Many of you know that I’ve transformed our backyard into a food garden sanctuary. It’s not big, but it’s bountiful! It’s also where I sit and listen, work and listen, and graze and listen, to the voice of God.
Saint Columbanus once said, “If you want to know God, first get to know his creation.”
When I go into my backyard sanctuary I carry with me the joys and concerns encountered in the world around me. I am not cut off from them but actually, become more aware of their impact on my life and my interconnectedness with all that buzzes in and around my world.
When I plunge my hands into the earth I’m reminded of my connectedness to all creation. God formed me from the richness of the soil and breathed life into me. Like all creation, I am alive and sustained only by the grace of God.
Norman Wirzba, in his book Food & Faith: A Theology of Eating, speaks eloquently about the interconnectedness of all creation. God’s whole system of creation is based on sacrifice and interdependence – for something to live, something else must sacrifice and die. The entire web of life created by God is sacrificial at its core.
So even when I’m alone in my backyard, I am not truly alone. This is not a place of escape but of understanding more deeply my part in this web of life. This is a place where God cultivates my heart and prunes my mind so that I may bear good fruit to share with the world around me.
Likewise, when I venture into the front yard, or into the larger community, I carry with me the still small voice of God experienced in the backyard sanctuary. If I have listened and learned well, the community is where I put these lessons into practice. If, instead, I keep my life segregated into private/spiritual and public/secular, I will simply reap a harvest of hypocrisy.
No matter your diet, something has to die for you to eat. Something has to sacrifice its life so that we can live – be it plant or animal. This profound lesson is often lost on us as we head off to the grocery store or sit down in a restaurant. All of life, and all of living, is built on sacrifice.
You can take this lesson even further and realize, even if you grow all your own food, you’re still connected to the world around you:
Will you cook your food? Where does the gas, electricity, or wood to cook it on come from?
How about the appliances and utensils used to cook it?
What about the dishes, the silverware, the table, and the chairs?
It’s easy for us to forget just how interdependent we are. And when we forget the sacrifice of others so that we might eat — the harvesters, the growers, the transporters, those who store the food, the grocery store employees, and on and on — when we forget about all these important people in our lives, we too easily forget to give thanks for all they’ve made possible.
In the letter to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul purposefully includes creation’s role in God’s plan. Listen to these words in Romans chapter 1:18-20:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
It’s easy to read these words and simply focus on God’s wrath and judgment, failing to see that behind those words lies an important truth: God’s creation also gives testimony to the reality and glory of God.
Later, in Romans chapter 8:19-23a (NLT), Paul goes on to speak directly to the connection between humankind and the rest of creation:
For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering.
God’s creation is not somehow separate from God’s plan of redemption but woven right into the fabric of God’s overall design! When we forget this, we easily take for granted God’s gift of creation and our call to steward it as an act of worship and obedience. When we forget that God’s very good creation also gives testimony to God, we can begin to think that it’s ours to trample on, ours to exploit, and ours to use for our own selfish purposes.
But no, creation too is part of God’s plan and part of its testimony of God is the reminder of sacrifice. Even the plants in our garden require sacrifice to live. Dying plants and animals feed the soil that nourishes the new, emerging plants.
In the very simple act of eating, God demonstrates for us that all of life is connected and all of life is sacrifice. For this reason, in the season of Lent we are reminded that we are dust, we are soil, mud of the earth, and to the earth we shall return.
Jesus’ words should not surprise us then, radical words like:
This is my commandment, that you love one another. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Whoever wants to save her life must lose it.
By this we know what love is: Jesus laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.
At just the right time, when we were still powerless, sinful, broken, enemies of God, Christ died for us. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. AND…
Take up your cross daily and follow me.
SACRIFICE. God built it into creation and calls us to enter into this rhythm of life and death with joy. But it’s also much bigger than that. Going clear back to the fall, to Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden, we learn that broken relationships are costly.
Hiding in the bushes, ashamed and not wanting to come face to face with God, God calls them out. Although they had fashioned fig leaves in an attempt to cover their “nakedness”, their shame, God chooses to clothe them with animal skins. Even here, at the beginning of the story of God and creation, we discover death, sacrifice, as a means to deal with our brokenness.
So we have God’s naturally created order with a deep, deep interdependence of all creation built on a system of self-sacrifice; for something or someone to live and thrive, something else must die. And when relationships are broken, when we step outside the shalom-order of God, an even greater sacrifice is required.
Perhaps the most profound place we discover this connection is at the Communion table. Simple elements of bread and wine, fruit and grain harvested, “sacrificed”, for our sustenance while at the same time representing on a level almost too deep to understand the body and blood of our Lord given for us that we might live.
As we gather around this table and share this bread and wine, the fruit of creation, we are the body of Christ. Together we join with Columbanus and all the saints, the whole community of faith past, present, and future, and become one. Here we are nourished. Here we receive life. Here we both embrace the sacrifice of Christ for us and enter into his invitation to give ourselves for the life of the world around us.
This post was originally featured on Godspace, at that time the blog for Mustard Seed Associates where Andy worked for nine years. Be sure to check out Christine Sine's Godspacelight blog featuring more of Andy's writings as well as writers from around the world exploring many aspects of Christian spirituality.