I just wanted to get back to the garden.
The image of a wild and perfect garden has been full of resonance for me for as long as I can remember. Maybe because it’s one of the first bible stories I heard, and maybe because I spent some early years in the countryside in Nicaragua in the 70’s, running around with scraped knees, chasing chickens, climbing mango trees and bossing around the other kids at the orphanage that my parents ran.
As a preacher’s kid, I grew up on bible stories, I only took them literally until I learned about “sentido figurado” or speaking figuratively, and that afforded me a little pocket of freedom in the Sunday church ritual. Man, did I ever need that little pocket of freedom to interpret the stories in my own way, because I felt trapped in the church routine, and I needed magic! I needed something I wasn’t finding between the pews. But, prophecies and ancient tales I could trip on, and so I did as well as I could with the materials at hand.<
The garden, the unsullied, the mythic place in our collective imagination. Is it just the utopian dreamers among us or is this a deep memory we are all trying to get back to in one way or another? The place where EROS was free, and innocent, the place before shame. Here’s Joni singing about it in 1970
That is my true dream. Without realizing it for the longest time, this was the deep vein in all my explorations, the desire to touch that sense of unsullied wholeness, erotic innocence, freedom.
For the modern person, the city dweller, the body is now the garden, the place where we can find that innocence again, where we are inseparable from nature, even if it often seems otherwise.
The body is the battleground where so much fighting happens–women’s bodies, which is to say the body of the earth. Reproductive rights, body shaming and perfectionism. A woman’s sexuality. The way our culture relates to the body continues to express the christian distrust of our physical being, even those of us who are not religious can easily get stuck worshipping at the altar of the “perfect body” and paying penance through dieting and denial of pleasure. Oh, we will have pleasure one day, we tell ourselves, when we have earned it by being good.
This Mary Oliver line gets quoted a lot, because it’s really on point:
You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees. For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body. love what it loves.
To be at ease and unashamed in the body is the most radical and healing thing I can think of. It’s worth doing whatever it takes to find that freedom.