What I've Learned About God in My Garden

In this season of spring, renewal and rebirth, I’ve been thinking: what have I learned about myself—and about God—from being a gardener?


From studying his work I’ve come to know the workman. I’ve come to better understand his garden, his creation, his creatures.


I’ve learned that each of God’s flowers, however imperfect, is perfect to him. God doesn’t make mistakes; he doesn’t make junk. Like every thing in my garden, and like every other creature in God’s garden, I’m perfect as is. I was meant to be as I am, as I have been, as I will be. Through me and through all his creations, God expressed his will, and declared it good. I am his will, and I am good.


I’ve learned that God loves diversity, or else why would he have created anew each flower and each snowflake? I’m different from every other creation, and my uniqueness is holy. When asked what he had learned about God from his studies, Darwin replied, “God seems to have had an inordinate fondness for beetles” (the very diverse species which Darwin particularly studied as a young man.)


I’ve learned that God doesn’t mow down dandelions because they’ve been bad. I’m not individually judged, targeted, punished, or rewarded. God’s world works the way it works exactly as he meant it to work. Along with every other creature, I’m subject to his inexorable laws of cause and effect, laws he quite deliberately set in motion. Sun shines and rain falls unpredictably and arbitrarily on all of us, and there’s an inexorable and unprejudiced justice in that. God’s not in the business of interfering with cause and effect.


I’ve learned that God is in the business of nurturing the processes of life, and of celebrating life’s cycles. Like all his creations in his garden, I was supposed to be born and I’m supposed to die, and—if I’m lucky—I’ll have some time in between to grow.


I’ve learned that I’m expected to turn toward the sun and try hard to grow bigger and stronger and smarter, to understand God’s laws and live fully within them. I’m also expected to accept disease, decay, and death as a natural part of life.


I’ve learned that I’m loved. God is bounteous, and provides richly for each creature whatever it needs to live the life he expects of it until its time to die. If I ask for something and God doesn’t give it to me, I don’t need it.


I’ve learned that I’m not just a unique flower; I’m also the air and the soil and the nutrients, the rain and the light and the whole ecological system supporting me. My identity is dual—I’m both an individual and an integral part of a whole. I’m a unique self and a larger self.


I’ve learned that, just as each creature does its part to support all of life, it is supported in return by all of life. I am meant to support all of life just as if it were my self—which it is. I do unto life as I would have it do unto me, I treat others as I would like to be treated. Life blesses me, and I bless life.


I’ve learned that although flowers die, life is eternal. When my unique body/identity/self dies, my connected self will spring forth renewed, born again. I’m part of life, part of God, one with God—and life/God/self go on forever.


I’ve learned from my garden to let go of my insistence upon fairness and equality in earthly outcomes, and to accept instead whatever God offers. Life abundant and life eternal are God’s precious and generous versions of love and justice. I tend his garden humbly, contributing my own invaluable and unique gifts in appreciation and peace.


Happy Easter, happy Purim, happy spring to all! Happy season-of-welcoming-new-life-birth-rebirth-cycles-processes-growth-nurturing-beauty-and-joy! And happy gardening….

An Appreciation of Gardeners….

Many people take a gardener’s work for granted. They shouldn’t! Here are twelve of the important roles a gardener plays….


First, a gardener is a laborer.


You work, lift, haul, dig, sow, reap. You eat bugs and dirt and pain and sweat and cold. You love the outdoors, sun, water, and the feel and smell of dirt.


You turn to your garden to create, not to consume. You know that work is the one prayer that most deserves to be answered. You feed the hungry. Your work is sensuous and sensual, and you find joy in its direct experience. You are close to the soil and fully connected to the earth. You are here, now. Your work is love made visible.


A gardener is a good neighbor.


You’re a giver—of bouquets, bulbs, jam and apples, of cucumbers and conversation and kindness, of assistance and advice. You’re a teacher of both the old and the young. You know that a single seed in a paper cup holds a world of science and wonder.


You’re prepared to pass on a whole lifetime of gardening traditions—in times of prosperity, or in times of disaster. You decorate your community. You spread beauty and knowledge.


A gardener is a horticulturist.


You’re a student of plants, a botanist, a collector, a taxonomist, a geneticist, a specialist. In order to care for your plants, you study their whole world. You understand losses and surprises, setbacks and triumphs, persistence and patience.


A gardener is a scientist.


You enter your garden not to escape reality but to observe it more closely. You compare. You take notes, keep records, write journals. You analyze your failures and improve on your successes. You inquire and experiment and expand your knowledge.


A gardener is a naturalist.


Your expertise is not only in plants. You know soils, weather, birds, insects, fungi, microorganisms and micronutrients, pathogens, pollution, and pesticides. You recognize your biological reflection, your genetic double, in every garden creature and plant.


You celebrate the messiness of evolution and sex and spring and birth and rebirth. You’re an ecologist, a biologist, a zoologist. You know the connectedness of creation and your place in the web of life.


A gardener is an activist.


Your garden shows that you care—about healthful food, clean air and water, and earth-friendly horticultural practices; about soil conservation, wildlife habitat, about smaller and larger ecosystems, about native plants and species extinction.


You understand that the one power you have that will never corrupt you is your power to make something lovely. You’re a bioethicist, a political animal, and a steward of our children’s future.


Your garden is a statement of how you relate—to the land, to family, neighbors, community, to the present, past and future, to your country and to other countries, to your planet. You found out, in your garden, who you are and who you want to be, what you stand for.


A gardener is a creative artist.


You nurture the beauty in each plant. Your garden is an expression of your individual style, your philosophy, personality, your personal rules and directions and themes, your knowledge base, experiences, and interests. Through your garden, you give form to chaos.


You paint picturesque garden compositions. You demonstrate that substances obeying their own laws do beautiful things, and you demonstrate that there is no beauty anywhere that is not totally dependent on relationship. You co-create living masterpieces.


A gardener is a traveler on a mythic journey.


You venture through a beckoning gate into a mysterious world of uncharted paths, on a timeless hero’s journey through secret passages and hidden turnings, to your life’s destinations….You sometimes stop to smell the roses, and maybe slay a dragon(fly) or two.


A gardener is a philosopher.


A garden is a philosopher’s church, a place to worship Mother Nature and the mysterious workings of the universe. In a garden, you seek, find and create meaning.


In your life, as in your garden, your purposes and interests and opportunities change with the seasons. In your life, as in your garden, you live and make choices within a limited framework, with considerable constraints, making the most of what you have, and working what is already there. In your garden, you see reflected your own birth, reproductive urges, decay and death, your battles with disease and disorder, your struggles to grow, to compete, to seek light.


Along with your garden plants, you share the tender mercies of rain and sun and nourishment. You dance a ring around your rosies, your pockets full of posies. You come from dust, to dust return. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.


A gardener is an historian and a storyteller.


Your garden tells, not only your story, but its own story—how you made it, what your plans and impulses were. Your garden reveals all the things you can’t resist doing and all the things you never got around to.


Perhaps your garden tells the history of the land itself—its geology, topography, its last owners and previous uses. Your garden may reflect memories of beloved childhood gardens, as well as gardens you’ve visited in your travels, through art, literature, and in your imagination.


Last, a gardener is a mystic.


In your garden, you can be a dreamer, a spiritual seeker, maybe even a monk. In a garden, you accept life’s mystery, and attempt to recreate it.


You accept God’s grace, and his fierce, unexplainable logic. In a garden, you know God, for by the work, you know the Workman. Your work is your worship, gratitude, communion, and offering. You live in that infinite time, space, and distance that is the present.


Your smallest flower contains a universe. You are that flower, and you are the universe. You are the gardener and the garden, the fruit of the vine and the harvest.


(Thanks for insights, inspiration and images to: Carol Williams, Bringing a Garden to Life; Michael Pollan, Second Nature; Joe Eck, Elements of Garden Design; Ed Whitney (watercolorist); Henry Mitchell, The Essential Earthman and One Man’s Garden; Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet; The Holy Bible; and Mother Goose.)

A Bunch of Unreallistic Dreamers and Kooks–and Me

A ragtag bunch of unrealistic dreamers and kooks shared our home while passing through Frederick on their trek from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, headed toward the United Nations in New York City, where they will join a rally for nuclear non-proliferation in early May.


Or were they a serious, hard-working, disciplined, organized, committed, and spiritual group of unique individuals taking small peaceful steps toward greater sanity in a nutty world?


Arriving after a 20 mile walk from Lucketts, Virginia, the group took a scheduled rest day (once every seven days) in Frederick, welcomed by members of the Frederick Friends (Quakers) and several other local groups, before walking off toward a night hosted by two Thurmont churches.


What did I experience? A disparate but remarkably purposeful and caring group of believers and non-believers—Christians, Buddhists, activists of many stripes, the old and the young, walking for a day or a week or a month or for thousands of miles in many countries. They are black, white, Asian, native American, from the U.S., Japan, Australia, and many other countries.


As I juggle my own daily logistics, I wonder how the peacewalkers manage to arrange nightly lodging (on the floors of welcoming libraries and churches) how they eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, get medical care, manage personal possessions and sleeping bags…. But all seems smooth and organized. Every day they rise for interfaith prayer, and are walking by 7 a.m. They walk fast, carrying peace banners from many nations, smiling and waving and sharing their energy and positivity, even after walking fifteen miles. They are efficient and tidy, leaving their accommodations spotless.


I expected to host exhausted walkers who would collapse until noon in every corner of my home. No, they rose at dawn for prayer. One visitor, a Buddhist nun, magically produced from a small suitcase, a portable office. She spent the morning using her brief “rest” to email and call far-flung colleagues, and to plan a future walk converging in South Dakota. Willing hands produced a light breakfast and a feast for lunch. The young people wanted to explore Frederick’s downtown, while the rest shopped Goodwill, mailed pressed flowers and letters home, and then planned their evening presentations for curious townsfolk–about why they joined the group, why they walk, why they’ve stayed.


After everyone had left, I thought about what their work meant to me. I was most struck by how reversed I now felt about who and what is crazy.


Although I always have respected the peacewalkers’ cause—nuclear non-proliferation—I admit that I invited them despite a feeling that this was a crazy bunch of people choosing a crazy life and a crazy goal.


Now I’m thinking about cutting out sugar and caffeine and alcohol, as many of them do, for more energy–and maybe I’ll start fasting, too. I’m considering rising a little earlier to meditate and pray, and I’m asking myself what example my way of life offers to my children, and to others. I’m thinking again about moving forward on some impossible dreams of my own, thinking about taking the next step and then the next, as the peacewalkers courageously do each day, keeping the faith in humanity and possibility.


I’m thinking that maybe the life I see on TV, the commercial life, the fast life of the contemporary west, my life, is perhaps not the best context from which to decide who is crazy or not, nor from which to determine what is a balanced, healthy, useful life. I’m thinking that maybe I’ll try to shake myself free of contemporary culture just long enough to reconsider the possibility that nuclear tragedy isn’t necessarily inevitable, nor that working for change in our government policies isn’t necessarily a waste of time, and that joy and meaning and energy may come more readily from a purposeful, disciplined, giving, hardworking, kind, and open life.


I’m thinking I’ll keep an eye on the internet for the next time any peacewalkers come anywhere near my town again. I’ll download their schedule and join them in solidarity and respect, for a few days, or maybe I’ll plan a vacation around them. Maybe others will do the same, and maybe someday, as they hope, huge throngs will crowd around them in appreciation and support as they stride purposefully, idealistically, determinedly through the towns of the world. Yes, it’s true, they’re dreamers. But they’re not the only ones.

When Eggheady Experts Are Kept Out of Government, Education, and Science…

We have a two-party political system in America, so conservatives hope we’ll take their next logical leap and compress the wide range of contemporary intellectual thought into two primary worldviews—conservative and liberal. For if conservatives succeed in framing the free exchange of ideas inspired by our constitution into a dichotomy having two equal perspectives, one right and one left, they can feel encouraged in their demand for an equitable fair share of the teaching and research slots in America’s institutions of higher education.


But even if one felt an obligation to divide the universe of knowledge and opinion into two opposing sides (one doesn’t) it would make more sense to label the two approaches “closed-minded” and “open-minded,” or perhaps, “conservative” and “all the rest.” For although political conservatism is well-financed and influential in America, within the scope of contemporary intellectual thought, conservatism has the status and weight of a fringe cult–because while there are innumerable ways to be a liberal thinker, there are only a handful of ways to be a conservative.


The dictionary definition of “liberal” is: “Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.”


The dictionary definition of conservative is: Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.”


Conservatives hope that Americans will ignore the minor nonsense-correlation evident between two statistical factoids: one, that most of our nation’s well-informed, well-educated, and broadly experienced professorial “experts” identify themselves as “liberal;” and two, that these same pointy-headed experts are the very ones we need to bring their knowledge, complexity, and sophistication—i.e., “expertise”—to contemporary American problems.


Just as lifetimes spent inquiring into the significant body of evidence, experimentation, and thought we call “science” generally lead scholars to conclude that evolution is a broad, reliable, predictive scientific theory explaining the history and biology of life on earth…


So, too, do smart, well-educated, well-informed, and open-minded investigators into today’s broad universe of knowledge,  unsurprisingly referred to as “the liberal arts,” generally draw logically-connected, broad-based liberal conclusions about the way the world works.


Too many Americans,  unfortunately so ill-educated as to distrust fancy-talking experts as “others” and “outsiders,” elect legislators and presidents who themselves distrust experts, with the unsurprising result that we get bumbling, inexpert political decision-makers who create truly bad foreign, domestic, environmental, monetary, and defense policy.


The last thing conservatives want, though, is our nation’s acknowledged, highly-respected experts—who’ve spent their lives studying history and culture and policy and education and diplomacy and economics and science and all the other fields of knowledge—mucking around in their administration’s policy-making…


Because the conservative mind is, by definition, closed to all new views.


Because the conservative worldview was already made up, once upon a long long time ago in a land far far away.

What If…?

What if it’s not important to be right?

What if, instead of deciding who to love, we just love everybody?

What if no one can explain God, but it’s fun to try anyway?

What if the best way to help others is to love them just the way they are now?

What if the world is the way it is because God made it this way on purpose?

What if trying to change people just doesn’t work?

What if talking problems over with God always helps?

What if god doesn’t care whether you capitalize her name or not?

What if you’re perfect (ly human) just the way you are right now, and so is everyone else?

What if there’s no past and no future—only a long line of nows?

What if they gave wars and nobody came?

What if we treated everyone the way we’d like to be treated?

What if everything is possible with God’s help?

What if the differences between people don’t matter?

What if we’re each completely lovable in our own way?

What if everyone helps and no one hurts?

What if religion is about opening hearts and minds? 

What if thoughts and ideas are the most powerful things in the world?

What if we live our own lives and let everyone else live theirs?

What if no one has unfriendly thoughts about anyone (including themselves)?

What if things change only when we change?

What if the world is as we are?

What if what God wants for us and what we want most are the same things?

What if people explain God different ways, while God stays the same?

What if we don’t need to worry about mistakes?

What if life is supposed to be the way it is?

What if we already have everything we need?

What if people who were upset only got smiles and help?

What if the things that separate people aren’t important?

What if there’s nothing to be afraid of?

What if the best way to help the world is to love it the way it is right now?

What if people who suffer injustice never added to it?

What if everyone knows what’s true, but no two explain it the same way?

What if giving up guilt frees us to give and love and be happy again?

What if we decide to see only good?

What if we go on forever?

What if God is love?

What if there are more questions than answers?

What if the questions and the answers change as we change?

What if human minds are smaller than God’s?

What if we’re not meant or expected to understand everything?

What if living in faith means choosing, even though we can’t be sure?

What if it’s OK to talk about all of this?