by Christine Sine
Flourish Magazine, Winter 2010
Gardening is an important spiritual practice in my life. As part of our commitment to simplicity and sustainability, my husband and I grow as much of our own fruit and vegetables as possible on our urban lot. Our front porch currently bulges with tomato and squash seedlings waiting to be planted, and our side garden provides a feast of broccoli, cauliflower and salad greens. Nothing is more satisfying than eating produce freshly harvested and cooked from the garden.
But it is not really the produce that keeps me in the garden.
In my book To Garden With God, I write the following:
There is no place quite like the garden for connecting to God’s story. So many of Jesus’ parables and the events of his life, death, and resurrection take on new meaning in the garden. I read about the death and resurrection of Christ in the Bible, but I experience it every time I plant a dead seed, bury it in its earthy grave, and watch it burst into life. I read about the faithfulness of God to Israel in the wilderness, but I experience it every time I watch the rain fall and nourish the seeds I have planted. I read about the miracle of the fish and the loaves, but I experience a miracle every time I am overwhelmed by the generosity of God’s harvest.
Creation care close to home
Celebrating God’s presence in the garden helps me absorb the soothing rhythms encased in the seasons of the year. When I am irritated or disgruntled, it transforms me not just by bringing renewal and refreshment, but by teaching me about our Creator God whose glory shines through all creation. The garden shows how all of life reflects God’s creative presence and sustaining love. Early Egyptian monks gardened as part of God’s mandate to care for the earth. Throughout the middle ages gardens were dearly loved by monastic communities who saw gardening as an essential rhythm of life. It enabled them to glimpse the paradise humankind once shared with God.
There is no better time than this to reconnect our lives to God’s story revealed through the garden. Tough economic times have sent people everywhere scurrying for garden books and packets of seed. Backyard and community gardens have proliferated. Even the White House has planted an organic garden to supplement the presidential salads.
Tragically, few seem to connect gardening to faith. Most creation care theology focuses on preserving wilderness areas and overcoming the devastation of pollution—not on the joy of gardening. Yet I suspect God created human beings to tend the garden because God knew that it would be in the garden’s midst that we would connect most intimately to his character and ways.
Gardening teaches me to look for God in all my daily activities and encounters. Watching the cycle of days and seasons reminds me of the faithfulness of a God who comes to us in all seasons and events of life. God, who poured out his great love in the complexity, beauty, and diversity of creation, still cares for us and all creation, and will never abandon what he has made.
A season for everything under the sun
Every season teaches new lessons about God that connect to the gospel story. Our journey begins in winter, when most of the natural world draws deep into itself, preparing to rest. Trees retract their sap and drop their leaves. Animals hibernate, and birds fly away from the cold. It is time for us, too, to slow down and reflect on our lives and spiritual state. In the Northern Hemisphere, winter coincides with Advent and Christmas—the seasons for looking inward, for new beginnings and new depths of understanding.
In spring we dig the ground, plant, and fertilize. Bulbs and trees burst into bloom with exultation. This is the season of greatest garden activity. We nurture the newly planted seeds into life and tend fruit trees in expectation of a rich harvest. In the North, it coincides with Easter, the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection. This is when we plant new seeds of faith and cultivate all that will one day blossom and bear fruit in our lives and in God’s world.
Summer is a time of abundant growth and productivity. The harvest of our long hours of spring toil begins. We sit and relax, feeling fulfilled. In our spiritual lives, there are also seasons when everything seems to flourish and produce abundant fruit without much effort. Much of our summer work is done on our knees—a great time to pray for those who produce our food. Pray for farmers, especially those whose livelihoods and backbreaking work, often for meager wages and little thanks, provide us with a rich array of inexpensive produce.
In the church calendar, summer begins at Pentecost with the in-filling of the Holy Spirit, whose enduring presence enables God’s life of love, compassion, and abundance to flourish in and through us. Pentecost ushers in the season during which we are meant to live out the life of God’s kingdom.
Autumn is also a season of great garden activity, as the year culminates in lavish harvests and accompanying feasts. We can, dry, and preserve the harvest for the days of winter scarcity. In our lives we need to recognize these seasons when the physical effort of gathering in the harvest is tempered with the prayer and preparation needed to sustain us throughout the cold winters of life that assail us all.
For me, harvest time mirrors God’s overflowing generosity. When we diligently work the earth—sow seed, fertilize, water, and nurture crops, the harvest is often overwhelmingly abundant: so profuse that we must share our bounty with others if we want to fully utilize it.
My garden’s yearly cycle is a constant reminder that we are co-creators with the living God, both physically and spiritually. We plant the seed and water the soil, but God germinates and breathes life into our efforts. Even during the dark, cold days of winter, God is still at work anchoring and strengthening roots, preparing for when all will burst out into luxuriant growth. God gives life to all our efforts, sustaining us through the seasons of toil and hard work until we reap his abundant and generous harvest. Amazingly, we often claim God’s harvest as our own, ignoring the One who provided it. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God still grows mighty plants out of tiny mustard seeds.
Christine Sine is executive director of Mustard Seed Associates and author of several books, including Godspace: Time for Peace in the Rhythms of Life. She describes herself as a contemplative activist encouraging a way of life that interweaves spiritual practices with concern for justice and creation care.