Saturday, 17 March 2012

The Garden of Spiritual Direction

What can we find in a huge public garden that has been landscaped?

Signposts pointing towards food and beverage, toilets, car parks, etc. Signposts are for first timers to the garden because they do not know where to find the places that meet their current needs and how to get there. We do not look at the signpost before the need to find a location arises; we look at it at the moment of a crossroad, at the moment of needing to make a decision, at the moment of need. Signposts are also for those who have not visited for a long time and have forgotten the locations and directions. They are also for those who have been coming but have new needs and new locations they want to visit and explore. We need not follow the signs to get around when we are familiar with the place. We can take short cuts.

But what connects signpost to signpost? Paths. We dont just look at the signpost and stand there. We walk down the path in the direction we are told will get us to our destination. The paths aren't just a pavement for us to take us to our destination. They are curved and not straight because they do not just serve one purpose of getting us to point B. They weave between other landscapes so that as we are walking, we can also admire the natural beauty around us and feel connected with God's creation in nature. However, it is rather easy for the visitor to focus only on his destination and forget the experience of the journey. Paths are not all sunny and unshaded. The plantation on its sides give shade once in a while for people who have not reached the gazebo to take a hide from the unsparing Sun. Dead leaves fall from the trees and litter the path and each day, the cleaners have to sweep them up before the whole path is covered and becomes hidden from sight. The paths must remain cleared.

There are ponds to sit by and relax; memories and beauty that people want to capture on camera, in drawings and paintings. 

Life flourishes in the garden. There are squirrels and birds and creepy crawlies making the plants and the soil their homes to rest, nest, grow and live out their vocation. The ponds are also home to others living things. Different parts of a garden as different homes for different ways of living but all share the one common function of supporting life.

There are the gazebos - resting points. People sit there to rest after a tiring walk before making off to return home or to continue the walk. People who know one another gather there to interact, deepen their relationships and to find solace in good company. Gazebos are not only situated at intervals spread out across a route. They are also specifically placed where there usually is beautiful scenery to admire, allowing visitors to soak in the beauty of his surroundings while resting or chatting. They are thus a structure that facilitates rest, comfort and the building of relationships. Not forgetting it becomes a shelter in rain and thunder storms. 

One recurring feature in a garden is a location map, which with big, red fonts, point out "You Are Here". A map tells visitors where they are, in relation to the entire garden, and what the other parts and attractions in the garden are. It is point of reference, of checking where one has covered, where one has left out, where else one might want to go. It is a point of decision. And a visitor asks, "Do I want to continue walking?" "Do I want to go to the places I've yet to cover?" "Do I want to revisit any place?" "Where do I wanna go next?" The answers to these questions are needed for people to know what to look out for on the signposts. 

But a location map is also a point where people stop at when they are lost. In a garden, there are all sorts of people with different purposes and destinations, people of different age and backgrounds, nationalities and languages, and abilities to read maps. What is most daunting about map-reading is that looking at a map, we may know where we are and where is the location of our destination but if we are in the middle of the garden, without knowing our north and south, we will not know to go left or right. Which end (they are at opposite sides) is our destination at? We then have to look around and identify what is familiar that we can also find on the map and then make a cross reference to figure out what is in which direction. In a garden, signposts and maps provide direction but it is the visitor that has to also make the ultimate effort to walk, explore, find. A lost visitor may benefit from another who is familiar with the way and can even tag along if they are both going in the same direction.

There are waterfalls in a garden too! One of the most beautiful sights. Cool refreshing water to uplift the spirit. Water is always gushing and never stagnant. There is always movement, wind generated as a result to cool on a scorching hot day.

Bridges provide a secure stepping stone to cross the body of water that is otherwise difficult and at times impossible to cross. 

A beautiful garden is one that is not cluttered. There are empty grass patches for people to picnic on. Benches as stop-points to sit on to rest and to appreciate the beautiful surroundings and for people to chat. 

Lamps light up the paths at night and there are those aimed at trees along the way too. Night or day, visitors may still enjoy a relaxing walk while still being able to view the surroundings.

All these are man-made landscaping but nonetheless, they all rely on God - His gift of life, His providence and sustenance of life, His law of gravity in the falling water, His principle of light travelling in straight lines that casts shadows.

The thing about gardens that open to the public is that users may not be always responsible although there are dustbins to encourage against littering, notices planted to remind against feeding pond animals with improper food, etc. People will continue to smoke even though signs are put up to inform of this prohibition. It is a collective effort of everyone who must exercise consideration for other visitors. Yet, a garden will always be subjected to irresponsible users. Thus, the need for constant maintenance. Parts of the garden may be closed too from time to time for upgrading works to improve, to tear down and rebuild. It is not that there was originally anything gravely wrong with the nice landscaping but we need to keep up anyhow.

And what is the point of opening a garden to the public when the garden is tucked in an inaccessible location beyond the reach of public transportation? When only selected few who are rich and have cars can access?

A well landscaped garden needs to have its own devices to withstand the forces of nature. Drainage systems have to be put in place to allow access water to flow out and prevent flooding and killing of trees and safety homes during heavy downpours, especially the unexpected ones. The garden can continue functioning as it was meant to.

There will be people coming into this garden who are likeable and otherwise. Yet, being opened to the public means that all are welcomed. 

If I am this garden with all its landscapes...

17 March 2012, Saturday

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