Faith of the Land
An article published in The Melbourne Age "Faith" Column: 7 October 2007

written by Rev Gary Heard

Every summer our children's lunches are supplemented with fresh cherry tomatoes we have grown in our inner-city garden. Their classmates have been known to sample the produce, remarking upon their fresh taste, and somewhat aghast to discover that we had grown them in - for them - such an unexpected place. For many children fruit and vegetables come from supermarkets, ostensibly from some manufacturer and supplier. Just as one hundred years ago Ambrose Bierce (The Devil's Dictionary) remarked that war was God's way of teaching Americans geography, so we might reflect today that drought might God's way of teaching urban dwellers that fruit and vegetables actually are grown out of the land.

Over the school holidays we will spend time in the garden planting tomatoes and other plants which will hopefully provide fruits to enjoy in months to come. It serves as an important reminder of our connection to the land, a truth central to all the great religions. For Jews, the story of creation opens the narrative, with its repeated proclamation that the creation in all its aspects "was good" in the eyes of God, a truth further strengthened by their connection with the Promised Land. For Christians, it is this land which is at the core of faith: the place where Jesus of Nazareth was born; lived and taught; suffered crucifixion and was raised from death; for Muslims, Mecca is central; for Buddhists the reverberating call to be at one with all things. Faith and spirituality are not esoteric vocations, but grounded in the physical realities of daily life.

Against this background, a commitment to the environment are not peripheral to an otherwise ephemeral faith, but are central to our understanding of what it means to be human, essential to a vital spirituality, and formative of our faith.
A few years ago we returned home from a family visit in time to see a passer-by pick a tomato from one of our plants. It had grown through the fence and offered its fruits to those who travel on the footpath next to our home. The look of delight as the sweet juicy taste filled his mouth was a treasure to behold. In all ensuing years we have planted close to the fence to allow others to enjoy the fruits with us - in recognition of that connection which comes from sharing the same space, the same land.

In the concrete cathedrals which characterise our city, in a life where it is possible to live for days without touching the soil from whence we came, planting a vegetable garden is an act of faith, and a symbol of an important connection - with God, with our own nature, and with our rural cousins. In our own small way we have an insight into the impact of drought upon our own efforts to grow food. It is also a reminder of and part of the answer to Jesus' call to pray, "Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." We are called from, and as part of, the earth, and invited to be part of heaven's touch upon it.

Rev Gary Heard is pastor of The Eighth Day, a Baptist Community in West Melbourne.

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