A Gospel of the Garden | Sojourners

A Gospel of the Garden

Garden photo, VICUSCHKA / Shutterstock.com
Garden photo, VICUSCHKA / Shutterstock.com

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When God coupled the earth with the breath of eternity, our souls and the soil were fused and our destinies perpetually intertwined. While many of us have been taught that human beings have dominion over the Earth, we have not understood that what we do to Mother Earth, we do to one another and to God.

Dominion theology has led to domination, abuse, and destruction of Mother Earth and human communities. Every time we strip the land of its diversity, we strip a layer of humanity from our collective souls. Soil is also a community of diverse beings — some visible to the naked eye, some microscopic. A diversity of beings distinguish fertile soil from lifeless dirt. When industrial agriculture or chemical spills make these beings homeless, our soil becomes dust and is gone with the wind. Regardless of their visibility to the human eye, maintaining the homes of microbes intact, is what keeps the land fertile for growing crops which feed human beings. Adding microbes to “the least of these” who deserve our protection is truly an act of self preservation.

Respect and protection is a recurring casualty of dominion theology in that dominated land requires dominated people to work it. Plantations required slaves, and agribusiness requires exploited immigrants. Generational shame was whipped into the minds of enslaved Africans as their backs were abused in cultivating the land. Over the course of 400 years, a healthy relationship with Mother Earth was one of those legacies lost, stolen, or strayed for many African Americans. Restoring a healthy relationship with the land is a vital prerequisite for our urban youth to turn their food deserts into an oasis of food sovereignty.

Multinational food conglomerates have replaced the plantation owners, and the domination continues. When we created corporate persons, and impregnated them with power, we bowed to our creation in the name of economic progress. And now our idol, these multinational corporations, have become Frankensteins which stalk the Earth reeking chemical spills, oil drenched wetlands, and barren hilltops under the guise of progress. Plants that don’t produce seeds, pesticide-filled trees that kill insects and birds, and rice spliced with human genes do not evoke the life-giving garden God asked us to serve and preserve.

Let us repent from degrading Mother Earth and redeem ourselves with a Gospel of the Garden. Just as Christ redeems humankind back to union with God, let us redeem land to its diversity, water to its purity, and air to its life-giving force. Just as the land was “cursed” because of Adam, let Adam’s seed bless the land with food justice for all. Christ's resurrection power has been shared with us to dismantle any system, any power that diminishes God's blessings on Earth. Agro-ecologists and permaculturists are showing that biodiversity and abundance are peas in a pod when we follow God’s original plan.

All that went into the garden came from elements God pronounced as good. That goodness was in abundance, and that abundance undergirds peace. Those who preserve the abundance of our gardens shall be called the peacekeepers. And like Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathi, let us organize peace with mass reforestation of our countries. Set your children free from asthma by restoring the tree canopies in our cities.

Whether to the garden of Mount of Olives or the garden of Gethsemane, Christ regularly crept away to a garden at night to nourish himself in Creation. There he found clarity about his life’s mission, guidance for the journey, and strength to overcome obstacles. He was transfigured in the garden — unified with our Creator and fortified by the prophets who had gone before. Let us follow Christ into the garden and be fortified to restore our home, the Earth. In the garden, let us be anointed with courage and strength to overcome the forces that destroy our communities and our health.

The blueprint for such a garden is found in the second chapter of Genesis. It describes a human habitat that is beautiful, providing shelter, food and medicine in generous measure. God created an abundant food production system with trees as its foundation, rather than removing trees as we do. God did not segregate beautiful trees from food-producing trees, nor were crops segregated from the trees. Fertilization and pollination occurred naturally. The diversity of native plants kept insects within balance. All that was required was pruning, harvesting abundant yield, and restoring fertility to the soil. Music and dancing fed the soul of farmers and herders, while their labor fed the body. Culture was not separate from food production, and art did not exist for its sake. Art existed to enlighten our daily living. Just as wisdom was daily God’s delight (Proverbs 8), there was delight in the garden.

A 2,000-year-old food forest still operating in Morocco bears witness to the positive consequences of following God’s landscaping plan. Committing land to food cultivation with environmentally friendly methods brings forth true food sovereignty. Food cannot be secure when politicians relegate urban gardens as interim land use until property values are high enough for retail! Food cannot be secure when Wall Street turns our daily bread into a speculative commodity. Food is secure when you decide what is grown, how it is grown, and how it is distributed. Sharing from our gardens of abundance must be allowed in city ordinances.

Wisdom is calling for every human dwelling — every neighborhood, whether rural, urban, suburban, to protect our environment, and nurture permanent food systems that yield abundance and permanent peace. Let us share this Gospel of the Garden in our own yards and everywhere we work, play and pray.

Rev. M. Dele, a minister with dual affiliations in the United Church of Christ and Baptist denominations serves God’s garden as a Climate Reality leader, board member of Virginia Interfaith Power and Light; and founder of Nature’s Friends, a faith based permaculture institute dedicated to training “Earth First Responders” in vulnerable communities so that we All may adapt and thrive during climate change.

Image: Garden photo, VICUSCHKA / Shutterstock.com

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