Lessons of the garden


I am the original fragrance of the earth; I am the heat in fire and the life in all living beings. Know Me to be the seed of all creation, original and eternal.

-Bhagavad-Gita 7.9

I inhale the fragrance deeply. Tucked into my favorite corner of Teresa’s herb garden, I relish the earthy salve of freshly tilled, luxuriously saturated Virginia red clay. I can’t explain why its texture and aroma are so intoxicating to me. Maybe it’s the antidepressant microbes getting to my head again… the scientists say they’re in the soil. But I think it’s because God is there. This scent reminds me of him.

Today, Teresa and I had scheduled some website maintenance and other online projects. However, after last night’s tornado-esque storm sabotaged our Internet connection, we had no choice but to shift gears into our favorite mid-morning pastime… some tender loving garden time. The sun is back out and we are happy to let its rays warm our skin.

I now absorb myself in the deeply meditative act of weeding. My main target is the abundance of invasive bamboo grass that encroaches the domain of our illustrious lemon balm patch. I feel sort of funny choosing to protect one weed from being overtaken by another… but some weeds are more medicinal than tedious. Here at the school we harvest lemon balm for use in a wide-variety of calming teas due to its sedative qualities. Bamboo grass just takes over.

Beyond the immediate objective of cultivating the garden, I imagine myself to be tilling the fertile ground of my own heart as well. This analogy is one I read from Caitanya Caritamrita, a Vedic text that discussing the science of bhakti yoga, the art of love in servitude. Ultimately, devotional service culminates in Divine intention: offering one’s very life to the glorification of God. To find the inspiration to make such an offering is considered a blessing in itself, and therefore, “when a person receives the seed of devotional service, [one] should take care of it by becoming a gardener and sowing the seed in his heart” (Caitanya Caritamrita: Madhya-līlā, Chapter 19, Text 152-156). Nourishing the seed includes a process of weeding the harmful mentality of greed and envy so there is ample opportunity for love to germinate and blossom with compassion.


As I endeavor to cultivate compassion outside of the garden, there is a book I have turned to for guidance and inspiration. The Journey Within, by His Holiness Radhanatha Swami gives the practical and deeply realized insight of a Vaisnava monk who dedicates his life to inter-faith celebration and universal upliftment. According to him, “spiritual life is the science of cleansing the heart and exploring the joy of living in harmony with the Supreme being, each other, and nature” (128). With these meditations in mind, I hope to act as a steward of the Earth and an instrument of divine love. The garden feels like a fitting place to start.

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Sown in love

By design, God created us to marvel at the grandeur of his creation. Who among us has not gazed upon a mountain range, or looked up at a canopy of stars, or contemplated the vastness of the ocean, without feeling overwhelmed with awe and wonder at these beautiful mysteries of the universe? Something deep within our being craves that immensity of the created world that reveals to us our incredible smallness. For in this smallness we understand our right relation with creation and the Creator, the immensely unequal yet perfectly balanced bond between human and God. God has shown in his revealed Word his love for the small, the overlooked, the lowly. God fashioned the most glorious, majestic, infinite universe, and yet looks at us, cosmically insignificant as we are, and knows every hair on our heads (Matthew 10:30). Just as God sees our smallness and says it is very good, he also looks at even our smallest acts of love, compassion, and obedience, and is well pleased with his faithful servants.


Rebirth, by most standards, is a small ministry. For the past two months as I have been feeling my way around this young, growing ministry, by learning from the staff and getting to know the kids, I have gotten a pretty good picture of its ins and outs. Though small in scope, it is vast in the riches of love and obedience. My time of serving and observing has revealed an immense faithfulness in everything, even the smallest acts: in the tireless and seemingly endless routine of picking kids up and dropping them off for church and Bible study; in the weekly preparation of delicious, nourishing meals that only sometimes are met with outward satisfaction; in the extra hug or word of affirmation for the girl who just seems a little down at Bible study; in the birthday parties thrown for student and leader alike.

None of this is easy, and most of it is thankless in many ways, but the eternal weight and value of these acts are tangible. For in every single way I have seen the leaders pour themselves into Rebirth, I know that it is out of obedience to the divine command, as Barth would call it, or the outward piety required by God in Mo’s terms, all for the sake of the glory of Christ. In every word spoken, in every hour worked, in every trip made and meal cooked, I see that the point is always Christ, working and active as the Word of God made manifest to us. Every leader lives as a man and woman “to whom grace has come in Jesus,” making that known to these kids to whom they have dedicated their time and, in the case of Mo and his family, their lives (Barth, Church Dogmatics, 539). Whether their acts are big or small, I have seen them to be good, not by worldly standards that measure success in numbers and dollars, but by what God has said is good: “to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). May God bless the harvest that the leaders of this ministry have so faithfully sown for the kingdom. As it goes, all it takes is a tiny seed of mustard to grow into a mighty tree, providing rest and shade for all who need it (Matthew 13:31-32). Breathing life and refreshment into dry spaces through the imitation of Christ, planting seeds to be sown in due time, that is the ministry of Rebirth, small now though it may be. Bigger things are yet to come.

For updates about the PLT Summer Internship, click here. We also post updates online using #PLTinterns. To get these updates please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at @LivedTheology. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.