Every year, around this time, the kids living at Joshua Station get excited about the fruits and vegetables in our community garden. They have been drawn to this oasis of vegetation for a number of reasons. Early on I learned that just before a tomato begins to turn red, it makes a wonderful dodgeball. Everything changed when we decided the families living at Joshua Station could “own” a section of the garden and reap the fruits of their labor in the fall. Apparently, the idea of mom finding out it was you who destroyed the tomato plant is more intimidating than Ben finding out. But still, even without the dodgeball element, the kids are drawn in, amazed by the birthing of life unfolding just outside their apartments.
The community garden is an essential part of our space at 8th and Wyandot in Denver. The nearest park is found only after venturing through an industrial maze and crossing a busy city street. The view of the mountains, while beautiful, is often overshadowed by the view of I-25 and the junk yard. The smell of fresh Colorado air is often drowned out by the smell of burning coffee from the roaster, marijuana from the grow house, and exhaust from the many commuters who pass us every day. We have a basketball court, a couple of playgrounds, and lots of space to ride a bike or kick a ball. But still the garden invites us all to look, smell, touch, and taste.
Perhaps we all feel so drawn in, because the community garden reminds us of the essential truth of our being. The Hebrew Scriptures tell a poetic story of how humankind came to be—and it takes place in a garden. It still amazes me that my old theological construct somehow missed it. We weren’t air lifted out of some foreign land and placed on this earth. We are not visiting for a short time before returning to the place of our origin. This beautiful creation story tells us that humanity was fashioned from the clay of the Earth. We are home. Our very existence is inseparably connected to the natural world unfolding in Joshua Station’s community garden, and the kids seem to innately understand this.
This is more than a sentimental realization about where we come from. There is a tragic and dangerous nature to Christian theology that ignores what the kids in my community naturally understand. This taps into a profound gift of Celtic Christianity today. When we begin to understand our biological and spiritual connection to the Earth, we will be awakened to the truth of our connectedness to all things and people sharing this planet. When we begin to understand this underlying unity rather than the myth of separation, we will no longer be able to ignore the cries of our suffering brothers and sisters. When we begin to understand that our journey toward salvation is one that is taken together, we will no longer demonize the other but embrace them as fellow travelers—even if their experience of the journey looks different than ours.
This fall the tomatoes, squash, lettuce, and peppers in our garden will be enjoyed by the families of Joshua Station. As happens every year, the staff will be treated to the fruits of their work in an expression of genuine love and hospitality. The kids will smile ear to ear as they pick the pumpkins they’ve been eying for weeks. Joshua Station will receive a breath of new life, because we understand the importance of our community garden.
Where is your garden? Maybe it’s a literal garden. Maybe it’s a yard, a park, a favorite hiking trail, flowers in your window sill, or that lonely dandelion pushing itself up through the cracks of that parking lot. Wherever it might be found, pay attention. See, smell, touch, and taste the essential truth that this is your home, that you are a part of this, that we all come from the soil which gave birth to what you are seeing, that God saw all of this and said, “It is very good.”
Ben is a Celtic Way contributor. Read more from him here.