“We are all mediators for one another with Christ by our charity, by our sharing in his cross, by our love and humility in taking upon ourselves the sins of the world.” Thomas Merton
Mepkin Abbey’s Meditation Garden of Truth & Reconciliation is a new feature created to foster a greater understanding and empathy amongst people of different views and backgrounds through our shared past, shared pain and shared desire for reconciliation.
The garden is just outside the Henry Laurens family graveyard, incorporating the story of the slaves who once worked the plantation during Laurens’ time.
The central figure in the garden is a sculpture that has been situated where those who were enslaved lie in unmarked graves, buried along with Native Americans. The sculpture, titled “Thy Father’s Hand,” features the crucified Christ in the Hand of God.
A path features seven stations that call out points of history and moments of reflection encouraging a journey to greater understanding.
Station 1: Crossing Over
Welcome to The Meditation Garden of Truth and Reconciliation.
As you cross this bridge, we ask that you reflect upon the First Peoples on the American continent for whom this land is sacred and that you consider the millions of individuals who crossed over multiple waters as part of their journey to this place. Consider how these peoples continue to transform the landscape of our continent. Consider our diversity as Native Americans, Europeans, Africans, Hispanics and Asians.
With a shared past, our points of contact were often antagonistic, which often led to harsh and brutal actions; some peoples were forced to labor, which led to suffering, isolation, and in the earliest of cases, annihilation. We each carry forward the trauma of this history in distinct ways as we converge as one American people. Christian theology teaches that suffering may also be transformative – if we focus on how it may unite us with Christ’s passion in His final hours.
Embracing our shared suffering may help us develop a more genuine empathy for each other and support our observation of the second commandment:
“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
Station 2: Our Worlds Meet
We come to this place from differing origins. Our shared truth is that we are all here now choosing to help each other.
There is pain in our shared past .
Many of these diverse ancestors-built lives together while others killed the indigenous and enslaved for bounty, stole their legacies and land, and destroyed their lives. But we have endured and remain.
The lives we have built together have been mixed with joy and pain. Here we remember our ancestors, their stories, and their experiences. Our races and cultures have mixed together.
We can choose to focus on a movement of Truth, Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Healing to live together in Peace and in the Light of God.
Station 3: The Father’s Hand
(Gift of Dora Ann & James Reaves)
The sculpture, Thy Father’s Hand, by artist Garland Weeks, symbolizes a powerful relationship to piety, suffering, redemption, mercy, forgiveness, and the possibility of reconciliation.
Week’s compelling bronze work shows the open Divine Hand bearing a representation of the unconscious Christ in repose. This image of the Christ, as He takes upon His shoulders the sins and guilt of all humanity, affirms: “He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2).
This memorial offers a poignant analogy between the suffering of Jesus, and the suffering of the displaced and the enslaved. We believe that as God is holding Christ in His suffering, God holds each of us in our suffering, so can we hold each other in our suffering? All of us then, resting in God’s hand – unifying and healing humanity through God’s love.
Station 4: The Tabula Rasa
This tabula rasa or “blank slate” pays homage to the dispossessed Indigenous communities who had inhabited the areas surrounding Mepkin.
We also pay respect in sorrowful acknowledgment of the unknown number of the enslaved Africans, anonymous indentured servants, whose names are lost to history and are buried on this land which they built through their forced labor.
In the United States, a pervasive under-appreciation exists, culturally, of the invaluable and unheralded contributions of the marginalized and disenfranchised. The fruits of their labors, which continue to exist, constructed a unique character to our American society and its enterprises.
Reconciliation and Healing provide the means for giving each of us the ability to start anew, with gratitude for the lessons the experience of the past has taught us for moving forward in a better way. History remains with us always, however, this “blank slate” offers a metaphor that shows we have the collective means, wisdom, strength, persistence and resilience to create our own shared futures.
We are capable of creating a future filled with the love for God and our neighbors. Through this love may each of us become one in Christ, being comforted and healed by the Father’s Hand.
Station 5: A Reflection of Eternity
In this meditation garden, we stand before a field of unmarked graves in which the formerly enslaved were buried. Their suffering during the injustices of enslavement, the dehumanizing, racist, and destructive effects of colonial culture, is well-documented.
Today, we take time to remember and honor the dignity of their souls. We are each destined for the eventuality that our earthly lives will pass and our souls will enter eternity. What legacy will we leave?
Will ours be a legacy of love, care, and compassion for all? Will experiencing this garden transform your thinking about God and neighbor?
We may each take comfort in the continuity of God’s love over time.
Station 6: Truth, Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Healing
In our respective spiritual journeys, each of us may ask ourselves if our capacity for love and trust will ultimately triumph over our capacity for fear and hatred.
Our nation has a complicated and troubling past, but we are not solely defined by it. Although incomplete knowledge of the past may bias, shape and limit our present understanding, a better vision for our shared future is possible.
Crucial to our potential for facilitating reparative social justice and seeking redemption are our emotions of compassion and empathy. We are capable of inquiry, new discovery and of collective and individual growth. As humans, possessing the faculty of reason and free will, we are able to learn, adjust and adapt.
We are capable of correcting falsehoods and superstitions with facts when new reliable information is provided. We are able to develop a well-formed conscience, and choose Christ the path to a redemptive future.
For then “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
Station 7: The Invitation
“Only where the infinite truth and freedom of God live in the heart can there be any effective social cooperation in striving for justice and truth on earth. Christ alone is able to bring true peace to our hearts. And it is through the hearts of others that he brings it. We are all mediators for one another with Christ by our charity, by our sharing in his cross, by our love and humility in taking upon ourselves the sins of the world. Without condemning sinners, placing ourselves below others and forgiving all. By our humility and charity Christ lives in the world and prepares the consummation of His kingdom, inviting all to be merciful to one another, to be just, to give everyone the good that is owing them and more besides – to repay evil with good. If all will not hear his invitation, there must still be some in the world who will bear the sins and injustices of all, and repair them by their love.
If God’s justice is not visible in civil society, at least it must appear in the believers in Christ and all who seek God.”
Thomas Merton, from “Monastic Journey,” page 78