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.