Down south, there’s a very special place on the map just south of Mobile, Alabama, on the Gulf Coast called Bellingrath Gardens.
Named after Walter and Bessie Bellingrath, the acreage was a gift to the people from the philanthropic couple. It includes a mansion where the owners lived; the patriarch was an innovator with bottling Coca Cola in Mobile.
As beautiful as the mansion is, the gardens are what continue to draw folks today. The variety of plants, flowers and trees are maintained in a most natural way. The landscape remains colorful, blooming wildly, yet tamed, in splendor, all year long.
Meandering paths are most conducive for strolling: take your time to savor the view from the arched, pedestrian bridges. They beckon you across to catch sights and smells of blooming shrubs–intricate blossoms at eye-level, and fountains flowing with beautifully carved sculptures, all surrounded by slate pavers and artisan stonework.
Bellingrath gives one a small glimpse of the garden you and I can only imagine, the Garden of Eden, cultivated by the Supreme Gardener. There, God had our undivided attention, for a time. Yet, in all that splendor, we became distracted, sinned and lost the perfection He envisioned for us.
The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. ~ Genesis 2:8-9
Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads. ~Genesis 2:10
Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it. ~Genesis 2:15
After man’s fall, the garden was completely closed off, but the beauty was left intact. Imagine. So outstanding was The Garden, God didn’t just fence it in with an enormous locked gate, nor did He dig a deep trench, nor surround The Garden by a humongous, impossible-to-traverse mote. He did, however, set two angels guard over it. I imagine they are, to this very day, able to fend off even the cleverest interloper. (Genesis 3:24)
In today’s modern age, the beauty of Bellingrath may prompt first-time visitors to totally ignore their iPhones. God appeals to our need for something close to perfection (a newborn baby comes as close to me as anything on the planet) and there are places He uses to get our attention: natural waterfalls; scenic rivers, mountains’ majesty; graceful, rolling hills; colorful fall leaves; flowers in bloom…Bellingrath offers:
- Perfect-petal rosebuds in every color
- Camellias in intricate, circular patterns
- Bulbous hydrangeas
- Vibrant azaleas
- Thick, bamboo gardens…
Not to mention, you might catch sight of even the smallest creatures:
- wooly caterpillars
- intricate butterflies
- iridescent dragonflies
- skinny stick-creatures: the praying mantis
I’m convinced C. Austin Miles, the writer of “In the Garden”, nurtured an intimacy with the Lord.
“I come to the garden alone. While the dew is still on the roses. And He walks with me and He talks with me. He tells me I am His own. And the joy we share as we tarry there…none other has ever known.”
Do we set aside time just to wander? To stroll aimlessly in the Lord’s presence?
Do we tarry, to simply “be” with our Savior? Not necessarily to pray; just to be silently focused on Him.
When was the last time you wandered, with no exact destination in mind?
To You, O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in You. Let me not be ashamed. Let not my enemies triumph over me. Indeed, let no one who waits on You be ashamed. Let those be ashamed who deal treacherously without cause. Show me Your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me for You are the God of my salvation. On You I wait all the day…All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth… ~Psalm 25: 1-5; 10
But just as in days of old, we can so easily become distracted, losing sight of God’s willingness to be with us, even in the splendor of His creation. Maybe we’ll be drawn back to the details we can still witness today; His genius and generosity. And witness first-hand the great love He has for us. Though still bound to this earth, we can have a heavenly intimacy with the LORD.