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...?
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.