Two years ago, my family found ourselves crowded into a rented minivan, making our way across the country to bury my grandmother in her tiny hometown of Frederick, Oklahoma. At one point during the trip, we took a detour past the farm and home my great grandparents had called their own. As years of childhood memories came flooding back, flashing before my mother's eyes, I remember her making a comment on one thing in particular--a small plot of land where my great grandmother Mimi had once passed her days, caring for the irises. I've always enjoyed gardening, but as I've gotten older I've started thinking about my hobby from a different perspective. In a world that is so enamored with the latest technology, how can something as fundamentally basic as tending to a plot of land be such a source of immense joy?
Gardening is a connection to our food. When was the last time you really stopped to appreciate the painted edge of red sail lettuce or reveled in the divine shape of a radish freshly plucked from the ground? For me, it doesn't happen nearly enough. When I stop by the grocery after work, I'm usually in a rush. All too often, I find myself shoving hurried fistfuls of vegetables into plastic bags so I can get to the checkout as quickly as possible.
Modern convenience has driven a wedge between people and our food. This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone--it's a regular topic of conversation, and a driver behind the "eat local" movement. And while local farms are wonderful, I feel there is an even greater benefit when we take "local" one step closer to home. It doesn't get any more local than your own backyard.
When you grow and harvest your own vegetables, it transforms your relationship with your food. You're no longer just chopping carrots or plucking basil; your sustenance becomes a direct result of your labor. The plants on your plate are no longer a food group; they're a testament to a relationship between ground and gardener. And that makes every bite taste a little bit better.
Gardening is a connection to ourselves. Gardening is one of the few times I feel like I am able to truly disconnect from the world and reconnect with myself. When I'm wielding a trowel or elbow-deep in soil, I'm not thinking about twitter alerts or worrying about what I'm missing on facebook. I find that when I'm gardening I'm able to be truly present in the now. I relish each breath of fresh air. I appreciate the warmth of the sun on my skin and the whisper of the breeze. Gardening is my gateway and welcome escape back to the reality that really matters.
Real life, just like gardening, is gritty and dirty and unpredictable. In order to thrive and grow, our lives (and ourselves) require effort, energy, care and love. Real life won't be quantified in 140-character blips; it measures in seasons, sun-ups and sun-downs. It doesn't matter how many people applaud what you do or say--or if they even like it all. Real life is a cycle of growth. It marches onward indifferently, regardless of whether you're a person, a green bean bush or a bumblebee.
It doesn't get much more real than that.
Gardening is a connection to God. For those who subscribe to the message behind the oldest story ever told, life and the world as we know it began in a garden a long, long time ago. The first sunrise stretched its arms wide, spreading its rays, for the first time, over an infinite bounty and everything the universe had to offer.
Maybe the affinity for gardening is something that has been hitchhiking--for centuries--on the deepest roots of our DNA. Perhaps it's an heirloom of a memory harkening back to that one first day. I prefer to think of it simply as something that brings me closer to God.
Try as we might, none of us carries on indefinitely. Like everything and everyone, we progress through a series of seasons. When our winter inevitably arrives, we return to the earth at rest.
Some churches come equipped with pews and a steeples. Others with shovels and trowels. Not every conversation with God happens in words. Some of us do our best prayer on our knees amongst the seeds and weeds. But in some way, each of us is a garden.