We see randomness, but God sees his future home…. For Jesus says that “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” When we look at our lives, like this world…we may see chaos, we may see a mess…but the Spirit of God sees “home.” When you buy a house…you don’t see a chaotic mess, you see its potential, you see it with a new paint job, a remodeled kitchen, or different furniture. God sees our potential, as he saw the potential of that “formless void” before time began; and his promise is to come and make a home in us that’s fit for the King of the Universe.

So far we’ve learned that our lives often seem to us to be an unkempt garden, a chaotic mess, but that God sees the potential, the purpose, and the end result of his magnificent plan – a living fractal. How we get from chaos…to that magnum opus, is the story of the our partnership with the Holy Spirit….

Because, the Holy Spirit desires to partner with us in the working out of God’s good plan in and through our messy lives. There is a profound promise that Jesus makes to his disciples in John 14:23: He promises that when he leaves them physically, the Advocate will be with them forever. “This is the Spirit of truth….You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (John 14: 15-17). Who is this Spirit? It is the Spirit of the Father and the Son, it is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God. This is the Advocate (Greek: Paracletos, which literally means. “one who comes alongside to help.”) The Advocate is our Partner and Counselor, the one who comes alongside to help us in our need. At a recent Christian Legal Aid Breakfast, I was moved by the testimony of a young couple that had been helped by a Christian attorney through a very painful situation. Without naming the person they simply referred to the attorney over and over again as their Wise Counselor with tears in their eyes. The same Spirit that breathed life into chaos; the same Spirit who holds the universe together by the power of his word; promises to hold us together too…and more: to be our Wise Counselor, to teach us and train us to be men and women of the Way. “He will teach you everything,” say Jesus, “and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you” (John 14:26).

After Mack’s experience in the Garden, he remarks to Sarayu, “Look at this mess…and even though it seems like lots of work still needs to be done, I feel strangely at home and comfortable here.” Sarayu replies, “And well you should… because this garden is your soul. This mess is you! Together…you and I, we have been working with a purpose in your heart. And it is wild and beautiful and perfectly in process. To you it seems like a mess, but I see a perfect pattern emerging and growing and alive” (The Shack, p. 140).

I began by sharing about my aunts’ nursery and gardening business in Malibu…a family business, messy and beautiful all at the same time; but what I didn’t know until I grew older was that this nursery was a healing place too. Fifty years ago, Pat and Gloria and Joe bought that land with my grandpa after Gloria experienced a nervous breakdown and the end of an abusive marriage. The nursery was a fresh start for them and a new life. It was a place of quiet peace after years on the road, and the pain that went with it. I realize now that my aunts were not only Gardeners by name and profession, they were the Garden that needed watering, planting, and healing by the Spirit of God; and over the years, that’s exactly what Jesus did. What the Bible says is true, we are God’s field, God’s garden, and this same Holy Spirit, this Advocate and Helper, this Keeper of the Garden loves our messy lives...it's the raw material out of which Sarayu brings forth beauty and purpose and fruitfulness to the glory of God.

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