Creating My Garden of Happiness

We are all wanderers, vagrants, and vagabonds. In this life we look not for much, yet desire some semblance of solace, comfort, satisfaction, fulfillment and pleasure. Saint Augustine famously wrote in his Confessions: “Our heart is restless until it rests in Thee (inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te).” When the Christian man has found peace with his soul, he stands reconciled to God but at odds with the world. As Luther famously saw it—two kingdoms. This now being a theological staple of both Lutheran and Reformed traditions. Even still, no matter how hard his labors, he will be unable to mitigate the ostensibly fortuitous admixture of evil and suffering within the chains of humanity.

The Banality of Evil

To be sure, the banality of evil is what is most haunting. The incredible technological and scientific advances humanity has made—not least in the last century alone!—notwithstanding, humanity is resigned to fate of Sisyphus, apropos punishment from Zeus. The difference is that every time we make it to the top of the hill, the hill yet grows taller and the stakes become acutely more grave. As Dylan sang in his Masters of War, “Then you sit back and watch while the death count gets higher.” We are well nigh in the ides of the year 2022. I have seen presidents come and go from Bush Sr. & Jr., to Clinton, Obama, Trump and now Biden. Two days ago there was another mass shooting taking the lives of ten innocent victims in the name of racism and white supremacy. Ukraine and Russia are presently embroiled in one of the bloodiest traditional wars that we have seen since Hitler invaded Poland in 1939 precipitating the Second World War. And yet, in the 83 years thence, science has not remedied the depraved machinations of man. It is therefore at this critical juncture that I urge all men of valor to pick not up armament, but to lay them down. We have been given a ministry of reconciliation and life is far too short to allow–or worse cultivate and grow–the weeds of hate in the garden of our heart.

The Power of Love

You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.

St. Augustine, Confessions I.I

Plato’s theory of evil actions is related to knowledge…or lack thereof. In a word, if the morally deficient simply had been inculcated properly, they would not err and make such morally questionable actions. While there is some truth to this, education alone cannot fix what is broken within us. Even the collection of knowledge and experience cannot. This is why Plato’s republic can never be translated into reality. The philosopher-king will perpetually degenerate into Machiavelli’s demagogue, no matter how well-intentioned the next hoodie-wearing politician may be.

It is true: hate is taught…but so is love. We as humans have been raised up as finite spirit, endowed with the ruach of God, and stand at a vexing and precarious position of absolute freedom. We are responsible for our actions–certainly more than, but not less than. Only the power of love can bring a remedy, even if in part–for now. “Here I am”–says the sage, “I am alive: existing in a state of ambiguous suffering. It is not quite perspicuous whence came I, and the future feels vague and uncertain. What can I do and what can I say?” It is this same visceral anxiety, diffidence, and longing that cloaks Jim Morrison’s final screams in the Doors’ When the Music’s Over: “Save us! Jesus!” Deep beneath the Nietzschean irony belies pain–for even the god Dionysius meets the big sleep when the music is up.

Forasmuch as Jesus exhorts us to lay down our arms, the apostle Paul tells us to put on the armor of God. And presently, in such a globally bifurcated world between the rich and the poor, the left and the right, both sides are picking up arms fervently ready to die in the ever caustic and vituperative culture war being waged in a battlefield of social media between the jingoists and anarchists, the fascists and communists, and whatever other labels can be constructed to pigeonhole individuals into specious tribes wherewith one can wage war. The battle ground of social media, however, has yet translated into realty. We have seen this over and over again, with the 2016 American election, the radicalization of western men into jihadism, &c. Never before has the Socratic maxim, “know thyself!” been more poignantly vacant from our 21st century American culture. A lack of self knowledge is the decadent downfall of the Roman Empire. Leary’s psychedelic adage needs a 21st century update. “Turn on, tune in, drop out” needs be “turn off [the TV], tune out [the arguments], and pick up a book.” Common sense is no longer all that common. No, neither Elon Musk Nor Jeff Bezos can save you. But worse than the lionization of such men is the demonization, reminiscent of the old tycoons of the gilded ages. Society is sick and reeling and at this juncture there is no cure.

Chasing the Sunshine

“‘Run away, child’, answered her mother, ‘and catch the sunshine! It will soon be gone.’”

Hester Prynne (The Scarlett Letter) -Nathaniel Hawthorne

The past decade has not been an easy one for me and my family. We have moved almost a dozen times. We have endured a house fire and the feeling of losing precious material possessions. We have known what it means to live with little. I set out a future and profession for myself, only to change course, switch gears, and find myself on a different track altogether. It has been one of pain and rue; nevertheless I am grateful, and would not change an iota of the past. After finishing my second graduate degree in historical theology, we moved from Michigan to New Jersey.

In New Jersey I began a PhD program studying the German idealist philosopher Friedrich Schelling, switched careers, subsequently dropped out of my doctorate program, and, as of the beginning of the year, have moved my family down to the sunny beaches of South Florida. I am finally ready to plant roots and cultivate my self and familial garden. I am currently reading the Scarlett Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne, and he says as follows in his preface: “Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth.” Quite apropos.

Epicures, the Ancient Greek philosopher, is famous for his garden in which he taught and practiced ataraxia (ἀταραξία). That is, a state of the soul that reaches calm, equanimity, and freedom from distress. In his garden, he cultivated relationships with his friends, simply put to avoid unnecessary suffering and to maximize the pleasures of this life. As the Apostle Paul exhorted the Ephesians, “[There is] one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:5, 6). One love–one God. Protect and love yourself. Love God. Protect and love your family, and enjoy the present moment; enjoy the relationships you have and the things here on earth that are good.

As for me, like little Pearl, I am chasing the sunshine. For I know it will soon pass into the night. This decade I am working on building my Epicurean garden for me and my family to cultivate–both figuratively and literally, in South Florida. My fears and worries are laid at the door and I shall be at peace in my garden, and await the restoration of a new Garden, one that was lost so long ago, now shrouded in myth, hypocrisy, and decay. Dylan sums it up on the last line of the 8th track of his 1965 Bringing it All Back Home “And there are no truths outside the Gates of Eden.”



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