“In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground…the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there God put the man whom God had formed.” – Genesis 2:4b-7
The people we bought our house from were successful early retirees. Which means that they not only had a lot of time, but also a lot of energy. Consequently, when we moved in, our yard featured a fenced vegetable garden, a formal herb garden with stone paths, a berry patch, lovely foundation plantings, lush lawns, kidney shaped island beds, perennial borders, huge perfect hedges, and more. Now, a few years later, it features great masses of dandelions and caustic wild parsnip, hedges ravaged by deer, a lawn that could best be described as “diverse,” and perennials killed by a combination of neglect and dog visits.
When the author of Genesis wants to indicate the nothingness of the time before creation, he describes an earth with no one to plant and garden it. Then the first thing God does is to create a garden, followed by a human to tend it. Gardening, it turns out, is the first task given to humans, arguably our defining characteristic.
A garden is the interaction between human action and the world of dirt and flora. By that definition, there is in fact no place on earth that we are not currently gardening, intentionally or not. There is no place unaffected by the actions of humans, not even so-called wildernesses; pollution, genetically modified organisms, invasive species, and climate change are at work in even the most protected places.
Our gardening started with a little patch of earth in Eden. As with the gardens of people everywhere with enough time and energy, our plots have spread and spread. Now they cover the entire world, and the question is, what are we going to do with the garden we have inherited?
God, grant that I might remember that beauty takes work and that dandelions are flowers. Deliver me from the temptations of Roundup and riding mowers. And at least once in a while, let me set aside my anxiety and enjoy the garden I’ve received. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is the Pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, Syracuse, New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.