|Swans on the Minnesota River, 2-14|
Paradise, we realized, was the dominant image of early Christian sanctuaries. This both disconcerted and intrigued us. On the one hand, we were dismayed to think that early Christians appeared to be obsessed with the afterlife. On the other hand, we wondered why they covered every inch of church walls with such beautiful sights...Reading early church texts on paradise, we sought to understand the ideas worshippers held as they daily prayed, processed, stood, sang, and partook of the Eucharist in such spaces. To our surprise and delight, we discovered that early Christian paradise was something other than “heaven” or the afterlife. Our modern views of heaven and paradise think of them as a world after death. However, in the early church, paradise — first and foremost — was this world, permeated and blessed by the Spirit of God. It was on the earth. — Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker, Saving Paradise
The Kingdom of God is a secret garden. In the beginning, while still innocent, our Edenic ancestors dwelt in that garden and marveled at its splendor, even though they didn’t quite appreciate what they had. Then came the dreadful day when the garden was lost and our parents driven over its borders. “Roam the world,” Yahweh told them. “Scrabble around in the dust for awhile and think about what you once had. Remember the ripe fruit and sweet grasses as you toil and sweat. Maybe then you won’t take them for granted. One day you’ll be ready to reenter the garden. When you are, here’s something for your to chew on: You never really left it. It was inside you all along. The only thing you ever had to do was open the gates of your heart and walk through them.”
— Kerry Walters, Growing God: A Guide for Spiritual Gardeners
Did you too see it, drifting, all night on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air,
an armful of white blossoms,
a perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings: a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
a shrill dark music, like the rain pelting the trees,
like a waterfall
knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds —
a white cross streaming across the sky, its feet
like black leaves, its wings like the stretching light
of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?
— Mary Oliver, “Swan”
· Do you believe we can experience paradise in this life, or is it hidden from us?
· Have you seen moments of paradise in the church?
· Have you witnessed moments of paradise in the world?