Earth Day 2021 – sowing in the garden

Last Sunday, I invited members of St. Paul’s to bring plants and flowers to beautify the rectory garden. We have several empty pots and flower beds waiting for your gift to the earth and to the next rector!

Like many of you, I have been enjoying the sunny spell to clean up the yard, till and mulch the soil and put in some colorful plants that we will enjoy at some later date as the garden returns to bloom. I reminded the congregation (meeting outside last Sunday at 9) as we heard another version of the resurrection story that the resurrection of Christ happened in a garden and a cemetery. A place of decay and beauty can inspire and help us reflect on mortality, transience, and resurrection. How can that dead twig become a vibrant extraordinary creature within weeks? A little attention, nurture, pruning and manure can make all the difference. Getting your hands soiled is a spiritual exercise and we cannot fully understand life’s eternal cycles and recycling without some form of contemplation and simply working at it. The joke about the appreciative admirer who said to his neighbor: “Wow, your garden is beautiful -in’y God’s creation marvellous!”. Wiping his brow, the neighbor replied “Well, you should have seen it when God was in charge of it all!”

A garden is a metaphor for the co-operation we intuitively need to be in balance with ourselves and nature. Every time we tend or reflect in our yards, it is itself a hopeful plunge into resurrection and faith. Out of soil, death and chaos, beautiful things bear fruit. Mother LaClaire Atkins taught us in the Lenten Retreat about the native spirituality where all plants are given to humankind for our medicine (healing). She focused on four plants, tobacco (not the commercial kind) sage, cedar, and sweetgrass. The multiple uses of these basic materials as FOUR SACRED MEDICINES allowed the first inhabitants of this continent to live, build homes and created the first green economy. Surprisingly, this series did not get a lot of attention from our community and many of you missed a sacred moment in the Lenten journey inwards. It is still available on our website and I highly recommend you search out the four videos.

The aboriginal value of “walking lightly upon the earth” where our individual impact bears no negative impact on the planet, “our mother” is a noble aspiration that humanity is rediscovering. The global conversations around climate change and how we create a sustainable economy can all find inspiration from a reinterpretation of these values. Human greed and exploitation of the earth’s limited resources has created a deadly knock-on effect that is still denied by many human beings as we drive fossil-fueled cars, pack our groceries in plastic bags and dump our toxic waste in the oceans or ship to the developing world. Our faith communities interpret the biblical command to “go forth and multiply” to have more and more children. Religion often stigmatizes attempts to limit the size of families. Religious belief that humanity should have “dominion over the earth” has created a culture that we can do whatever we want to this planet without any negative consequences. The rape and plunder of the earth’s resources in the past century is the root of much of our racial and social inequality, increasing human migration (a billion refugees by 2050?) often condoned by the faith community and justified by a strict interpretation of biblical texts that no longer serve our best interests. Can we find the courage to stand up and give these well-known biblical images a different context?

We are learning stewardship is not really about throwing a couple of thousand dollars in the church plate each year to support our leaky asbestos-filled sacred buildings. Stewardship of creation is a sacred contract and I felt Mother LaClaire’s gentle reminder and teaching on the purposes of plants and the cycles of death and resurrection brought me closer to God this Lent than any sermon I preached or heard. The call to balance, to taking responsibility of growing and creating an environment of love and generosity begins in our hearts and minds, flows through our hands and creativity, and emerges in a shared reality -with real consequences. The vision attributed to Chief Seattle is the way I see God these days:

“Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth. This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. One thing we know: our god is also your god. The earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.”

God is the ultimate web that eternally connects us and even our dust that returns to the earth after we have lived our lives, remains part of this crusty little old spinning blue planet.

Over the next 48 hours, President Biden will host an online gathering with 40 other world leaders to agree on some specific goals to reduce carbon emissions and the media is reporting his administration’s ambitious goal of doubling down on our efforts to reduce USA emissions by 50% by 2050. The USA will rejoin the global conversations and build upon the Paris Accord, The post-COVID-19 economy will undoubtedly create the seedbeds of a new global green economy that may surpass the significance of the industrial and technological revolutions combined. The children we are baptizing and teaching about God in our Godly Play (online) classrooms today will be the victims or beneficiaries of these significant conversations and commitments that are happening RIGHT NOW.  As we, the older generations return to the earth, to garden and disintegrate, what footprint do we want to leave behind and what values and messages do we want this generation to remember about us?

As I dig in my garden, mortality, eternity, and healing gets deep in my fingernails and inside my nostrils. What we repair, build and sow today, the gospel tells us, is of eternal significance. Our solidarity with each other and our inter-dependence as children of the earth is still a gospel that needs to be preached and lived. As St. Francis once said…. we must always preach the gospel and use words if we must. Happy and blessed Earth Day!


Albert Ogle