The Kingdom Is a Garden

Last night I awoke to the sound of thunder and the pelting of rain against the glass of my bedroom window. It was our first summer storm, the kind in which it seems some great dam in heaven fails and the long-pent-up waters rush down on us all at once.

The noise gave me a delicious shiver, for I’ve been longing for rain. My garden has been needing fresh water from above – hours of it – to soak deeply into the planting beds that have been, for many weeks, sprinkled thinly and superficially by human artifice of rubber hose and metal pipe.

This morning I surveyed the results with satisfaction. One hard shower and the air of fatigue that weeks of drought had inflicted on the leaves of the powderpuff were gone. The delicate scent of the night-blooming jasmine greeted me so sweetly. And the flamboyant tree looked positively eager to crown itself in wild orange blooms and live up to its name.

I have not been a gardener for very long, but you can tell I’m enchanted with my garden. Besides the beauty outside the window that exalts me when I’m working at the kitchen sink, my garden has opened a new window for me into the mind of God. If that sounds grandiloquent, I assure you it is not. It is the simplest and most natural thing in the world.

When Jesus walked among us long ago, the people who were so fortunate as to hear his human voice were gardeners, all of them. Some of them by profession: the vine tenders and the olive growers. But all of them by their membership in an agrarian society. The words that He spoke and the parables that he used to pry open their hearts were finely attuned to his listeners’ intimate knowledge of the way nature, and nature’s God, operates in the world of earth, rain, and seed.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:1-2)

With these words Jesus gave us an image of the kingdom of God as a spiritual garden, in which each soul is a valuable plant or tree carefully tended for its own sake. Busy with my shears, shovel, and watering can, I have come to see how a garden is the result of the judicious hand of a loving caretaker applied to the teeming potentiality of life – a hand that plants, guides, arranges, feeds, and prunes, and even exterminates the noxious enemies that threaten.

Ia Orana Maria (Hail Mary) by Paul Gauguin, 1891 [The MET, New York]

It is at the hands of a gardener, not growing unchecked in a wilderness or thirsting in the desert, that a plant or tree achieves the fullness of its beauty and potential. It is in a garden that a plant flowers in abundance, and a tree hangs heaviest with fruit.

A garden is a safe and walled-in space in which order and form – enabling principles – are imposed with love.  In the garden in which you and I are planted, the gardener knows our highest possibilities and works incessantly to help us manifest them. He aims to delight in the perfect fruit and the glorious flower that each one of us will produce when he has done sunning and showering his grace on us.

He doesn’t hesitate to blow down or shake off our dead leaves and useless branches, or even to use his pruning shears with surgical precision. He does these painful things with great tenderness, and for our good – a fact good to remember when we are tempted to run away to the desert, or throw everything up to live wildly in the jungle.

I reflect on these things in my garden, as I lavish care on a seedling, positioning it just so and out of the killing glare of the tropical sun. I mull over my beautiful guava tree that runs a little wild in June. And it hurts me, but I lop off this unruly branch and that one. They sap her strength, you see, and draw away the nutrients she needs to make her sweet fruit.

The new tendrils of the purple queen vine I carefully tie up to the frame I’ve built for her support, so that before long her dappled trunk will be able to withstand the worst of the summer storms.

I am remorseless as I wage war against the pests that threaten the young and tender leaves and the first defenseless blooms.

In my gardening, I have come to feel the security and happiness of knowing myself to be a small tree in God’s garden. If I am attentive to my plants, how attentive is God in his infinitude of love?

He showers the spirit of life itself on me when I am parched and walls me off from the evils that surround me. I can almost feel how carefully he trains me up and supports me, and how he shelters me from the harshness of the elements. I feel the cut of his heavenly sheers without resentment now, because if he thinks that part of me must go, well then it must.

I can’t even begin to imagine how glorious a flower I will one day become, under his care.


Grazie Christie, M.D. is a Senior Fellow with The Catholic Association, and the hostess of Conversations With Consequences, an EWTN radio show. She lives with her husband and five children in Miami, Florida, where she practices radiology.