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When we first moved to Florida, our oldest daughter was 14 and not happy about the move. Being 14, she cried. A lot.
One of her many places of tears was Sunken Gardens, the old Florida attraction in St. Petersburg. It’s supposedly the oldest commercial tourist attraction on Florida’s west coast and one of the first botanical gardens in the U.S.
In 1903, George Turner, Sr., a plumber and avid gardener, bought the site, which included a shallow lake, 10 feet below sea level. He drained it and planted a “sunken” garden.
In the 1920s he opened a nursery and sold produce and flowers, and people paid him a nickel to let them take a stroll among his garden.
That sparked an idea and in 1935 he put a fence around the place and charged 25 cents admission. In the 1950s through 1970s it was rated in the top 10 among Florida’s commercial attractions, but then fell into disrepair until the city of St. Petersburg took it over in 1999 and fixed it up. Now there are more than 50,000 tropical plants and flowers and all kinds of butterflies and waterfalls.
We were there around 1991 or ‘92 when it was rundown and pretty tacky. Alison cried and we haven’t been back.
Every so often when my husband and I go to the beach in the St. Pete area, we’ll pass Sunken Gardens and one of us will say, “We’ve got to go back there one day.” So far, we haven’t. But we want to.
We want to go back to the garden - THE Garden.
Years ago, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sang a Joni Mitchell song that talked about getting back to the garden. It was about Woodstock and “joining in a rock ‘n’ roll band,” but it also hit on something more intrinsic to our human nature, namely a yearning to return to our intended state. The end of the song says, “We are stardust, we are golden, we are caught in the devil’s bargain, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”
As theology goes, that’s half correct.
We are golden. We were created in God’s image, the product of his love and longing, to be reflections of him.
When God placed the first humans in his perfect, fertile garden at the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers he breathed life into them and said, “It is very good.” No tacky souvenir shop in Eden. Just beauty and innocence and naked communion with each other and with God.
That’s who we once were - golden.
Then we got “caught in the devil’s bargain,” or something like that.
The Bible says that the devil was once golden as well until he rebelled against God and took legions of angels with him. God cursed him and cast him to earth until the day he’s bound and thrown into an eternal fire.
He has hated and still hates God and hates what God cherishes, which is us. And in our weakness, we chose to follow the cursed one, which caused us to be evicted from Eden.
The song goes on to say, “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”
Yes, we’ve got to get back there - we want to get back there. That’s the inner drive that makes us do everything we do, the drive to quiet our inner turmoil and our lack of peace. There’s a Garden-void we are all trying to fill.
But we cannot get ourselves back there. Instead, it’s Jesus who left heaven to come and bring us to the garden and to God himself.
The night before he died, Jesus was in another garden, agonizing over what was about to happen to him. But for the “joy set before him,” the Bible says, he endured the cross. That joy was having us and him all together one day in a garden paradise, the river of the water of life running through it, with the tree of life on either side of the river yielding its fruit for all of us to eat (Revelation 22:1-2).
A garden where no one will cry.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.