While I was interning with Coracle at Corhaven, Bill asked me to write about the connection between spiritual formation and creation care. And after a bit of thinking, and writing, I’ve come to this conclusion: that creation care is spiritual formation. End stop. When we choose to care for the earth and its creatures, we engage in set of practices, habits and priorities that slowly and subtly shape us into people more like Christ – people who more humble, more patient, more joyful, more aware. When we walk into the garden, separate the recycling or feed the chickens, we are walking on spiritual ground – engaging in spiritual disciplines – that have the capacity to make us more like Christ.
“But how?” you might ask. In what way? How can recycling contribute to my spiritual life or organic gardening affect who I am at the most fundamental level? The fascinating and, frankly, amazing answer is that it can because God can use everything for our spiritual formation, if we are willing. He can use everything – not just prayer, scripture-reading and Sunday worship (although these are good and necessary things!) – but any number of daily and mundane actions for His good, and His glory, and to make us into agents of His kingdom. Every action and habit counts because He can use it as a tool to form and shape us. And in our particular day-and-age with our modern-American vices, the practices of creation care are well-suited for this kind of soul-shaping work.
Take, for example, the practice of organic vegetable gardening. We like to think that we’re independent; in fact, the culture trains us to live this way. We begin to believe that if we have a job, a network of family and friends, relatively good health and our own commonsense, we don’t actually need anyone or anything else to survive. The problem with this way of thinking is that it’s factually incorrect and it promotes a kind of pride that makes it hard for us to see our need of one another and of Christ.
The grace of organic gardening is that it directly combats this tendency and teaches us the truth: that we are deeply dependent creatures who rely on a host of inanimate things – and an entire created order – for our survival. As we work with the land, we discover that it requires sun, and rain, and a network of microorganisms in order to produce the food that we eat. We discover first-hand that we cannot live apart from the flourishing of all created things. At the same time, we are humbled by our own ignorance. As we work in the garden, we’re daily met with challenges – an inexplicable mold, an unexpected pest, a plant that just doesn’t seem to be thriving. We may search the internet, ask our neighbor or even go to the local home & garden shop for an answer, but in the end, we discover that we are the students and the garden, the true teacher. We must study its wisdom – the wisdom of God’s design – in order for it flourish.
At the same time the garden teaches us humility, it cultivates patience. When you begin to do the hard work of growing your own food, you quickly learn that everything takes time. You have to wait for the tomatoes to ripen and for the garlic to grow big, thick bulbs. If you pick something too early, it won’t taste right – it could be bitter or waxy or simply unpleasant. And so you learn to wait. You exercise restraint. You realize that you cannot have what you want immediately … and that that, is, in fact, ok; things need time to ripen and mature. In our era of Amazon Prime, we need this education in patience.
And as you learn this kind of patience, you gradually become more comfortable with process and less addicted to product. You discover that each season of the year has its own kind of “fruit,” each day in the garden its own delight. It might be the delight of discovering that your “formula” works – that you’ve successfully combated those cabbage-consuming worms without a single pesticide! – or the pleasure you feel after weeding a bed. As you spend more time working in, and with, the garden, you discover all the beauty embedded in it. You become a student of the many miracles in your own backyard – and begin to experience that fruit called contentment as your wide-eyed-wonder-at-the-world grows.
The beautiful thing is that these are only a few of the ways a garden becomes a school for the soul. For those who struggle with perfectionism, it becomes a place where we die to that false god as we welcome the ever-present weed. For those who have never really failed, it becomes a place where we learn to struggle, lose and let go as we experience the grace of new seasons and a new start. And for those who hate to commit, it becomes a place where we learn to stay-put, to choose one small patch of soil and to watch as our choice bears fruit. In so many ways, the garden is a gift and the work of creation care, a grace.
So for those of you who have yet to pick up a trowel and gloves, I’d encourage you to take some time to consider. God can form us through any number of practices – and in any number of places – but I can assure you: if you make space for a garden in your yard and in your life, you’re bound to experience some spiritual “fruit.”
Interested in learning more about Creation Care? Here is a compiled list of resources.