Part of what we get to do as landscape architects is to create places – places to relax, places to play, even places to work. We know that how we do our jobs makes a difference, we know the right integration of nature into our built environments can change everything and we know that bringing people in closer contact with nature can bring them closer to the divine.
As far back as the 5th or 6th century BC, religious scholars wrote of the essence of beauty and creation and that’s what we read from Genesis in the Holy Bible today. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…Then God said 'Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.' And it was so. Then God said, 'Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky'..." And so, we were inextricably linked to nature.
According to Judeo/Christian teachings, we are created to harmonize with nature so it should come as no surprise that we find serenity in places of natural beauty. We feel differently when we experience significant places of natural wonders – we feel changed. For many, this is experienced as ‘the spirit moving within’ and is both a natural phenomenon and a spiritual awakening. It is our soul becoming re-connected with its origin where spirit and earth mix, where God and humankind meet.
"God created humankind so that humankind might cultivate the earthly and thereby create the heavenly" (Meditations with Hildegaard of Bingen, p.88).
Every day, we take every chance we get to connect people with nature for the simple fact we know it makes a difference. Whether it is a corporate campus or healing garden at a hospital, we know a sensitively-designed landscape has the power to make people happy, less stressed and more relaxed. But once in a while we get to connect them to something more. Over the years, I have designed nearly a dozen dedicated prayer gardens where we strive to “create the heavenly”.
Creating a space that can help people feel a connection to the divine is truly one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my professional life, for if I have helped one individual cultivate the garden of the human soul, I will have done my job. Such is my earthly goal and my divine mission.
Photos: St. Francis Prayer Garden, Omaha, NE