Tasting and Touching Transcendence: Engaging All the Senses Inside and Outside of Easter
by Krista Tippett, host
I have long been fascinated by Eastern Orthodox spirituality and theology, and I’m delighted to throw a spotlight on it in this holiest of Christian seasons in our show, “Restoring the Senses: Gardening and Orthodox Easter.” In engaging all the senses — with incense, iconography, and lush hymnody — Orthodox worship conveys the incarnational message of Easter as a matter of routine.
In fact, in the Armenian Orthodox tradition of Vigen Guroian, every Sunday is in some sense a celebration of Easter. And in the passions of his life — as in the culture of generations of Armenians who came before him — he also tends the Easter themes year round through life, death, and resurrection in his beloved perennial garden.
There is a mystical collusion of the lofty and the literal, of sacred and earthly, in Guroian’s perspective. He describes how in Orthodox liturgy — as in gardening, as in life — “beginnings and endings” are repeatedly, transparently connected. And so an Armenian Easter commemorates the larger cosmic drama — beginning with the creation of the world, and human exile from the original garden of Eden, through eternity — that frames what the New Testament calls the “New Creation” in Jesus Christ.
That, of course, is high theology. But in Vigen Guroian’s imagination and in his garden, high theology is made three-dimensional, brought down in the most literal way to earth. So, for example, he describes the sacrificial labor of early spring, the time of Lent — the pruning, the mess, the clearing away that prepares him and his soil to “receive the gift.”
As he does so he not only evokes the grand themes of Easter, he vividly reveals the ancient, organic connections between many religious holidays of this time of year and nature’s cycles of fertility, decay, and regeneration.
At the same time, as Vigen Guroian remembers the aunts and uncles of his childhood, many of whom were survivors of the Armenian genocide of the early 20th century, he finds a connection between the gardens they cherished and the human tenacity to insist on the possibility of new life and resurrection out of every disaster.
I offer a handful of readings from Vigen Guroian as meditations on ancient, sometimes hidden, themes of this religious season that even the most devout of moderns might easily forget — exiled as so many of us are, by culture, from gardens.
From the essay “On Leaving the Garden” in The Fragrance of God:
“I have said on occasion that I think gardening is nearer to godliness than theology. … True gardeners are both iconographers and theologians insofar as these activities are the fruit of prayer “without ceasing.”. Likewise, true gardeners never cease to garden, not even in their sleep, because gardening is not just something they do. It is how they live.”
From the opening chapter of “On Leaving the Garden” in The Fragrance of God:
“In the Christian religion, sight has frequently been proffered as a metaphor for the experience of God. The medieval theologians spoke of the “vision of God” as the summum bonum, the highest good of the Christian life. They singled out sight as the “mystical” sense, the one that draws us deepest into communion with God. Dare I contend with souls so wise? For I have a notion that smell, not sight, is the most mystical sense. The garden has persuaded me of this.”
And, an excerpt from “Lenten Spring” in Inheriting Paradise:
“Lilies and hyacinths signify the resurrection, and I can understand why. But I have a pair of turtles that plant themselves in my garden each fall like two gigantic seeds and rise on Easter with earthen crowns upon their humbled heads. With the women at the tomb, I marvel.”
Learning from Your Garden — and Sharing
by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
It’s Easter weekend and a lot of people are away for the holiday. When we sent out our e-mail newsletter this week, one listener’s auto-reply featured this quote:
“Spring has returned. The earth is like a child that knows poems.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke
Indeed the telltale signs of spring — green shoots, the earliest hints of flower buds — arrived a bit earlier here this year in the upper Midwest. This new-found greenery, combined with the approaching Easter weekend, reminds me of a beloved program we aired this time last year with Vigen Guroian, an Armenian Orthodox theologian and master gardener. Here’s one of his quotes from “Restoring the Senses” that I particularly like:
“…the garden was a place where things came to life, you know? It was in point of fact a reaffirmation of life and, and something to sustain faith, hope and to go on living.”
I’m a novice grower of green things but an experiment last summer with cultivating seeds in a window box on my fire escape spurred my thinking about “garden lessons” that have larger life resonance — like how you have to harvest what you sow and cut away the decaying stuff so that new growth can emerge. How true.
All of this has us wondering about the spiritual wisdom others have gleaned from tending to their gardens and growing things from the soil. Show us what you’re cultivating and observing in your garden plot!
We’d love to see your photos of garden spaces and places that serve as sources of contemplation and inspiration for new ways of looking at and thinking about the deeper meaning of things.
Submit your images here, along with a brief reflection, and we’ll be featuring your images and words in a gallery on this blog in the coming weeks.
(All photos of Vigen Guroian’s gardens in Maryland courtesy of the gardener.)
Easter Reflections on Saint Julian of Norwich
by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
(photo: Leo Reynolds/Flickr)
This concept of wanting to be one with Christ’s suffering…It’s so foreign to all of us. We do whatever we can to avoid and escape pain. And her goal was to be ‘oned’…in our culture, everyone wants to leap to Easter Sunday.
—Rev. Linda Loving
With Easter approaching this weekend, we’ve dusted off a vintage SOF show, “A Program for Passover and Easter,” which includes Krista’s 2002 conversation with Linda Loving, a Presbyterian pastor, actress, and writer. For nearly two decades, Loving has been performing a one woman play about the 14th-century Christian mystic Julian of Norwich.
As a young woman, Julian of Norwich fervently prayed to embody the depths of Christ’s suffering on the cross. At the age of 30, her prayers came true when she was stricken with a near-fatal illness. In this state of physical duress, she experienced a series of 16 mystical visions that she letter penned in Revelations of Divine Love. In the embedded audio link above, Krista and Rev. Loving probe Julian of Norwich’s ideas about pain, suffering, and healing.
Julian of Norwich is probably best known for the lines: “all shall be well, and all will be well.”
And, as Loving explains in this clip, these spare words reveal the “simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Happy Easter.
Bono Rocks His Own Soul
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
I’ve been skeptical about celebrity pet charity projects and rock stars like Bono who have endorsed the RED campaign — encouraging people to shop and buy stuff in order to aid impoverished Africans. It just rings hollow to me and somewhat paradoxical, even though I recognize the good intentions behind it.
And then I read these lines from his op-ed this weekend:
It’s Lent I’ve always had issues with. I gave it up … self-denial is where I come a cropper. My idea of discipline is simple — hard work — but of course that’s another indulgence.
Then comes the dying and the living that is Easter.
—Bono, lead singer of U2
Whatever brash generalizations or dismissive attitude I may have held, that changed after reading the Irishman’s contemplative words. Even though the rest of his essay is much more poetic and eloquent, it’s that second sentence above that captured me. He recognizes the falsehood of working harder. That staying at work is often an escape, a source of leisure rather than fulfilling one’s obligations and roles of responsibility at home — the mundane tasks of being present while one’s children ask for your time or hiding behind a gadget rather than engaging your spouse. Here, the man is revealing something of himself, his ordinary self. He is speaking to something greater than his own ego — and mine.
Nearly two years ago, I enjoyed Bono’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast with President Bush. Like many others, I admired the way he was reaching out; yet, his words felt removed to me — a diplomatic performance to unite disparate parties.
But, his reflection in this essay starts from his personal core. They reveal a man who is a seeker of some greater truths, both personal and universal, that have a grounding in fallibility and transcendence. And that I respect greatly.
I can only hope that Krista could interview him for SOF. Perhaps at Trinity Wall Street? Wouldn’t that be an incredible event to witness? The likelihood is minimal, but it would be a dazzling adventure. Can anybody make it happen?!
God Has a Sense of Humor, Too
Krista Tippett, Host
In our interview for next week’s show, the very thoughtful scientist/author Jon Kabat-Zinn has intriguing and provocative things to say about the pressures and possibilities of aligning our “Stone Age minds” with 21st-century digital realities. But he also says: “This is far too serious to take too seriously.”
The most godly people I know have a sense of humor even about the most important things, and I’m convinced God does too. And that is my far too serious justification for posting two very funny Facebook takes on Passover and Easter, the holiest of holidays being observed simultaneously this week. Be blessed — and enjoy.