Cultivating and watering God’s garden

Guest post by Green Christian member, John Anderson

The Bible is a gardening book. It begins and ends in a garden. In Genesis 2:15 we read, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till it and keep it”.  In Revelation 22:2, we read, “On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” God loves gardens. The Old Testament has over seventy-six references to fruit. Jesus talks of fruit and herbs: in Mat 12:33 “the tree is known by its fruit.” Our faith is based on the earth-shaking Resurrection in the garden of Gethsemane.  In the viscerally moving scene there after the resurrection, Jesus is himself thought by Mary to be “the gardener” (John 20:15).  Wendell Berry summed it up well:  “I don’t think it is enough appreciated how much an outdoor book the Bible is.”

Yet none of these gardens in the Bible is like ours.  No one in the Bible is described as ever planting flowers: they grow naturally. The word “lawn” never occurs.  Today no African peasant grows a lawn: (s)he grows food.  Most of us nowadays in Britain surround our home, if we are lucky enough to have a garden, with a rich person’s decorative plants and lawns. The world cannot afford us. We have to plant anew:  in tune with the seasons, we need to grow our own food.  The church rejoices to celebrate the calendar. By growing crops in time with the seasons we can feel chronologically. We should not expect to buy strawberries in December but instead rejoice when their time comes round again. Rhythm returns.  Christians should gradually bend the trajectory of our existence towards balance with nature and its timing. 

Christians and churches that I know still often have lawns. These mono-cultural deserts have no food value unless they are liberally scattered with wild plants (a.k.a. weeds) to provide food for pollinators.  Christians and others are only gradually introducing more food crops. Why are so few grown round churches? Graveyards are full of fertiliser. Fruit trees have scented flowers of great beauty before they provide a crop; apples and plums grow well in our climate. Soft fruit such as red-currants, blackcurrants, blackberries and gooseberries yield prolifically. Potatoes, beans, root vegetables and brassicas flourish.  None need spraying if grown with the correct understorey of flowers. Little extra soil enrichment is   required once compost and horse manure are applied. Every gardener should have a domestic water meter. The 50% of the population who have installed one usually find their water bills lower. Moreover such customers use 33 litres a day less than the national average of 141 litres a day. Water meter owners usually stop using hosepipes and often rapidly install water butts.  Urine provides any accelerator needed for the compost heap.  We lament water shortages; yet our expensive potable water flushes the toilet; as gardeners, we can reduce our flushings and increase the beneficial ureafication of our garden. Unlike much of the world, we do not use our own faeces as manure. Humanure, safe excreta, will become essential for us in the foreseeable future as the rivers run thin and become more polluted, our sewage works need multibillion-pound upgrading and sewers leak. Why flush away and concentrate our human waste when it is so badly needed in any home with a garden?

God does not do waste. Everything in the garden will rot down and feed new growth. The Creator knows what we too often forget: you cannot have endless growth in a finite world; you must build in decay and death.  When we plant trees in our gardens or elsewhere, we are helping to combat global heating: they absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. All our plants grow, flourish, bear fruit and die. We can help this cycle of existence by gardening instead of laying concrete slabs, chippings or tarmac. Unless we act cyclically in God’s time and space, we will harm a planet overburdened by humanity.

By getting our hands dirty in the garden, we are part of the cycle of creation. We connect with the earth.  We facilitate death and rebirth. We also reduce our dependence on transported food, overweening supermarkets, and processed food. For food miles, we substitute food feet. 46% of our food is imported, all by CO2-emitting transportation.  We have many Fairtrade churches; perhaps the trade that is fairest to biodiversity is that which is local? Pope Francis praises “integral ecology”. By this he means that all life is interpenetrating. Shakespeare writes in Troilus and Cressida (Act 3: Scene 3): “one touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” We reinforce the vitality of ourselves and the earth by planting and cherishing what is visible, and encouraging and nurturing what is invisible in the soil. We have for too long undervalued mycelia, nematodes and the myriad other life-forms under our feet. 

Our own garden produce helps us to become flexitarians, eating a little meat but many more vegetables. Unless we do this, we will continue to destroy biodiversity by meat-eating, reckless of its consequences for emissions and pollution. A natural economy with nature-based solutions is essential. If we grow our own food, we will waste less: the one third which we waste today in Europe is equivalent to the whole of the food production of Africa. We have so much to learn from other cultures. When the Vietnamese boat people were given refuge in Britain in the 1980s, I saw the tiny council houses they were allotted surrounded by small gardens where every square inch was planted up and there were bean shoots growing on the doorsteps. 

Gardening is good. Whether in our own garden or on an allotment, whether on our own property or that of the church or the community, to garden is natural and fulfilling. As Richard Bauckham writes, “Salvation is not the replacement but the renewal of creation.” We can cease to undermine the divine connectivity of God’s creation; we can rejoice to reconnect with it.

John Anderson is a member of Baildon Methodist Church, Bradford


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Author: Ruth Jarman | Date: 17 August, 2022 | Category: Climate Emergency Opinion | Comments: 0


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