The best place to seek God is in a garden. You can dig for him there. ~George Bernard Shaw, The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God, 1932
When I began my journey into gardening, I felt drawn to the soil for sentimental reasons. As a child, I remember watching my father till the land in our back yard every spring and observing my mother canning the vegetables in the kitchen every summer. My sister and I used to hide among the bean stalks, eat food fresh off the vine, and cut flowers for the dinner table.
As an adult with a child of my own, my spirit longed for a garden. Living in a yard that is three quarters shade, we would not have that option unless we dug up the front yard. My ex-husband and a realtor had talked me out of it on several occasions, but once both of them had moved on, no reason or person would hold me back any longer.
After much planning, I ventured to my hardware store, bought several 8’ boards, screws, and landscaping fabric and came home to build my raised beds. Several hours later, I had muddy knees and a cold bum, but I had also created 4 new gardens, their spaces open with possibility.
That first year, I spent getting to know my environment. I watched the sun as it moved from east to west. I nourished the soil as the seasons changed. I noted which vegetables and fruits flourished in each garden. I was like a mother raising her first child: I spent so much time watching and waiting that some days I forgot to sit back and enjoy.
Experimentation became the gift of my second year. I tried new and different plantings. I attempted to grow part of my vegetables from seed. I taught myself how to can, freeze, and dry food so that I could enjoy my treasures all year long. Gardening became more of an artistic endeavor than a measured science. I threw caution to the wind and began to trust Creation. I resisted the urge to “manage” my plants and let them “just be.” By the end of the summer, I gleaned an abundant harvest, but I also realized that I had learned a thing or two about surrender as well.
This past summer marked my third season of gardening, and by far, my most meaningful. From snowy February mornings to starry October evenings, I rarely missed a day when time wasn’t spent in the dirt. You see, this year I have found God in my garden, and it all began with a clove of garlic.
Last November, I read an article on planting and harvesting garlic bulbs. In my quest to have something growing year round, this new endeavor captured my attention. I reached in my kitchen cabinet, grabbed every clove I could find then headed out to the bed that would be the sunniest in winter. As I pushed each piece of the bulb down into the soil, my tween daughter rolled her eyes. “Really? Do you think that’s going to grow?!” I looked up at her and affirmed my belief, and I never let on that I felt a bit tentative as well.
By February, both of us stood in amazement as green shoots pushed their way up through cold snow and ice. We had not had a winter like this one in a long time. In th0se shoots of green, I found hope, knowing that the grace of Creation had settled into my garden.
In late spring, the plants were growing like corn stalks. Even my tween daughter stood in awe of how much the small cloves had grown once the May sun warmed earth. I became giddy with the curiosity of a preschooler. Could it be that all of these plants came from one head of garlic? What would they look like? How long should we let them grow? The thought of having my own organic garlic for my pickles and marinara sauce delighted me. I waited impatiently for harvest.
And then, it happened. One evening in late May, I drove up the driveway after work and noticed it. My garlic stalks were dying. They had turned yellow and looked sickly. A knot formed in my throat, and I almost wept. After withstanding autumn frost, winter snow, and a late spring freeze, the plants were now dying in the midst of ideal growing conditions?! I stood with my hands on my hip then I felt this nudging and gentle voice, “Pull them. Harvest them.” I took the first green shoots and tugged gently. I imagine now that I looked like Charlie as he opened the Wonka bar to reveal a small corner of the Golden Ticket. As I carefully worked the plant out of the soil, a glimmer of white appeared. Waves of awe overcame me, and I jerked the stalk quickly. Out of the warm brown earth came a glorious white, papery bulb, each clove as round and full as the cheeks of a young child. Overtaken with excitement, I pulled each plant, first with one hand then two at a time. By then end of the harvest, I sat admiring 17 bulbs of garlic. Seventeen bulbs I had planted, nurtured, and harvested. Seventeen bulbs God had created and brought to life.
For the first time in three years, I could feel a deep connection between my spirit and God, a feeling so different than I had experienced in a place of worship or during prayer. This sensation filled me with light and life. While it energized me, it also made me cognizant of all that existed around me—the new green seedlings, the small brown ants, the lightly blowing breeze. In that moment, I understood my “place” in creation and uncovered a new layer in my relationship with God.
Sometimes in our lives, we experience awe and excitement, and as time passes, the feelings fade. We can remember that moment of wonder with fondness, but we do not necessarily feel it with the same intensity. Thankfully, I cannot say the same for my connection with Creation. Since that day of harvesting garlic, I continue to channel the same energy and passion as I did in that moment. I cannot bear to be away from the land for more than a day or so then I have to get out in the soil, get my hands dirty, observe the pattern of light, and discover new opportunities for growth.