It is the dead of winter in Indiana, and South Bend last week set a new record for the most snow in a 24-hour period. I shoveled our front sidewalks after it stopped and the snow was at the middle of my thigh. While such shoveling can be rough, the dead of winter is blessedly dead here―for five months nothing grows outside. It is a fabulous break from the never-ending yard-work of summer when, in a single season, weeds can easily get over six-feet-tall with stalks so thick that one wonders if they are weeds or saplings. But, even in these snowy months of much-appreciated rest, the gardener in me is beginning to plan for spring, staring at snow-covered beds and imagining tomatoes, crook-neck squash, beans (variety still to be decided), okra, maybe some rhubarb.
My own aspirations for this spring seem small, however, when compared with some friends in Sydney: the “funky frontyard farmers” grow a tremendous variety of crops and this January the family of five have taken a week and lived solely out of their front-yard garden. Reading through their blog, I felt exhilarated and envious that Australians get to have backyard chickens to supply their families with eggs, while I am limited to by city restrictions to growing only fruits and vegetables.
My deep chicken-envy and all this thinking about gardening leads me to a very basic question: But why is it that I―a relatively well-educated woman living in a developed country―want to grow my own food and raise chickens? What is so appealing about being tied-down by a garden and chooks all summer long?
In the creation narrative recorded in Genesis, we read that God placed humanity in the garden to “cultivate and care for it.” Some translations use the word “work” or “tend” rather than “cultivate” but all three get at something that goes against the grain of the West’s fast-paced, convenience-loving, and frequently throw-away cultures. In the Genesis narrative, humanity is created to care for things in a particular place. We are designed to be tied-down to the particular needs of the plants and animals, soil and water, children and adults who make-up a given place.
Freedom from responsibility to a place and its things shapes our culture: in the glamorization of frequent, exotic travel, ever-changing fashion demanding new things each season (now for one’s home as well as one’s body), not to mention planned obsolescence in technological gadgets, disposable diapers, plastic forks, paper plates and napkins. New, fast and work-free is better than old, slow and work-filled. But we are increasingly forced to recognize that such living not only destroys our planet but destroys our souls as well.
In cultures apparently intent on killing themselves (and everyone else) to secure their own convenience, the biblical worldview offers a different understanding of what makes for human contentment. The Genesis narrative suggests that our tending and caring for the world ― down to the most basic acts of weeding our front garden ― are life-giving and life-fulfilling actions. Such work may not be hassle free but it is good. And perhaps that is the reason I find myself longing for spring and a bag of seeds.