When I was young, my favorite place on earth was my mom’s sunflower garden.
I would hide with my books and my imagination, tucked in the corner of my yard by my neighbor’s fence. I felt so secure and at peace in my hideaway; each sweet smelling flower revealed God’s presence.
Today, I felt the same peace in the Davidson Community Garden. Gathered in a circle of friends, we spent our morning gardening and sharing interfaith experiences, beginning with our childhood memories of nature. I shared my love for my backyard sunflowers and fireflies, while others spoke of pets, nearby parks, tree houses, or outdoor adventures with dirt.
This morning, tending to the soil, I felt more awake than I have felt in days. I felt the sacredness of the dirt in my hands. That soil has existed since the Earth began, and sustains our human existence. That soil is what remains from the past, gives us nourishment in the present, and sustains generations for the future. As the Hebrew Bible says, we are adamah – creatures of the soil.
If we are part of nature, then, what is our role? Who are we, as human beings, and why are we created with higher consciousness?
The question of humanity’s role in nature, and its limitations, is the essential question of our times. “Sustainable development” places ecological and cultural limits on our growth. At the same time, “development” demands questions of material living standards; what, as humans, can we demand of nature?
In the Davidson Community Garden this morning, when we spoke about “nature,” it was not the out-there-in-the-woods nature. It was the nature that exists within us and around us in reality, in each moment – when we walk, we drink tea, we sleep, we breathe air. “Nature” and “culture” cannot be two distinct entities; they are interconnected and mutually formed. When we acknowledge their interconnections, we discover humanity’s role on Earth.
This morning, it was apparent that many faith traditions view the Earth as a gift from the Creator, and that we are responsible for maintaining it. As Wendell Berry explains, “stewardship” of God’s creation is a give-and-take relationship, and not an exploit-and-dominate superiority. It is the role of our culture to place rules on our “taking,” and establish rituals to foster “giving” to the land.
Through faith, we may heal our connection to nature and to ourselves. Through stories, rituals, and teachings, we may heal the creation-culture relationship. We may awaken to the sacredness of the soil and the sunflowers, and all that reveals the Divine on earth.