Vigen Guroian —
Restoring the Senses: Gardening and Orthodox Easter

An understanding of Easter from inside the Armenian Orthodox tradition that is at once mystical and literally down to earth. Vigen Guroian is a theologian who experiences Easter as a call to our senses. He is passionate about the meaning of grand ideas like incarnation, death, and eternity as revealed in life and in his garden.

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is professor of religious studies in Orthodox Christianity at the University of Virginia. His books include The Fragrance of God and Inheriting Paradise.

Pertinent Posts

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Send us your photos of garden spaces and places that serve as sources of contemplation and inspiration for new ways of looking at and thinking about the deeper meaning of things.

Selected Readings

Beauty in the Garden

by Vigen Guroian
"I once said that gardening began when God expelled Adam and Eve from Paradise. I was wrong. What I should have said is that after the first couple greedily consumed beauty, gardening got inextricably mixed up with labor and survival, and farming came into existence."

The Divinity of Human Love

by Vigen Guroian
Two characters of modern literature in whom one finds a radical disjunction of agape and eros are Flannery O'Connor's Rayber in The Violent Bear It Away and Fyodor Dostoevsky's Ivan Karamazov. Both suffer from similar spiritual maladies. Both are haunted by a yearning for a transfigured world against which their reason rebels.

Gardening in Paradise

by Vigen Guroian

When Adam gardened, he imitated his Maker in a purely recreative act of cultivation and care. He did not need to subdue the earth in order for it to yield fruit. Rather, the plants were Adam's palette, and the earth was his canvas. There was nothing but delight in the Garden, for Eden itself means "garden of delight."

Two Easter Crowns

by Vigen Guroian

"Lilies and hyacinths signify the resurrection, and I can understand why. But I have a pair of turtles that plant themselves in my garden each fall like two gigantic seeds and rise on Easter with earthen crowns upon their humbled heads."

The Temple Transparent

by Vigen Guroian

All summer a leafed canopy kept out the sun and left the path safe and secluded. It is the kind of place where children might play hide-and-seek, or Adam and Eve conceal themselves from God. On this day, however, I, in my middle years, all soiled and weary, ambled down it, playing a timeless gardener's game, imagining what beauty there might be in spring when the flowers bloomed. As I reached the bottom, it was as if I had entered a house of light. The walls were not solid, and the powder-blue sky was its dome. But the temple was tangible, nonetheless, in sheer luminescence; and Hungry Run flowed through it like a silver thread.

About the Image

Armenian Orthodox Christians celebrate Pascha in the Church of St. Hripsime in Echmiadzin, Armenia.

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20Reflections

Reflections

Like the fragrances in his garden that are a blend of many forms of earth and life, so is Vigen. I thought atomist, animist, pantheist, Jew, Christian, Catholic, Armenian and...Jungian (he did use the term "collective-memory")! I just happen to be reading David Abram's, "The Spell of The Sensuous." What marvelous bedfellows this book and this program make. He spoke of the "walls" that steal from us the firmament and I thought of Dante's City of Dis. I thought of the James Joyce invention, the "momomyth." Easter is a beautiful myth that reaches well beyond any written words or for that matter any language.

Thanks for my Easter celebration.

David

"We live inside of God's own eternity, though we count the days." - Vigen Guroian

That beautiful image of God's existence in creation will stick with me for a long, long time.

Professor Guroian’s appearance with Ms Tippett this morning was a perfect Easter Morning meditation. His emphasis on the spiritual connections available through metaphor, as contrasted with the deductive and inductive tediousness of some contemporary theology, suited my storyteller’s prejudices. One moment toward the end especially lit me up. He described luring his students out of Charlottesville to work in his garden. I thought, “He’s brilliant.” My own students (in “The Literary Essay” an upper-level writing course at Towson University) have been working on an extended-definition-essay on the word “mystery.” Last semester the same assignment was to define “game,” but “mystery” seemed just right for Holy Week. I offered them the chance to write about mystery in the sense of a question that will be answered or a question eternally open. And I offered examples high and low: One could address “Incarnation” or one could ruminate about, “Why can’t guys be more . . ..” But Vigen Guroian’s description of his students’ work in his garden has led to a new plan. Next spring I will bring my Towson students here for a day of rich contact with the natural world, and then have them write an extended definition of “mulch.”

In the Bible a garden was the first temple to God. Spirituality can be found in gardens everywhere and is universal to all without the trappings of any specific religion.
Working in the garden is a form of meditation for me. It involves so much more than mental reflection. It involves the whole body and refreshes the soul after the somber winter.

As a Greek Orthodox Christian and avid gardener, I have always suspected my love of the garden to be an outgrowth of my spiritual faith but was unable to explain this with adequate words. Until now, for me it has always been a silent connection—but one with deep roots. I am grateful to Vigen for expressing the profound connection between gardening and Eastern Orthodoxy and to your program for making it possible for all to hear. I look forward to reading his books and wish I had known about him when I visited Charlottesville last year. I would certainly have sought him out.

When Mr. Guroian was reflecting on his experience in nature he mentioned that walking beneath a canopy of trees reminded him of walking under a cathedral arch. This made me laugh as I recalled a similar statement by a friend of mine who frequents Las Vegas, mostly gambling and rarely noticing anything outside the casinos. When he finally stepped outside into the Nevada sunshine, he said "Wow, look at those beautiful clouds. It looks like they copied the ceiling in the Bellagio."

Western religions have always disappointed me in that they elevate man to such an artificial height, thereby belittling nature and science that are the true wonders of creation. The result, following millenia of abuse of our fellow humans and our environment as we have contemplated our own marvelous selves at the expense of all other earthly systems, is this sad and dying remnant of a glorious and unique planet and its millions of incredibly complex lifeforms that we are exterminating at an unprecedented rate.

Man's ego, man's edifices, our stories of miraculous birth and deities in the form of old human males, the crude tools we use to travel and communicate, may seem marvelous to us, but they are nothing compared to the wonder and complexity of nature itself.

Here's hoping that this Easter story will inspire some to take a new look at nature and help begin to turn the tide for the sake of all of us and Mother Nature herself.

I truly enjoyed the conversation with Mr Guroian today. It was timely for me, as I have been growing in my spirituality, but have felt confined by modern theology. He has highlighted many of my own feelings, and it has opened up my curiosity like a flower blooming in April. I am looking for a copy of some of Vigen's books to read. Thank you, this has been touching.
M

I was blessed by an Uncle, most would have called him a common man. But that he was not. Samll in stature but carrying inside one of the biggest hearts God ever gave a man. One of his blessing to me was walking together in his huge gardens. One of those casual walks brougnt a question from somewhere deep in my soul..."I said, LM, why do you plant such huge gardens?" He responded by saying, "well JR, I plant enough to get through the winter for me and Rhoda, all of the children, grand-children and also enough to share with those who either can not have a garden or can no longer plant their own".
As he spoke, he leaned on his well worn garden hoe, looked me in the eyes and from the gleem in his eyes his love of the land, his love of his fellow man, and his love of sharing with me poured into my being.
This Missouri farmer taught me more about life, love, and sharing, than I could ever put into words.
The conversation with Vigen Guroian was a "leaning on the hoe" event for me.
Thank you
George Graham

Loved this guest and his topic was near and dear to my heart as an avid gardener and artist/physical therapist (day job). At one point in my life I was working on a masters of Liturgical Arts.

He hit upon so many themes that I feel at this time of year: creative renewal the never ending story, standing on the shoulders of those that go before and Resurrection as the transition/state of mindfulness vs sacrifice...etc...so much food for thought.

I was especially reminded of my grandmother in Iowa whe died 1 1/2 yrs ago 1 wk shy of 102 yrs old and taught me to garden in her little town lot and her community plot at the edge of town (Preston, Iowa population

As a child of the Columbus, Ohio suburbs my parents and my siblings slowly got out of the habit of having a garden. My Dad did try until I was about 7 to keep a garden but with 3 kids and their activities he turned in his gardening hat for chauffer hat. I always felt happiest and most spiritual even as a child in the garden or in nature...even when I was down and nearly hospitalized due to poison ivy (my grandmother was hospitalized at least twice in her lifetime due to poison ivy and I proudly share her genes). There is a power and a design to every living plant that I will spend my life learning about and probably only scratch the surface. I relish passing gardening knowledge on. There is nothing better than sharing the bounty or problem solving with a gardening challenged friend. When the neighborhood kids swing through my gate and hang-out with me as I tend my garden what peace and joy. We take time to share and talk while we garden. I learn more about the world in those encounters than any other time. Who knew the wonders of ice hockey or the pain of parents going through divorce. These same kiddos who spend most of their days with clean fingers tapping at keyboards, smartphones or gaming controls. I think they will remember getting their hands dirty with me and discussing their passions and their problems...it's all good when turning the earth.

I look forward to reading Mr Guorian's books. Thank-you On Being for lovely and relevant programming. I don't ever miss your show.

Mr. Guroian's story about the eucharist shared by the wandering Armenian villagers and their priest during the genocide was breath-taking for me. They had no bread and wine, so dirt (and water, I presume) had to be used instead. A bit of dirt blessed and eaten by fleeing refugees who are longing for justice, peace and a return to home. That is a story that I myself will re-tell to others many times over.

Choral Music while gardening has just become a great new passion, the gardening part is not new ... but the choice of music is. What an amazing choice each piece was. I herewith resolve to spend more time growing more food in my garden and tending to it. On Being has evolved so wonderfully over recent times. I think a lot of people worried that it might change as the name changed. I thought about it when you announced it, and decided to just trust the team of people you have.... Recently after being a long-time podcast listener, I made my first donation to the show, which made me wonder why I had not done it before... because I listen to many podcast shows, but yours is the one I most enjoy and so look forward to every week... WHy not do one with Nelson Mandela... Thankyou, so many times over.

I have listened to this presentation multiple times since it first aired a few years ago.
I am an Ukrainian Orthodox so what Vigen discusses in terms of Orthodoxy sticks home.
However, his dicsssion on gardening also strikes closely to home. So I usually listen to this program while tilling my own garden in the spring.

very comforting and offering a sense of well being and happiness to be scratching in the dirt.

My only regret is the fact that my garden is not the far along in terms of the magnitude although in my eyes just a beatiful as Vigen's.

I was moved by his discussion to investigate sitting in on one of his courses but found out that he is now at the University of Virginia and not in Baltimore.

regards,

Al

After listening to the On Being broadcast "Restoring The Senses: Gardening and the Orthodox Easter" I found my senses were tingling. From the picture of the Armenian Easter service with the sounds of beautiful hymns and even the visual smoke from the incense touched most of my senses. Easter is the time of year for new beginnings, from the grass coming in and bulb plants coming up, to the budding trees and flowering of my favorite white ornamental crab tree. We are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ not just in our churches but also in our garden and yard.
Vigen Guroian tells Krista about how "god is singing creation into existence" and this "song never ends" for there is always new creation. Take the garden as a prime example in the spring Vigen tends to the soil of his garden during the time of lent as a type of "sacrifice". He says "I'm cleansing my soul, making myself ready to receive the gift" those first flowers of the garden. I found that his sacrifice to pull weeds and more bears a beautiful reward.
The description of the Armenian Orthodox Easter Mass with its treasury of beautiful songs/hymns enhance the soul as we take in the sights of the icons that are displayed in the church. My church also adorns the icons with blooming plants. These feelings can also be found in the garden. The flowers and vegetables come up at different times and many go unnoticed to the naked eye, but not to the nose. Vigen can smell the presence of a new plant blooming in the garden. Much like smelling a flower to sense its presence in the garden, Vigen seems to sense the presence of God in the same way. After all the story of creation contains a beautiful garden created by God.
I found Vigens story of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the garden to be inspiring. You were created and placed in a beautiful garden with one simple rule. You were then tricked and broke the rule finding yourself expelled into a place of darkness and gloom for six days, scared and alone with only your companion to hold you. Then day seven arrives and you're brought to "this world" which is not quite as nice as God's garden, but you're very thankful to have been lead out of the darkness. I cannot imagine six whole days in a scary dark place.
What I have taken from this broadcast is that the garden to the people of Armenia is an important part of their life. The one's that survived the genocide had some type of garden since then. Vigen explains that "the garden was a place where things came to life" and this gives them hope to sustain their faith to go on living. His stories were very inspirational to me and with today being Easter, I feel new again and I'm thankful for what I have and I will enjoy my flowering crab(that is about to bloom)even more this spring. Krista and Vigen, Thank you for this beautiful picture that your words have left in my mind.

Karen Lund

I am in awe every time a small plot of rich soil and a few seeds can produce BUSHELS of beautiful, flavorful nourishment. So basic and so sublime: when I eat these tomatoes, I taste all the days of sunshine and refreshing rain of the whole season. And there, in the flavor, also is the strange magic of compost, which teaches me that somehow, out of the action of something that appears old, used up, which might be considered waste, comes the richness that is essential to the new growth.

i went to Dumbarton Oaks in DC last week. it was in full bloom. but a close-up of one of the garden features captured my attention. it contained the words "Quod Severis Metes". i don't know Latin so i looked it up. it was the family Bliss' motto who owned the garden: As you sow, so you reap" it seems to be quite relevant to this weekend's interview.

For thirty-five years my husband and I have tended our front garden with such gratitude. As a young couple many years ago, our front yard soil could not grow lawn. We would scatter seeds and watch the water run down to the sidewalk and nothing would grow. We decided 35 years ago to create a habitat for birds, bees and butterflies. We live in an urban neighborhood, just 20 minutes from the Los Angeles airport. Our life has been blessed. Our garden holds in it's soil our history; Amaryllis bulbs and hydrangeas from my grandfather's fields in the 1930's, lilies from my mother-in-laws garden in the 1950's now gone, an 80 year old Camellia bush that belonged to my husband's grandmother. Each plant blooms every year and reminds me of life's perfect rhythm and cycles. Our Bottlebrush bush brings the hummingbird families each pre-spring and they nest right in front of our front picture window...a perfect view with our morning coffee. The bees come and feast on our rosemary bush that belonged to my mother and the butterflies feed on the nectar of my aunt Molly's favorite, St. John Firecracker blossoms. We tend to our garden daily. We weed and poke and water. Sometimes we are surprised and a long forgotten seedling we planted when our boys were small, finds it's way out from the years of benign neglect...I am reminded daily of life's perfection in the beginnings, endings and promises that our garden teaches us if we take the time to stop and listen. "I will sing to the Lord all my life; as ling as I live I will sing praises to my God. May he be pleased with my song, for my gladness comes from him." psalm 104

What a beautiful view of life and faith. I am Armenian Orthodox but didn't know a lot of the things Vigen pointed out, like the 8th day. This view of Christianity is so much more pleasant then the fire and brimstone version served up by many churches.

I am not a gardener, though Mr. Guroian makes it seem such a beautiful, spiritual practice. Sadly, I have neither the physical ability or means, to make green things grow. However, I am thoroughly enriched by Mr. Guroian's vision. Earth and spirit, joined in praise to the Creator, who imagined a garden, and a gardener, and brought both into being by his loving hands.

Late last year, a group of us at my church read Guroian's book _The Fragrance of God_. In fact, we used a variation of Lectio Devina with the book. At the end of the study I was challenged to write a song in response to our discussion. This is the result:

Wonderful

apples