I laid me down upon a bank,
Where Love lay sleeping;
I heard among the rushes dank
Then I went to the heath and the wild
To the thistles and thorns of the waste;
And they told me how they were beguiled,
Driven out, and compelled to the chaste.
I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen;
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.
And the gates of this Chapel were shut
And “Thou shalt not,” writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore.
And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires.
-William Blake, from Garden of Love
Though deeply spiritual, William Blake did not ascribe to the conventional religious beliefs of his day. In fact, he was critical of organized religion, believing it to be harmful to one’s imagination, creativity, and even more to one’s particular connection to the Divine. In this poem, we see Blake representing organized religion as different types of deaths: the death of love, the death of beauty, and the final death.
Blake’s very bleak view of religion is not so different from what I see in our contemporary culture. We have grown weary of the radicalized, the right-wing, and the self-righteous haters. And an unfortunate result, is that we have thrown religion and spirituality into the same category—all just a bunch of useless, outdated, and harmful propaganda.
Like Blake, I am not eager to embrace a belief system that would have me condemn those who don’t share my beliefs to death. And like Blake, I think that it is far too easy to allow other strong and seemingly confident voices to squelch ours and dictate our personal connection with the Divine. But, unlike Blake, I think religion still holds great value and can be a source for spiritual seekers. And unlike those who lump religion and spirituality together, I think it is harmful, and in the long run dissatisfying, to disavow any connection with our soul or spirit. And really, we’ve simply replaced the God of religion with the god of money and the god of the State, and the god of pleasure.
Because meaning is what we are really looking for—our purpose, our contribution, our place in this vast universe. Though we are small, we play a significant part, a necessary part. So, maybe in the midst of so much chaos and instability and fear, we can create our inner connection to our Purpose, our own Garden of Love—one that cannot be swept away by any voice or opinion or death.
I encourage you to take a few moments and free- associate. Imagine what your Garden of Love would be…
Then manifest it!