Tending Paradise

for Nick and Rachel, who gifted my friend Helen and I, with a weekend in their Artist’s cottage in Rye, which was rainswept, ancient, healing and full of enchantment. A place to enjoy creativity and much thought.

Some time later, I attended a contemplative art day with Sr Sheila, who suggested we create some work on the theme of “Gardens”.

These three poems were the ones I wrote on that day. They are now a gift to you, as a thankyou for that therapeutic weekend, as we arrive at the beginning of the great Triduum; the three days of the greatest of all healing stories, that began in a garden long ago.

I remember that someone once told me that the word Therapy, came from the Greek and that it had three related meanings;

To honour the gods
To cultivate a garden
And a process of healing

Sometimes, I wonder why God “takes so long”, but then I discover that there has always been a good reason. Recently, I went to the Carmelite Church in Kensington, where you enter for confession through the wooden doors in the old fashioned style.

I wasn’t too sure why I was writing about confession on our writing day about gardens, but it soon emerged through the foliage!

The First Poem

Part One – God Speaks

You are too frightened to enter my garden.
I think you fight the tangles in your own.

I cannot rush the thorn trees in a frenzy
You’d only find your own heart
Bruised and torn.

And so I wait alone and think of a garden
The garden that I tended long ago
Before we met.

Part Two

I saw an old man
Or so I thought

Thin and tall
Enter the wooden door

I only saw his back
And the long brown robe.

I entered through another door and knelt
At the lattice gate.

He was waiting
His eyes turned from me
His ear attentive

He was very young
He looked like a King

The finest features
The most poised of profiles.

What African country
He had come from
I could not identify.

I told Him all that
Was on my heart.

Through all
My tangles
He waited

I had the full attention of the King.

“My sister”, he said

(Such unexpected words,
So natural to Him,
An accent I had never heard)

“These are very complex issues.
Who can tell where one life ends
And another person’s life

We live so often in the
Face of near

But we can persevere”.

He took them one by one,
The stones from the dry path.

“Think of the great Teresa,
Even she, who felt she knew
What she was called by God to do
Was often faced with
Insurmountable difficulties.

But we can know, my sister,
When we pray, that God can
Open a window
and we see things suddenly
in a wholly new
and unexpected way”.

To Cultivate a Garden

When we were little
We would make Japanese Gardens
out of a tea tray and a jam jar lid

The tray we’d fill with soil,
Moss from the trees would be grass
And gravely stones, the garden path.

Twigs would be trees
And the bright round jam lid filled with water
Was a shining pond.

How proud we were of our minute creations
What delight they gave us

As imaginary birds
Drank from the water source.

We were queens of a greening realm
That smelt of earth.

And all the blossoms we would fling in showers
Would fill our gardens with a feast of flowers.

A Process of Healing

The town of Rye is crowned by a tower
A stronghold from the eleven hundreds.
Fortress-strong for a thousand years,
It stood against the French and other brash invasions,
from rough raiders to wild pirates and the odd rum smuggling poor.

Within its walls they built a woman’s prison
Where, on bread and water and a Bible diet
They would do penance for their crime of being poor and
Having stepped outside the rules designed by men,
And men with money too, let’s note.

But just outside the prison door
Another than a jailor’s hand
had planted a herb garden
In the ancient style.

And from the look-out in the
Unforgiving tower
I looked down on the garden and the jail
And wondered at the strange arrangement.

There, in early spring
In winds awash with storms
No fragrance rose from the green plants
Vying with the over-riding dearth.

The brown and tangles
Far surpassed the green
But round the plants a trellis framework stood
And made a shelter
That lent hope a shape.

Did they in Victorian years
In summer days, peer out
From the dour jail
And breathe in air.. the marjoram and rue
The rosemary and lavender.

Remorse and wild impossibility,
Stone impasse and the scent of flowers.

Vulgar laughter in the cell and tower
As those despairing of a life of justice
Jibe at fate and make
A joke of dreams.

And yet I wonder
If the garden grew
In such proximity
That their gaze could fall
On something loved and tended
Though so small

And if they knew
a rustling or a savour

Of the One who tends the medicine
For the Fall.

One Comment

  1. WOW! Sarah!! These are INCREDIBLE poems. You manage to paint pictures with words with such ease! I was especially stirred by the following section:

    "Through all
    My tangles
    He waited

    WOW! To wait deeply… what a thought. I love IT!!
    Please keep writing and posting and publish an anthology – it will help save me a lot of time when I am considering what to buy people as presents!!

    Love xxx
    Helen x

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