Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Garden and Gate

Here is a picture of the new gate Jim built for the fenced garden at the retreat house. The original gate fell apart this past winter, but this new gate is attractive, deer-proof and strong! Jesus said: 

I am the gate, whoever enters through me will be saved, they will come in and go out, and find pasture.   John 10:9

Stepping through a gate is an experience of encounter or an adventure. A new horizon or experience opens up when we go through a gate. As a young priest I used to take a prayer day at an old Franciscan novitiate nearby which had been a rich man's North Shore estate in its 1930's heyday.

I remember pulling back the vines and going through the door-like gate and being disappointed  that the garden, with its gravel paths and wide flower beds had fallen into ruin - invaded by weeds and gone to seed. But the experience filled me with imagination too, and I found bushes there covered with ripe raspberries. And for about 7 minutes I played with the idea of asking the brothers if I could take over the garden and bring it back. Like I didn't already have enough to do in my parish.

But when going through the gate is an interior experience I might be led to ask myself questions I might otherwise never approach:
  • Why am I this way?
  • Why might someone say this or that about me?
  • Why do I keep repeating the same mistakes?
  • Why am I so unhappy? So fearful?
  • Why do I feel so shallow?
  • Why do I feel I've done so little with my life?
  • Why after so long am I still...?

We often never get around to asking the why questions about ourselves. It takes a lot of hard work to go through the inner gate to ask why.

And here at the retreat house, the new gate takes us over into a garden. A garden is an image of cultivation and growth. It symbolizes that inner place where I have things to take care of and places to grow:
  • to grow up the inner capacities I have been given
  • to find emotional balance and well-being
  • to treat an addiction or some pathology
  • to come to an understanding of what I can do to contribute to the future
  • to tend to my soul-life: that I am God's much-loved child

The prophet Jeremiah writes:
They shall come and sing aloud on the heights of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more. Jeremiah 31: 12

The soul is likened to our inner feeling-place and our feelings can be all over the place: our wounded pride, nurtured resentments, the exhilaration that lasts perhaps only a moment, the perception of God's presence in love, the peaceful awareness of inner healing.

Psychologically, a garden is a symbol of consciousness. And a walled, fenced or hedged garden is an image of protecting what is interiorly my very own (mine and mine alone). This could be a sense of shame or regret for some mistake in the past or some personal delight that others might well not understand or value. It's not necessary for everyone to know everything about me. I'd say there's a time to enter the garden and close the gate - gently. 


  1. Using a gated garden as a symbol of our interior self represents us perfectly. I can open the gate to whomever I want and let them in to admire or criticize. However, a fence with openings is more inviting and gives others a preview of what they might encounter when they pass through the, whereas a wall blocks our garden totally from view. This will cause people to either turn away completely or have the opposite effect of having them break down our gate and violating our private space. We must be careful as to who we let in our garden.

  2. So many of us suffer from that inner gate! We are so afraid to pass threw the gate .... If we only put our trust and faith inGod, and allow him to help us threw the gate! We suffer from our own skeletons, and fears and anxieties... Sometimes that gate when we pass threw has such a beautiful "garden waiting for us". We just need to have faith that God will help us threw THAT GATE!

  3. This makes me ask myself "Why do I lead others to my gate and then keep them shut out?" "Why am I hiding in my own garden alone?" Thank you for asking us to ask ourselves these questions. Sometimes it is difficult to be honest even with ourselves.

  4. Thank you for opening your gate to us Father Stephen. Even in it's readiness for the cold dark days of winter, it is beautiful, with Mary standing to look over us.

  5. Every new experience we have is a step through another gate. We must pass through many gates in our lives and we must remember the ones that brought us comfort and helped us. Other gates we need to return through and close behind us as they were openings into dark and dismal pastures. Thank you for the metaphor Father. I am spending a good time in thought on this and what it means to me.

  6. Sometimes we lock our gate so we do not get judged by others in fear that our garden is not the way we think it should be.
    I know, I know "Let go and let God".

  7. Even now into the early hours of the morning, I am still thinking of those inner places you mentioned above. I feel as though tending to my soul-life is of utmost importance and will allow me to further examine the others. Thank you for making me ask those never before approached questions.

  8. Gates exist to be opened but also closed at times. If never closed, why bother having a gate in the first place? A closed garden gate sets boundaries. This is very important for the gardener to keep inner balance, safety and peace. Entering the garden of the other is not a right. Truth be told, sometimes the gate must be closed to someone who is contentious, divisive, manipulative, tricky, scheming, hateful. "Be sober, be watchful" Saint Peter says. To close the inner gate isn't uncharitable. Wish everyone well. "Jesus, give him/her/them what they need for salvation. That's actually quite kind.

  9. This post really gets into the head and quiets the anxiety some of us have to make these growth changes, to a better place. I like the kindness affect. Grateful.

  10. "and quiets the anxiety some of us have to make these growth changes." Americans like everything right now - "fast acting" medicine and "instant relief" - but the spiritual life is not like that. It is much more natural - in slow and gradual cycles and seasons. We must be patient with it all. Thanks for writing.