by Mason Slater
There’s a miracle happening in backyards and community gardens, just inches below the surface. I certainly didn’t expect to discover this when I started gardening three years ago; I just wanted fresh veggies to cook with. My plot isn’t particularly impressive—just two small beds built of cedar planks, filled with rich black soil, and surrounded by a tall fence.
I am not an especially skilled gardener, either, but tending to these patches of earth has become an important part of my life’s rhythm. In fact, while kneeling in the grass, attempting to pull out a stubborn weed, and feeling the cool dirt between my fingers, I came to realize that gardening has developed into a sort of spiritual discipline—one that connects me to my God through the good things He’s made.
God has used gardening to remind me that the spiritual life is lived in particularities, not abstractions. Like many others, I find that in my day-to-day scramblings, I rarely take the time to consider the ground beneath my feet. This can cause quite a disconnect when I pick up my Bible and find that the language of Scripture is scandalously local and, well, “earthy.”
God doesn’t waste any time. On page one, He creates humanity from the dust of the ground. These people were then given a task: to tend a garden called Eden, which the Creator had placed in their care. Turn a few pages, and Abram is called from Ur and promised a new home—not just any home, but a specific territory that included certain landmarks, such as the tamarisk trees in Beersheba and the great oaks of Mamre. Later, after the people of Israel entered that land, were exiled, and returned once more, Jesus walked through Gethsemane’s ancient olive groves and fields, telling parables along the way about planting seeds, storing new wine, and growing figs.
For me, gardening has also become a constant reminder of divine provision. Throughout the Bible, we find prophets and kings using the language of the land, of husbandry and wilderness, to speak of God providing for His people. In one of David’s songs of praise, he makes plain that everything we have is the Lord’s: “You care for the land and water it, you enrich it abundantly; the streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it” (Ps. 65:9 NIV).
God is always faithful to provide, but of course this provision doesn’t necessarily come in the way we hope. Yes, sometimes God gives suddenly and miraculously. There are those occasional mornings when I discover my once lackluster poblano peppers are all of a sudden bursting with life. But usually He works in ways that are small, slow, and unnoticed.
That first growing season, before putting up the fence, I awoke one morning to find that much of my garden had been eaten by rabbits. They were voracious, chewing stems down to the ground and even digging up plants that were just starting to sprout. I was incredibly disappointed, and my first year was shaping up to be an utter failure. But then something unexpected happened: weeds started sprouting up where the rabbits had pillaged. I ignored them until the end of the year, but when I then dug them up, I found they were not weeds at all. Instead, they were carrots—dozens and dozens of delicious carrots—growing in what I perceived as ruin, without me being aware of it.
Sometimes God’s provision looks very much like death. We are reminded of this in the words of Jesus as well: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Placing those seeds in the ground is a sort of burial, and it can take weeks before new life breaks through the surface. On occasion, it’s a surprise that anything breaks through at all.
This lesson can be the hardest, but gardening has put tactile reality to the confession that our God is a God of resurrection. Resurrection is a word of hope, but it means that first, something has to die. We have to wait. Only much later do we see how the Lord provided for us during those times when our patience was tried and all looked like death. But after the wait, there is the joy of new life.
Next year, I will start teaching my daughter to garden. I hope it will begin to shape her as it has shaped me. While together we tend the land, through days of rain and days of parched earth, I hope she will be reminded daily of the place where God has set us, the way He provides for us, and how He brings new life in unexpected ways.