Why Gardening? #1: Eden.

What was Paradise?
but a garden,
an orchard of trees
and herbs, full of pleasure,
and nothing there but delights.
— William Lawson

The three major monotheistic religions trace their ancestry back to an almost unbelievable story in which the Earth consists of two human beings living in communion with their creator in a garden, which we call Eden.  The Genesis account is a poem that reveals that at the core of our being, humans were intended to garden.  There’s something central to what it means to be human to connect in a very real and tangible way to the natural world, namely to put so much trust in it to provide both physical and aesthetic sustenance.

I recently read the Genesis account in the bible in a completely new light as a gardener, and I noticed a few things I hadn’t seen before.  I’d encourage you to read the entire first two chapters of Genesis with this in mind, but here is a short excerpt from Genesis 1: 27-31:

26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created human beings in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Chapter 2 describes how God breathes life into man in the same way that he sent rain on the earth to raise up the shrubs.  It goes on to describe the garden, Eden, that God planted in the east:

… There he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the three of the knowledge of good and evil.

For maybe the first time ever (some of you are thinking, boy is he dense), I noticed that even before “the Fall,” Adam and Eve are tending to the garden and ruling over the livestock.  In this sense, “work” (at least in the garden) wasn’t a product of human rebellion, but a part of the delights of perfect Eden.  There may be some debate, of course, as to the difficulty of the work, but it is clear from this text that there is something intrinsically human about gardening — the kind of gardening that is both “pleasing to the eye and good for food.” There is even an apocryphal Armenian tale suggesting that when Adam & Eve when they were expelled from the garden, they were so distraught at the life — of gardening together in communion with God — that God had pity and gave them our world, with its trees and plants, in which to live.  In The Fragrance of God, Vigen Guroian writes:

Some of the early Christian writers speculate that in Paradise gardening was not drudgery but sheer delight. When Adam gardened, he imitated his Maker in a purely recreative act of cultivation and care. He did not need to subdue the earth in order for it to yield fruit. Rather, the plants were Adam’s palette, and the earth was his canvas. There was nothing but delight in the Garden, for Eden itself means “garden of delight.”

One of the symptoms of the disconnected lives that we lead — both from our Creator and from each other — is our disconnect from the garden.  We no longer know the origin of our food, if most of it can even be called that.  We have been conditioned to eat what we want when we want it, and waiting is not even an option.  We rarely, if ever, venture into nature to marvel at, let alone smell the roses, as the old cliché says.  All of these things are a part of God’s original intent for humanity, and thus we can assume they reveal or manifest important truths about God and ourselves.  As I interact with a garden of my own this summer and fall, it is my intent to discover and reflect on these truths on this blog.  I will share the progress (many times with photos) of our own plants, as well as quotes, articles, lessons learned, and deeper reflections from our experience of gardening.

I hope you’ll wait and marvel with us through this season of planting and tending, for a bountiful harvest awaits us.

———-

We got a few more seeds into the ground on Saturday, but the majority of the plants are too small still and the nights too cool to be transplanted outside.  My guess is that if we can string together a week or so of 70+ degree days with sun, we’ll see some significant growth.  C’mon, sun!

This week, we’re plant-sitting our neighbors’ seedlings while they are away on business, so we’ve got twice as many little plants that we’re trying not to kill.  Pray for us.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Brenna Camp on April 30, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    This is great! I am Brenna and know your parents from Memphis. My husband Jon and I now live in Abilene and are also starting our first real garden (after a small attempt in Memphis). We also have had chickens in the backyard for about a month now. Our weather here is much warmer and our seedlings are now turning into plants (none have vegetated yet). We are friends with Brad Carter and are talking about plans for a community garden. I look forward to hearing more about your spiritual insights as they relate to gardening.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Brenna Camp on April 30, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    Just excited to experience God and the order of creation in a new way. Gardening has been like therapy for my depression and anxiety over the past few years. I believe that getting in touch with the natural order has helped me to overcome hopelessness and see life all around me. It gives me something meaningful to always look forward to, as I cultivate God’s earth. It’s also helped me get out of that linear time that comes along with America and get into more of a seasonal/cyclical time that each year can add a new layer on top of the experiences of the seasons in the previous years, including how the seasons of the earth correspond with the Jewish and Christian calendars.

    Reply

  3. Thanks for coming by, Brenna. I hope you’ll share your reflections on gardening as you share in ours.

    I love your words about rhythms and cycles. I am conceptualizing a post precisely on that topic.

    Reply

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