Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Gardening: Love Made Visible

Gardening is “making love visible.” I had never thought of it that way before, but when I read that quote recently in an essay on faith, food and gardening, it struck me in my soul.

Of course. That’s what has drawn me into the garden these past 12 years, digging, weeding, planting. But mostly what I have been doing is marveling at small miracles.

In the garden, I only play a small supporting role in making love visible. God is the lead actor. I think I knew that at some deep level even before I was led back to my faith, in the years when I could not even bring myself to say the word “God.” In perhaps my second year as a gardener, I noticed an unusual plant growing and resisted the urge to pull it. By midsummer it was a six-foot tall datura with blooms of angelic white trumpets, perfectly positioned at the back of my new perennial bed.

Since then I have always liked better the plants that seed themselves in unexpected places, almost always looking more beautiful than where I would have chosen to plant them. Each day these past weeks I look out my office window at a courtyard where a rainbow of zinnias seeded themselves in the gravel. Tiger swallowtail butterflies and other smaller butterflies I do not know dance there in the afternoon sun.

The landscapers used to poison this gravel with herbicides. Have they not yet found the zinnias? I prefer to think that even the landscape crew knows how to respond to graced beauty.

Before I gardened, in the rare times I attended church, I could not understand most of the Biblical parables. I would quickly become irritated at agricultural references from ancient times that seemed to me to have no relevance to life today. I was cut off from the source of life, on many levels.

But now, loving the miracle of the seed, how beautiful it is to read the following passage:

“This is how it is with kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” (Mark 4: 26-28)

God is acting in the world now, performing small miracles, if only we have eyes to see. We don’t have to labor that hard. In fact, if we work too hard, if we try too hard to control and manicure the garden, we risk blighting the miracles.

On my porch, a tropical sword fern now is in its second life. It appeared dead between January and June, as I expected because I left it outside over the winter. Yet one day after a period of heavy rains, I noticed small green fronds lifting out of the soil. I don’t know how many times I thought of dumping the pot in the compost, yet something in me refrained.

When we try to control too much in the garden, we end up as agents of death. I think of all the pesticides sprayed by gardeners trying to protect their favorite plants from harm that instead disrupt the ecosystem. Bees are dying everywhere; monarch butterflies have been decimated. Yes, the causes are multiple and complex, but pesticides are a big part of the puzzle.

One beauty of gardening, however, is it is nearly impossible to dwell on big unsolvable problems while digging in the soil. All that matters is the hole to be dug, the weed to pull, the vegetable to harvest, the flower to admire, the bird to enjoy. And the sun shines, and the rain comes, or doesn’t come. The seasons pass. Plants leaf out, flower, set seed, go dormant. Some thrive. Most grow slowly. A few die. The cycle continues. And almost all of it happens quietly, out of sight, untoiled for.

Yes, gardening teaches faith.


Randy said...

Wonderful post Sheila! For some, understanding comes early in life and for others it comes later. But with all that do understand, it finally comes when we look upon creation and we see the Intricate design instilled by our creator and we faintly begin to realize what an awesome God we serve. He has placed love in all things if only we look and listen with our hearts! But we must also be careful to not love the creation more than the creator! Hope you have a blessed week and I enjoy your blog very much.

PlantPostings said...

This is so eloquently written, Sheila. I agree that when we try to control too much we often end up causing more harm. I guess that's why I lean toward the naturalist side of gardening. I, too, am fascinated when plants that aren't pampered thrive. Great post!

Sheila Read said...

I appreciate your comments, Randy. It is always a risk to put into words what is so close to my heart, and it's wonderful to hear from others like you who understand and appreciate! I like how you put this: "He has placed love in all things if only we look and listen with are hearts."

I'm not worried that others may love the creation more than the Creator. I think the far bigger problem in our society is people who don't love creation enough. Too many, fearful and believing cultural messages,focus their lives on material success and security, failing to love their neighbor or creation. But that's another subject, and I prefer to focus on what is lovely and beautiful.

Sheila Read said...

Beth, I am definitely a naturalist gardener. I'm willing to pay special attention to plants for the first year or two, but after that they're on their own. That's another reason I prefer native plants...

Donna@Gardens Eye View said...

Shelia this is pure poetry and such beautiful words touched me so deeply...I worry that my garden is neglected as I labor in my job, but it is living and going on without me...albeit a bit tattered, overgrown and weedy, but I will come back to it renewed with a better eye to give it love and life as it has given me...thank you for helping me not feel so guilty in my neglect.

Sheila said...

Donna, definitely don't feel guilty in your neglect! All the better to enjoy the surprises in store for you. Yesterday, I was delighted to find a pale yellow dahlia in a weedy border I haven't gotten around to "improving." Never even noticed it there last year, the first summer after moving in...

Stacy said...

Sheila, what a wonderful post! I love the idea of the garden as love made visible. I don't know if I can express this thought properly--sometimes when we try to control things in harsh ways (using pesticides, etc.) it's because we've fallen in love with a particular plant or a particular vision ("I MUST save that rose bush!) rather than allowing that plant or vision to grow or adapt or even die as it fulfills a role in the wider system. Maybe mistaking control for love? Rather than having faith, as you say, that the overall pattern is one for good. I might feel differently if I were a farmer and depended on a crop for my livelihood!

Sheila Read said...

Stacy, yes, I can't get out of my mind the phrase "love made visible." It fits so perfectly with what draws me to the garden... I like your point about love crossing over into control when we want so much for a particular plant to survive or some vision of the garden to occur that we rationalize use of pesticides or other harsh methods to cling to what we want.

I think what allows me to relinquish control more easily is wanting not to be an instrument of death to creatures. Because it's not just the pest that we're trying to control that dies, but other insects, too, upsetting the natural order and causing larger ripple effects, on skinks and birds, etc. Sometimes I can be a little harsh in my garden using mechanical methods - ripping out exotic invasive species, or plants that are in the wrong place. But that feels different, because there aren't so many unintended consequences. Gardening can be humbling, but that's become part of the joy, too - I'm part of something much bigger and I've been at this long enough to see that God is a much more creative and beautiful gardener than I am!