Sunday, August 10, 2014

God’s Garden

Genesis 2; Psalm 8
August 10, 2014
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

This is the second in our series of Sundays in our Sabbath month, in which we are focusing on simple practices to remember the Sabbath. In our worship, various people are sharing their reflections, we are engaging in some experiential spiritual practices, and our music has been selected from the requested songs turned in last month by those who worship with us. Songs selected for this Sunday include “Morning Has Broken,” “In the Garden,” and “How Great Thou Art.” Sabbath practices are adapted from various resources.

Sabbath Practice: Recreation

Sabbath walk: for 30 minutes, walk slowly and silently, preferably outside in nature. If you are drawn to a leaf, a color, a stone, the fragrance of grass, the feel of the breeze or the sounds of birds or children at play, pause, take it in. Do not hurry. There is no place to go, and there is no goal. Simply take in whatever is around you. At the end of 30 minutes, notice what has happened to your spirit, your body, and your sense of time.

Set aside time for play, for enjoying your children, spouse or friends. Let this be “purposeless play” for simple enjoyment, whether it is a board game, a ballgame, or simply play with imagination, stories and laughter.
--adapted from Sabbath, by Wayne Muller

Our first reading, from the second chapter of Genesis, is actually the prologue to the story of the fall of humanity. We hear it this morning to remind us not of our frailty and finitude, but to remind us that life began in a garden where God spoke with Adam, where God walked with humans in the cool of the day. These verses help us to imagine the beauty of creation, and anticipate our own re-creation in the beauty of the world. Listen for God’s word in Genesis 2: 8-15

8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
10 A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches.
11 The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;
12 and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there.
13 The name of the second river is Gihon;
it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush.
14 The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria.
And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.

Following this reading, a member of our church, Audrey Nesbitt, shared her reflections on experiencing Sabbath moments in the garden – as a child, and in the gardens of her home as an adult.

Our second reading is the first hymn of praise in the 150 Psalms, Psalm 8.
This Psalm is rich in imagery and in theology, especially for such a short Psalm.
There is a lot that can be said about this song, but for today, simply listen to the beauty of the poetry that reflects the glory of creation, and our place in it:

1 O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

There was a metal sign my grandmother’s garden, now in my mother’s garden.
It says, “The kiss of the sun for pardon, the song of the birds for mirth.
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden, than anywhere else on earth.”[1]

I am not a gardener, by any stretch of the imagination. Bob was relieved to get here in time to save his tomato plants from my neglect. But I enjoy being in a garden, and the flowers and plants. I especially like finding a shady spot to sit and read, surrounded by all the beauty and life of growing things. I do feel God’s presence in a garden, as long as I am not trying to garden!

One of the essential meanings of Sabbath is the idea of re-creation and recreation. Whether or not you are a gardener, nearly everyone has had the experience of re-creation, when involved in some activity that brings you delight.

For the last few years, that kind of re-creating experience, in which we lose track of time and become completely absorbed in something, has been called “flow.” Here’s one definition:

“In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task, although flow is also described as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one's emotions.”[2]

Another way to describe this re-creating delight, is “living in the moment” – being present and focused on here and now. This is a perfect description of Sabbath time, even Sabbath moments. In them, we are enjoying recreation and re-creation, being made anew in the delight of the moment, without worry about what work must be done tomorrow, or what happened yesterday.

The wonderful poet Thich Nhat Hanh says it like this:
Our true home is in the present moment.
To live in the present moment is a miracle.
The miracle is not to walk on water.
The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment,
to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now.
… It is not a matter of faith;
it is a matter of practice.[3]

Our suggested Sabbath practices for this week are designed to help us do this- to be out in nature, to immerse ourselves in the present moment, to simply BE, in the world, in play, in recreation, and in re-creation. In some ways, Sabbath itself is the garden created for our joy, for our living. I encourage you, in the next few moments, to simply sit quietly and allow yourself to experience this present moment.

Listen to your breath.
Pay attention to your body – to your arms and legs, your skin, how it feels.
Look around you, at the windows, or the faces, or your hands, without evaluating, without critique, but simply with appreciation for what is.
If you see dust on the pew, simply notice and be conscious of it.
If you hear sounds, think of them as the song of the universe.
Just sit for a moment and enjoy the gift of being alive, here and now.

Introduction to “In The Garden”

The song we are about to sing is an old hymn, dating back to 1912. It has seen waves of great popularity, and has also been criticized for its sentimentality. Over the last few decades, it has somehow become known as a “funeral song.” But it is anything but that! It is a song of re-creation, and resurrection.

The man who wrote the hymn, C. Austin Miles, was a photographer. One day, in his darkroom, he read from his favorite book and chapter, John 20. In that chapter, Mary meets the risen Christ in the garden, and mistakes him, at first, for the gardener. The hymn writer, as he read this story, said, “It was though I was in a trance, as I read it that day, I seemed to be part of the scene. I became a silent witness to that dramatic moment in Mary’s life, when she knelt before her Lord and cried, ‘Rabboni!’ I rested my hands on the open Bible, as I stared at the light blue wall.”

The writer then saw a vision of John, Peter, Mary and Jesus. He concludes by saying,
“I awakened in sunlight, gripping my Bible with my muscles tense, and nerves vibrating, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I wrote as quickly as the words could be formed the lyrics exactly as it is sung today. That same evening, I wrote the tune.”[4]

I invite you to stay seated, and to open yourselves to the presence of the Risen Christ, as we sing, “In the Garden.”

[1] Dorothy Frances Gurney, “God’s Garden.” accessed 080914
[2] Flow (psychology) Wikipedia entry, accessed 080914

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