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Winter Books

God’s dazzling garden


During a casual conversation recently with Jesuit theologian Fr. Allan Figueroa Deck, he remarked that Latino/Hispanic Christians build a lot of beauty into their religious life, not least through decorations and flowers.

This Winter Books issue has as its theme: God’s dazzlingly diverse garden.

Imagine reviewing a gardening catalogue for religious inspiration! And yet, see Lorna Corpus Sullivan’s story of the Our Lady of Guadalupe rose on the back page (plus her selection of gardening books). It made a lot of sense.

Deck was correct, of course. The Sept. 11 assault on our country and our senses requires antidotes. Beauty in a time of tragedy -- think flowers. Solace and reflection -- think gardens, sanctuaries whose display is governed by the seasons, not by the minute or the hour. Surely only non-gardeners think trite what Dorothy Frances Gurney said about gardens:

The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth --
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.

Those who love to sink their fingers into gardening humus, to plant and prune, sow and reap (none of which appeals to me personally) nod their heads in vigorous agreement. Admiring well-tended gardens, ah, that’s another matter. An old garden bench in the sun decorated by lichens, nothing between oneself and God except the five senses all attuned to one’s surroundings: bliss.

To capture some of that, suited to every taste, see the center spread (Pages 32-33) of photographs from monastic gardens.

This compilation of reviews touches on some of God’s garden in America, and its most distinctive and diverse varieties: Asians and African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans. (There’s a couple of contrasting border plants: hospital chaplain Fr. Steve Ryan’s review of Medical Care for the Soul, and Allison Pedrazzi’s review of The Death of Vishnu.)

To return to the main topic -- Our Lady of Guadalupe, always depicted surrounded by roses, is not a confection. She is identity. In Latin American culture, she is surrounded by the people.

So, to complement Sullivan’s roses, we turned to Torreón, Mexico. Sister of Charity of the Incarnate Word Teresa Maya, a specialist in Mexican colonial church history, is a school principal and college professor there. On page 34, she examines five centuries of “The Guadalupe’s” impact as she reviews Brading’s Mexican Phoenix.

You have the reviews in hand. All you need now is that sunny spot and a comfy seat.

Arthur Jones is NCR’s editor-at-large. His e-mail address is ajones96@aol.com

National Catholic Reporter, October 26, 2001