Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Inheriting Paradise

I have a great pastor and friend in Dale Smith. In too many instances pastors are just preachers, or vice versa. Dale's ministry however is the ministry of Jesus -- it's both prophetic and pastoral.

He and I have been talking/writing some recently about our experiences in gardening and the way it seems to snatch us up out of the busy suburban lifestyle and bring to us an intense focus on the role of humans in the divine creation...stewardship of the resources...tending to the garden.

Dale and I were supposed to get together for a visit tonight, but it got preempted because of my poor planning. This afternoon I got a text message from him saying he had left a book on my doorstep at home that he didn't want to wait until Sunday to give to me. He also mentioned it was a book he had read many times and he thought I would enjoy it, too.

The title is Inheriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening, by Eastern Orthodox theologian, Vigen Guroian.

No sooner than the first paragraph of the text, I read:

I am a theologian and a college professor. I like being both. But what I really love to do -- what I get exquisite pleasure from doing -- is to garden. I think that gardening is nearer to godliness than theology.

He goes on to say in this first meditation that his love of creation is not that of the Romanticist. He says,
The mystical enjoyment comes not without the toilsome struggle of raking and sowing and pulling up the weeds. In my garden the thistle grows more easily than the primrose. Sin grows in my body more readily than purity, and the keys to my garden do not admit me back through Eden's gates.

This is why I believe it is harder to see God now than it was when I was much younger. Maybe because of social conditioning, or laziness, or just plain sin, I found it much easier to give in to the notion that leveraging less toil for greater benefits would always produce the desired results. The risk/reward ratio sometimes pays off, but in the natural world, it's a risk not worth taking.

Hence, I have lived much of my life as a sloth, waiting...and many times just giving up...on God to lavish blessings on me.

While it is biblically accurate to say that work does not produce righteousness, the Bible doesn't go so far as to say that work is evil, much less that it is contrary to faith or God's intent for humans.

Trying harder is a good thing. Sometimes, automation and efficiency rob us of the contemplative time we might enjoy should we toil longer with the simple human tools we have...like our own bare hands, muscles, and ingenuity.

I am looking forward to finishing the book over the next few days. My rosebuds are about to pop open with color and fragrance, my spring vegetable seeds are pushing upward into the sunlight, and the fresh air of the Spirit seems to be whispering in my ear...all is well.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Our Watch is Ticking

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You return man to dust
and say, "Return, O children of man!"
For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.

You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.

Psalm 90:1-6
Having finally implemented a plan to grow a vegetable garden this year, using simple tools (no motors, gas or electric), has brought me much closer to the realization of how great the Creator is.

Transforming a small piece of earth from a chemically-altered wasteland to a fertile plot of ground from which the fruits of labor are not instantaneous is a labor-intensive proposition. It is easy to focus on the hard work and to think of ourselves more highly than we ought, giving credit to the hours of labor and personal tenacity.

But, the miracle is not the labor. Rather, it is the created order which is given to us by God for managing during our time here. It is an order which is so detailed and comprehensive that even the structures of soil play a large role in the success of our labor. Labor is fruitless unless we are working in a medium that is blessed with the life of fertility.

Our creative role in the world is minimal; our destructive bent is tantamount.

Managing what is God's, we cannot add anything to it that will make it better. We can only provide the toil, the efficient usage of God's resources, and manage as best we can that we do no harm.

The Psalmist portrays the preeminence of God, the Ancient of Days, the Creator, the Alpha and Omega to whom a thousand years is but a day...or more starkly, a "watch in the night."

If stewardship is our primary function, which it seems to be, given the accounts in Genesis of the garden and Adam and Eve, we must first stop the irresponsible (sinful!) waste of the Creation. Secondly, we should work to recover and to replenish the earth by eliminating practices that are blind to the needs of future generations.

This idea has ethical implications that are political, economic, and even spiritual. It takes much contemplation, radical action, and personal repentance. Our destruction is upon us if we do not change.