The Return: Church as Garden

The Return: Church as Garden July 31, 2012

For three months now, I have traveled, rested, prayed, written, reveled in family time, read, walked, worked in gardens, and regained health.

I now return to the work I love and have missed, serving as pastor to Krum First United Methodist Church.  I thank this group of generous people who supported my time away.  I am beginning my seventh year here, and it was time for a real Sabbath rest.

All of us are built for periods of rest.  We simply don’t take them.

Our world calls “foolish” the idea of extended time away, or even one day a week away. We are supposed to stay in the game and on our game so we don’t lose out.  So we keep going, fueled by quick energy non-nutritious foods, inadequate sleep, and the ever growing pressure to remain competitive. Many live on the edge of exhaustion, longing for respite but unwilling to actually take it.

We pay a terrible price for this pace with physical disease and mental unease.

There is a better way and I sense that the garden can teach us much. Especially when we look at gardening that is done organically, we see something different and so much more resilient.

There we find rhythms of nature that must be honored. There the cycle of life and death and rebirth makes so much sense. There we recognize that we are just one small part in a much larger world. There we find significantly more resistance to disease and debilitation.

I walked in English gardens for hours on end while in the London area.  As I did, I found a growing understanding that church and garden are beautifully linked.  We can understand the nature of the church far better if we understand the nature of the garden.

At its best, the garden does two things:  nurtures people with the freshest and healthiest of foods and offers a place of soul rest, an oasis.

One day I was meandering the ever-confusing streets of London, planning to go to a noon worship service at a place I had attended once before.  I was early and decided to head to nearby Hyde Park.  When I arrived, I suddenly realized that I had not yet explored Kensington Gardens, which flows into Hyde Park.

I turned toward it, planning just to stay a few minutes.  Hours later, refreshed of soul, I emerged.

All London gardens are beautiful. Between the frequent rainfalls and the mild climate, plants grow profusely. Garden shops abound, and aromatic roses especially grow easily. So the beauty of Kensington Gardens touched me as well as the sense of peace I found there.

I sat in several of the many park benches just to take it in.  My eyes absorbed massed flower beds, formal pools, and large open grassy spaces meant for picnics and family play, all freely open.

Yes, I could have paid a fee and gone through Kensington Palace and learned more how the royals lived. But why?  Here was this garden with its arms thrown wide open inviting me to enter and just sit a spell.

Many of us long for the invitation to find oasis and refreshment.  We need refilling.  We need to let the soft breezes of new life, forgiveness and hope gently touch and heal our bruised, overly stimulated, souls.  We need to sit a spell in the presence of God. We need quiet, a place to breathe deeply, to receive fully so we can give back. At its best, that is what the church can offer.

Highly productive and exquisitely beautiful gardens are the product of hard work and planning. It is my contention that clean fingernails and well-tended gardens never line up. But the results are worth it!

I hope you will join me in this time of exploration and discovery about church as garden.

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