“The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there He put the man whom He had formed.” So begins the story of the Garden of Eden in the Bible. As with all the stories of the Bible, Swedenborg tells us, this one has a deeper meaning which was revealed to him by the Lord. It has to do with each one of us personally and mankind as a whole. So what does the Garden of Eden represent? It is the paradise state that God plants within the mind of each one of us from our birth – the intuitive knowing that we are loved and safe that is reinforced by the angels who surround us then and the hands that nurture us.
The Tree of Life in the centre of the garden is the dwelling place of God at our core – the innocent trust and bliss of a life dependent on God and the love and support of others in harmony with Him. We leave Eden because we tend to choose the other tree which represents believing that we are like God and are good and wise of ourselves. We may have left the Eden paradise of our childhood states, but they are still hidden within us. God still dwells within us and is our Source of spiritual strength and, with our cooperation and effort, the means of our regeneration (being made new). If we choose to stay connected to our Source, shunning evils as sins against Him, there is the promise of forgiveness and a future paradise state at the end of our journey (the end of the Bible) with the Tree of Life once again at the centre of our lives (see John’s vision in the Book of Revelation 21 & 22).
I love going to parks where ancient trees grow and choosing one of those magnificent old trees to sit under. Looking with awe up into those mighty branches you get the feeling of being in the presence of deep wisdom and strength, gained through the experiences of a life well lived. It is not surprising that, in the Bible, people are likened to trees:
“Happy are those who reject the advice of evil men, who do not follow the example of sinners or join those who have no use for God. Instead, they find joy in obeying the Law of the Lord, and they study it day and night. They are like trees that grow beside a stream, that bear fruit at the right time, and whose leaves do not dry up. They succeed in everything they do” (Psalm 1:3).
A tree is often shaped by the environment it has grown up in -things beyond its control like the amount of warmth and light it was exposed to, whether it received sufficient water or not and whether conditions were sheltered or harsh. It is the same with us as little children. All children need a warm, loving environment in which to develop. They need wise guidance or they grow out of control and they need protection from harm in order to thrive. They need to know that there are people who love them that they can trust. Harsh treatment can inflict wounds on our spirits that, if not dealt with or healed at the time, can turn into knots that we carry with us throughout life – feelings that we are bad or different and inadequate. Just as a tree exposed to harsh conditions becomes rough and twisted, people react in different ways to compensate for these feelings – some lashing out at others weaker than themselves, others giving in and allowing themselves to be taken advantage of, for instance.
What sort of tree are you? Do you stand alone or are you supporting and supported by others? Do you reach out to your Creator for His guiding light and warmth to flow through you or are you bent on doing everything on your own strength? Do you drink from the clear waters of the river of life (the Lord’s truth) or from the murky waters of public opinion? If there are some knotty problems blocking the flow of happiness in your life, finding a support group of some kind or a good counsellor could be a positive way for God’s love to heal you.
In God’s garden there are as many different trees as there are people. How boring it would be if all trees in the world were exactly the same and, by the same token, if all the people in the world were exactly the same. Each one of us has been shaped by our environment, our life experience and our reactions to it. We were each born with a purpose intended to manifest God’s life and love in a unique way. In order to blossom and live healthy, fruitful, fulfilling lives, we need to be nurtured. It is never too late to reach for the light and seek the warmth and support that we need to become the “tree” we were designed to be. We can each look within and connect back with that Divinely planted seed of goodness at our core from which we came, and we can look to see and nurture that goodness in others even though it may have been covered over. It is the one life that links us all together to our Source.