Shalom in the Garden
– Andy Wade –
If you’ve ever had to deal with pests infesting your vegetables you may wonder if shalom in the garden in possible. Not only is it possible, we can learn shalom from sitting, watching, and learning from God, the master gardener. Before I redesigned our backyard, eliminating straight rows of raised beds to mimic more of the curves and creative flow of God’s creation, I probably wouldn’t have seen this. I needed to be able to sit (stand), to watch, to “see the deliverance of God.”
If you don’t recognize those words, they come from the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. Trapped between the Red Sea and the pursuing Egyptian Army, the people stood in fear, complaining against Moses for bringing them out into the wilderness to die. Then Moses said to the people: “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today… The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” Exodus 14:13-14
I don’t know about you, but sometimes the whole climate and environmental crisis we face seems as insurmountable as crossing the Red Sea. I want to get busy, devise plans, protest, cry out… do something! But I wonder if we are facing our own Red Sea crisis where what is needed first is to keep still and witness God’s deliverance already at work in creation.
Our tendency has been to “fix” the perceived problems: low yields, throw chemical fertilizers on the fields, declining yields, use more fertilizers! Pests? Let’s create pesticides to kill them. More pests? Let’s create pesticide and herbicide-resistant crops so we can dump more chemicals onto them. Whoops, those genetically modified plants no longer working? Let’s create new ones even more resistant to even more toxic chemicals! It’s a vicious cycle with very short-term gains in one area while creating multiple losses to health, environment, and long-term sustainability. Rather than creating life, our striving after these things creates a toxic mess.
Sitting still in my garden, I wait. I watch. And I notice that God is at work. This creation of God is not just “very good”, it also is alive, adaptive, and sustainable. Rather than working against itself, creation seems to dance to the rhythm of its Creator. Every living thing has a cycle of life, at the end becoming food for the sustenance of another. Nothing seems to go to waste. When too much of one thing, whether plant or animal, seems to flourish, something else rises up to bring creation back into balance.
As I watch in wonder the word shalom keeps coming to mind. What is the root of shalom? Could it be that at its heart, shalom is complete trust in the Creator?
“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these… do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. ” Luke 12:27, 29-31.
So much striving, so much destruction, so much inner and outer turmoil comes from failing to trust in the deliverance of God.
It is good to sit and ponder these things. “Shalom”, creation cries out. Words from a poem I wrote last week. Am I listening? Sitting, watching, listening, I begin to see another side of shalom. Peace, yes, but peace whose root is trust in the Creator. How can I cultivate shalom in a harried and distracted world if I cannot even cultivate it in myself? The truth is, I cannot cultivate it. I must sit, be still, and allow God to cultivate it first in me.
Creation has learned this lesson. Oh, it’s busy, but its busyness is in collaboration with its Creator and Sustainer. Two biblical themes keep converging in my mind, shalom and “ambassadors of reconciliation”. There is no question that the world is in crisis. We are broken. Like Saul of Tarsus, we “kick at the goads” (Acts 26:14) Rather than following in the promptings of our Creator, we kick back, harming ourselves in the process. And creation is broken, “groaning with eager anticipation” for us to get it, to finally and fully embrace our God. (Rom. 8:19ff). And yet we also know that God, in Christ, is reconciling all things to Godself (Colossians 1:20, 2 Corinthians 5:19) and entrusting us with this message of reconciliation.
As ambassadors of reconciliation we are also ambassadors of shalom. Both require us first to be, to rest in the Creator’s arms. As I sit in my garden, being present, being still, watching, waiting, I begin to see how it all comes together. There is a naturalness to shalom in the garden. It seems that more than striving to survive there’s a knowing one’s place in creation. As ones created in the image of God, we have a very special place in all God’s creation. A place we’ve not known well as we’ve striven to dominate and control.
So as I sit, listening, learning, I hear Jesus whisper in my ear, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30