A Simple Feast, Columns

In the garden for good

I love the four seasons of our life in Minnesota and Wisconsin. In each, nature carries to us reminders of the cycles of life that move from birth to death and regeneration — mysteries that lie within and beyond us.

Summer makes visible the beauty and abundance of God’s creative presence and generosity. Seeds that have sprouted are now bursting forth with colors, aromas, and tastes that enliven our senses and ground us in creation. Farmers’ fields and markets, produce shelves and gardens present fresh foods that satisfy our taste and nourish our bodies.

We know that food is essential for life. John Muir, American naturalist and preservationist, wrote of a greater truth: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike” (The Yosemite, 1912, page 256).

We do ourselves and creation a disservice if we separate spirituality from our physical life and experience. Horticulture research bears witness to the benefits of interaction between people and gardens. Such a connection improves well-being.

Eva Jensen

We do ourselves and creation a disservice if we separate spirituality from our physical life and experience.

In summer the natural environment is visibly alive. It is a season that invites us to get outside. Landscapes in our state, regional, and city parks provide varied and beautiful spaces that preserve and protect nature, support environmental education and engagement in nature, as well as provide space for play and renewal. Congregational, neighborhood, and personal yards may produce food. They provide places for labor. They may also be places of beauty, community, meditation, prayer, and renewal — for body and soul.

Integrating health, horticulture, and gardening

On July 2, Shelley Ryan, host of the Wisconsin Gardener Program on Wisconsin Public Television, took her audiences to garden sites accessible to people of all ages and varied abilities. Ryan and Mike Maddox, a horticultural educator with UW–Extension in Rock County, talked about horticultural therapy. A person in need of physical therapy can work with a medical doctor and horticultural therapist to design therapy goals that they achieve by working in gardens and with plants in ways that result in physically measurable health improvement. Rather than lifting weights in a therapy room people are moving plants and digging in soil. They work in the garden for good health.

Good gardening can also serve personal, social, and community needs while producing food and creating beauty. Therapeutic horticulture simply involves interacting in activities, such as garden clubs and conservatory walks, to improve personal well-being.

Some landscapes and gardens associated with hospitals and residential care facilities are designed for and enhance life for people who are differently abled: Braille trails allow new ways to see nature; raised garden beds are accessible to those who cannot walk or kneel. Social and community horticulture offers opportunities for community building and socialization while gardening.

Vocational horticulture teaches job skills and supports independent living. How might congregations integrate health, horticulture, and good gardening into use of their land resources?

The wholeness of the earth

Our health and wholeness relies on relationships that are physical and spiritual. In this season of green — ordinary time in the liturgical calendar — we are surrounded by God’s creative presence and generosity. In the words of Lutheran ethicist, Larry Rasmussen, “If you would experience God, you must fall in love with earth.”

A friend of mine recalled memories of her worst days with a debilitating chronic illness: “When it seemed that my prayers went unanswered, my hope lay in shreds, and God had vanished from the scene completely, I could still be nurtured by the fruits of the earth. A neighbor brought over homemade soup from vegetables in her garden. A friend brought a vase of tall, elegant irises. A yoga teacher laid down on the floor next to me and guided my breathing. And when I could not find a way into prayer, I began to see that gazing at the spectacular vistas of the Olympic Mountains and the San Juan Islands … was enough. All of these earthly gifts grounded me in physical life again, when I would rather not have inhabited a body.”

And yet … in and through the realities of our earthly life God comes to us. God comes in landscapes and gardens, in community and care. God is made known in the simple things that sustain our lives — bread, breath, water, wine, and love.

Eva Jensen is an ELCA pastor who lives and works in the Twin Cities.

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