It was a beautiful warm June day. Not too warm though; just perfect. There was a light breeze. Ladies wore floaty, floral sundresses with garden party hats.The men donned khakis and sear-sucker jackets. Guests were eating teacakes and tiny sandwiches, sipping on tea. The lawns were well manicured and the rose bushes were every gardener’s dream. Guests strolled and chatted and relished in the deliciousness of the afternoon. At 4 pm promptly, the royal host, Queen Elizabeth, dressed in her iconic pastel suit, with a lovely hat propped on her well coiffed- head, white gloves, and her small purse hanging gently off her forearm, appeared on the steps of the Buckingham Palace garden. After respectful acknowledgement of her presence by all, she descended to move among her guests.
*That’s one image of a royal garden party.
The garden party in our story also has a royal host. This host is the Creator, a master gardener. She is not in a floaty sundress; she is in dungarees, gardening gloves, rubber boots, a sun hat to keep the sun off her neck, and carrying– not a purse– but a bucket full of garden tools. This royal Gardener is doing what she set out to do: to create a world of beauty and elegance. A world that would be both nourishing and pleasing for all her creatures.
This is not a speech-created world like the first creation story in chapter one. In that account, God’s poetic speech was what inextricably bound together the created order and God. “And God SAID, let there be light…waters, sky, vegetation…” and so on.
But in this earthy account, the Master Gardener is not afraid to get dirt under her nails. This Gardener formed, breathed, planted, put, made, commanded, and brought forth creation by turning over the soil, pruning back bushes, planting trees of all kinds and types.
The binding between God and the created order in this story is through relationship and intimacy. This time creation begins with the human.
God gets into the dirt and forms a creature. Adamah is the Hebrew word for soil. The Hebrew word for human is “adam.” “The adam” is the earth creature brought forth from the soil, the humus, “adamah.” Then, God takes the Adam’s face into God’s hands and gets so close that God’s own breath gives the earth creature life.
St. Augustine called us terra nimata—animated earth.
“And then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden …” (v. 8), or, as St. Jerome translated it, “the Lord God planted a paradise of pleasure (paradisum voluptatis).”
Tucked into the extravagant, lush garden– into this paradise of pleasure, God planted two trees. The one produced fruit that would bring Life. The other produced the fruit of knowledge—the knowledge of good and evil. And God set Adam into the garden giving him permission saying, “Enjoy everything! It’s all yours.” But also God gave him a vocation: “ Take care of it. Keep it. Serve it.” There was only one prohibition: Don’t eat from this one tree.”
Was God’s intention to set up the man and the woman to fail? If not, why then put the trees there and tell them (God told only Adam, actually) not to eat of the one tree, lest he die?
It wasn’t a matter of God testing or threatening the man and woman; the warning was descriptive of the reality set down. It was a boundary. The situation became a context for trust. Could the man and woman choose to trust their Creator? Can WE trust God enough so that we do NOT HAVE to understand everything? Can we allow for mystery in the world and in our lives? Can we maintain our humus–our humility—in the face of so many questions?
Can we let of go of our certainties to allow room for God?
God isn’t upset that we are curious creatures, that we seek knowledge, that we desire understanding. God clearly gets upset however when we misuse our knowledge for power; To lord power OVER another person or power OVER creation. A misuse of power trespasses the boundary God set in place. The human vocation still is to care for and serve one another and the earth we’ve been given. God created us to be bound together and interdependent.
Our understanding is that from the beginning God is a Relational God, making God’s self vulnerable to her own creation. God took a risk on humankind by creating a world of such grandeur and then giving us the power and responsibility to choose (or not) to steward it faithfully. This capacity and freedom to choose how we treat each other IS what makes us fully human.
There is a vacant lot in East Cleveland that a small group of folks from this church and others have started to clean up and clear out. Their vision is to prep the soil to become a garden. A garden party right there in the midst of a community with little hope. A garden will bring more than nourishment to the people; it will bring beauty and soul. As the naturalist John Muir said, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”- (The Yosemite (1912), page 256). Is it any wonder that gardens are returning to plighted urban areas? A garden says, Life is here!
If we want to understand this God, the one who knows us in our humanness, our earthy-ness, we need to incorporate this understanding God as the Gardener, the creator and sustainer of our lives. What would your relationship with God be like if God was no longer judge, critic or warrior?
Listen to the great Czech writer and gardener Karel Čapek, who wrote in his 1929 book, The Gardener’s Year:
I will now tell you how to recognize a real gardener. “You must come to see me,” he says; “I will show you my garden.” Then, when you go just to please him, you will find him with his rump sticking up somewhere among the perennials. “I will come in a moment!” he shouts to you over his shoulder. “Just wait till I have planted this rose.” “Please don’t worry,” you say kindly to him. After a while he must have planted it; for he gets up, makes your hand dirty, and beaming with hospitality he says: “Come and have a look; it’s a small garden, but — –Wait a moment,” and he bends over a bed to weed some tiny grass. “Come along. I will show you Dianthus musalae; it will open your eyes. Great Scott, I forgot to loosen it here!” he says, and begins to poke in the soil. A quarter of an hour later he straightens up again. “Ah,” he says, “I wanted to show you that bell flower, Campanula Wilsonae. That is the best campanula which — Wait a moment, I must tie up this delphinium …”
I think God too gets immersed in the beauty of creation. Like the gardener, God is attentive, never allowing his creation out of his sight or away from his thoughts. The Gardener takes note of what each creation needs in order fully to flourish. Can we believe that God holds the soil of our lives in his hands? That God does not slumber or sleep?
When it feels that our life energy has left us, God will take our face gently in her hands and breathe life back into us. When our heart feels dry and broken, God will add the cool water of Life to make it pliable again. And at those times when we’ve allowed our lives to get out of control like an untended garden, God will probably dig around the roots and prune back the unhealthy growth so that we can thrive again.
God never gives up on us. God desires our lives to be like healthy soil in which good seed can grow and good fruit can flourish so that all of God’s family on earth can enjoy the Divine Garden Party just as the Great Gardener intended.