The Garden Of Life and Iconography of Nativity

Among icons of the Nativity is a “Jesse Tree.” Named after the father of David in the Old Testament , the tree’s presence is to remind how the birth of Jesus was another fulfilled prophecy from Isaiah:



“A shoot shall sprout from the stump (tree) of Jesse and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him” (Isaiah 11:1-2).

In the flesh, Jesus can trace his ancestry through both His mother and adoptive father Joseph, all the way back to Jesse, father of David. 
This lineage is sometimes shown in Icons of the Jesse Tree.

The idea of Advent as a journey is a valid and well established one, so I was intrigued by a poem for the way it offers another rich perspective on Advent Hope. 

The poem also speaks of the dark side of human nature and I was stunned by the imagery of the nettles, the parasitic mistletoe , the leprous moss and ivy that stunt and choke the emergent growth of the child's sapling. 

How powerful a metaphor this is for considering the sick legacy left by clerical child abuse and its suffocating and crippling effect on individuals,the church and community.

But the final line of the poem offers Advent hope.

I don't know much about the author's religious sensibilities so these are only my own interpretations. 


The Garden Of Life

Our lives are less a journey than a garden
Of virgin soil inherited at birth;
And none but fools would covet, still less pardon,
The motley plants we nourish in its earth;

The bitter fruits of malice and rejection,
The ivy of despair that cloaks a wall,
Tall shrubs of pride, so sure of their perfection,
(Their scabby leaves a wilderness of gall);

And here, a single rose— an act of kindness,
Unsullied by the blight of worldly gain;
But see the nettles, representing blindness
To any other’s misery or pain;

And here, the saddest sight— a child’s sapling
Stunted in its yearning for the light,
While overhead, dark mistletoe is grappling
With leprous moss as envy succours spite;

And here, a bed of honesty and honour,
(Surprising, is it not, to find it here?
Still, men are all half whore and half Madonna);
This evil copse is nightmare grown to fear.

The sapling?  Were it walnut we might whip it,
The ivy will destroy it if it can;
Yet given light, the sapling will outstrip it:
The Tree of Hope was God’s last gift to man.

First Published in Island of Dreams

If you want to hear the poem read by its author Felix Dennis click here 

 By the way if you are interested in icons of the nativity this site offers some fascinating insights.  

I particularly liked this one on the parallel of the manger and tomb imagery:

"The manger in the Nativity Icon deliberately resembles a stone coffin, the swaddling clothes resemble a burial shroud, and the cave itself can even be said to prefigure Christ’s tomb.

With the side-by-side comparison shown above of the Icon of the Nativity with the Icon showing the Myrrh-bearing women discovering Jesus’ empty tomb, no more words are necessary."

This Sunday's gospel introduces us to JohnThe Baptist and so this link that explains the iconography of John is also well worth a look.

No comments: