Dan Cranley, theological Student and intern at St. George’s is leading a Lenten book study on Thursday nights at 7pm. The book we will be reading is “Food and Faith: A Theology of Food” written by Norman Wirzba. Below is Dan’s reflection on the second chapter.
Roots of Eating: Our Life Together in the Gardens
In the Garden of Eden humanity is charged to “till and keep” the garden (Genesis 2:15), it is in that garden that man and woman learn who they are in relationship to the natural world, each other and the divine. As we experience and invest in the garden (our world) we too learn who we are in relation to God, other humanity and creation.
In the same way, functional, food-producing gardens are the places where communities go and meet with other creatures, the natural world and God.
Finding Our Place in Life
In our modern world we are constantly being separated from the land. We are in transit more, bombarded with technology, living in duplication homes and we have almost become people of “non-places”.
“If a place can be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity, then a space which cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned
with identity will be a non-place.”
(Marc Auge, Non Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity, 4th Edition (London: Verso 2008), 63.)
Living in a busy, post-agricultural world, if is becoming more challenging to slow down and really connect with our world, and when we do, our attempts are often met with cold stares, formulaic responses and media facades. The gap between us and our land is widening dramatically.
Rather than interacting with a place and making deep, abiding connections, we become more and more passengers always going through, but hardly into, a place.
(Norman Wirzba, page 41)
A Gardener’s Education
To garden is to unseat oneself as the center of primary importance and to instead turn one’s life into various forms of service that will strengthen and maintain the many memberships that make up a garden. It is given up the much-trumpeted goal of modern and post modern life- individual autonomy- and instead live the life of care and responsible interdependence. This is what the biblical command to “till and keep” means. (Wirzba, page 51)
It is easy in our lives of “non-places” to feel insolated and alone, like an island onto our selves. It is easy because we are separated from the places that speak significance to our human condition. The garden is such a place. It brings the gardener into the membership of creation through “struggle, surprise and deep mystery” (Wirzba, 52).
The gardener, is not only involved in the flourishing plants, fruits and vegetables, there are threats of death and disease. A gardener can tend to the garden, soil and plants perfectly, but there is always the possibility of a calamity. That must be one of the hardest lessons to learn as a gardener, to invest so much time and thoughtful attention to a garden and have the profit of the garden be destroyed by disease.
“Gardeners are not automatically rendered virtuous simply because they garden and perform gardening work. Gardeners can be petty, impatient, and destructive like anyone else. They can be arrogant and presumptuous, and so bear witness to themselves rather than the grace of God.” (Wirzba, 61)
If we use the motif of the garden to explore our spiritual lives, we may see more clearly how our spiritual lives are in relationship with the natural world and the divine.
Let’s look at the relationship between the gardener and the garden. The gardener tends to the garden, serves the soil, waters it, weeds it, prunes it and cares for it. So too does God tend to the human heart. Our lives like gardens, bear fruit and weeds, they need to be cared for and tended too. Like gardens, our lives have the potential to bear much fruit, or the pesky “weeds” of distraction and sin may overtake that fruit. If we look at the divine as the gardener, and our hearts and lives as the garden, we may recognize the truth that if we bear much fruit, it is not of our own merit, but by the loving, caring and skillful hand of God. The fruit our gardens produce, are not for the garden’s own purposes, but for God’s purposes and the purposes of the community surrounding it.
The idea of gardening may seem a million miles away from our lives of “non-places” but it may very well be a motif that may cause us to question our lives of “non-place” and draw us to a place where we can be gardeners and be gardens ourselves.