Every time I see a box of Bible story felts, I remember the garden. I hear those stories, stories I learned and repeated. I remember childhood safe places and I remember “In the beginning.”
With time I’ve learned to hear those stories in new ways. I can note the silences in each history now: the missing characters in each tableau, the counterpoints and undercurrents, the untold, the angst.
Zoom in. See the fruit forbidden as if cookies before dinner, blame and bifurcation like crumbs around the mouth.
There are voices.
Where are you? I missed you.
“It wasn’t me.”
“She. The one you gave me.”
My parents are no longer whole, and they stand at the gate of the garden uncertain, small. I am with them. I am them.
I stand at the gate of the garden, not ready to leave, not able to stay. My skin shimmers, reflecting the crossed flames blocking the retreat we don’t launch. There are messengers overshadowing me, sentries between me and the grass that used to spring to meet my feet.
I look up at these messengers and study their faces. As I stare, their faces morph, and each of them speaks a message to me.
Marcus Garvey fills his lungs with power: “Liberate the minds of men and ultimately you will liberate the bodies of men.” He morphs into a pillar of a woman with three-inch Afro coils cresting her head.
Octavia Butler weaves parables with each blink. She proclaims the Earthseed verse, each phrase like lightning: “Every child / Is cast from paradise / Into growth and new community / Into vast and ongoing / Change.”
“Every child?” I ask.
Other messengers manifest in her place and also speak.
Iranaeus: “Gloria Dei vivens homo, vita autem hominis visio Dei. God’s glory is the living human; the human life is the vision and manifestation of God.”
John J. McNeill: “Bad psychology is bad theology and vice versa. Good psychology is good theology and vice versa. Good morality and good psychology cannot be in conflict.”
Toni Morrison: “Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein: “The limits of your language mean the limits of your world.”
While they speak, I’m silent. I don’t seek to tune them out; I couldn’t. They speak over me yet not against me, and the more they speak, the less vital the old world seems. The trees of the garden sway and the air around us is still.
Jeremiah: “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Eleanor Roosevelt: “We need imagination and integrity, courage and a high heart. We need to fan the spark of conviction, which may again inspire the world as we did with our new idea of the dignity and worth of free men.”
Desmond Tutu: “We are different so that we can know our need of one another.”
Paul: “He who plants and he who waters are one—we are God’s colleagues.”
Sue Monk Kidd: “Embrace the holiness of every natural, ordinary, sensual dying moment.”
Do not seek communion. Remember it.
My head tingles and I feel the heft of a garden tool in my fist. I look down at my hand and then back up at the messengers. The garden tool is a pen. I roll it across my fingers.
“Work with us,” Jeremiah says to me. “Your dreams are not enough.”
And so we turn away from the garden of simplicity, heels imprinting rough ground as we head toward the hills. The prophet speaks to me of knowing beyond instruction, wholeness beyond analysis, restoration beyond justice, peace beyond protection—more safety, more trust, more progress for us all.
I blink in the sunlight and wipe grit out of my eyes. The wilderness claims me.
I know I can’t return to the garden. I know we can’t. But with time, post-grief, I do not wish to.
My body teaches me how to work the land, as if it has always known, and it draws dirt grooves for new seeds wherever we walk. We plant and water this wild world, buds of possibility breaching the soil. I don’t know whether these buds will all survive rains, droughts, or frosts. But spring does come, and fruit will bear, and we’ll eat the harvest as family.