By Kent Monroe
Follow the wood line at the back of the house, past the currants, past the birch-lined pond, and there comes a trail that leads through the woods to the secret garden. This is where I bury the children–dogs and cats, all loved–and this is also where flowers sometimes blossom among the thorns in my mind.
The secret garden is a modest clearing circled by ash and poplars. At one time, the weathered bench in the center was white. Fawns sleep in the woodland ferns that form a soft fence in the summer. My girlfriend, Gail, helped me plant deer-resistant perennials here and there. Depending on the season, daffodils, lupine, foxglove and coneflower bloom. They color the earth about an old apple tree where Moe, Larry, Zachary, Ebenezer and Claus lie in eternal rest. Above the flowers, birds glide through the air I breathe. The sun is bright, the shade cool, the wind sweet. It is a dimension of peace, a place where demons disentangle and die.
I can’t say exactly when I stopped believing that there is a God as described by narrative. As a child, my mother took me to the Episcopal Church most Sundays. The Church baptized me as a baby and confirmed me at the age of 15. As a young man, I spent several years in the company of two uncles who revered a fellow they believed to be the modern-day incarnation of the Prophet Elijah. Another uncle held the title Doctor of Divinity with the Church of God. I painted his bedroom walls shortly before he died of pancreatic cancer. He had asked me to pick the color, and I chose baby-boy blue. He sat in a chair in the hall as I painted. We reminisced for a couple of hours, and when I looked into his eyes for the last time later that day, I saw him as a child.
I recently tried to read the Book of Genesis from the Bible. By the fourth page, I’d had enough. How could I ever believe this was anything but mythology? We collect dust from the tails of comets, then bring it back to earth to examine. We smash protons together in our study of particle physics. We map planets orbiting stars light years from our sun. We evolve. We were not created from clay by some omnipotent grandfather. To believe so is to depart from reality. There may be an infinite number of universes. If so, not one would be populated by beings condemned to death because they were tricked by a talking snake.
Let me be clear: it is a beautiful notion, the savior—compelling to the core, and even though I don’t believe it now, the idea still reverberates emotionally with a lonesome power. Somewhere deep within me is the catacomb where I buried that belief. It pops up now and again like some quantum spirit, resonating the separation from something righteous, something essential. And although I understand why this is, that interred belief of Christ the Savior remains something of a haunting—the ghostly mist that shrouds my enlightenment.
So what do I now believe? Stephen Hawking asked why there is something instead of nothing. I would ask why there is something so beautiful instead of nothing. It is beautiful, this universe, this reality, despite evil, suffering and death. It is beautiful because I believe it was designed to evolve sentient beings along the arrow of time to some glorious purpose, driven by the irresistible power of love. The atoms formed at creation just happened to be primarily hydrogen, which turned to stars with time and gravity. We exist as the children of supernova — exploded stars. Those dispersed atoms have collected, animated, evolved to think and love. We are the zenith of cosmic expression. Our hearts beat in the void. These truths defy the possibility of coincidence. Thought and love are bound together now, as designed, and their bond will tighten as we evolve.