The Creative Spirit: Cultivating the Earth and Ourselves

My cilantro...our salsa. SJG photo.

I am not much of a grower of things. I almost typed, “I am not much of a farmer” but that would be even less true. Maybe someday I will be. For now, a few containers on my deck grow a small selection of my favorite herbs (rosemary, cilantro, parsley and basil) along with a couple of jalapeno pepper plants and some green onions. I’m looking forward to homemade salsa and pesto as the summer lingers on.

My father was an urban backyard farmer in North St. Louis in the 1960s and 1970s, planting short rows of lettuce, onions, tomatoes, green peppers, radishes and carrots in the poor soil (made organically better by him) beneath our old unused swing set in the back of the yard by the alley. He ran a hose up the uprights of the swing set and secured a sprinkler to the crossbar, creating an easy and gentle “rain” on the garden that supplied us with fresh salads and vegetables, which I didn’t really appreciate at the time, I am sure. Today, I wish I had him nearby to share his knowledge and passion for a small plot of earth, as well as his collection of old copies of Organic Gardening Magazine. Oh, the things we lose and throw away.

All this reminded me this morning of songwriter David Mallett’s, “The Garden Song,” which I first learned from a John Denver album back when I was a teenager and which I have performed for many years since:

Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow.
All it takes is a rake and a hoe and a piece of fertile ground.
Inch by inch, row by row, someone bless these seeds I sow,
Someone warm them from below ‘til the rain comes tumbling down.

The song has been recorded by many artists over the years, including Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul and Mary in addition to Denver, but I was delighted to find this YouTube version of Dave performing it himself:

Lenz House garden, New Harmony, Indiana. SJG photo.

Growing a garden is an act of faith and an acknowledgement of gratitude. It is a gesture of creativity and hope — that what we begin and nurture “with a rake and hoe” can become something else, something bigger and more, something that can be shared around a table. A garden beckons family and community to come together in thanksgiving. A garden is a reminder of our obligation to use what we have been given to help others and offer praise to the ultimate giver of life and sustenance.

In response to my last post on finding the extraordinary in our ordinary life I received a wonderful and beautifully written note from a REAL farmer who reminded me of the healing and spiritual power of just sinking our hands into the soil and urging things to grow up from the ground. Ordinary, sure, but it’s also extraordinary at the same time if we allow it to be. Jan owns a fruit farm in Winnebago County, Illinois with her husband Thomas. Sunrise Market Farm is just a mile from the Wisconsin state line and grows blueberries, raspberries and pumpkins. Jan wrote:

I have practiced prayer when I work outdoors with our plants and growing things but the best practice by far seems to be a focus on exactly what is at hand, seeing the beauty even in the weed that needs to be pulled as well as in the plump blueberry that needs to be picked. To breathe deeply of the perfume of the soil and the newly cut clover. And I think “Jesus is here” and my task is a task of love for Him and there is peace and joy. Best of all, there is a further chipping away of the old me, the me I was never meant to be, and a growing of the real me, the one that the One created me to be.

In Carol's Garden, New Harmony, Indiana. SJG photo. CLICK for a larger view.

We can find God wherever we look for God, and sometimes, too, in places where we never expected to experience the Divine. We create from what we have been given. We live by what we cultivate in ourselves and in our lives.

Ask yourself in silence: What am I cultivating in my life? By what fruits will I be known?

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