When I was a little girl and lived in North Carolina, my father had a vegetable garden, maybe about half the size of a football field. We had to walk from our house, through some woods to the clearing to get to the garden. Nights and weekends were when my dad and I would go out and plant, prune, weed, water, harvest.
During those hours in the field, he taught me about intuiting the signs of seasons; the hard work of preparing space for things to grow; the patient but active waiting needed as the seeds progressed through their life cycle. He taught me about the joy of resting in the shade; the satisfaction of transforming barren landscape to abundant earth; the exhaustion of bending over in the noon-day sun; the sweetness of a strawberry grown and plucked between my fingers.
But what I remember most about those nights and weekends were the hushed, almost unspoken, conversations. I remember my dad holding my hand in his as he showed me how to plant a seed and the way he would wipe sweat and dirt from my face with his shirt and how I could rest my head in his lap and look at the sky after a long day’s work. We were tending the relationship as much as we were the garden. There was as much fruit in our hearts as there was in the fields.
We learn to be in relationship with Creation and with one another when we share in these simple but life giving moments. But as we all know, relationships demand attention. In scripture we read that in order for the tree to bear fruit it must be nurtured: pruned, watered, and tended (Lk13:9). We can’t say we want fruit without willingness to do the hard work involved in bringing life to bear. There needs to be coherence between word and deed (Mt 23:1)
This year brought the historic resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. Among his legacies is his commitment to the environment. Consistently in his statements, messages, prayers and actions, Pope Benedict XVI, invites us into a “covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God” (Message for the 2008 World Day of Peace, 7). Whether it’s planting our own vegetable garden, reducing our consumption, or calling for just and sustainable environmental policies, God invites us into relationship with Creation and one another.
Nearly 1400 years ago, St. Columban captured the essence of this covenant when he said, “If you want to know the Creator, know Creation.” It’s been a long time since my dad and I worked that little plot of Carolina soil, but the seeds that were planted all those years ago continue to grow and bear fruit.