The Garden of Belief

garden_viaKarenRoeThere is an unnerving kind of wary scrutiny that arises when you try to convince someone with an earnest belief to change their mind. They listen, drawn like a bowstring, waiting. You may defend your position, or you may not—it almost makes no difference. At the end, your argument will falter, pierced through in their mind.

In some circles we talk about this kind of discussion as “planting seeds,” presuming (hoping) that some piece of what we say will make it through to germinate behind the walls. Believing that eventually, its roots will undermine even deeper foundations. Perhaps it shall; or perhaps it will die; or perhaps it will grow to a certain height only to be pruned back and left as an ornamental bush in a the corner of a well-kept garden.

Yet I am more concerned with how we go a-sowing.

As we collect our seeds, I think we draw most often from our own prized beliefs, well-protected and cultivated, fertilized and watered and carefully covered each winter. What would happen to these beliefs if left to the vagaries of truth? Would they stand the harsh winter of scrutiny, bear up against competing evidence, and flourish? Or would they wither at the slightest provocation? Do they continue to exist only within our own solidly-constructed walls? And when we cast them over the walls of others, is it any wonder they are poorly received?

If we wish to plant seeds, I believe we must question our own more deeply. Rather than peering through our gate with suspicious vigilance at the seeds scattered by others, I think we need to till our soil and see what grows. Rather than curating and walling off our gardens to protect prized but ailing premises, I think we need to consider honestly what will stand. And yes, at times I believe we must uproot invasive and damaging beliefs that would overwhelm everything else.

If our beliefs can stand on their own merits, we need not defend so viciously. If our ideas are well-founded with solid roots, a little wind and rain only brings them to life. And if they fall before a storm of evidence, it renews our soil and reinvigorates our understanding.

Perhaps most importantly, if our beliefs can stand on their own, we need not cast their seeds so aggressively over the walls of others. Instead we can invite our former opponents to view our garden as equals, to question and test and investigate as they may, and be happy to receive their honest critique. Instead of a vicious debate, we can share ideas and keep the best we have between us.

This does not have the same evangelical fervor that accompanies an armed confrontation, but I think it has more potential. Why breach someone’s walls to plant a seed when you can offer the same freely, and even in trade? Then if the seed is planted it will not be through invasion but through exploration. If it grows, it will grow with care and support until it is strong enough to stand alone.

And as our own seeds grow in the gardens of others, so too will theirs enrich our own. Thus we trade in the withering, capricious crop of caged beliefs for vibrant and wild truth.

Photo Credit: Karen Roe

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