The story of creation describes God as a Gardener, and this is one of the first images we get of the divine. The Lord formed the land, brought forth from the soil a vast array of plants and animals, and breathed life into people who came from that soil.
These people, created in the image of God, were then given a task – to tend the small patch of earth that made up a garden called Eden, which the Gardener had placed in their care.
When you think about it, that isn’t the sort of task we’d expect. The emissaries of God in a world of limitless possibilities, you’d think they would be called to something more than gardening.
I look out my window and see a world today that’s quite different than Eden. We are most decidedly East of Eden in the biblical sense – cut off from the world we were meant to inhabit, and in the height of tragedy, cut off by our own hands.
Like many – perhaps especially in my own young and idealistic generation – I see much brokenness before me when I look at the world and at the church.
Issues of injustice, inequality, and exploitation, gender discrimination and environmental catastrophes, empires that tell us a story of militant nationalism or relentlessly expanding global capitalism and a church that too often baptizes this narrative in religious language.
I see all this and I want to do something, to bring change and redemption to a place and a church that I love.
As I read books and blogs, and talk with friends and coworkers, I sense that many share this passion to make a difference in the crisis we face. And I applauded that idealism and energy, but I also fear it, because I’ve seen how easily it can lead to discouragement and cynicism.
Something in our culture or our hearts tells us if we can’t win we shouldn’t play at all, that “If you’re not first, you’re last.” And so we set out with big goals of transforming the church or solving a global crisis – and eventually we realize that most of us will not be the next Martin Luther or Martin Luther King Jr.
And we often wonder, “Why keep striving and caring if it won’t solve the problem?”
At this point, we need to remember the garden at the beginning of our story.
In light of these seemingly insurmountable problems, and the temptation to disengage if we cannot solve them on our own, I think Eden holds an important lesson for us.
Adam and Eve, as the story goes, were placed on earth as the image of the Creator God, and then told to tend a garden – because that sort of act matters. Changing our corner of the world, whatever God has entrusted us with, big or small, is no unimportant or meaningless gesture.
Somehow, mysteriously and by the grace of God, these acts add up into something more, something beautiful.
Loving my neighbor, growing with my community of faith, planting flowers around the lamppost.
Christ is restoring all things to himself, and invites the people who call him “Lord” to join in this redemptive work, toiling like Adam and Eve in the Garden as Jesus sets to rights both the seemingly insurmountable (like systemic injustices) and the seemingly insignificant (like the soil in my backyard).
I might not be the one who history will remember as someone who changed the world or reformed the church, but with a little grace I might just be able to redeem this small spot of land I’ve been called to tend.
In the words of Wendell Berry, “practice resurrection.”