Existing Intentionally With the Land | Sojourners

Existing Intentionally With the Land

Growing up as a daughter of Cuban immigrants in Miami meant that much of my childhood was spent learning how life was lived en el campo or the countryside of the island that birthed my ancestors. Some of my most powerful memories include digging, planting, and learning how to tend the earth with my abuelita. I’d spend hours with her, picking the best mangos from the trees for our afternoon snack while listening to her stories of life before the revolution. Abuela always reminded me that Cuba es la isla más bella del mundo (Cuba is the most beautiful island in the world).

It was during these moments, with our fingers in the dirt, that my abuelita deepened my understanding of her life and our history. She loved her garden, and that is the place where I saw her come to life, where she reconnected with the earth and found restoration and wholeness. For her, gardening was a way of living out her own form of embodied resistance after being forced from her land only a couple of decades before.

Abuela taught me that we can live lives of resistance simply by existing intentionally.

In Sabbath as Resistance, Walter Brueggemann argues that even rest can be seen as an act of resistance because “it is a visible insistence that our lives are not defined by the production and consumption of commodity goods.”

All of us have witnessed the detrimental effects of mass production and consumption that Brueggemann talks about, not only in the anxiety that fills our daily lives, but in the destruction of the very earth that sustains us. Because of this, we understand that not only tending the earth, but connecting to nature around us can also be a form of resistance, similar to that of rest.

In The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, Willie Jennings argues that when we talk about earth and land, we cannot do so without talking about body and soul. He references his mother and how she taught him to respect the dirt because like many black women from the South, “she knew the earth like she knew her own soul.”

Jennings reminds us that from the beginning of creation, human beings were commissioned to watch over the earth, take care of it, and receive nourishment from it. The connection among God’s creation — land, animals, and humans — in the narrative is beautiful, divine, “very good.”

This human connection to the land and to animals isn’t just something we see in the creation narrative, it continues to play out across time and across communities. In fact, much of Israel’s story is deeply rooted in land — their displacement from it and their longing to be restored in it.

Throughout history, coming across a people also meant coming across the land they were connected to and the animals that were a part of their family. It’s a divine sense of “creaturely entanglement,” Jennings explains. “We’ve always lived in an enmeshed world where our lives are intertwined and continuously interweaving.”

Paul affirms this connection in Romans 8 when he addresses the issue of suffering through the perspective of creation. Paul personifies creation as sharing in the decay that characterizes this present age. Like humans, it is groaning to be set free. As we lament for a better reality, so do the mountains.

When talking about race, Jennings recognizes that what colonization essentially did was rip peoples from their land and animal-kin. What was once a holistic identity, one that mirrored the goodness of creation, now became a distorted identity. Because of this, resistance and decolonizing work must involve restoring these broken and distorted identities. While this is a life-long task in which we all engage in continuously and communally, I often find myself going back to those moments in the garden with my abuelita. These moments of reconnection with the land offer me respite for the journey ahead.

As I seek for ways to live in an embodied state of resistance and decolonization, I remember the divinely sanctioned relationship between humans, animals, and the earth in which we coexist. And as I spend time feeling the earth in between my fingertips and listening to the birds above me, I remember that gardening can be not only an act of worship, but my own personal act of resistance. Jennings reminds us, “We are of the dirt. The dirt is our kin. We are creatures of the dirt, bound together.”