For some of us, getting down on the ground and putting our hands in the dirt may just sound like yard work; for others, it provides an opportunity to sit close to the earth and be alone with God. For many people, gardening is a task that's absolutely essential for living. For Elizabeth Whiting, working in the garden is a reminder that to work and to love are closely and intricately linked. In the community garden that she tends in her backyard, she sees this combination of love and work unfolding all the time.
We can connect our physical nourishment and our spiritual nourishment beyond the breaking of bread with one another around a table -- we can become connected with the food we eat and the earth from which it grows by celebrating gardening as a spiritual practice.
"A garden allows flourishing to happen in both an inter-human way and an inter-species way." As a pastor, Elizabeth lives in the church parsonage and the community garden is in the backyard. People come together (many of whom are not members of the church) to plant, prune, wait, and harvest alongside the growth of God’s creation. Gardening as a spiritual practice opens us up to participate in the process of cultivation of growth of the earth, all of which happens because of the work that God does in creation.
Another overlap between gardening and spirituality is the discipline of waiting. Liz says that as a minister, "The slowness of gardening is a distraction from all the other goals and needs of human justice -- it doesn't immediately cure hunger, but it happens on such small scales that it's hard to see an appreciable difference right away." We don't till the soil, cover up seeds, and expect instant results. We do our part and wait on God to do the rest. This spirituality of waiting integrates into the rest of our spiritual lives, reminding us that God is at work when we can't see it.
"Sustainable food reminds me that the well-being of creation is linked to the well-being of human life." With the dietary and health problems that Americans face today, most would agree that people everywhere could raise awareness about healthy eating. Elizabeth says, "To love people means to give people good food. To love creation means to be intimately involved in it in a way that's creative --and even pro-creative, when it comes to gardening."
"Gardening connects our neediness to generosity because what's feeding us is essentially a gift of the land. As much as we work for our food, we work with it. It's silly to say 'I made that seed grow' because God makes it grow, even though we have a role in that. You end up creating less waste and receiving what you need at the same time." One great thing about gardening in a community is that there's always food to share. If a crop does well, there will be more than you can eat. "It's fun to give away food you've grown. People who love to cook love to share their gift with others...it's the same with gardening."
Check around with your neighbors or your church family to see who would be interested in beginning a community garden. If gardening isn't feasible or realistic for your living environment, there are Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) organizations all over. Visit Local Harvest to learn more about CSAs and find CSA farms near your home. This can be a great way to connect to the farmers who grow your food and help you fall in love with the land that is feeding you.
Elizabeth Whiting serves Inglewood Church of the Nazarene in Nashville, TN. Originally from Summerville, SC, she will graduate from Vanderbilt Divinity School this May with a Masters of Divinity and is currently applying to Ph.D programs in theological ethics.