The Spiritual Aspect of Peas

Guest post by Stephanie Sweeney

In a series of blog posts, several of us have been exploring the question of why a community garden makes good sense for a church. For many of us, the reasons for a community garden are self-evident. But whether or not we need persuasion, we’ll find the reasons are even more extensive than we may have realized. In today’s post, the director of our community garden, Stephanie Sweeney looks at the “spiritual aspect of peas.”

The Spiritual Aspect of Peas

I find God in the garden, everyday. The sunstrokes streaming through the pussy willow tree’s branches warm the soil and motivate the seeds I planted to wake. As the pea plant’s cotyledons (the first leaves to appear) break the ground and unfurl, I can seriously laugh out loud. How the heck did that happen? How is God so good?

I’m not sure if you who are reading this can understand the joy I find in these garden moments, but I’m sure you understand the joy of new life. We humans can’t resist it. The appearance of a new, fresh, living thing reminds us of God’s faithfulness and fulfills our God-given desire to “fill the earth” and “be fruitful and increase in number.” Yet, the only way we can pursue this mandate is to eat food, food that originates in plants (even the chicken or cow you ate today was eating plants at some point too), which is why I think I find joy in gardening. A sprouting pea plant not only means new life for the plant, but it means life for me, my husband, and my neighbors in the form of nurturing sustenance.

Have you ever thought of eating as a spiritual exercise? The Lord’s Supper might come to mind, but I am talking about day-to-day eating– breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks. Norman Wirzba writes,

At it’s best, eating is a sharing and welcoming movement that makes room for others… We don’t really understand food until we perceive, receive, and taste it in terms of its origin and end in God as the one who provides for, communes with, and ultimately reconciles creation. Food is God’s love made nutritious and delicious, given for the good of each other. The mundane act of eating is thus a daily invitation to move responsibly and gratefully within this given life. It is a summons to commune with the divine Life that is presupposed and made manifest in every bite.

(from Food and Faith, xi).

Wirzba discusses in his book Food and Faith (an INCREDIBLE book, by the way), that as humans we are inextricably linked to the land and the gardens around us by our stomachs. We need food in order to survive, and that food originates in a garden of some sorts. The growth of this garden is utterly dependent on God’s providence, his grace, his loving sustenance. In other words, every bite of food we take declares God’s life-giving love for us.

If we view food as a tangible expression of God’s love, this leads me to two thoughts: where our food comes from and how that source speaks to how we value God’s gift, and how we share that tangible sign of God’s love with others.

It’s no surprise that most of our food does not come from small-scale, organic gardens. Most of our food, over 50% in the US, is grown on large-scale industrial farms which often use harsh chemicals, degrade the land, decrease biodiversity, influence human health negatively, and cause extreme pollution. The benefit of this terrible system is that now our food is more affordable, but there are hidden costs. The treatment of the creation and the flourishing of life is not honored in this current system. If the creation is God’s expression of love and hospitality, maybe Christians need to rethink their view of food production and consider how where their food comes from is actually important to consider. As Wendell Berry put it,

The question that must be addressed is not how to care for the planet, but how to care for each of the planet’s millions of human and natural neighborhoods, each of its millions of small pieces and parcels of land, each one of which is in some precious way different from all the others.

Growing a church garden organically, mindfully, lovingly, with an attentiveness for the natural rhythms God has set in place, will produce food that honors God via honoring the relationships we have with nature and neighbor. “God’s character is revealed in Genesis as the love that enables the life of another to be itself. Gardening work is thus potentially a powerful demonstration and extension of God’s own work, for what gardeners do is nurture the conditions in which life can take root and grow” (Wirzba, Food and Faith, 91).

What better way to minister to those in our community than to share with them God’s life giving gifts, grown in a way that honors all our connections: to God, to humans, and to creation? This is why I believe in a church garden. This is why I believe that the joy I find in pea sprouts can give life and joy to others who are in need of it. It is God’s love and hospitality for us to share.

The Seventh Day – Genesis 2:1-4

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | July 5, 2020

I was recently inspired to write a poem for each day of creation–(which are written as poems themselves). I will be posting a new entry each day. Today: Genesis 2:1-4.


The Seventh Day

The ancient rabbis saw
that it was the seventh day
in which creation was completed.
Not a bonus day, not a day of recuperation
in order to make the Six Days' work
possible or more efficient. 
No.
The telos of Creation, towards which
the six days are always moving.

Tasks and to-do lists lie
in their places untouched
Statuses and identities of the
workday world are unimportant
and forgotten;
all are at rest in the "palace in time,"
impregnable walls fortified against
the onslaught and tyranny of things
the six-day conquest of space.

Turbines and trucks and tractors 
power down
Blue glow of unread emails and Reddit's rabbit trails
and Instagram's filtered reality and Facebook's fury
now a dull black.

The sudden Interruption of noise
gives rise to what first appears
as eerie silence but is not silence.
The sounds of the Seventh Day 
now no longer unnoticed:
conversation unhurried
laughter unfettered
suppers savored and unrushed
Doves cooing in aspens rattling 
their leaves in gentle wind
Spirit songs and people's prayers
Stop.
Cease.
Sabbath.
The Seventh Day.

[1] “Pilgrim bound by staff and faith, rest thy bones”, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54922 [retrieved July 5, 2020]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wooden_pilgrim_-_geograph.org.uk_-_778390.jpg

The Sixth Day – Genesis 1:24-31

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | July 4, 2020

I was recently inspired to write a poem for each day of creation–(which are written as poems themselves). I will be posting a new entry each day. Today: Genesis 1:24-31.


The Sixth Day

Like rereading a kind text or note from
a loved one sent hours or minutes before
their unexpected passing or
gazing at the photograph of a joyful moment
together with friends taken the day before
the world turned on its head: Sept 10, '01
or December 6, '41 or New Year's on the eve
of 2020, smiling faces unaware of ominous
thunderclouds fast approaching on the horizon,
so is reading the account of the Sixth Day:
a happy memory turned melancholy
by future tragedy, a reminder of what was
and what could have been.

The Imago Dei, 
the Crown of Creation
moved by Pride 
soon forgot in whose image they were made
soon forgot they were created
soon forgot their fellow humans were also 
made in their Creator's image
soon forgot the earth was given to them to be 
received with thanks, not taken by force;
soon forsook their calling to steward
choosing instead to plunder, the only
creatures capable of not being what they were 
created to be.

The Imago Dei; desecrated but not destroyed
defaced but not effaced, in need of redemption
but not irredeemable
Redeemed by One Uncreated who alone was now capable
of being what these creatures were created to be,
who was taken by force, plundered, crucified
forgotten and forsaken
moved by Love,
the Crown of Thorns on
the Imago Dei.

The Sixth Day a reminder of what was and
what could have been and
a glimpse of what one day will fully be
glimpsed now in the face of my friend who
devotes his life to those with 
mental illnesses forgotten by others,
glimpsed now in the hands of the vet 
caring for the injured roadside deer,
glimpsed now in the feet of the farmer
walking her field once more in unending
cycle of love and labor, her patch of planet
received to steward, to grow, to give:
the Imago Dei
the Sixth Day.

[1] Raimondi, Marcantonio, ca. 1480-ca. 1534. Adam and Eve, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=50226 [retrieved July 4, 2020]. Original source: http://www.mfa.org/.

The Fifth Day – Genesis 1:20-23

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | July 3, 2020

I was recently inspired to write a poem for each day of creation–(which are written as poems themselves). I will be posting a new entry each day. Today: Genesis 1:20-23.


The Fifth Day

Consider the birds of the air
Unburdened in freefalling flight
It is almost as if God forgot
to tell the fifth day creatures of gravity

Broadtailed hummingbirds dart,
dash, dance, zip, flit, fling, streak,
swim through air from fuschia to fuschia;
painted buntings plunge, a blur of color 
diving before switching direction 
to resurface on the limb of a tree;
falcons float effortlessly on the wind's waves
like a spread-eagle snorkeler passively surveying
the world below in objective observance.

Salmon soar through open ocean before 
annual upstream spawning, their very nature
seeming to defy nature;
angelfish like stunt planes loop, flip, fly
in easy freedom as moon jellies hover in haunted 
weightlessness, suspended above the floor below.

Birds swarm in the waters above like fish in flight
Sea creatures swarm in the waters below like
underwater aviators, each a reminder of
the limits of gravity's persistent pull,
nearly every corner of creation now
stocked and teeming with life,
The Fifth Day.

[1] Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57542 [retrieved July 2, 2020]. Original source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dharma_for_one/8111513291/ – Janetandphil

The Fourth Day – Genesis 1:14-19

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | July 2, 2020

I was recently inspired to write a poem for each day of creation–(which are written as poems themselves). I will be posting a new entry each day. Today: Genesis 1:14-19.


The Fourth Day

I am on my deck in early darkness when it happens:
The clouds, as if painted with liberal oil brushstrokes
by some Impressionist artist
turn apocalyptic pink;
a revealing of the world splashed with
colors forgotten by night 
now irradiated by perfect golden hue,
the flowers and trees yawn and begin
their daylong photosynthetic stretch 
toward this giver of life: 
the Sun.

I am walking back to my dorm in cold alpine air
after a late shift in a summer job at 
the Paradise Inn when I see it:
the mountain. Rainier is not hidden
by night but all 14,000 feet from my feet
to the slopes of the summit are seen in 
unexpected luminosity: miles of glacier glowing
phosphorescent, a reflection of reflected light:
The Moon.

I am deep in a desert canyon miles
from manmade illumination of metropolis and city
The sky hangs above me like a porous black canvas
trying to hold back the very light of Heaven which
bursts through in millions of little places:
The Stars.

Gazing up into space I am transported out of time
into the fullness of this Present
unaware of growing awareness of my smallness,
warmed by the faint breath of eternity invading time.

No wonder so many worshiped 
Sun, Moon and Stars in holy reverence!
What wonder that Ancient Hebrews living 
under the brilliance of Middle Eastern sun,
gazing at the mystery of the moon
and spectacle of the stars did not bow
in worship, but knew even these are creation:
The Fourth Day.

[1] Snowstorm of Stars, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56825 [retrieved July 1, 2020]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_snowstorm_of_stars.jpg

The Third Day – Genesis 1:9-13

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | July 1, 2020

I was recently inspired to write a poem for each day of creation–(which are written as poems themselves). I will be posting a new entry each day. Today: Genesis 1:9-13.


The Third Day

In a few simple words, Dry Land is created:
wind and glacier worn flanks of
Annapurna, Blanc, Cerro Bonete, Denali
an endless alphabet of soaring ice and granite
River-carved canyons and caverns
Plateaus and plains

Yet.
It is the afternoon's events 
that receive the attention:
Life.

The third day of creation 
yet the first day in which God saw
how good creation was
letting out a mirthful laugh
delighted at these creatures
capable of re-creating and recreating:

Mountain meadows awash with flowers
bringing a full palette of new color 
into this new creation
Roses of Sharon and Lily of the Valley 
and the lillies of the field
Cedars of Lebanon and Saguaros of Sonora 
and Sequoias of California clapping their hands
and bursting into song
each one breathing, growing, alive
each one sacred, created and re-creating
each one very good.
The Third Day.

[1] van Gogh, Vincent. Olive Trees, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56501 [retrieved June 30, 2020]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vincent_van_Gogh_-_Olive_Trees_-_Google_Art_Project_(Minneapolis_Institute_of_Arts).jpg

The Second Day – Genesis 1:6-8

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | June 30, 2020

I was recently inspired to write a poem for each day of creation–(which are written as poems themselves). I will be posting a new entry each day. Today: Genesis 1:6-8.


The Second Day

Raindrops drizzle and dance
upon the surface of the lake
In their playful prancing they are becoming
a part of the surface upon which they dance

Sidewalks steam in the streaming sunlight
ethereal evaporation
the returning--
transformed and having transformed
for rain and snow do not return
without nourishing, conceiving, bringing forth life;
in their becoming they beget the becoming of the world

Sky above and sea below
Separated but not separate
"Neither movement from nor towards,
neither ascent nor decline... there is
only the dance"[1]
In the dance the becoming
In the becoming the transforming
In the transforming the returning
A symbiotic cycle made possible
Only by the separating.
The Second Day.


[1] From T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets

[2] Featured image: Caillebotte, Gustave, 1848-1894. Yerres, the Effect of Rain, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55760 [retrieved June 29, 2020]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:G._Caillebotte_-_L%27Yerres,_pluie.jpg.

The First Day – Genesis 1:1-5

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | June 29, 2020

I was recently inspired to write a poem for each day of creation–(which are written as poems themselves). I will be posting a new entry each day. Up first: Genesis 1:1-5.


The First Day

“God is not darkness, but in the darkness I saw God.”[1]

The work of God begins in darkness 
evening first, then morning.
While I slumber in subconsciousness
God works well before my waking
knitting neurons and leading them on right paths
“Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery”[2]
Unexplained abyss formless and void.

GPS pinpoints the coordinates of our routine transpacific flight
But neither person nor computer
Knows 
the world that lies below the
surface of the deep over which we hover

Ferries filled to capacity jet confidently
and routinely across Puget Sound,
barely submerged into the unseen darkness below
They are water-winged children
Dog-paddling on the surface of mystery

God is light 
…though the darkness hide thee.
The work of God begins
hovering over the darkness 
of a world still uncreated.
In the unexplained abyss of
formless chaos
God calls forth light
evening first, then the illumination of morning. 
The first day.

[1] Something I read years ago and a quote I’ve been able to track down. Rainer Maria Rilke, perhaps?

[2] Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

[3] Featured image: Watkins, Carleton E., 1829-1916. Solar Eclipse from Mount Santa Lucia, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56320 [retrieved June 29, 2020]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Carleton_Watkins_(American_-_Solar_Eclipse_from_Mount_Santa_Lucia_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg.

Sehnsucht

There are better pictures of the Olympic Mountains out there. This one has powerlines in it, but that’s kind of the point. It’s a picture I took on a recent walk. It’s what’s available to me now.

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | May 12, 2020

One of the joys for Kitsap County residents is our proximity to, and many vantage points of the jagged, snow-capped (at least this time of year) Olympic Mountains rising up dramatically above Hood Canal. I’ve found over this past month I’ve lifted my eyes up to those hills often with longing. Longing for the fresh air of old growth cedar and high alpine wildflower meadows and lakes. But, like so much else in our world, the National Parks have been closed (though perhaps are opening soon!), preventing me from inhabiting those spaces I can see for now only from afar.

I’m reminded in those moments of a German word that C.S. Lewis loved: sehnsucht, that is, an experience of “bittersweet longing.” As professor Forrest Baird defined the term it’s an experience where “the want is acute and painful, yet the mere wanting is felt to be somehow a delight.”[1]

“the want is acute and painful, yet the mere wanting is felt to be somehow a delight.”

In his own life, Lewis said he first experienced this sensation as a young boy when his brother brought in a tiny toy garden he’d put together with some moss and twigs. Lewis suddenly had a deep desire to become tiny and to inhabit the lushness of the garden. Or, similarly, “every day there were what we called ‘the Green Hills’; that is, the low line of the Castlereagh Hills which we saw from the nursery windows. They were not very far off but they were, to children, quite unattainable.”[2]

Though the want is acute and painful… the mere wanting is somehow a delight.

And sometimes the desire is more delightful—or at least “differently delightful”—than the satisfaction of that desire.

My family’s go-to campground when I was a kid was the White River Campground in Mount Rainier National Park, so we hiked all over those trails on the eastern slopes of the mountain. My dad would help me point the large telescopes at the Sunrise Visitor Center onto the glaciers where I could see climbers that looked like tiny ants even with the help of a magnified lens. I remember as a kid looking up at the upper icy slopes of the Emmons Glacier towards the summit with a longing—a delightful desire—to be there.

Now, I have been there, having summitted Rainier three times (a puny number compared with my predecessor Lee Riley’s 25 times, and many other CKPC climbers who have also been up a fair bit). Two of those times I summitted by that very same route I watched as a young boy, now myself one of those little ant-climbers. In many ways, the satisfaction of that sehnsucht desire of my boyhood was extraordinarily fulfilling; those Rainier climbs were exhilarating and truly wonderful; memories that I wouldn’t trade for almost anything.

In other ways, though, the satisfaction of that desire was less than the desire itself. On one particular climb I was probably the coldest I have ever been in my life as we got caught in a miserable rain/snow and extremely high winds. I was the most exhausted I’ve been on one particular climb. And I was more sunburnt than I’ve ever been on another. I can tell you that none of those experiences had factored into my boyhood sehnsucht longing and imagining of what it would be like to be there.

We are in a period of longing. Longing for hugs, longing for picnics with friends or board games at a local brewery, longing to go to places we are prohibited from going to and much of that is simply painful, bitter longing. In bitterness, it’s appropriate to practice the tradition that has been handed down to us from long ago: lament. It is good and right for us to lament, and to help others and give them the space to do the same in this time.

But might there also be a bittersweetness somewhere in our longing? Or even a sweetness? C.S. Lewis said our desires reveal things about how we were created. Our desire for hugs reveals how we were created for community, connection, and intimacy. Our hunger reveals we are creatures who need food and nourishment. (And, Lewis says, our sense that “time flies” or our surprise at “how much so-and-so has grown!” reveals we are creatures not created for time, but for eternity.)

The satisfaction of the longings and desires we currently have in this strange season of staying at home will be a wonderful thing. And yet in some ways the satisfaction won’t fully live up to the desires themselves, at least not in the long run. As Annie Dillard put it in her description of the beautiful majesty of the view from the cabin in the San Juans from which she wrote one of her books: “It was very grand. But you get used to it.”[3] Schedules may well get overcrowded and busy again, conflicts will arise with friends and family. In those Olympic Mountain alpine meadows, I’m sure I will get bitten by mosquitos or flies. The satisfaction of the desire to finally get a view from the summit will be satisfying; it will be beautiful and other-worldly, but it will also be bitter cold and we’ll still get sunburnt from time to time.

I’m not trying to be a wet blanket here, I’m trying to be a pastor (hopefully those aren’t the same thing too often!). My hope is that we might see God in our very desires and longings right now. My hope is that our desires will point us not only to the things that are good—very good!—that we will attain soon enough and will indeed satisfy, but also that they might point us to deeper desires, to the “far off country,” the heavenly country. The longing is very painful and bitter some days. We lament that. But sometimes it is bittersweet. Sometimes it is reminding us of how much we love and desire something, some place, or someone we’ve taken for granted. Sometimes God is using our very desire to reveal something to us about how we were created, and to reveal something about a future we are destined for which is only hinted at in our sweetest sehnsucht longings.


[1] Forrest Baird. Lecture given at Whitworth University in Fall 2010.

[2] C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy. Since I am working/writing from home in this season, I don’t have all of my books with me, which means I can’t easily cite page numbers as I normally would.

[3] Annie Dillard, The Writing Life.

Easter Sunday – Joe Bettridge

April 12, 2020

We are blessed to have a number of retired pastors who worship in our congregation. For Holy Week, we asked them to each write a blog post on a different day of Holy Week. Our final post comes from Joe Bettridge:


What If the Resurrection is a Placebo?

If Christ hasn’t been raised, then… your faith is useless… If we have a hope in Christ only in this life, then we deserve to be pitied more than anyone else. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead.”

1 Corinthians 15:14, 19-20

What if John Lennon’s song Imagine was an accurate statement of theological truth? He famously sang: “Imagine there’s no heaven? It’s easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky.” Such skepticism about God’s promise of eternal life in our Risen Lord Jesus is no new thing. In 1 Cor. 15:12 Paul asks the Corinthians: “How can some of you say there is no resurrection?”

What was the context in which these folks didn’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection? Well, in the First Century, the common pagan notion was that death meant oblivion. So, Paul says to the doubters: “OK let’s assume that everything Jesus taught is a fairy tale and let’s assume that Jesus is dead. If this is true, what then, do you believe will happen to you after you die?” And they answered: Well, we don’t know. But our guess is that we’ll be disembodied spirits floating in the spirit-world.

And the best that contemporary skeptics of Jesus’ Resurrection can say is something like this: “Well, Jesus’ resurrection is a happy idea but we don’t believe in an actual bodily resurrection. That’s fiction. It’s enough for us to think of Easter as a symbol of happy new springtime beginnings or something.” In other words, Jesus’ Resurrection is, for the skeptical mind, a kind of ‎spiritual placebo. A placebo is a “dummy pill” usually made of starch. It’s used in the blind testing of new medications. So, when a placebo is taken by a subject who doesn’t know if it’s the actual medication or not, he/she often feels a positive effect. It’s called the “placebo-effect.” And it’s explained as a psychosomatic response of the brain to positive expectations. But this response is only a mind trick since a placebo has no actual, organic ability to cure physiological illness.

So, here’s Paul’s point to the skeptics: “Suppose Christ is not actually raised from the dead and all our thinking about Jesus is an illusion about an imaginary friend. In other words, it is a theological placebo; a “make believe thing for gullible people.” I know a guy who told his children that heaven is only a “pretend” thing that church people tell their kids to make them feel better when someone dies. But in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul speaks to the doubters: “If Christ has not been raised your faith is futile. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead.”

So, here’s the wonderful Easter mystery: those who believe in the Risen Jesus will experience eternal life. When Jesus died His physical self was transformed by the power of God until his old earthbound humanity and was raised into an imperishable spiritual body; a new kind of undying human flesh.

Paul teaches us that when God raised Jesus from the dead, His Resurrection power became available to us, right now, here in this life– so that at the very moment we believe in Christ, we become spiritually linked to The One Who will never, ever die again. So, let us affirm that Easter is not a placebo, but in fact, Christ is risen and through His risen humanity, we too will flourish for all eternity in an imperishable resurrection body.


Joe recently completed 46 years of pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church and now is an honorably retired member of Northwest Coast Presbytery. Joe came to faith in the First Presbyterian Church of Tacoma and was spiritually nurtured at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle. He has served long term pastorates in Alaska, Arizona and recently in Friday Harbor, WA. Joe graduated from Stadium High in Tacoma and the University of Washington. He received his Master of Divinity, Master of Theology and Doctorate of Missiology from Fuller Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Becce, are delighted to now be part of the CKPC family.