Smith works the dual role as director of Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning and director of Calvin College's graduate studies in education. He recently spoke at AMDG Architects' July Speaker Series about the relationship between gardens cultivating people's moral, spiritual and virtue through education.
Eden equated with delight
Eden, as in the Garden of Eden, for example, is the Hebrew word that means pleasure, delight and desire, according to Smith.
"This becomes an image that gets used in the early church, including the fruits of the Spirit and the birds of temptation that come to pick the fruit," said Smith. "The Garden of Eden is an image where society is working, before everything gets destroyed.
"You start to see the connection in the early church fathers' writings between gardens and learning," continued Smith, "where you begin to grow, where you become virtuous, become cultivated, where you become fruitful, where you become spiritually mature."
In the New Testament, Jesus likens Himself as the true vine and His father is the gardener.
Those who are among Jesus' branches are expected to bear fruit, but only if they remain on His vine.
Comenius' botanical roots
John Amos Comenius understood Jesus' botanical-related teachings, said Smith.
Comenius (1592-1670) was a philosopher, theologian and the last bishop for the Unity of the Brethren church. He is the earliest champion for universal education, explained in his book "Didactica Magna" or "Great Didactic."
Education regardless of age, class, sex and nationality
"Didactica" asserts the entire world must be a garden of delight to God, for both people and for things, actually for "every single person, young and old noble and ignoble, men and women — in a word every being born on earth, with the ultimate aim of providing education to the entire human race regardless of age, class, sex and nationality."
"Schools were to become a garden of delight," said Smith. "So you've got to build a school that includes everybody. You've got to educate children who are rich and poor together otherwise it would lead to social division. He says you've got to educate boys and girls together because both were made in the image of God."
Comenius stretched the educational boundaries of his day by reflecting God's Word, said Smith.
Need to be a well-watered garden
He argued that all schools should literally have gardens in them, tied to the school day, as well as a petting zoo. Students should not be overburden with work because that would likely turn them into people who are too tired to seek the justice exquisitely written in detail in Isaiah 58. ("If you do away with the yoke of oppression ... you will be like a well-watered garden.")
"We should be building a more humane environment," said Smith. "When cruelty is inflicted on all things, it's due to the wickedness and ignorance of man.
"Comenius said every city should have a park where you can go be reminded of the Garden," added Smith. "He didn't want the park to just be the place where you go play Frisbee. A park should be a place where you go to be reminded of Isaiah 58."