by Christine Sine
Here in Seattle spring is in full bloom and I love wandering round my garden admiring the beautiful daffodils and tulips and fruit blossoms. My garden room bulges with salad greens, broccoli, beans and over a hundred tomato plants waiting for warmer weather to be planted out. Like millions of others, the recent pandemic has encouraged us to expand our garden and grow more vegetables. We hope that this year at least 50% of the produce we eat will come from our own yard.
I have so enjoyed watching the growth of the community garden movement which grew in the fertile ground of the 2008 recession and has gained momentum over the last year as people have faced food insecurity and responded with new garden efforts. Also, the encouragement to both meet outside to reduce the spread of COVID and help reduce our stress and anxiety has spurred families and churches to expand their gardens to provide for themselves and their local food banks.
Unfortunately there is often a total disconnect between what happens in the garden and our zoom worship services and now as we head back into church many of us us are relieved to leave behind our outdoor gatherings. Yet gardening is one of the most profound acts of worship we can engage in. God’s first act after completing creation was to plant the garden of Eden. And in the first sighting of Jesus after the resurrection he is mistaken by Mary Magdalene for the gardener because, as I mentioned in my last post, that is precisely what he is – the gardener of the new creation.
So much gardening activity happens on our knees, in the position of prayer and supplication. I kneel to weed, plant and harvest and often find myself meditating and praying. If I am troubled by some seemingly insurmountable problem, there is no better place to thrash it out than kneeling in the garden. If I am irritable or depressed, there is no better therapy than weeding.
However there is far more than this that makes gardening a worshipful act. I read about the life, death and resurrection of Christ in the bible, but in the garden I experience it. Every time I plant a tiny misshapen seed and watch it burst into life from its earthy tomb I feel as though I have seen the Easter story reenacted.
Early Celtic Christians were very aware of this. Often, three days before sowing, farmers would sprinkle the seed with water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If possible they would plant on a Friday. The moistening hastened the seed’s growth and planting on Friday was always a reminder of the Christ’s death and burial. Planting was always symbolic of the planting of Christ, the seed of the new world in which resurrection life will come for all humankind as well as creation.
We are now in the Easter season, rapidly heading towards Earth Day such a perfect time to not only encourage our congregations to get outdoors, but also to help them make connections between the garden and their faith. Several years ago when Earth Day and Good Friday converged, I wrote a liturgy that brought these observances together. However I found I could not stop there, because the story of God in the garden does not stop there. On the following Easter Sunday I expanded the liturgy into a new liturgy which I called: Jesus Has Risen, A New Creation Has Begun http://godspace.wordpress.com/2011/04/25/jesus-has-risen-a-new-creation-has-begun/ to incorporate the resurrection of Christ as well.
There are other wonderful and worshipful lessons. I read about the faithfulness of God to Israel in the Old Testament, but I experience it every time I watch the rain fall and nourish the seeds that have been planted. I read about the miracle of the fish and loaves but I experience just as profound a miracle every time I am overwhelmed by the generosity of God’s harvest. I hold an apple seed in my hand and marvel at the hundreds, if not thousands of apples a seed like this has provided us with over the last 10 years.
In 2008 I wrote a book To Garden with God, https://godspacelight.com/shop/to-garden-with-god/ that reflected on many of the lessons I had learned to that point. However, as you can imagine the learning just keeps going and last year I developed an online course The Spirituality of Gardening https://godspacelight.com/shop/spirituality-of-gardening-online-course/ to help others reflect on their gardens too. In recent years I have even started creating small contemplative gardens that have delighted me with yet more garden lessons.
Perhaps this summer we should not grumble because COVID has forced us to take our worship outside. Maybe we should instead rejoice in the garden experiences and curate a whole new experience for our congregations. The gospel stories come alive in the garden, not just because we understand more fully the agricultural parables which Jesus so often used, but also because the garden is the place in which we can truly anticipate God’s promise for the future. In the garden, as we watch the plants grow and bear fruit in their season it is not hard to believe that one day all creation will indeed be made whole, restored and renewed to become all that God intends it to be.
NOTE: This post is adapted from one originally written for Faith+Leader https://faithlead.luthersem.edu/the-spirituality-of-gardening/