We take for granted the ground we stand on. I live at 86-45 Edgerton Boulevard, Queens, Long Island, New York, USA, but the ground I stand on goes deeper than that.
The monastery I live in stands on the highest point of a spine of volcanic rock that goes back at least 400 million years, when the continent was being formed.
About 22,000 years ago the last glacier, the height of a skyscraper, came down from Canada and stopped here. Our monastery stands where the glacier stopped. As it receded and melted the glacier gave us the land we stand on now.
Southeast of us the glacier formed clay flatlands and sandy beaches facing the Atlantic Ocean. The winding depressions in our area, like Midland Parkway next to us, were streams from the glacier bringing sand and clay and rocks to the flatlands beyond us.
North of us the last glacier left the waters that became Long Island Sound. The glaciers also left water in the aquifer that still provides drinking water for most of Long Island today.
About 12,000 years ago, the first humans arrived here. Small bands of Indians lived in settlements near streams and waterways where they fished and hunted for game.
Pope Francis says in his encyclical Laudato Si that we need a long view of life for the days ahead, because we’re facing a world that will be radically transformed by climate change. To prepare, Pope Francis says, we need “an ecological conversion.”
That certainly means knowing more about the physical world we live in, so that we can understand it and care for it. Some say since the time of the Enlightenment in the 17th century we have concentrated too much on the human world and prioritized it too much. We’ve neglected creation and the ground we stand on.
That means also remembering that God created the heavens and the earth and God has a plan for the world. God must remain in the picture of the changing physical world, otherwise life becomes chaotic. We can’t depend on science alone.
Pope Francis, in Laudato Si, while accepting science and its findings, said that besides scientific knowledge, we should mine our own religious traditions for the wisdom and hope they give and he said to look at the Book of Genesis and our spiritual and sacramental traditions to face the future.
Our location here in Queens, particularly our garden, on the edge of a spine of volcanic rock, offers a valuable place for cosmic reflection. Our Mary Garden, based on the garden of Genesis, sees creation with eyes of faith and also with eyes of earthy experience. Water creates the garden, bringing life to everything else. Four rivers flow to the four corners of the earth. The plants in the four quadrants of the garden represent the staples of life– beauty, medicine and food.
Mary stands in our garden as the representative of redeemed humanity, holding in her arms Christ, the Redeemer. She rejoices in creation before her and presents the one, “through whom all things were made,” who blesses the world with hope. Mary also, as a witness to the resurrection of Jesus, knows he has promised a new heaven and a new earth. “Behold, I make all things new,”
Mary’s statue stands on the stump of a large cedar tree, a tree whose roots reach deepest into the earth. At the base of the stump are rocks; most come from parts of our continent swept up by the ancient glacier and deposited here. I put some rocks from the Holy Land there, and a friend recently gave me a rock from Ireland to add to it.
The flowers in the Mary Garden bring the various colors and shapes of the world’s plant life here. Flowers are perhaps the most popular “immigrants” of the plant world, coming from everywhere, welcomed everywhere. Many of them, like the marigold, “Mary’s Gold”, are particularly associated with the Mother of Jesus.
Our Mary garden stands next to a grotto recalling Mary’s appearance at Lourdes in the 19th century when faith in France was eroding in an age of skepticism. Her appearances later at Fatima and the strong devotion to her that persists today remind us she is a permanent witness to Jesus Christ, who promised to remain with us “all days”, even days when the foundations of the earth are shaken. Mary’s a witness who comes when times are bad.
The concept of the Mary Garden developed in 13th century Europe when, during the “Black Death”, people believed a cursed earth caused millions to die. Today as the earth enters its own “passion” the Mary Garden offers a rich resource of Christian wisdom and hope for the days ahead.
God loves the world. It is good.