“Our Original Vocation”
The first thing we learn in the Bible about God is that God is Creator. This seems to be God’s vocation. And one of the first things we learn about humanity is that we are gardeners. It seems that this may be our original vocation. These two vocations, creation and gardening, it seems to me, are connected.
This came to mind recently as I was searching for a response to someone I met at a gardening center who asked me, “So, is gardening your hobby?” After a long pause, during which I tried not to appear too awkward, I answered, “I suppose.” But the longer I thought about it, the less true my response seemed.
When I was a child I had several hobbies. I put together model cars, a hobby that led to a lifelong love affair with great cars. I collected comic books and read them voraciously, and I still love the stories and images of the great comic writers and artists who gave us memorable heroic characters. It may have been through illustrations that I first became interested in the visual arts.
It is natural to connect the word hobby with the word love. The purest sense of an amateur is one who engages in something purely out of love. Many of our hobbies are expressions of the spirit of the amateur. But not all.
Gardening, for instance. Gardening is not a hobby. Gardening goes deeper.
There’s something about the hummus that makes us human. Yes, by the way, the two words have the same root, in case you were wondering. We came from the soil. We return to the soil. And, in between, we are nourished by the soil. And if we are very fortunate we get to cultivate the soil.
I come from a long line of farmers. I grew up on a farm in deep East Texas, in an area my family was farming when Texas was still Mexico.
My grandfather turned the soil behind a big mule, gee-ing and haw-ing down row after row with me tripping over clods of red soil right behind him and that mule. Years later we got a tractor. That’s how I learned to drive at ten years old.
We lived by the rhythms of the seasons, the rhythms of the soil, the yin and yang of emptiness and plenty, rest and endeavor; summer crops gave way to harvest, fields left fallow in the fall, fields enriched with manure then left to mature, fields over which we sweated in the spring from dawn to dark. Year after year.
We didn’t just garden to eat. We gardened for the sake of beauty. My grandmother’s house was surrounded by flower beds festooned with zinnias, sunflowers, petunias, irises (my favorite), gladiolas (her favorite) and roses, blooming bushes like bridal wreath and flowering trees like red buds. Half my memories of my grandmother she’s got a hoe in her hand hacking away at those darned weeds.
A garden requires work. But not necessarily toil. Work bears fruit.
Just before coming to New Orleans, at the end of a day in my garden on Saint Simons Island, I sat down on the porch to have a cold drink (never you mind what of) and to survey what I had accomplished that day. And, perhaps, this is the most important aspect of our original vocation, the thing that separates gardening from a hobby however much you love your hobby, the thing that guarantees that, however hard we have to work at it, we are renewed by this work and never burned-out by it. You see, as the experts in such things will tell us, burnout is not the result of hard work, not even lots of hard work. Burnout is the tragic product of incessant toil that seems in vain.
This is why even when a gardener is having to replant perennials after an exceptionally cold winter has killed some of her most beloved plants, the gardener is glad for the excuse to go back to the nursery to choose new plants, glad to pull out the dead, glad to enrich the soil again with manure and rich homemade compost, glad to dig new holes and plant and cultivate again. The promise ultimately is worth the work.
Adam and Eve, those soiled children of the earth, longed to participate in the thrill of the Creator. Gardening is in our bones, just as creating is in God’s.