"Tending to the growth of various garden plants provides the best opportunity for the kind of lectio we considered earlier — the reading, ruminating, responding, and resting in the text of our place. After clearing away the distractions that can so easily rob us of any opportunity for genuine encounter, our attention can be directed to the dynamic growth processes of our plants and to their habits of interaction with each other. What we are reflecting on, we must remember, is an often overlooked metaphor for the body of Christ. Just as the many human members of the body have their stories to tell, so do the nonhuman others in our gardens reach out to us with their own life lessons. These, however, must be read and understood in the context of the divine narrative of reconciliation and emancipation.

"Our reference to this overarching myth is what keeps the tiller and keeper — the man or woman fulfilling his or her human vocation in place — from being simply one more gardener abiding by the principles of ecological sustainability. As commendable as these are, they are not entirely sufficient for helping us to affirm that the value and meaning in our place is indeed an intimation of the Creator's personal presence there. We might also say that this is what separates the purely 'spiritual' gardener from the one who considers himself to be 'religious' as well. We come to the text of our biotic community with the expectation of encounter and with the hope that in the confluence of will and grace, discipline and freedom, tradition and innovation, we might gain insight into the Eternal You who speaks to us from the depths of our place. Tillers and keepers are not merely 'recreationists' who have chosen gardening as one among many possible hobbies. Rather, we are 're-creationists,' resting in the assurance that our tending to the body of Christ is the liberating work for which creation has been waiting with eager longing. We have been reborn into a new way of being in the world. We no longer turn a deaf ear to the language of the fields, but rather seek out its wisdom, even in our most common tasks.

"Most of us, for example, enjoy growing tomatoes. They are perhaps the most familiar vegetable in the kitchen garden and the easiest to keep alive. I am particularly fond of Cherokee Purple tomatoes, an heirloom variety that grows well in the hills of east Tennessee. Certainly the heritage of this plant is of interest to me, but its personality — its smell, its growth habits, the authentic taste of its fruit — never ceases to stir up my imagination. I will admit that I often sit with these plants in the cool of the evening, watching and listening. I trace the growth of their vines and observe the setting of their buds. I watch the bees bounce from blossom to blossom until the sun no longer provides them adequate light for completing their tasks. Perhaps more than anything, I have been impressed with the hardiness of these plants. They have a very forgiving nature. A broken stem is rarely a cause for alarm; I can simply remove it, set it in water, and soon have a new plant ready to be returned to the earth. From brokenness comes abundance. Indeed, everything about these plants suggests an overwhelming lust for life, a yearning for vitality at all costs. Vines that happen to rest on the ground, for instance, will immediately send out roots, reaching down into the depths of the soil for the life-giving moisture to be found there. After ruminating on the life and lessons of these personalities occupying my garden space, I am compelled to affirm a truth that I would do well to make my own: their readiness to forgive is of a piece with their very evident lust for life. The two go hand-in-hand. And so it should be among all human members of the body of Christ."