Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Gardening and faith 101

Postprandial ruminations
As I mentioned back here, Jessica and I have taken up gardening - at least as much as it is possible to do so on a small, south-facing, third-floor balcony. For the last few months, we've been enjoying quite a harvest: scores of cherry tomatoes, handfuls of capsicums and chillis, dozens of beans and snow peas, even some carrots, corn and potatoes, as well as a constant supply of basil, thyme, sage and mint.*

One of the most fun bits has been our worm farm, which takes nearly all our kitchen scraps and peelings (not to mention a little paper and even hair clippings) and turns them into high quality fertiliser. I think part of the delight for hardened urbanites like us has been to witness the full cycle of growth, production, consumption and decomposition. Living in a city, it is easy to forget the connections between all these things, especially the truth that there is no "away" to which we can throw things. "Garbage" is just something that belongs somewhere else - often in the worm farm!

Perhaps even more thrilling than watching worms gorge themselves has been the experience of seeing seeds grow and turn into recognisable and edible produce. Although I studied agriculture from year 7 until the HSC, this remains a surprising delight. A simple pleasure, but it's true that there's something special about eating what you've grown yourself. Could it be that part of what's special about growing your own food is that this experience powerfully brings home the reality that you didn't grow it yourself?

Let me explain. So much of our urban environment is the result of human manufacturing and ingenuity. From pixels to plates to polystyrene, we constantly and subtly receive the message that we are the fashioners of our own space and the makers of our own destiny. But the mystery of a growing seed explodes the myth of self-sufficiency, either individual or human. We rely on others all the time: not least to grow, harvest, transport, store, (often) cook and dispose of our food; we rely on the non-human all the time: the rains in season, the sunlight that freely bombards our planet twenty-four seven, the soils ground up or belched forth from the earth. Growing food yourself reveals that we don't grow our own food.

Jesus once told a story:

"This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come."             – Mark 4.26-29
What is true of our lives and basic sustenance is also true of our hope in God's kingdom: we are primarily audience, recipients, beneficiaries. In the life of faith we are simply surprised and delighted farmers, dole bludgers on God's grace, children receiving his fatherly care. And thank God for that!
*If you compare this list to the one back here, you'll be able to work out all the things that sadly didn't make it.


byron smith said...

OK, before you all start yelling, perhaps "dole bludger" gives some wrong connotations of what Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace". Perhaps better would be to compare us to students perpetually on Ausstudy: we don't earn it, we only receive, but we receive in order to also ourselves give and grow (remember, this is a student perpetually on benefits: it's not that at some stage we need to "start pulling our own weight" - our obligation is to enjoy and make best use of the free gifts we receive, which often means re-gifting them to someone else). Or maybe we're like little kids who can't afford to buy Christmas presents, don't know what to give, and don't even often know that it is good to give and so the parent selects and buys the present that the child then gives.

bigdog said...

Your balcony garden is really inspiring and appealing - both ethically and romantically (as in appealing to my colonial desire to be English)... Being a fellow resident in an apartment, I would love some tips for the pot plants on our balcony, and also on starting a worm farm.

byron smith said...

My tip on balcony gardening is: get a worm farm! And work out how you will remember to water/tend for five minutes regularly (every day or second day, depending on time of year).

My tip on getting a worm farm is to visit The Watershed at 218 King St in Newtown and pick up all the info (or sign up for a free seminar), buy your farm, source your worms, etc. If you're a City of Sydney resident, then they used to have an offer of giving you a free worm farm if you were willing to turn up at the right time each month for a intro/how to seminar.

Go for it!