“Our uniqueness is God’s garden and God calls us to walk in this garden in love…for one another.” Reverend Naomi Tutu
Does your spiritual belief allow you to love all people? Does your life include diversity? How are you able to accept those who are different?
On Sunday, August 16, I was very moved by the main message Rev. Naomi Tutu gave at the online Jubilee Community service in Asheville, NC. Related to her statement that I have quoted, she talked about how diverse her mother’s garden was and how much she loved that diversity in nature. I was very moved by the metaphor of the garden. Although I have rarely grown gardens, I love the natural gardens of the forest.
Most of us would find a garden with a wide variety of blossoms to be very beautiful. Around here, the Biltmore Estate has a popular flower garden filled with color especially in the spring and summer where people love to walk and relax.
My husband and I recently wandered off a hiking path to discover a lovely community garden. We were amazed by the wide diversity of colorful fruits and vegetables that lusciously feed those who cultivate the field.
We are blessed to live in this Appalachian area around Asheville because the natural environment is the most diverse in the world. It is a gold mine for those who wish to explore the diversity of the natural environment and we frequently find flowers or mushrooms we’ve never before seen.
Most of us appreciate the diversity in our natural garden, but what about our human garden? Are we comfortable walking among its diversity? Does the variety of humanity feed us in some way?
What Diversity Can Teach Us
Our ability to be comfortable with human diversity is deeply rooted in our background, experiences, and open mindedness. As a child I was taught to respect all people, but for many years the only people I was around were white like me. In high school and college, I had minor contacts with people of African descent but did not really know anyone until I acted alongside a black student in a theatrical performance. It was the first time I realized I really had no idea what it was like not to be white.
Later, living in Washington, D. C., I encountered few people in the suburbs unlike me except when I was teaching at a Catholic girls’ school. I’d grown up Protestant so I had to get used to the culture of nuns, dress more conservatively, and adjust to attending the school’s religious masses.
It was not until I lived in Denver in the eighties that I experienced an even more diverse spiritual environment. I had always been searching for something without knowing what it was that was missing in my Christian spiritual life. I had long ago stopped attending services, and because of a deep friendship with a man who was a Buddhist, I became curious about his faith. I studied eastern religion, learned to meditate, and taught dance for a short time at the Naropa Institute in Boulder.
From this new experience, my understanding of God’s love expanded. I dealt with life’s challenges in a calmer, more centered manner. As I moved through this new spiritual garden, I enjoyed its diversity because it opened my mind to an expanded understanding of humanity. I felt connected to people from Eastern countries in a way I had never before experienced.
Differences May Teach Us
Diversity is easier to accept when we understand the nature of our differences. Except for the gender prejudice I had experienced as a woman, I had never been treated differently because I was white until I lived in New Orleans where, in some areas, whites did not feel welcome.
It is hard to imagine any place on earth that is more unique than New Orleans. It is a multicultural city with a large black population, where most of all families are Catholic, and the food is unique, based on French and African influences. I moved there to be with my family.
Having previously taught in a Catholic school helped me understand those I met who were dedicated to Catholicism. Teaching multiracial gifted students in the inner city helped me understand their challenges and I felt compassion for the difficulties they faced trapped in poverty. I still remember the girl with a dysfunctional mother who got pregnant so someone would love her and the boy who feared his brother would be shot by a gang member.
Accepting Diversity Opens Hearts
It is so easy to judge people at a distance because we cannot see who they truly are. It is much easier to simply dismiss them as different, but when we take the time to know them, they can potentially enrich our lives.
The diversity in my life experiences has taught me that we must learn to love those who are different from us and to respect all humanity. When we focus on what we share in common rather than only on what is different, we plant seeds of love that will grow into a garden of understanding and respect. Anais Nin has said, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
The more we open our eyes and our hearts and come to understand that we are all God’s children, the more our soul’s garden will expand and feed us abundantly.
© 2020 Georganne Spruce