Most people who know me even peripherally know that I have a deep, deep love of plants.
My mom laments that I can’t let a dying plant die, that I have to take it in and nurture it back to health. In my apartment, we joke that we have the best air quality on campus. And, of course, my summer job for the past two years has been at a greenhouse.
It’s partly an aesthetic appreciation; I like the way plants look, so I buy them. But there’s also something magical—nay, something miraculous—about tending to a living being and seeing its growth.
For example: on Mothers’ Day of 2018, I gave my mom a star jasmine. Star jasmine is a semi-hardy vining plant with beautiful fragrant summer blooms—in short, it’s gorgeous and it smells amazing. But when I came home from school in the late spring of 2019, I encountered a sad sight: the jasmine was mostly crispy, about half of her vines were dead and brittle, and her remaining living leaves were a dull green. She had clearly endured a rough winter.
I brought her pot around to the backyard where she would receive more of the afternoon sun; I fertilized her; I trimmed away the dead branches to make room for new growth. Within a couple weeks, she was growing new leaves in a vibrant shade of spring green. Within the month, she had her first bloom of the season. I felt like a proud mother.
There’s something primally satisfying about the wonder of gardening. With every sugar snap pea snapped straight off the stalk, every sun-warmed strawberry, every sizable squash swelling beneath broad, prickly leaves, I marvel: I did that.
But also: I didn’t.
Because plants are a miracle. We can plant them, fertilize them, water them, weed around them, but when they bloom or sprout a new leaf or produce fruit, it would be nothing short of foolishness to claim that we were the cause.
When God placed Adam and Eve in His new creation, He made a garden their home—a garden, not a jungle, as the children’s bibles seem so fond of illustrating. Think of the implications here: a jungle is subdued, while a garden is tended. A jungle is mastered; a garden is nurtured. The new humanity was charged to take care of this garden that was to be their home, yet God had already provided the miracle of life itself. Creation care was a partnership between the human and the Divine.
In the garden, we find perhaps the most apt analogy for the Christian faith: it must be tended yet it is, at its foundation, a God-given miracle. We can till the ground, sow the seeds, pluck the weeds, but only God can cause the growth.
Saint Bernard—uncoincidentally one of my favorite saints—also loved the image of the garden. About Jesus, he wrote, “His body sown in the grave has blossomed in the resurrection; and in like manner our valleys and fields which were barren or frozen, as if dead, glow with reviving life and warmth.”
In the garden, I’m reminded of the foundational practices of the Christian faith: pruning that which is dead, plucking that which chokes life, shielding tender new growth, and wondering at the miracle that ensues.
The title of this post was taken from Chris Renzema & Moriah Hazeltine’s “Used To Be Mine“, which ends with these lovely lyrics:
And my stone heart was pulled out of my body
And by grace a garden grew up in its place