Sometimes he dug in his garden; again, he read or wrote. He had but one word for both these kinds of toil; he called them gardening. “The mind is a garden,” said he.
–Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
This winter, with my garden under snow, my animals penned close and my guests fewer, I’ve had time to read about how to farm better next year. I’ve also had time to think about how to be more present to neighbors and more faithful to God. The things I want to work on in each area seem to follow a similar pattern.
I’ve been reading about permaculture, which is a term people use to mean many different things. I am interested in permaculture in the sense of developing a sustainable agriculture that requires few purchased inputs, produces few wastes, and works closely with the natural design of the created world. Instead of focusing on making the land produce the one crop I want and regarding its native plants and creatures as enemies, I am learning to use native plants to break up hardpan, add nutrients to the upper levels of the soil and provide habitat for native beneficial organisms who prey on pest bugs and help to improve the soil. In one sense this approach is more passive or receptive, requiring me to learn from and work with what’s already there instead of working against it. But I still have to work diligently if I want to be fed by my own land.
I find this to be true for soul-work as well as soil-work. Too often I look at people whose life and character I envy and admire and wish that I could be just like them. I am perpetually frustrated by the differences that remain between us, and I can even come to resent these people. It works better when I look at the nature God has given me and see how I could use the strengths and tendencies I already have to better effect, and stop using them in ways that make my life worse. My gardening and my growth toward God also work better when I remember that I am not working alone, but working with God.