This post is part of a series reflecting on Grounded, the new book by Diana Butler Bass. Read the other posts in the series here.
Four years ago my neighbor and I transformed a tiny patch of the courtyard we share in our condo complex into a two-tiered garden about 10 feet long and four feet wide. We filled it with good soil and planted tomatoes, tomatillos, beans, and some herbs. We created compost bins out of trash cans.
You wouldn’t believe the way things grew in there. It was more than we could use. It was an unqualified gardening success.
I say, it was a gardening success.
It’s still growing herbs, but the neighborhood cats have done a number (two) on the soil, and what started as a collaboration is now a one-woman project, as I progressively lost interest about half way through the second year. Now it is my neighbor’s garden.
I thought a lot about my gardening failure as I read “Dirt,” the second chapter of “Grounded.”Butler Bass is discovering God in her garden, in a dusty New Mexico chapel, and lots of other “dirty” places she used to detest. For the first time in her life, she’s finding life in soil, and “Grounded” is her attempt to describe that finding in theological terms.
She’s not alone in her finding, of course. She notes that gardens are proliferating on church grounds, on school campuses, even in abandoned urban lots. Farmer’s markets are everywhere. Community supported agriculture projects are easier than even to join. There is a growing consciousness in the culture of the mysteries hidden in the dirt.
My church has a farm plot on it now that a local nonprofit cultivates. Butler Bass writes about The Garden Church, and there’s also Farm Church (the founder of which I interviewed here). These churches are attracting people who are yearning to experience faith out-of-doors, in the dirt.
I tried to love the dirt, but I just couldn’t. I can theologize about the relationship between creation and composting, but I don’t, like, feel it, you know? The walls of a sanctuary don’t bother me one bit, and even before I sought those walls out my faith was being formed by other indoor spaces: college dorms, community centers, coffee shops. My experience of God has been disproportionately interior and urban. I have not found God in the dirt.
Maybe I was trying to hard. Maybe I lack the attention span. Maybe I’m too busy being a pastor and a spouse and a parent. Whatever it is, I’m disappointed about it, and “Grounded” is making me want to keep trying.