An Intern’s Perspective
— Cory Adam Baker —
“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)
While gardening I often do much contemplation. I have found that some of the most profound lessons in life are often learned while doing the most simple, repetitive, and mundane tasks. In a world that is in constant flux, where caterpillars become butterflies and stars go supernova, boredom is a choice. Each moment the LORD is waiting to hold our attention captive by the wonders of creation and our place within it as its stewards. Each moment that passes, whenever we exhale and are then given the opportunity to inhale, we again witness the renewal of life within us.
While living and working here at the Mustard Seed House this summer some themes have emerged in my theological imaginings.
I was given the task of working on the composting and worm bin system in order to accommodate the food waste produced by the three families living in the house. This project of decomposing food scraps into soil in which to grow more food had me thinking about all the ways God brings new life from death and decay, continually partnering with the earth to sprout forth vegetation since day three of creation (Genesis 1: 11-13).
In the process, I gathered a good sized pile of wood debris from around the garden that we decided to build into a mound called a hugelkulture (“hill culture” in German). This is a buried mass of wood, mulch, and soil that slowly decomposes over a period of years, builds soil fertility and biological diversity, stores moisture, maximizes surface volume, and generates heat, producing ideal conditions for growing crops.
While often forgotten or ignored, humans have always known that our own health and the health of all creatures depends on the health of the soil, where all the broken down bits of life are recycled into nourishment for the next generation. Thus, God’s care and concern for creation begins with “the least of these” in the soil: microbes, insects, and worms, who do the work of decaying and decomposing organic material such that it might again be filled with the breath of life, become fruitful, and multiply. Death then, is an occasion and the precursor for new life, and getting our hands in the soil as the site of this wonderful work of God is a rich, often underappreciated, blessing.
I also worked at George Center for Community, helping them plan for and design how to best utilize a large plot of unused land that has been taking a long season of Sabbath rest, becoming overgrown and inaccessible. The people at George want the space to be inviting to their neighbors by creating a fruitful and beautiful garden. This plot had formerly been used as a memorial garden when the site was St. George’s Episcopal Church. After this time of neglect the community there felt it is time to resurrect the garden and open it up to welcome people into it, expressing the desires of the new George community to be a welcoming place for all to rest and enjoy its natural beauty. So again, I found myself working on a project that involved bringing forth new life, in this case from a place designated as a memorial for those in the community who had passed.
A related theme, then, that emerged in my time at the Mustard Seed House was that of Sabbath. While harvesting apples from the trees along the parking strip I couldn’t help but notice that the majority of the apples had small holes bored into them by apple maggots. The occasional apple was entirely rotten, but most of them just needed to be quartered and trimmed to avoid eating the worm and its tunnel. I couldn’t help think of how God asks not only us to rest, but to give rest to the land and its creatures as a time of “jubilee,” a time when possessions were returned to their original owners and the land was allowed to return to its uncultivated state. This teaches us to rely on God’s provision apart from “our” own allocations and assets. While I do not think that we should necessarily discourage natural pest management in gardening, I also do not consider the worm-inhabited apple to be any less a gift from God. In fact, these apples might help us learn that we do not own the world; rather, we are stewards over a shared creation. Learning to take Sabbath delight in the world that is, imperfect though we have made it, allows us to be more appreciative, expectant, and receptive to the world that is coming wherein all creation will sing God’s praise.
The Sabbath theme was also present in our time at the Celtic Prayer Retreat at the Mustard Seed Village on Camano Island, a time set aside to pray and connect with fellow pilgrims on the way of Jesus. I was given the opportunity to prepare and lead some of the morning and evening prayer liturgies, which I enjoyed. My fiancée (now wife) and I took a walk through the wood that was the epitome of Sabbath, delighting in the beauty of the forest and the early evening sunlight through the trees.
After the retreat the mural that had been worked on over the course of several prayer retreats had still not been finished. Back in Seattle I decided to try to finish it so it could be displayed in the longhouse on Camano. The mural is a Celtic cross in the foreground with the heavens and the earth in the background. While painting I noticed that the portions of the mural that had been done first, the heavens, was neatly and skillfully painted. Whereas some of the earth sections painted this year, done by children with less precision and fine motor skills, were a bit sloppier. I decided this was good theology, being that it is not yet “on earth as it is in heaven.”
I have appreciated my time here with the Mustard Seed Associates, making friends and gardening. My imagination has been sparked to a more creative vision of what God’s mission in the world is and can be.
Cory Adam Baker is a graduate student at Seattle Pacific University Seminary and served as MSA’s summer intern for nine weeks this summer. If you’re interested in joining our MSA team as an intern, please check out our Internship Page today.