Garden in the Desert
Overlooking a jewel-like landscape of lush green valley hung barren cliffs of ancient earth. Subtle shades of grey and buff encircled this miraculous glamour of luxurious greenery, the cause of which was the ever-flowing, life-giving river. For miles and miles the sun-baked land glistened relentlessly, and then suddenly the eyes were appeased, as was the soul, by the coolness and pleasantness here in this spot – the garden in the desert.
For thousands of years the fertility of the floodplain had nurtured growth of all kinds, and later caravans and nomad peoples all passed through this jewel for rest and nourishment. All who came to this spot felt a wonder and a gratitude that such a beautiful, bountiful place should exist on the face of the desert. And for a long while all was good; but wayfarers longed to stay in one place where all their needs could be fulfilled easily, and when humans first began to plant crops, it was here in the fertile floodplain that they chose to do so. With simple irrigation, the productivity of the plain was enhanced and became sufficient so that food grown here was traded for other commodities traders brought.
Now as the place was so healing to mind and body, many wanted to stay, but space was limited, and there was much squabbling over who should stay and who should go. Everyone understood that whoever stayed would inherit the prosperity of the Land. Thus began the fighting for ownership of the Earth. The most aggressive people won the right to remain in this island of paradise.
At first, others passing through were allowed to use the water and eat of the fruits as they had always done on their journeys. But after several generations of descendants had dwelt in that place, they began to forget that once their own ancestors had traveled across the land, only to gather supplies here on their way elsewhere with the seasons and the cycles of the herds. And so the people who stayed came to be very greedy. Not only did they stay in this place to harvest all year long, but they began to think that all belonged to themselves alone. So that these people who stayed by the river felt blessed above all others and began to charge heavy prices for the abundance of the soil.
Now some would say that this was not an altogether bad thing, because those passing through would gladly bring articles in barter and ideas were exchanged by tribes which added to the beauty of the town. In ancient days, peoples could have come to be healed by the beauty and abundance, but now only those with something of value to offer the inhabitants could enter.
Every once in a while, if the hardships had been severe, the stores of the town would be raided because the travelers had nothing to trade for food. And so pain and hunger caused to rise up emotion of fear and anger and envy, and there came to be much strife over this beautiful jewel of living earth. With knives and swords and spears, son slayed son and daughters were carried off to suffer crimes of vengeance, and the ground became discolored by these foul acts of one human upon another. The town was torched as were the fields in acts of anger unbridled and all was lain waste.
For a time nothing grew, but gradually the livingness of the place returned; the river still brought rich minerals and deposited sediment, and seeds once more grew to mature plants, the fruits to be harvested again. The survivors with the victors began to rebuild the town. This drama was to be acted out time and time again and down through the ages each tribe who had ever passed through the fertile region and thought themselves blessed above all others to find such a place on the face of the desert, laid claim to the site to horde the riches there unto themselves and their descendants alone.
Each time this was done, those who were excluded from the wealth of this place rose up to take by force that which might have been shared openly. Each time the city was rebuilt, it was laid on top of people once living, mortally wounded in combat, and the land became layered with the running blood of violence, until the city, though beautiful to the eyes, harbored a sadness which hung in the air and clung to the ground. The life-forms growing therein were colored by this violence until all within reeked of death and destruction.
And so it was that this most coveted pearl of nature came in its mundane glory to be the site of such sorrow that the inhabitants took on hedonistic practices and wanton deprivations to distract themselves from the crimes of their ancestors. The beauty of the Earth was forgotten, and the once natural desires to reside in bliss turned into nightmares and all was feared.
It was then that warriors of truth could come and take the city not in violence but by Sound, and the fearful ones fell from within their own minds. There was a golden time for a while when the new custodians of the territory remembered the blessedness of the gifts of the earth as Creation of the Father. They shared in a once-again-honorable way like that of their forefathers who owned no land but gathered what they found. It is difficult to remember who the Earth really belongs to when one does not leave a place, and it is even harder to remember being hungry in a place of plenty. And so it was that even as the intentions of the new inhabitants might have been good, they too eventually abused the land and the power it gave to them.
They grew strong and mighty and struck out to plunder neighboring communities and brought back what they could call wealth. They gathered many possessions by bloodshed which carried the memories of battle and they kept this booty among them, which on the surface made them look powerful, but gained them the enmity of their neighbors. It is known that a man without friends has nothing; so it is with a people, a village or a country. It was, therefore, necessary to build great walls around these properties and to maintain men at arms. All these defenses were wasteful and costly. There was no real peace, only watchful interludes between wars from time to time.
With the passing of decades into centuries into millennia, all these grievances were gathered and handed down from father and mother to son and daughter, until no one remembered the land as the Creator’s, or the human beings’ place within the natural order of living things. No one remembered what the original disagreements had been. All that mattered was that one group had warred with another at sometime in the past, and had stolen something which the other had claimed and so on and so on in perpetual bickering. It is this forgetting that is caused by a lack of thankfulness, without which all is turned to ashes.
And all the while, the innocent, beautiful Land was desecrated by the bad thoughts and deeds of humans. The Land sustained the tyrants and slaves, the wealthy and the deprived, the warriors and refugees. The Land felt the pain and sorrow which had been perpetrated in the name of one group’s God or another. The rocks and the dust contained the truth and the earth moaned to carry the burden of such hatred. Mother Earth mourned for her children lost in their greed and lust for power. The heart that had been seen in this garden began to ache so that all who came there felt the sorrow of the place and were afflicted with fear.
The armament caused a shuddering, and the air crackled with tension. The jewel that had been a healing and a blessing began to lose its livingness. This happened in a gradual and imperceptible way at first. But people who came on pilgrimage could not feel the hopefulness they yearned for and they went away, a part of them knowing the power had left this Place.
Some came later and sought to dig up the old bones to make monuments of them to honor the dead of past struggles. But this intensified the death wish of the inhabitants, and in this fashion they drew destruction upon themselves again. The bad cycle returned.
This is an old story and is recorded of many places in many languages. Perhaps this story is handed down by word of mouth, or by carven glyphs upon stones, or perhaps by written words in scrolls or books. There are beautiful sites of majesty and fertility and power scattered across the planet Earth. These magical sites of mystery and God are Holy Lands, which should hold beautiful memories for many peoples. If we could only recognize the truth – that the Land is of itself an expression of godliness to be shared among the peoples of the world in a loving way.
Let us pause a moment to see perhaps a more real alternative to leave to future generations of human beings. Should we continue to ravage and plunder our neighbors and the bounty of this globe, or should we begin to take seriously our role as guardians of the Earth. This ground should be tread upon with the softest slippers, by people with hearts filled with wonder and joy, with minds filled with gratitude for the privilege of life. That privilege had been bestowed ages ago to all peoples who reside on Earth.
This article appears here with the permission of the author. Prism was inspired by the beauty and the strife she found on her travels around the world. This story grew from her strong commitment to peace.
Previously published by permission, Bear & Company, The Little Magazine, Vol. II No. 2, page 23, 1983 under the title A Story of the Land.