“Paradise is at your center. Unless you find it there, there is no way to enter.”
– Angelus Silesius
In a small hilltop village in the southwest of France there is a conclave of lovely old houses tucked behind stone and iron gates dating from the 18th century. One special house sits in the center of a grove of ancient olive trees, another is surrounded by tall cedar hedges clipped in geometric forms. All these beautiful abodes are identified not by numbers, but by clever names like La Mas du Fer a Cheval (the house of the horseshoe); La Bastide de Bonheur (Abode of Happiness), Mas des Anges (house of angels) and Mas de Chouette (home of the owl). But one in particular speaks to me—simply titled, Eden.
Fragrant jasmine entwines the gates and an enormous cherry tree beckons you in, her branches heavy with sweet fruit. The aroma of the morning’s bread just out of the oven perfumes the air and one can hear the bees buzzing cheerfully around the rows of lavender. Of course there is a cute white Scottish terrier with a red bandana tied around his neck, posted at the gate, barking a happy bonjour to all who pass by. I dream of slipping past these gates and entering this lovely Eden.
Deep down every human being longs for Eden. No, it is not a geographic location, like the isles of Fiji or New Zealand or a hilltop village in France, but rather an interior landscape, a spiritual state of being, that can extend itself out into our day-to day lives and vision of a better world. Jesus said, “You will not be able to say, ‘Look here or look there,’ or ‘There it is is or here it is,’ for the Kingdom of God is within you.”
Eden is beckoning us always, but more than we would like, we are just peeking through the gate instead of making it the home for our soul. It is a challenge to abide in Eden in this imperfect world, one that is frenetic, increasingly secular, materialistic, unpredictable, often unjust and always much too short. Some will try to re-create for themselves a man-made version of Eden with money, power, sex, notoriety, and many an indulgence. Eventually, it turns to dust right before their eyes.
Eden is not achieved; it is experienced from the inside out. It is this mystical feeling that whatever is happening outside me, a little of heaven is happening within me.
Jesus told the parable of the Wedding Feast. Tables are set with fragrant bouquets of flowers, candles are glowing, a calf is roasting, wine is flowing, the bread is dripping with olive oil, milk and honey spill from jugs on the table. God is the host calling from the gate, “Come, enjoy the celebration.” But you and I pay no attention to the extraordinary invitation offered. Amidst the busy busyness, the need to perform and accumulate, the heavy weight of life’s responsibilities, the inevitable heartbreaks, and the belief that there will always be more time, we bow out of the party….the deep and wide and soul-full life God is offering us.
The human story documented in the Bible and currently being lived out in our present day lives reveals a universal internal drama, one that often occurs in secret, of exile and return, exile and return. We continually expel ourselves from our metaphorical Eden ignoring the wisdom of our souls and taking for granted our miraculous connection to God.
I can make the journey in and out of Eden in a single thought. The moment I lose my sense of wonder and gratitude for my life: I’m out of Eden. The moment I allow bitterness, resentment, and hurt in my relationships to rule my thoughts and actions: I’m out. The moment I let fear speak loud over everything else in my life, fear for my health and the health of those I love, fear for finances, fear for my kid’s safety and wellbeing, fear for the state of this world, fear of death: I’m out. The moment I allow social media (texting, facebook, Instagram) to substitute for pressing flesh, giving hugs, and face to face, “I love you’s” with my key people: I’m out. The moment I suffer a great disappointment and I let it define me or stop me: I’m out. The moment I let go of God’s hand, choose the secular over the sacred, ignore the needs of my soul, relegate God for safe-keeping to the fringes of my life—- until I need something: I’m out.
There is another reality just beyond the hedge, the stone gate, the secular, the imperfect and the broken…..an Eden where God is offering you and me inner peace, absolute truth, a chance for wholeness, day-to-day healing, contentment, delight, forgiveness, beauty, hope…lots of hope.
If I stepped through the gates of your intimate life, or you entered mine, would there be a sign on the soul’s gate, marking this way to “Eden?” Does where you live in mind, body, spirit, geography, dreams and faith have something of heaven planted in it?
Sometimes, not in a while, only in glimpses?
I am convinced it is God’s hope that we would live more, if not, most of our lives in that sweet space of balance, peace, contentment, and deep joy. Always God is trying to help us discover the Eden within through our day-to-day life experiences, certain people placed on our path, significant relationships and even passings with strangers, in nature and in prayer, via that secret inner tug for more of the sacred and serene, and in the wisdom of the saints and saviors who have walked the path before us. God is also leaving bread crumb trails of hope everywhere— in the easy and the challenging, in the setbacks and the triumphs. Can we follow the treasure map?
Daily it requires discipline to abide in the spiritual space of Eden. I wish it was a mystical snap of the fingers, but it is not. What I do know is that we all live as if there will always be more time. The reality is all we have is this moment. Instead of composing a list of New Year’s resolutions this year, make a list of the essentials to living the life you want to live now. If your soul craves more time with family and friends, have the courage to make them a priority. You cannot negotiate with time. Your kids will grow up and leave the nest. Your parents will not always be around. Your marriage will dry out on the vine if not tended. To have a friend, you have to be a friend. Politely say no to your work, your iPhone, your to do list, your Netflix. Your mantra in 2019 is no regrets! Take care of your body so your soul can relish the full experience. When your spirit longs for connection with something more, and it will, read, study, ask questions, reach out to God, spend time in nature, love and allow yourself to be loved. You will be so surprised what happens when you include God in the mundane and ordinary of your life. God is quite the sage friend and loyal ally. See prayer as an ongoing conversation that ebbs and flows with the narrative of your life. No one is in charge of your life, but you. Slow down in 2019 and listen to what your soul is asking of you. Eden is calling to you and me. May we spend this year discovering it, and living often from this place.
Live in Hope,