~The Garden of the World~
And Jesus said unto him, “Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
~ Luke 23:43
Dear Members and Friends,
Do you remember the old Phil Collins song about being generous to the poor? It said, “Wait. Think twice. It’s just another day for you and me in paradise.” Most of you already know that I just got back from a four-night stay in Hawaii—paradise! It’s funny how it worked out. Michelle was invited to lead a suicide prevention workshop in Honolulu. All the Polynesian islands have high suicide rates—which seems ironic, doesn’t it? Her expenses were paid, and I just happened to have the Delta “sky miles” to tag along at very little cost. The kids stayed with grandparents, and we had a spectacular trip: the mountains, the beaches, the fresh seafood and tropical fruit, and the overwhelming beauty of the place. It’s a casual beauty that almost tries to go unnoticed. Graceful acacia trees spread their broad limbs in the shape of enormous mushrooms, rocky coasts, steep green hills that plunge into the sea. Around each bend in the road, beauty waits…not caring if you see it, as if you could miss it. It rained several times each day, for about thirty seconds at a time. At Michelle’s prodding, I faced an old fear and went snorkeling on a coral reef—the kind of spot where great white sharks love to hunt. The incandescent, brightly colored fish swam right alongside us. But I’m really more a creature of the hills than the sea, and so whenever Michelle had to work, I made for the mountains. One day I trekked a full thirteen miles, in the blazing sun, out to the westernmost tip of Oahu. I thought I’d have the place to myself, but there’s no solitude on Oahu. Despite precautions, I burned red as the tomatoes ripening in our garden back home. And that old garden was calling to me. By the time we left, I was ready to come back. It sounds almost crazy to say it, but as the plane descended into gray clouds over Pittsburgh, a part of me sighed happily. I’d grown tired of all that glaring light. What is “paradise” if not the place that makes you sigh with joy and relief?
It seems unthinkable that there could be suicide in Hawaii. And yet, a loss of hope and social connections can occur anywhere people betake themselves, even in a so-called paradise. Wherever we go, we tote all our inner “stuff” along with us. Besides, after just four nights, I began to see how paradise could lose its bloom. The Bible only uses the word paradise three times, and all it means is “park” or—get this!—“garden.” Paradise is a garden. And we all know, gardens aren’t just for lolling and strolling. They’re for working, and planting, and harvesting, and loving. They’re for investing our hopes and energies. Gardens are work. Paradise, whatever it may be, must entail cultivation and labor, for there is no love without these. We will eventually lose interest in things and places that ask little of us. But in this great garden of the world, we’ll come closer to paradise if we can put our hand to some meaningful task to give us purpose and satisfaction. Otherwise put, what do your faith and your church ask of you? Maybe mission is paradise.
In Christ’s Peace,