Sunday, April 17, 2011

Spiritual Sundays: The Garden

Last night I had the pleasure and privilege of attending a performance of Michael McLean and Bryce Nuebert's "The Garden" put on by members of the Richmond Virginia Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Deseret Book has this blurb about the allegorical oratorio:

"'We've always felt that the single most important work any creative person could do is to create something that would help others come closer to the Savior and have a greater understanding of and appreciation for the atonement,' says Michael. 'But oftentimes the very nature of the subject is a bit intimidating for a composer, songwriter, musician or artist.' The creative group agreed that the best way to accomplish the goal was to seek the Lord's help, and to follow his example of using allegories."
The musical production is a series of songs sung by various characters who are actually parts of the Garden of Gethsemane. Each one is representative of someone or something in our own mortal lives, and each one is affected by the power of the Atonement of Christ, which takes place in the garden. The production I attended used simple costumes and a single set, along with symbolic art and basic props to convey the essence of each character. The main focus was on the music and its lyrics, which were moving and beautiful. One of the reasons I was in attendance was because my brother played the part of Satan, aka, "The Landlord." Truly, one of the only times I could get away with saying, "My brother is Satan." Heh, heh. His performance was marvelous!!

What I love about allegories and parables is that quite often I find that I learn more in the act of interpreting than I do in the interpretation itself. If someone were to simply tell me what each symbol represents then I would not develop the depth of understanding that I do when I discover the meaning on my own. I had many opportunities to interpret last night, especially since I took my oldest two children, ages 6 1/2 and 5 with me to the show. I had to explain what an allegory was, and teach them how to understand the symbols and how to be like a detective to use the symbols like clues to put the real meaning of the story together.

While I would love to give a detailed song-by-song description of the performance, it would most likely be tedious for both of us, so instead I wish to focus on 4 of the main characters in the show: the Seedling, the Ram, the Barren Tree, and the Millstone. Each of these characters represent us, children of Heavenly Father, and the struggles that we face in mortal life.

The Seedling is the first to sing of her plight- she is "trapped beneath the earth and unable to grow." She doesn't understand why those around her seem to have no problem reach up toward the light- but she is stuck, unable to be what she could be.

Next is the Ram. The Ram is caught in a thorny tangle, unable to get free. He knows he should have listened to his master's voice and stayed close to his side, but now because of his disobedience he is fully ensnared and completely miserable.

The Barren Tree mourns her lack of fruit. She tries and yet is unsuccessful at producing anything of beauty from her barren branches. She aches for a reason why.

The final character is the Millstone. The Millstone sees himself as nothing but a burden- he spreads destruction, crushing everything he comes in contact with, and believes that there is no beauty within him that anyone could possibly love. He feels empty.

As each one of these characters sang, my heart ached for them. I know each of these feelings from various times in my own life, and that is why these characters were so effective in this allegory- because they are the faces of each of us. Have you ever felt trapped, stuck, unable to progress without knowing why, like the Seedling? Have you ever ached with a life full of regrets, knowing your suffering is your own doing, and finding yourself saying, "If only", like the Ram? Have you ever felt like you're spinning your wheels, doing everything right, and yet you see no results from your labors, like the Barren Tree? Have you ever felt like you were worthless, messing up everything you attempt and feeling like you're simply a waste of space, like the Millstone?

I also found it interesting that all but one of the characters' frustrations stemmed from them knowing what they could be, and feeling trapped and unable to achieve their full potential. Only the Millstone didn't seem to understand that he had any kind of value.

Sadly, when we feel this way, there are those who rejoice- in this allegory, it is the Snake and the Landlord. You know that saying, "misery loves company"? This is where that fits in. While the gentle Gardener attempts to prepare the Garden for spring planting, the Landlord storms in, slyly (and sarcastically) asking forgiveness for the intrusion, but claiming the Garden, and everything in it, to be his. He further asserts that the Gardener's efforts are useless and futile, that nothing could ever grow there. And that's the way he likes it. So get out.

To be perfectly honest, this song gave me chills. The Landlord sings,

Don't challenge me, I pray you.
I have the power to slay you!
But please, don't make me hate you-
Just be gone, and all's forgotten.

It's best that you just quietly disappear...

How many times does that voice in our head tell us to just give up? To just, "quietly disappear" when faced with doing the hard thing? Satan tells us it's okay, no one will know.

Just try to clear the weeds.
Try planting newer seeds.
And you'll see thistles breed,
Returning twice as strong each hour.

That voice tells you that it doesn't matter what you do- nothing can change what you are. You're wasting your time even trying. It's a voice in our heads that is all-too-familiar: the voice of the adversary. He tells us our efforts are pointless- even if we know our full potential, we could never reach it because we'll just keep messing up. That's what got us into this mess in the first place, right? We're just not strong enough. And for those who don't believe they have potential to begin with, like the Millstone, Satan's job is even easier. He tells us it's best for us to just "quietly disappear."

Fortunately, the Gardener gives the Garden, and all in it, some very good news. He tells them that there is one who can save them, a Man With Many Names. The Man comes, suffers agony, all the while being mocked by the Landlord who tauntingly asks Him if He's doing this for His Father, then why has His Father left Him alone? He tells Him to give up, that's it's too hard and too painful, that there's nothing worth saving in that Garden anyway. Meanwhile, the elements of the Garden watch His struggle with wonder and awe.

The Man's sacrifice has saved the Garden. The Seedling reaches up through the earth to bask in the sunlight; the Ram's thorns have been taken away and he is free; the Barren Tree bears beautiful fruit on her lovely branches; the Millstone is sparkling with a beauty he didn't know he had.

The Savior's atonement has set them all free from their misery, and the Landlord no longer has power over them, for they have been redeemed in Christ. The Garden is a place of peace and beauty once more.

What I love about this allegory is the fact that it shows us that sin is not just about breaking the commandments and that the Atonement really does heal all wounds. Sometimes our most difficult struggles are with our own thoughts about ourselves and our own self-worth. We see what we could be, but we are convinced that we could never achieve it, so we don't even try. We feel like we're trying but not getting anywhere. Or we feel like we've messed up so many times we're just not worth the effort anymore. It is in those deep depths of despair that the Atonement has so much power. It has the power to set us free from the chains of our own "stinkin' thinkin'" (as Flylady calls it!).

Jesus Christ loves us. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and He knows that Satan will try to put a fun house mirror in front of our faces to distort what we see. If only we look to Him, he will show us our true selves, and when we accept Him into our lives He will set us free.

A good friend of mine gave me a special Christmas gift one year. It was a mirror, and on the mirror was a small picture of Jesus Christ with the words, "The greatest gift I can give you is to see yourself through my eyes."
Today, spend some time with the Man who knows you best. The Man who gave everything for you in the Garden. Ask to see yourself through His eyes, because to Him you are marvelous, beautiful, wonderful, and above all, so worth it.

To learn more about what I believe as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please visit


  1. I love the Garden. I've sung in it many times, including once with Michael McClean and Bryce Neubert. It was amazing and teaches such a great message about the Savior and what He can do for us.

  2. Wow, Kayeleen! What a treat that must have been. I met Michael McLean just once when he came to DC to sing at the World Congress on the Family. I went as a representative from my college and he ended up coming to our ward the next day because he was friends with my YSA advisors. I had the opportunity to let him know how much his music means to me. :-) The Garden is truly an inspired work!

  3. I was there Saturday night, too, how crazy! I thought they did a very good job. Your brother was a very good Satan. :-)

  4. Aah! Richelle, that's so crazy! Glad you liked my evil brother. ;-)


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