Thursday, September 1, 2011

Gardening as Co-Creation

I love that my church began vegetable gardening for so, so many reasons. That said, one of the biggest reasons I love our garden is that I consider gardening to be my primary spiritual practice. I am thrilled that First Church Somerville offers others the opportunity to tend the soil and enjoy it's harvests. It was my (nerve-racking) pleasure to offer a reflection on gardening, environmentalism, and spirituality at our intimate, experimental evening service Rest and re/New (every Wednesday, 6:15 in the Chapel) last night. I offered a "sacred text" from Michael Pollan's book Second Nature: A Gardener's Education and then said something more or less like this:

Our questions for reflection tonight are "How can gardening and other experiences in nature inform us about taking care of the earth? What do these experiences tell us about God? How can we tend the earth and change it in ways that will continue to sustain 'every living thing' for many generations to come?"

We began this series titled "Planet in Peril" by listening to the creation story and by discussing what it means to by some biblical translations "have dominion [...] over every living thing that moves upon the earth" (NRSV, Genesis 1:28). We talked about what it means to be good stewards and to care for the earth that was created so long ago.

But the truth is that this story of creation continues on. We continue to have an impact on the earth for better or for worse and the earth is continually changing in response. The world is so different from the one in this original utopian story that its problems seem too big, too impossible.

In Second Nature Michael Pollan describes fighting with two competing instincts for approaching his garden. One instinct is to destroy nature and protect his gardens from it and the other is to allow the so-called natural invasive and destructive plants and animals he encounters to completely take over in the name of environmentalism. He describes a fine line that he and other conscientious gardeners struggle to walk.

Like it or not, we are all gardeners when it comes to caring for our planet. We can't just let nature take over and everything will magically become just "the way it used to be." The environment has been forever changed by time and our presence in it. Even if we were able to return to this former glory, would we recognize it? Would we even like it?

Both my buddy Michael and I find hope, solace, and beauty in gardening on the much smaller scale -- in spaces like our church garden, our public parks, our transforming yards.Gardens are unique places where people's needs and nature's needs coexist constantly.

Sometimes they fight against each other. This past spring, for example, I wanted to grow beautiful baby vegetables in my backyard but the neighborhood woodchuck saw them as a tender, delicious feast. In the garden I've experienced droughts, infestations, infections, winds, and other forces of nature that hurt and destroyed my best laid plans.

Tomato plants devoured by my woodchuck "friend"

But more often, I see gardens as glorious example of humans and nature getting to know each other more intimately and working together to create something far more beautiful than either could create on its own. Through sweat and tears and triumphs I see gardening as an opportunity to co-create with God herself! I can plant seeds, but without the help of so many things beyond my control, they would remain seeds. Nothing would happen to them.

Pea planting (courtesy of Liz D)
 The author of another book I read recently called the Mystic Gardener describes this well. "For me," she says, "gardening is a process that invites me to be fully engaged. It is also a constant exercise in letting go since so much happens that is not in my control. Strangely this duality seems to cultivate a joy that embraces impermanence and finds refuge in the invisible."

We have the opportunity to participate in the ongoing story of creation. What will we do with this opportunity? How can we tend the earth and change it in ways that will continue to sustain "every living thing" for many generations to come?

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