For me the idea of god as the gardener and his people as the ‘true vine’ is a physical reality in tending the earth together as an expression of faith which is active, wordless, and open to sharing with all regardless of belief or life stance. Interrogation of creed recedes entirely in this metaphor, the true vine reflects god’s love and kindness into a broken world and is tended, pruned, tied up, trained and made fruitful.
The tending of a garden involves deep knowledge of plants, a knowledge I am daily increasing. It requires an understanding of the soil, the light levels, the planting requirements, in order to flourish and develop. There must also be weeding, sorting, cleaning of tools and storing of the equipment needed for the task.
God’s garden also brings us a metaphor for redemption which is rich and fulfilling. We find new life each spring, in every seed germinated, every cutting that takes, larvae and worms clean and clear the soil, bees and other pollinators carry the pollen of good news across the flowers. Refugees, survivors of abuse, the bereaved, those with dementia, children, even tax collectors and those sickened with the consumption of western society, all the people that Christ called to his upside-down kingdom, can find release in gardening, redemptive restoration of the soul, the mood, or even just a moment of quiet in times of illness or pain.
Choice is also a vital element in gardening well. Exercise of choice and acceptance of responsibility for the variables of planting choice, use of the ground, and shape of the garden, gives the gardener much needed control. This is a healthy reflection of god-the-gardener who gave free choice to each of us. And yet, in gardening we come up repeatedly against that which we did not choose, the power of the weather to destroy, here at Stirling we have bunnies who like to share our crops, weeds that choke them, and the fungus and rot which is part of the natural return to earth of all plants but which can rob the human gardener of a keenly awaited harvest.
In gardening the gospel, I find a personal reconnection with Jesus whose teachings turned the accepted world upside down. It is a new way to experience the ministry I feel I am called to and a fresh engagement with the people to whom I have been called to work. I do not need to start conversations on the topic of spirituality, these come to me; nor to enforce or dictate; nor to examine or catechise. Instead I trust the gardener that the growth with comes through the choice of others is good growth and even in simply tending a piece of soil alongside the students at Stirling University we make a little part of the world a better place and build a community of relationships around the food we grow.
When we go back to Jesus’ description of the feast which will be the expression of god’s love, the doors are opened to the beggars on the road, the poorest of the poor, the lame and the blind. I can’t help feeling that it is god the gardener who set the table, harvested the food, and laid out the feast before them. In Pioneer Ministry the sharing, the food and the feast are real. For me, that is enough.