Lessons from the Garden

Written by Jonathan Schott

Throughout my entire life, as long as I can remember, I have always been drawn to, and very happy set in and fulfilled by being out with nature: learning about it, experiencing it, cultivating it, sharing in it with others, and praying for our common home almost on a daily basis.

My grandparents have always been a huge part of my life. My grandfather, though with more fails than success, considered himself a bit of an amateur gardener and at their home they had a wonderful garden filled with such a variety of produce: tomatoes, peppers, rhubarb, strawberries, blueberries, lettuce, leeks, garlic, potatoes, peach trees, apple trees, asparagus, zucchini, squash and more flowers than I could ever count.

I used to love watching my family–especially my uncle, who also has a green thumb–stopping over for visits and spending even a few minutes out in the garden picking berries or watching the bees or even complaining about the weeds. My tendency to watch I think was frustrating to my grandfather, who always encouraged us to lend a hand turning the soil or pulling weeds or picking the strawberries. I wasn’t however, doing nothing. I was being formed.

In the later years of his life, the garden, while still bright and beautiful, diminished in size according to my grandfather’s desire and physical capacity to tend to the soil. He did, in a way, what was sustainable.

Sustainability is a major component of adopting a stance that favors what Pope Francis has so rightly called “an integral ecology.” This integral ecology takes at its core the belief and understanding that all of the ecosystems of this world–our common home–are never mutually exclusive and that humans (as created beings) and the environment (in which humans are situated and divinely given stewardship of) must always be taken into account together when thinking of “the environment.” We are a part of the environment.

When I was praying about our stewardship and the close intimate relationship between ecology, theology, sustainability, and human development recently, the image of my grandparents garden kept finding its way into my thoughts and heart, and I wasn’t sure why. Now I do.

Their garden was a wonderful demonstration of the mutualistic symbiosis between humanity and the environment in which we are living. What struck me most about this simpleness of this image is the raw and sheer power that each member of the symbiotic relationship holds at any given time. For example, the natural world is so powerful, that when left un-stewarded, trees and greenery can easily swallow up and block roads that can be passages for important food transports and urgent medical deliveries cutting people off from the elements which may be needed for life to thrive. For the garden, because of his diminishment, the strawberry bed was “returned to the wild” and weeds quickly swept over and choked out the once-bountiful strawberry plants that nourished us all too well in my Grandmother’s shortcake.

On the other hand, when we exert the raw power we have in dominion over the natural world, the consequences can be just as devastating: intentional polluting of vital wetlands and water systems, development and construction that destroys habitat for key species within a food-chain system. In the garden, it was that time when my grandfather accidentally killed off a plot of green beans when he mistook a bag of weed killer for a bag of fertilizer and plant food.

This relationship between humanity and our environment, almost spousal in its tender care for the other, is so very delicate and beautiful that it should give us great excitement and joy to know that we must take actions and advocacy positions that will continue to make this integral ecology sustainable for those who comes after us. Many places have already been making these changes and are great examples:
St. Gabriel’s Parish in Toronto

Aquinas College Sustainability Initiative

For this reason I was so very happy when our College announced earlier this week the formation and development of a Center for Sustainability. Our Office of Campus Ministry looks forward to supporting, participating in, praying for, and helping with the Center’s success and very important work.

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