Let me begin with a confession: I am a terrible gardener. The Norris household is the place where all plant life goes to die. I am the not-so-proud owner of the proverbial “black thumb.” You say that you can give me a plant that is hearty and can withstand harsh environments? I accept your challenge. I’ll bet that I can kill it within a week.
The trouble is that I serve as a pastor and am expected to be a resident expert on all things Bible-related. In case you haven’t noticed, the Bible is full of gardens – both literal and metaphorical. The whole story starts out with the planting of a garden. The Garden of Eden becomes the locus, the centerpiece of the Bible’s description of the entire cosmos. The first humans described in this narrative are placed in the garden and given one simple task: to care for the garden and to work the land. (I’m doomed.)
In another part of the Bible, the prophet Isaiah uses the image of a vineyard to describe God’s people and the relationship that God enjoys with them. Planting, tending, weeding, watering, and harvesting all become descriptions of God’s care for the people. Isaiah even warns of uprooting and pruning that must take place for the vineyard to be healthy and prosperous.
Through the four Gospels, Jesus uses agricultural imagery to describe the kind of community he came to establish. He says things like: “I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who remain in me and I in them will bear much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing.” He says, “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed…” and “the kingdom is like a sower who went out to plant the field.”
Even though many of us are far removed from our farming roots, we still use images and metaphors that draw on our rich agricultural history to describe current circumstances. The Norris family is still relatively new to the Griffin community, yet we are trying to “put down roots” and become increasingly invested here. We are “watering seeds” that were planted by those who came before us. We are “cultivating” new relationships and partnerships.
All of this brings me to Paul’s prayer for the church in the letter to the Ephesians. He writes, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of God.” Don’t we all want that for ourselves and for our community? Wouldn’t this world be a much better place if we had more love flowing through public discourse and guiding our interactions with one another?
My gardener friends tell me that the key to having healthy plants is to have healthy, nutrient-rich soil. After all, plants are only as healthy as the soil that is feeding them each day. This doesn’t just happen by accident – it takes hard work. Spreading mulch, compost, and fertilizer; watering regularly; weeding; letting the soil rest – these are all essential. The master gardener takes pride in her soil and knows that it is the key to a fruitful harvest and a bountiful garden. I’ve even heard of one gardener who, when moving to a new house and a new garden, took a garbage can and filled it with the topsoil that he had spent years cultivating.
All this got me to thinking about the soil of our spiritual life. What is the nature of the soil in which we are rooted? How is that soil nourishing us and giving us the tools to face the complex challenges of our day? How is that soil helping us to grow rich and vibrant spiritual lives where we are at peace with ourselves, with our God, and with others? How is that soil helping to cultivate a community that reflects the love and peace of God?
Over the next few weeks, I would like to begin looking at the soil in which we are rooted. I would like to try to name and celebrate the patches of rich soil that can be found in Griffin and Spalding County. I would like to be on the lookout for the places where goodness, truth, and beauty are blooming and bearing succulent fruit. I would like to highlight and celebrate those individuals in our community that are seeking to nourish the common good through their service and presence.
My prayer is that you will join me in the search for the “gardens” in our community. My hope is that, over the next few weeks, we can tap into the deep wells that have nourished this community for close to 200 years and draw a refreshing cup from their cool waters. My desire is to see more and more citizens adjust their gaze from the horizon “out there” to the neighborhood “right here.” My passion is to see my friends and neighbors investing their lives in this place so that we might see a community transformed by love, animated by grace, characterized by justice, celebrated for mercy, energized by hope, and committed to service.
Is it a naive or impossible dream that’s too good to be true? Maybe. But there are sprouts shooting up all around us. If we scour the landscape together, we may just find the ripening first fruits of a great harvest taking shape.