A Catholic Monthly Magazine


By Fr Gerard Whiteford SM

The word for the garden is from the Aramaic word gat-smane, which means oil press, and indeed the alternate name was the garden of olives. Almost surely there would have been an olive press nearby to extract the oil.

“Agony” was a technical term used at the time for athletes, much like the warm-up we see taking place on the rugby field. Athletes would first work their bodies into a sweat, a warm lather, an agony, to make their muscles warm and ready for the contest. 

‘Agony’ was not a term of trial or despair as we might use the word today, rather a term of getting ready, like the olives being ‘pressed’ into action.

The prayer of Jesus, “take the cup away” was met by silence. None of the Gospels records a response, rather no audible response (remember, they were all asleep!) Might I suggest the answer is in the place where Jesus prayed, the Garden of Olives. Jesus, like the olives was being ‘pressed’ into action.

It is not the first time in our Bible that betrayal took place in a garden!

Who said that trees grow easily
compared with us? What if the bright
bare load that pushes down on them
insisted that they spread and bowed
and pleated back on themselves and cracked
and hunched? Light dropping like a palm
levelling the ground, backwards and forwards?

Across the valley are the other witnesses
of two millennia, the broad stones
packed by the hand of God, bristling
with little messages to fill the cracks.
As the light falls and flattens what grows
on these hills, the fault lines dart and spread,
there is room to say something, quick and tight.

Into the trees’ clefts, then, do we push
our folded words, thick as thumbs?
somewhere inside the ancient bark, a voice
has been before us, pushed the densest word
of all, abba, and left it to be collected by
whoever happens to be passing, bent down
the same way by the hot unreadable palms

By Rowan Williams


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