Confessing To Plants
Somehow it’s absolutely not surprising at all that the same day I heard of the confession to the plants at Union Theological Seminary in New York, I also listened to NPR and learned there has been a massive uptick in houseplant sales nationally.
Basic summary: houseplant sales are way up, especially among millennials. Therefore media attention. Sales are up because of a Venn diagram of factors: a popular hashtag on Instagram, #plantsofinstagram, an increased focus on environmental health, and the way new generations are slowly stepping into responsibilities.
Getting a pet a bit too much for you? Having a child certainly too much? Well, at least you can get a plant…
It’s almost certain houseplants will start to enter the space previously opened for pets… they’re part of the family. You can get them special treats. Perhaps venues will open up like Plant-Party-USA where you can take your pets for play time while you’re at work or on vacation.
So, let’s assume that the students at Union Theological Seminary are primarily millennials, and possibly tuned into Instagram and other social trends. Fair assumption?
If so, it’s not completely surprising that they might attend to plants more closely in their theological work.
More generally, theologians have quite rightly begun to attend more closely to our relationship with all of creations. Some excellent theological work has been done on animals, creation care, even “things” themselves, to name just a few.
Since seminary is a laboratory for exploring such theological work in relationship to praxis (and is also where edgier ideas often arise), it’s really not surprising that Union Theological Seminary might experiment with confessing to plants.
It’s also not surprising that the Twitter-sphere, and Breitbart type conservatives, had a fit about it.
Here’s Union’s tweet:
Today in chapel, we confessed to plants. Together, we held our grief, joy, regret, hope, guilt and sorrow in prayer; offering them to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor.
What do you confess to the plants in your life? pic.twitter.com/tEs3Vm8oU4
— Union Seminary (@UnionSeminary) September 17, 2019
My Thoughts On Confessing To Plants
I find pre-emptive dismissal of the Union experiment, rather than open engagement, the biggest problem here. So here I post some reflections, in no particular order, to open space for reflection.
- Well, that’s a great idea. We should add plants to St. Francis of Assisi Sunday and have a blessing of the plants in addition to a blessing of the animals!
- Why not confess to plants? I mean, people talk to their plants. Also, doesn’t Scripture itself invite all of creation to join in worship? Psalm 148: Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
- I did initially take issue with a portion of the language of this tweet. Confession isn’t prayer, so grammatically it seems the tweeter may have made it sound like they were praying to plants.
- Okay, Clint, yes, but not in a propitiatory sense, right? Because a lot of prayer sounds like this, “Would you pray for me? Would you pray with me?” And we do that to people around us (and some to the saints) all the time, and we don’t mean by it that we’re worshipping them. We mean by it that we hope they’ll join us in prayer.
- Praise is a form of prayer. So Scripture itself enjoins plants to pray.
- Union’s always been like this. That’s what is awesome and so New York about it.
- Isn’t the cross made from a plant? Lots of churches have prayer around the cross, and confess before a cross, no?
- Isn’t the first sin related to a plant, a tree? So, why wouldn’t that be brought into our confessional practices somehow?
Consider how your own life is engraced and enriched by plants. They become part of you. And so it is with the very soul of the universe, with God. When we honor the living quality of plants we simultaneouly honor part of what makes God “God.” And when, as we learn from Psalm 148, the plants and other creatures express themselves, reaching out into the universe saying “I am” in their own ways, they are becoming part of this mind and adding to its qualities in their ways. In their reaching they are “praising” and “filling his command.”
This way of thinking is not paganism but rather, as it were, psalmism. It is this psalmic approach to God that modern, western readers of scripture have lost, due in part to the reduction of the universe to a vast assemblage of lifeless entities, itself a project of modernity and capitalism. Time to let the plants speak.