Gardens of Reconciliation


Andy Wade –

What are gardens of reconciliation? In the past I’ve talked about this under a different heading, “gardening with God and neighbor in mind”. But as I’ve reflected on our MSA theme for this year, Igniting Imagination for Reconciliation and New Creation”, I’ve been rethinking how reconciliation is really central to the idea of the garden.

We have a choice

Volunteer Lemon Balm

Volunteer Lemon Balm

As we go about our daily lives, we have a choice to fill our days with tasks and responsibilities or with loving God and loving neighbor. What that looks like for each of us will undoubtedly be different. How do I love God and neighbor while pumping gas, working the check stand, handling insurance claims, or even cruising Facebook? And while at home, what does loving God and neighbor look like? How do I live into this “simple” command around my dining table, in my living room, on the front porch and in the garden?

I’ve been exploring these questions in relationship to the garden, but also beyond the garden to the physical space that separates my living space from the public space of sidewalk and street. Then, the other day, I read again the words of the Apostle John:

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” John 7:37-38

This got me thinking about this space in another way. As I reflected on this passage I realized how often I focused on the invitation to “come and drink” but not on what it means to have “living water flow from within”.

  • What about the way I live is received by those around me as living water?
  • How might the living waters within be stagnant, stale and on the way to becoming undrinkable?
  • How might the “water” flowing from me actually be toxic instead of life-giving?

Water is a scarce resource. Out on Camano Island, at our emerging Mustard Seed Village, we have a well. Several years ago the water was located, the well drilled and tapped, then it was capped off, waiting for the money we needed to have it certified and transformed into a functional source of refreshment. For the past several years at our annual Celtic Prayer Retreat, we’ve reminded our participants to bring their own water. It seems odd to have such an abundant source of fresh water right there on the property but no way to access it!

The living waters Jesus mentions arise from a bottomless well, but often we cap the well, making it inaccessible to the world around us.

Getting back to the garden, I began wondering, what are the refreshing sources of abundance in my yard that are capped, inaccessible to those living around me? Last year we turned our front yard into a garden. Various paths lead from the sidewalk into the yard, inviting neighbors and strangers to wander in, sit on the bench, grab a book from the “Free Little Library”, or pick some herbs from the community herb and sun tea garden. This is a great start! We really can choose how our environment is shaped to either welcome or exclude.

How Do We Respond to Abundance?

As I was (finally) cleaning up the yard from last year’s productivity, I again noticed all the new volunteer plants springing up: mint, lemon balm, oregano, sage, chives… I knew as the weather warmed these volunteers would be joined by calendula, bee balm, nasturtiums, borage, and more. The wheels began to turn! What if I add a table next to the Little Free Library – a kind of little free plant exchange? I know I’m not the only one in the neighborhood with too many volunteers springing to life in the garden!

Carefully extracted seedling

Carefully extracted seedling

Then I thought a bit more… I’ve got around 300 seed starts just now bursting through the surface of carefully planted containers. I always plant more than I need and, because you never know how well seeds will grow, you always plant at least two seeds per container. What if, instead of cutting and discarding the extras, I carefully extracted the extra seed starts and replanted them in another container? What if, rather than discarding my extras, I shared with my neighbors out of my abundance?

Yes, I’m aware that the proper way to start seeds is to choose the strongest and snip off the others, thus protecting the root system of the strongest one. But what if I were to take that chance, maybe even have a weaker beginning to my own garden, in order to share with others? What does it mean to love a sacrificial God and the neighbor in my community? Perhaps it’s not all about getting the best garden ever for myself!

I remember when my wife and I were speaking at a Mennonite Church in South Dakota. We stayed with retired farmers and on our way home from Sunday service we passed fields of workers busy with the business of harvesting. Our host commented, “Why do they have to do that on the Sabbath?” My first reaction was, “Oh, how quaint.” But the question stuck with me.

Traditional farmers have bushels of faith. Every little change in weather seems to affect their very livelihood. And yet for so many, Sunday was a day of rest. Rest for the family, rest for the land. This profound act of faith, especially during the height of the harvest, is amazing! It is to trust the “Lord of the Harvest”, the one who commanded the Israelites in the wilderness to only gather enough manna for each day – their daily bread – except on the sixth day to gather enough for the sabbath day of rest as well.

You can bet that as I carefully extract the extra seedlings from their pots and gently plant them in a new home, I will be remembering these acts of gardening and harvesting faith. Going against conventional wisdom is often the very path of faith. And doing so as a gift to neighbor and stranger seems fitting as I learn to more fully love God and neighbor through simple acts in the garden.

Reconciled to What?

Reflecting back on the theme of reconciliation, I begin to realize how many areas in my life still need to experience the fullness of reconciliation God has in mind.

  • I need to embrace my own reconciliation with God, to learn to trust more fully in God’s provision for my family and for my neighbors.
  • I need to experience reconciliation with my neighbors, those I live next to but don’t often really know. I need to create new ways to be with, share, and enjoy their presence in my life.
  • I need to cultivate a deeper reconciliation with the land, God’s “good creation”, knowing that I may have many of the technical skills for gardening, but God has so much more to teach me through the act of plunging my hands into the soil and mid-wifing the gift of life.
  • I need to dive deeper into how God’s call to be ambassadors of reconciliation extends to:
    • how I acquire seeds and what seeds I choose to plant. Is there an underlying brokenness in the system?
    • how my choices about food, clothing, and fun contribute to this adventure of reconciliation… or inadvertently tear at its seams.

As you’ve read my questions about my journey, what thoughts are stirred in you? How have you participated in acts of reconciliation in the neighborhood?

If you have stories of reconciliation you’d like to share, we’d like to hear from you! We’re accepting submissions for our series about reconciliation – stories from the neighborhood or across the world. What are some creative approaches to reconciliation you’ve seen or participated in? Writing guidelines for this series can be found HERE.