garden

A Gospel of the Garden

Garden photo, VICUSCHKA / Shutterstock.com

Garden photo, VICUSCHKA / Shutterstock.com

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.

Stewardship: Being in and Working with Creation

Rudolf Vlcek/Shutterstock

My dad's best friend Leo explained that he managed the land. Rudolf Vlcek/Shutterstock

When you hear about stewardship in church, you probably think of your checkbook. Stewardship is the term we use to talk about financially supporting our churches and organizations. But another holy use of the word involves being stewards of creation.

When I hear the word stewardship, I feel the crunch of snow and branches under my feet. I see the trees and paths of the woods owned by my parents’ best friends, where I spent much of my childhood hiking, hunting, skiing, picking apples, and feeding chickadees out of the palm of my hand. It’s one of the places where I gradually heard my calling to work for the care of creation. And the word stewardship transports me to a specific day in my childhood, walking in the woods with my dad’s best friend, Leo, when he pointed to a tree and said he would have to take it down.

How could he kill a tree? I hassled him; I got indignant. I said that nature should be left alone to do her thing. But Leo explained that I was wrong — he managed the land. It wouldn’t be just fine on its own; rather, it needed his careful eye to manage the trails, cut down sick trees, and hunt deer.

Congregations Turn to Compost for Lessons on Life, Death, and the Environment

A wheelbarrow filled with vegetable scraps at Church of the Pilgrims. Photo by Andrew Satter, courtesy Ashley Goff / RNS

The wheelbarrow outside the sanctuary was overflowing with vegetable scraps; decomposing matter filled the baptismal font; and a pile of rich brown soil replaced the Communion table.

Ashley Goff, minister for spiritual formation at Church of the Pilgrims, wanted to convey a message about the cycle of nature this fall, and she could think of no better analogy than the congregation’s growing enchantment with compost.

“I wanted them to see the process of life and death and change,” she said of her Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation of 70. “It’s a dying and a rising, where new life begins.”

Across the country in the past decade, hundreds of houses of worship have started composting, relating it to theological concepts of resurrection and stewardship.

Paradigm Shift

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Autumn mornings -- when the cool rain is hitting the tin roof and the breezes blow with enough swagger to make the trees bow in admiration -- remind me of when my second daughter was born and after we had held her in our arms for some time we knew exactly what her name would be. Jorah (meaning "autumn rain" in Hebrew.)

I cannot help but reminisce about those summer sunsets (pictured above) when the sweaty warmth stretched late into the day. Those days were full of bold, luminous life. A bountiful garden. Happy hens sauntering. Silly children splashing and running and laughing.

During the summer season, my wife's delicate hands turned, with soil under her nails and calluses here and there from hours of loving toil in the garden -- always walking towards me with a bowl full of color and a mouth cracked open by a proud grin. She mothers the vegetables in her with almost as much attentiveness and love as her own babes.

Now autumn's crisp air awakens us as we feel the seasons shifting. The trees cast all their energy into turning shades of green into glorious reds, yellows, oranges and golds, a celebratory finale before bowing out for a season of slumber.

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