Note: The memoir, In the Garden, portrays the author’s mother, Ellen, an ordinary woman, who became extraordinary by surrendering her will and ego to the will of God at every crossroads of her life. She chose faith over doubt, acceptance over resignation, hope instead of despair. “Not my will, but Thy will be done,” was her mantra. After marrying the love of her life, Henry, Ellen lived her entire life in the house, on the hill, on a farm in west Michigan(the site of present day Country Dairy)rooting herself in the place where she believed God had planted her. There she found her calling as a helpmeet and homemaker, transforming their home into a place of beauty and sanctuary. To view the memoir visit http://www.principia.com or http://www.janethasselbring.com. In Hoeing “In the Garden,” the author revisits her mother’s story, cultivating and digging up tidbits of truth to provide inspiration and encouragement for the challenges of her life.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…” (Revelation 21:1)
“All day thy wings have fanned,
At that far height, the cold thin atmosphere;
Yet stoop not, weary, to the welcome land,
Though the dark night is near.” (To a Waterfowl, verse 5, William Cullen Bryant)
“My parents had a little porch on the front of their house, where they loved to sit in the cool of the evening, after their daily chores were done, and look out over the countryside. The porch was built for two, though with a bit of squeezing, it could accommodate four. Here they communed with nature, tired, but happy and contented after a hard day’s work. Long after the sun set over the western hills, they sat, enjoying the cool breezes, listening to the crickets singing and the frogs croaking. On a clear day, my father, Henry, claimed he could see all the way out to Lake Michigan.” (In the Garden, pp 50,51)
Now it was approximately a 30′ drive from our house to Stony Lake and beyond to Lake Michigan and in between there were many hills, curves in the road, fields of alfalfa and corn, and apple and cherry orchards, so it would take some doing to be able to see past (or out/over) all of that to the sparkling blue waters of Lake Michigan; however, whether or not my father really could see the lake from our house is immaterial to me.
I love that my father would make such a claim. He knew the lake was there and if he and Ellen set out for the lake, it would appear at the end of the drive, in all is beauty and majesty. It was a statement of faith, and to me his claim is an allegory of his, and my mother’s, faith. Just as my father claimed he could see all the way to Lake Michigan on a clear day, so firm was my parents’ faith in God, they believed they could “see” all the way to heaven from the house on the hill, on their small farm in western Michigan.
My parents’ lives were founded on the scriptures and prayer. Spending time out of doors, they came to know and worship the God of creation. Their faith was strengthened through life’s experiences, giving them hope and comfort in the midst of trials, disappointments and challenges. When life on the farm came at them hard – an infected cow resulting in the day’s entire supply of milk being dumped, a windstorm ruining the cherry crop, fluctuating market prices resulting in minimal profits from the asparagus or bean crop, too much rain washing out newly-sown seed, and too little causing measly, shriveled up plants – my parents learned to view life in terms of eternity.
Just as my father believed that he could see all the way to Lake Michigan, but would have to drive over the hills and past the fields and orchards to get there, so it was with seeing all the way to heaven:
“Their faith enabled them to see past the cornfields, the cherry orchards, the clothesline, and the garden, to see life beyond. Their faith helped them see through the disappointments of a blighted cherry crop, rotted potatoes, diseased cows, and a sick child. Faith helped them to see, at the end of it all, their eternal inheritance.” (In the Garden, pg. 118)
My parents’ faith was not a cowardly escapism or ostrich-like wishful thinking. Not at all. The more they looked “all the way to heaven,” the more seriously they took their earthly responsibilities, but now they worked, loved, cared, and struggled with a new dimension: at the end of a hard day’s toil, they turned everything over to God.
C.S. Lewis describes it this way:
“Hope is one of the theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is one of the things a Christian is meant to do….If you read history, you will find that those, who did most for the present world, thought most of the next….Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you will get neither.” (C.S. Lewis, Christian Behavior)
Eckhart Tolle, in his book, A New Earth, describes heaven not as a place, but an inner realm of consciousness.
Emmet Fox, in his book, The Sermon on the Mount, weighs in on the subject of heaven in his explanation of the verse, “Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.”
“To ‘see’ in the sense referred to here, signifies spiritual perception, and spiritual perception means just that capacity to apprehend the true nature of being which we all so sadly lack….Heaven lies all about us – it is not a distinct locality afar off in the skies, but all around us now – …Heaven is the religious name for the Presence of God; Heaven is infinite;…Heaven is Eternity;…Heaven is the realm of Spirit,… To ‘see’ God is to apprehend Truth as it really is, and this is infinite freedom and perfect bliss.” (Emmet Fox, Sermon On the Mount, pp.37,38)
This “inner realm of consciousness,” described by Eckhart and “spiritual perception,” by Fox, became increasingly evident in my parents’ lives; however, their belief in heaven, was a literal one. They very much believed it to be a place, where they would one day meet their Lord. And, with a faith like theirs, I’m inclined to think they’re right.
And what of our shorebird, flapping along, high on the thermals, making his way homeward?
“You have been flapping your wings all day high in the sky. continue on, even though night is near and and beckons beneath you.”
“…Stoop not, weary, to the welcome land,
though the dark of night is near. ” (To a Waterfowl, verse 5)