My latest column in the Christian Courier.
My front-yard garden measures 12 feet by 11 feet and so represents a modest effort in terms of urban agriculture. It certainly doesn’t compete with the larger plots tended by some Portuguese seniors in west end Montreal, or with the wide-open community gardens that flourish here. But its postage-stamp size doesn’t tell the whole story of my veggie patch either. Year over year my acreage (dreaming big, here) teaches me much more than many other areas of life—it is the source of innumerable successes, failures, and opportunities to learn.
This year I decided to plant kohlrabi for the first time, which one website describes as “a unique, easy-to-grow veggie.” Easy for them to say! I don’t know whether to blame the less-than-consistent rainfall of this past summer or my less than strategic enriching of the soil, but the resulting, stumpy little kohlrabi stems were rather disappointing. In my defense I should say that I didn’t have a lot of time to invest in the garden this year. And the decision to leave town for four weeks of holidays wasn’t exactly conducive to its flourishing.
Most of the carrot seeds I planted in early June simply didn’t germinate, though the few seeds that did spring up produced twenty lovely carrots. Twenty! (You can interpret that exclamation mark as either frustration or delight!) They were typically odd-sized and wonderfully misshapen. Also, at some point during the season I simply forgot I had planted onion seedlings in the back corner, and only discovered them when pulling out overgrown crabgrass and other weeds a few weeks ago. And there they were, 10 of them pulled up and held in one hand, as remarkable and beautiful as anything on God’s green earth.
I should perhaps give myself some credit on this gardening front. By planting the kohlrabi and the kale so close to each other (they are cousins after all), I created a perfect environment for the flourishing of snails. Those snails, naturally enough, feasted joyfully—at least I hope they feasted joyfully—on the abundance of kale spreading as a protective canopy over them. There was some kale left for my family, so you could say that we shared our harvest.
There were other, honest-to-goodness successes this year, apart from those twenty carrots and the snail paradise. There were three tomato plants that insisted on producing lovely fruit despite my never having tied them up or pruned them carefully. Let’s just call them field tomatoes, shall we. Alongside those there were also two perfectly respectable rows of beets—and I can attest to their tastiness when baked and then mixed with some lemon juice, olive oil, feta and parsley. Oh, and there has been an abundance of basil this year, gracing countless salads with its sweet, almost pungent flavour.
The truth is that I don’t plant a garden because I think it will save the world or because I think it will feed my family—though it might make some small contribution on each of those fronts. Each year I know it will be a battle to give that plot the care it needs. I plant a garden because it is a tangible expression of God’s grace—a grace that is seen and touched and tasted, as if sacramentally. God’s love touchable. This year especially, perhaps, the garden has been a reminder that regardless of my contributions or my relative inattention, there are gifts that come through sun and rain, seeds and soil, compost and peat moss. I am not the source of anything.
Another way to express this is to say that no matter how diligently we have prepared, or how hard we have worked, there is fundamental grace at the foundation of our life in God’s creation and new creation. Gifts are given, and we simply receive. In the economy of God’s kingdom, the measure of our humanity is in our ability to receive those gifts, and our very selves, with thanksgiving.