Cultivating a Garden

God Almighty first planted a garden. And indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures.

— Francis Bacon

April showers bring May flowers. They also bring weeds. This month, I have been reminded of this as I enjoy the fresh beauty of the outdoors, both in my yard and in the gardens around my school. In March, I was giddy to see the trees were budding in purple Virginia fashion and daffodils were springing up. Later came black-eyed Susans, irises, peonies, and roses. I was frustrated to find that many dandelions (I cannot concede these be counted as a flowers), wild onions, crab grass, clover, some unidentified spiny thing, and a host of other undesirables also sprang up. The garden out my classroom window looked a little more like a wild jungle than a peaceful garden. Finally, I couldn’t stand it. One afternoon after school, I went out and pulled up as many weeds as I could. I had a huge pile of weeds when I was done, yet the garden still looked over run. I realized that part of its appearance was due to an overabundance of good things. Many of the flowers had not been thinned out recently, the ground cover had not been trimmed back, and the bushes and trees needed pruning. Meanwhile, at home I helped my mom pull out a patch of irises. We only did this because this was the second year in a row they had not bloomed. Why not? The previous owner of the garden had let them become too crowded and overgrown by weeds. The soil was also full of rocks that had worked their way up to the surface. A garden needs cultivation.

God makes all things perfect, but he has made things living, not static. Yes, there is much to enjoy in untouched nature, but in the beginning, God placed man in a garden and told him to tend it. I wonder what tending the Garden of Eden would have involved. Did Adam and Eve prune the fruit trees? Try to develop varieties of plants? Arrange the plants as they wished? Remember this was before the fall. They did not have to fear weeds or the toil that Adam was later cursed with, but they still had responsibility and work.

A garden is such a lovely metaphor. Even when we have planned something well (a schedule, a relationship, habit, etc.), we need to continually be working on it and cultivating it. Just because the garden is laid out well, does not mean that you can leave it alone forever. Because of the curse, you need to look out for the weeds that creep in and then multiply when they have an entrance. Even just preventing or removing the bad is often not enough. You also need to make sure the good, planned things in your life do not overrun the rest. A crowded garden is typically unhealthy.

Enjoy the spring in your garden! In your literal and figurative gardens, be willing to do the hard work of cultivating so that you can enjoy the flowers and the fruit in their appropriate seasons.

Darkness Hides more than Defects

This year, I have had the opportunity to experience many new things culturally. Last week, I had my most stretching cultural experience yet, and I probably didn’t need to come all the way to Mexico to experience it. I went to a bar with some friends with whom I had just eaten dinner. Feel free to ask me about that, it is actually quite funny now looking back on it because I just held an empty cup the whole time so I didn’t look too out of place.

After we left, we had to go into an Oxxo convenience store to withdraw some money for the taxi home. The bright fluorescent lighting was quite the contrast to the dark bar with pulsing colored lights. I was with three other teachers and two Mexican men from one of their churches. One of the guys looked at us and said, “Wow, you girls are a lot more attractive in this light!” He had been sarcastic and joking most of the night, but now he defended himself and insisted he was not teasing. Aside from the girl who goes to his church, he had just met us that evening and we’d eaten our dinner outside so he actually had not seen us in the light.

It made me think about how while darkness can hide defects, which offers some security, it cannot make something beautiful. In fact, the darkness does not just obscure blemishes, but also true beauty where it is present. Hiding in the darkness will nullify the beauty of appearance and character. Light and truth reveals beauty, not just gives a poor illusion of it like darkness does. Children of light, let your light shine before men. (Matthew 5:16) When a lamp is lit, you do not cover it. You put it on a stand and it reveals and illuminates everything, the good and the bad (Luke 11:33). The light of the gospel will reveal hidden sin which is embarrassing to reveal, but it will also reveal the beauty of the gospel and the wonderful splendor of Christ in us.

Photo from unsplash.com

With Beauty, Comes Responsibility

Life on earth is beautiful. There is pain and imperfection, but that does not detract from the beauty that is present. Not only is there beauty in the natural world, but also in carefully crafted man-made things, and in nonmaterial things, such as relationships, ideas, music, and poetry. I find that in most cases, beauty needs to be cared for, cultivated, and preserved. Beauty is more fragile, more easily damaged, and more costly than the ugly or strictly utilitarian object. Have you ever noticed that people sometimes shy away from beauty because of the responsibility that comes with it? People use paper plates for dinner instead of the good china because they do not have to take care of the paper plates afterwards and besides, something could be broken and then there would not be a complete set sitting in a cabinet any more. Having fake flowers is easier than tending a live plant and a plastic toy is cheaper and more easily replaced than a hand painted wooden one. More expensive clothing and jewelry remain in the closet so that nothing happens to them and no risks are taken.

I have been thinking about this as I have been considering how important beauty is to the Montessori philosophy. Check out that blog post here. In our preschool classroom, we have lots of beautiful things made out of wood, glass, polished metal, etc. These objects are fairly sturdy as they are designed for children, but they are not indestructible. Things get broken sometimes. But when something gets broken, the child learns the consequences of their roughness and we replace the object. I am proud when I think of how fortunate the children at our school are to have so many beautiful things to interact with, even though they may cost more and are more easily damaged than cheaper plastic objects. I would say there is wisdom in making sure both your family heirlooms and your young children are safe from one another, but I think it is a wonderful thing to gradually allow children the responsibility of beautiful and more valuable objects. .

I think the responsibility that comes with beauty is especially relevant to Christians. One historic stereotype of a Christian is a person who is extremely utilitarian and minimalistic with their possessions, not looking for anything beyond the practical. I am all in favor of using money wisely and not indulging in excess, but I do not think God put beauty around us for nothing. Indeed, God gave Adam and Eve the responsibility of being caretakers for the Garden of Eden. For some reason, I do not think this included merely tending the most nutritious and hearty of vegetables. God created a huge variety of foods for our enjoyment, not one practical food to forever satisfy our hunger. He also created flowers and plants that were not intended to be eaten at all. They were created for beauty and enjoyment. He also created incredible landscapes which may not be practical at all for dwelling in or producing from, but they are pleasing to the person who views them or travels through them.

I visited a Christian mission in Mexico that has many wonderful, practical ministries to the community, including an orphanage, drug rehab centers, food and clothing available for the needy, a volunteer fire and rescue department, wheelchair equipment, special needs ministry, etc. They also have a large garden, with a few full-time employees in charge of the garden. This mission, run mostly off of generous donations, located in a desert region of Mexico, maintains a half-acre garden! They do not waste the little fruit that comes from the garden, but most of the plants are trees and flowers for visual enjoyment and to create a beautiful, peaceful place to pray. Why would they do that? Why would they spend the effort, the time, the precious water, and the money for the staff, in order to maintain this garden?  Because they know that God delights in beauty and that effort spent in cultivating and preserving beauty is not wasted.

Chelsea Mexico 2013 040

I think that more Christians need to have this attitude about the earth. Too often, those in the Christian community laugh at environmental projects and are just as wasteful with their resources as the average American. Though we know the earth will someday be made new and all of the old will pass away, we should not treat the earth as we do disposable plates. We cannot use the earth harshly just because we know it will end. Instead, we need to treat it as the china plate. We have been privileged to use this valuable gift from God and it must serve us until the proper time. While we are waiting for the renewal of all things, we should carry it carefully so that it does not chip or crack prematurely. It is meant to be used, but to be used properly and delicately. Alert attention should be paid to its care. We cannot shy away from our responsibility as care takers of the earth.

With beauty, comes responsibility. And beauty is worth the effort of responsibility.

Photo is my own