I went to the Garden of Love by Mark Patrick Hederman

Only that which does not teach, which does not cry out, which does not persuade,which does not condescend, which does not explain, is irresistible.

There are gardens you have to stumble upon. There have been two in my experience that ‘catch the heart off guard and blow it open.’3 One is the Rodin Sculpture Garden in Paris which I came upon unaware, as I turned a corner into a street unknown to me. The other was the Shekina Sculpture Garden in Glenmalure, Co Wicklow, Ireland. This latter I visited in August. The trees were heavy – laden and an unusually bright sun for the time of year picked out dragonflies on a crimson lily pond. Near perfect salmon pink roses scattered petals like butterflies on newly mown grass. The garden nestled into uninhabited Wicklow countryside, a polished stone on a craggy rock. Half its beauty was the wild surrounding claw that clutched it. The mountainside encroached as an animal waiting to pounce. I could imagine it, a hundred years from now, swamped by jungle and offering the visitor some tiny sculpted landmarks as signs of former domestication. And it wouldn’t really matter because the site had once been branded in such a way that forever it would hold a sculpted shape. Jacob made a monument out of the stones he used as pillows, in the place beyond the ford of Jabbock where he wrestled with the angel. Years of struggle and uphill maintenancein this u-shaped glacial valley of the Wicklow Mountains would survive any ravages of time. Once the meteor has landed its traces remain.

It is not by accident that both these gardens where I felt this presence were sculpture gardens. It was as if both God and nature were working towards one another, tunnelling through a mountain from either end. It is the art of incarnation: the meeting – point between the human and the divine in co-operation. Nature becomes the element through which transubstantiation occurs. Ordinariness is shaped into forms that capture some immensity, as shells on the seashore echo the ocean if placed accurately against the ear. Accidents arrange experiences unique to every passing moment: a robin squatting imperiously on a circle of Dublin granite, poised on a square of the same material, provides a living circumflex to a half – buried key letter.

All the senses are engaged. Eyes travel across mostly green shapes and shades, soothed by running streams, songs of birds, and the improvised tinkling of gently ruffled chimes. Delicate scents waft upwards, honeysuckle, rose petal, frehly cut grass, sicut incensum. The body glides through tactile surfaces, grass under foot, granite curlicues and elongated root – spills of bog yew, to a thick black rounded lozenge of Kilkenny limestone snapped in two releasing a dream world inside. I sit on the hyphen between two worlds.

The most direct and tangible meeting happened as I stood at the entrance to the gazebo. Three green chairs were facing me and three bright red geraniums corresponded geometrically with each seat. I was invited, as if entering their tabernacle, by these three chairs, to make up the fourth dimension they seemed to have been waiting for. We swayed together for several seconds in double – world vision.

Such a garden is an opening into another world, always present though seldom recognised, parallel to the one we take for granted. Those visiting should be allowed latitude and freedom to make their own connections. I would be disappointed by attempts to guide and direct me, even tell me what I should be experiencing. This garden is like an ancient pot with holes in it which has sunk to the bottom of the sea. Fish should 3 swim in and out of it at random without any attempt to direct traffic. Each person has their own particular point of entry which the overall assemblage provides in abundance.

A garden is a lovesome thing,
God wot!
Fringed pool,
Ferned grot, –
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not –
Not God! In gardens! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign;
‘Tis very sure God walks in mine.

Mark Patrick Hederman

1 Poem by William Blake
2 W.B.Yeats,Essays and Introductions, London, MacMillan, 1961, p 341.
3 ‘Postscript’ from Sprit Level by Seamus Heaney
4 ‘My Garden’ by T.E. Brown.



Find a place where you can best come to stillness; for example a particular spot in your house, in the garden, your local park, the car, sitting at your office desk.

Having stilled yourself physically in your chosen space and taken a suitable posture: sitting, standing, lying, then gently try to discover a quiet space in your inner self

Give yourself some minutes to arrive at a level of outer and inner stillness. Some days this will happen more easily than others. We never come to stillness instantly and the level we arrive at always varies – and no one arrives at perfect stillness!

The process of attempting to still your body, mind, feelings and ultimately your deep inner self is really a very simple task. Ultimately it is about doing nothing – it is simply a question of being there, of being the self that you are in this particular place and in this now-moment of time.


To assist the above process – listen! Listen first to the sounds around you.

Then, when you feel it is appropriate, begin to listen to what is surfacing within yourself . Note what enters your awareness but do not analyse – simply let what is be!

Over time and through regular practice you will experience deeper stillness. Your listening may come to the stage where it is about listening to Silence and being enveloped by that Silence. Rest in that Silence. Such Silence tends to be an experience of fullness as opposed to an empty Silence . Whatever quality of stillness is experienced simply remain within it.

When listening to the mystery of your deeper self and to the silence you may come to an experience of a Shekina-type Presence.

Reaching Out

At some stage you may be aware of being drawn away from yourself. Being a compassionate person you will be drawn to allowing those you love, those who suffer, or those who have other concerns enter your awareness. Allow that love, generated in you by the stillness and listening exercises, to reach out and empower others.

Do not force anything. From your place of stillness simply reach out towards whoever you feel drawn to and simply hold that person compassionately in your awareness. A particular situation or person might fleetingly attract your attention, or you may feel drawn to linger in your loving holding-of-the-other in your heart.

An appropriate was of finishing this Shekina experience would be gratitude – gratitude for the wonder of yourself, for the wonder of all that is created, for the wonder of the Divine in our midst.

Shekina Garden by Paddy Woodworth

It is possible, Hamlet said, to be bounded by a nutshell, and yet relish a sense of immersion in infinite space.

Hamlet’s paradox springs to mind as I try to explain, to myself and to you, what I find extraordinary about the Shekina Garden.

This garden occupies a very small space in a very big and very wild valley, Glenmalure. And within that small space there are many other smaller spaces: gazebos, nooks, benches in hidden corners, a narrow passageway.

And yet the feeling I experience in Shekina, whether as a whole or within one of its component chambers, is always one of expansion, of stretching beyond, of reaching out into a here – and – how where normal considerations of scale lose their significance.

Take the main lawn, for example. On one level, it’s an uneven and unexceptional hankerchief of neatly mown grass. It’s surely the opposite of what the landscapers of Big Houses had in mind, when they tried to create a sense of infinity stretching away towards the horizon, beyond great windows.

But if you sit on one of Shekina’s little benches – there always seem to be more of these than you remember from your last visit – you may find that there is enough expanse in any of these various vistas to calm an unquiet mind.

And if you let your eyes fix on the patch right under your nose, you may find that you are gazing at a mini – ecosystem, where a dozen plants and animals collaborate and contend in the dance of evolution. As your focus sharpens, this patch of ‘grass’ may reveal tiny flowers like eyebright.

This exquisite miniature is as lovely and complex as any orchid, though it’s true that you would need a magnifying glass to fully appreciate its subtle botanical architecture. For the moment, though, its name alone is a kind of serendipitous reminder of the possibility of clearer vision.

Shekina offers many options for walking ‘mindfully’, as the Zen tradition puts it. Slowing down until one is aware of the rich texture of each footfall and footrise, aware of the breath, and intensely aware of one’s immediate surroundings, the garden offers a cornucopia for the senses, an for what they tell us about ourselves in the world.

I like to wander from the patio down to the water lillies, with their blooms echoing the lotus in season, and where we find perhaps the only piece of pre-modern sculpture, a diaphonously clad nymph about to gather water.

Water is a theme of the lower garden, and turning to the right you can follow the stream back uphill. But first pause, to take in the mysterious door to the wilder world beyond Shekina, a door now so wonderfully encumbered with ivy as to be almost invisible.

For someone of my 1960s vintage, the door brings memories of Herman Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf, where a mysterious little door led to a “magic theatre”, where the price of entry was our rational minds.

Entertaining and ecstatic as that theatre could be, the entry ticket was too costly, and it feels very good to feel the wind of everyday reality on my face as I move past the door. Hamlet went on to say that his enjoyment of ‘infinite space’ was spoiled by ‘bad dreams’, and Hesse’s magic universe, at least as interpreted by the high priests of psychedelia, turned out to have more nightmares than revelations.

The world itself is miracle enough, and Shekina always reminds me of that. That world does not exclude intimations of otherness, but that otherness, in my very limited experience, is always a path towards a truer self.

Why does all this happen here? Why would someone without any formal religious beliefs, someone haunted, as so many of us are, by a sense of outrage at the crimes committed down the ages, and still today, with the blessing and protection of religious institutions of so many denominations, feel any affinity with the Shekina Garden?

That is a question I have asked myself periodically, as I return for another quiet time sitting in one of its many spaces, walking its pathways, or talking to its maker, Catherine McCann, and her venerable friend, Charlie O’Connor.

For Shekina is, quite explicitly, a sculpture garden inspired by specific Christian beliefs, with some space for the insights of Buddhism.

I suppose the answer is much the same as I would give when someone asks why I like to sit absorbing the afternoon light as it is refracted through the rose window in the church of Santa Maria del Pi in Barcelona, or bathe in the very special quiet of the tiny chapel of Santa Maria de Eunate on the Camino de Santiago.

We may reject the dogmas of the world religions, including the existence of any personal or individual God, and of any personal survival beyond our marvellous bodily existence. We may reject and where necessary combat the institutions that would impose these dogmas beyond the doors of their churches, mosques and temples.

But I do not see the values I live by as based on such rejections: the life of an agnostic is not based on negatives, but on a joyful and celebratory affirmation of this life.

And ‘this life’ is no simple thing: even to those of us who base much of our world view on science, it remains full of existential mystery and wonder. And we would need to be deaf, dumb and blind not to recognise the insights, generosity and beauty at work in the lives of many of those who embrace the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, or the Buddha, or Mohammed.

Shekina is full of such insights, generosity and beauty. This is manifest in the garden Catherine has created, in its generous blocks of unshowy blossoms, in its sculptural use of shrubs and trees.

And of course it is also manifest in the sculptures, most of which do not rely on explicit religious symbolism but rather, in their evocation of space and expansion, teach us something of freedom, the joyful realm of the mindful human spirit.

Above all, it is manifest in the lives and persons of Catherine and Charlie, sparkling with joy but also deeply sensitive to the sorrows that are also an essential part of our human experience.

And beyond the garden, beyond the sculptures, beyond Catherine and Charlie, lies the surrounding majesty of Glenmalure, its rugged mountain ridges and, nearer at hand, the magnificent oaks of Ballinacor estate across the river.

I’d like to leave the last ords to a Christian poet who inspires many environmentalists who, if I can put it this way, share his faith but not his beliefs. This is Wendell Berry, writing about the trees of another beloved – though doomed –woodland. It expresses, far better than I ever could, something of the experience of visiting Shekina:

To see them standing was to know a prayer
Made by the Holy Spirit in the air
By that same spirit living in the ground.
The trees in their high branches made the sound
Of air replying to that prayer.
The rayed
Imperial light sang in the leaves it made.


Paddy Woodworth