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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.
St. Francis of the Koi Pond?
(via @trentgilliss)

St. Francis of the Koi Pond?

(via @trentgilliss)

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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.
- Vigen Guorian's garden in VirginiaVigen Guroian, from The Fragrance of God
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I found in the woods in Maryland a wildflower, the bloodroot flower. It blooms very early in the spring, around the time of Lent and Easter, depending on when Easter falls. The reason why it’s called the bloodroot is because the root itself, if you press it, you break it, you’ll get a red dye that can be used as a dye. But the bloom itself only lasts a day. But it comes out of the sepulcher of the earth. And what it leaves is these heart-shaped leaves. And that is a microcosm of resurrection for me.

I have a wild imagination. You know, I mean, I’ve described the stakes in my vegetable garden in the wintertime as crosses on which bodies are draped, you know. I don’t mean that in a gory sense. The geese in the sky remind me of the crosses that pilgrims have carved into ancient Christian sites. I think there are signs of the cross all over creation. How do you account for that? Well, clearly, we’ve forgotten, we’ve forgotten paradise, we forget God. And that’s why I think we have scripture to remind us.

-

Bloodroot PrintVigen Guroian, from his interview with Krista Tippett in On Being's "Restoring the Senses: Gardening and an Orthodox Easter"

Guorian is Professor of Religious Studies in Orthodox Christianity at the University of Virginia and author of The Fragrance of God and Inheriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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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 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.

Vigen GuroianThere 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 twentieth 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.

In closing this week, 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.

Vigen Guroian's gardenFrom 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."
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A Declaration of Flowers: Thoughts on Byron Herbert Reece’s “Easter”

by Christopher Martin, guest contributor

Byron Herbert Reece - His Poems and Their Setting in North GeorgiaThe farm and now heritage center of Byron Herbert Reece, who lived and wrote in the Choestoe area of Union County, Georgia. (photo: UGArdener/Flickr, CC by-NC 2.0).

It’s about as simple as poems come:

Easter is on the field:
Flowers declare
With bloom their tomb unsealed
To April air.

Little lambs
New as the dew shake cold,
Beside their anxious dams:
Easter is on the fold.

Its simplicity shouldn’t be confused with sentimentality, though. Today, little lambs, blossoming flowers, and the like are stock symbols of the season, largely taken for granted, appropriated by salesmen to be consumed by us. We buy stuffed toy lambs, chocolate lambs, Hallmark cards with pictures of lambs. It’s not my point to say whether this is right or wrong, but it is clearly sentimental.

Because Easter is a sentimental and therefore commercialized holiday, it’s all too easy to read Reece’s poem through pastel lenses, to imagine chicks and bunnies at the feet of the lambs, to imagine the lambs frolicking and stopping to sniff the blossoming flowers. But I don’t think it’s a sentimental poem at all.

Byron Herbert Reece wrote “Easter” in a setting far removed from the commercialized holiday we know today — sometime around the middle of the last century in a north Georgia valley bounded by mountains and crossed by the Nottely River, in a farming community called Choestoe. Reece himself was a small-scale farmer who worked a piece of bottomland alongside rhododendron-veiled Wolf Creek. As such, the flowers and lambs in his verses are not abstract ones. They weren’t conceived in the mind of an entrepreneur to be born in a Chinese factory; they are flowers and lambs from nowhere but the dew-wet hills of Georgia. The poet saw the blossoming of peach trees, service trees, and laurel. He watched the shivering newborn lambs owned by a Choestoe neighbor for reasons far beyond sentiment.

If “Easter” is not a sentimental poem, then, what is it? The next temptation, I think, is to read it as a symbolic poem, to see the blossoming flowers and the lambs as signs of new life with the obvious correlation to Christ’s resurrection. But I don’t think that’s quite right, either.

Reece was a practicing Christian, to be sure — even filling in for his preacher from time to time — but he was also too good of a poet to build a poem upon cliché, and the great cliché of Easter is that the vitality of spring represents the vitality of the risen Christ. To see the cycling of nature as nothing more than a religious symbol is to live on another plane. I think Reece understood, with Thoreau, that “heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” And so Reece does something lovely with this poem: He turns the usual metaphor around.

“Flowers declare / With bloom their tomb unsealed / To April air,” he writes. The “tomb unsealed” is an allusion to Christ’s death and resurrection, of course, but it is the tomb, rather than the blossoming flowers, that serves as symbol here. In the same way, it is Easter itself that blesses the sheepfold, and not the other way around.

Flowers and lambs, then — and by extension all created things — have worth independent of doctrine. Doctrine, at its best — and in this case the doctrine of the resurrection — sheds light on the holiness of this world. Reece would’ve known that Mary Magdalene, the first to see the risen Christ, mistook him for a gardener. Resurrection abounds if we would but look.


Christopher MartinChristopher Martin is a graduate student at Kennesaw State University. His writing has appeared in New Southerner, Still, Loose Change, and Share.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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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."
Comments
Cycles of Life and Daffodils Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer

"Last year at this time, I passed this field of daffodils every day going to visit my aunt who was dying. As the spring progressed and the first shoots of the daffodils appeared, I saw the changes each day riding by as the buds appeared. The flowers bloomed and then, of course, finished their amazing show and vanished back into the earth. She died soon after.
The field once again turned to a level green field of grass. This year I’ve been taking the same daily ride, but this time for my uncle. The  daffodils were back this year in all their glory. The cycle and our journey continues.”

We received this touching photo and reflection from Ruth Govatos in Wilmington, Delaware in response to our call-out for pictures on how you are spiritually nourished by gardening and growing things from the soil. Share your photos with us.

Cycles of Life and Daffodils
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer

"Last year at this time, I passed this field of daffodils every day going to visit my aunt who was dying. As the spring progressed and the first shoots of the daffodils appeared, I saw the changes each day riding by as the buds appeared. The flowers bloomed and then, of course, finished their amazing show and vanished back into the earth. She died soon after.

The field once again turned to a level green field of grass. This year I’ve been taking the same daily ride, but this time for my uncle. The daffodils were back this year in all their glory. The cycle and our journey continues.”

We received this touching photo and reflection from Ruth Govatos in Wilmington, Delaware in response to our call-out for pictures on how you are spiritually nourished by gardening and growing things from the soil. Share your photos with us.

Comments

Restoring Life’s Balance Through Soil and Friends

Christopher Calderhead, guest contributor

Christopher CalderheadI live in a rented New York City apartment. The only outdoor space I have access to, besides the sidewalk, is the paved alley alongside my building. And, like many of my neighbors, I use this shared outdoor space for all sorts of activities that don’t fit in a small apartment. As I write, a teen-aged neighbor is practicing his Junior ROTC drill in the alley, and I can hear the thud and clank of his rifle stock as he learns to twirl it in tempo.

It is not an unpleasant place to live. But there is nothing green — no soil, no grass, no plants of any kind — except the street trees I can see from my front window.

This year when my friend Tamara invited me to share her backyard garden, I was delighted. She and her husband Karl have always been incredibly generous with their space. They love nothing more than hosting dinner for 25 on improvised tables and street-find chairs.

The garden is large by city standards. The vegetable patch is 8 feet wide and almost 25 feet deep, and there’s a patch of grass, to boot.

This year, we laid out the vegetable patch together. Neat, orderly rows were prepared for tomatoes, string beans, carrots, beets, and radishes, and every kind of leafy green we could think of. There’s also an herb patch with oregano, chives, rosemary, sage, and lavender. I lobbied for nasturtiums to fill the planters on the paved part of the yard.

And last Saturday, Tamara, Karl, and I were joined by another neighbor, Heather, and we did our first planting. The herbs and seeds for root vegetables went into the ground, as well as a selection of greens. We’re probably over-ambitious, and all of us are amateur gardeners, but it was good to be outdoors on a sunny afternoon bickering over mulch and debating the merits of the soil. The elderly Greek couple next door chatted with us over the chain-link fence while they tended their own patch, with its fig trees and grape arbor.

"Spiritual" is not a word I use very much these days. It’s too nebulous, and encourages sentimentality. But I am interested in the actions that bring us back into balance, that make us whole human beings. And planting the garden with friends does that in two ways.

The most important way for me is how it brings us into a deeper sense of community and friendship. The garden is something we will share — the work of setting out the plants and tending them, as well as the pleasures that will come in a few weeks as we begin to eat the fruits of our labors. And it’s been made possible by two people who are intent on living a shared life with their friends, an antidote to the competitive and atomized culture of this difficult city we live in.

And the second: it restores balance to my life. To be able to touch the soil. To walk barefoot outdoors. To look at the weather not just as the planet’s plot to make me lose my umbrella but as a living system that will nourish — and threaten — the small plants we’ve put in the ground.

Living a city life is compartmentalized and far from natural cycles. Having a garden redresses that balance.

Christopher Calderhead is an artist and writer living in Astoria, Queens. He is the editor of Letter Arts Review and teaches at Bronx Community College and the Pratt Institute.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on SOF Observed. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page or simply share a photo of your garden.

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Spring Growth Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
"symbiosis"by Dorothee Lang
in between tulip bulbsthe question:am i growing this gardenor is this gardengrowing me?

We received this poem and lovely tulip photos from Dorothee Lang, a writer and editor in Stuttgart, Germany who responded to our call for images and stories about the spirituality of gardening.
Spring is still in its infancy and we’re eager to hear from more of you. How are you spiritually nourished by growing things from the soil? What do you learn from tending to your garden plot that you carry forward into your lived life? Send us images of gardens you’ve nourished. Over the coming weeks, we’ll continue to feature your contributions on this blog.

Spring Growth
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer

"symbiosis"
by Dorothee Lang
in between tulip bulbs
the question:
am i growing this garden
or is this garden
growing me?

We received this poem and lovely tulip photos from Dorothee Lang, a writer and editor in Stuttgart, Germany who responded to our call for images and stories about the spirituality of gardening.

Spring is still in its infancy and we’re eager to hear from more of you. How are you spiritually nourished by growing things from the soil? What do you learn from tending to your garden plot that you carry forward into your lived life? Send us images of gardens you’ve nourished. Over the coming weeks, we’ll continue to feature your contributions on this blog.

Comments