It is said, a twisting, terrible serpent and a deadly sea dragon roam the world, devouring the cardinals which bring hope along with the mighty oaks with its limbs raised high in praise, drying up refreshing waters, lying in wait for the hare and deer, destroying good and allowing evil to thrive.
It is also said, there lives an old man, older than any storyteller or history book can remember, who’d carved out a garden with his bare hands and imagination, watered it daily from seed-time to harvest, year after year beyond memory and record.
The old man’s garden, it is a pleasant garden filled with sweet fruits that satisfies the soul and brings wholeness to the heart, the hands and feet, the mind – the inside and outside parts of growing life. The serpent and the dragon dare not go near the old man and his garden, though they blow seeds designed to destroy with every wind, on every dust particle. They plot and connive to destroy it from within and without.
The old man, he attends his garden daily, walking its paths he designed, pulling out weeds with his hands or hoeing, loosening the soil so that the waters go down deep, and, by going down, strengthen the roots – and in the strengthening, loosening weed roots that don’t belong, making them easier to tear out before they grab hold and make greater damage.
Day and night, the old man can be found either kneeling, his hands working through the soil, his hands dark with the healthy, rich soil. He is a hands-on, vigilant guardian over his creation—vigilant of the thorns and battles from without that blow, always seeking to invade, to overtake, to choke out his creation.
Sometimes he stands at the garden’s edge, watching, listening.
“Come, make peace with me,” he calls in a still, soft whisper. “Come, make peace with me.”
Sometimes he crosses the garden’s borders, strides into the dark woods and wild fields, returning home with seedlings and shoots, stems with leaf buds to graft into his vineyard trees, by the arm-fulls or solitary, always worn, struggling to live, but totally given over to his healing power. Somehow, he hears their call.
Sometimes, a seedling finds its way into the garden, weakened, worn by those very thorns and briars in the battle outside the old man’s garden. Maybe a shoot, almost dried out of life, lying limp on the old man’s wall – how it got there, who can tell – but it seeks sanctuary in his garden, tended by the old man’s healing ways – and, in the tending, finds new life.
Sometimes, the living things, they come, peer into the garden, unable to believe it is, indeed, better within than without. They don’t stop and talk with the old man in the garden. Maybe they think he won’t understand, but, he does – he understands everything. Maybe they think they’re too intelligent to ask a simple gardener about big things like serpents and dragons. Maybe they think living within an old man’s garden boundaries are restricting, limiting . . . small-minded. Instead of extending their hands in greeting, to just meet and talk, to try and understand the old man, they shove their hands in their pockets and walk away.
Somehow, though, seedlings, shoots and stems for grafting and all other living things, they keep coming, laying hold of the old man’s protection – and they come to make peace with him because there is not peace to be found outside his garden.
“At that time God will unsheathe his sword,
his merciless, massive, mighty sword.
He’ll punish the serpent Leviathan as it flees,
the serpent Leviathan thrashing in flight.
He’ll kill that old dragon
that lives in the sea.
At that same time, a fine vineyard will appear.
There’s something to sing about!
I, God, tend it.
I keep it well-watered.
I keep careful watch over it
so that no one can damage it.
I’m not angry. I care.
Even if it gives me thistles and thornbushes,
I’ll just pull them out
and burn them up.
Let that vine cling to me for safety,
let it find a good and whole life with me,
let it hold on for a good and whole life” (Isaiah 27:1-5).