Garden my life

Koehn Garden at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

God is a gardener. At the beginning of time He plants and walks around in the Garden of Eden. The risen Christ appears in a garden (and is mistaken for a gardener). And the end of time culminates in a beautiful garden-city called New Jerusalem.

God’s gardening work extends into my life as a prayer by Philip F. Reinders in Seeking God’s Face reminded me afresh. I invite you to make this prayer your own as I did.

Creator God, garden my life –
turn it over,
cultivate it,
and make it ready for gospel seeds to take root.
And in quiet darkness let the gospel do its work,
slow but powerful,
stirring up life in my heart,
increasing joy,
strengthening all your graces
until shoots of new life rise and good fruit
bursts forth on the branches of my life,
a life beautiful for you
and a blessing to others. Amen.

::– –::– –::

Here’s another prayer with a similar theme. It’s written by Handt Hanson and it’s one you can sing.

Concern for the corner

Among the laws God gave His people who owned land and fields is the command for farmers not to harvest every last corner and scrap:

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God.

Photo of a grain field at harvest time near the Yarkon Springs in Israel by Miriam Feinberg Vamosh

I always thought this command was only for the good of the poor. But the other day I stumbled across this Forward Day by Day meditation from 1971 that points out how it is also good for God’s creation – a timely reminder for Earth Day.

::– –::– –::

The command against reaping the corners of the field goes back to the primitive belief in spirits who had authority over the land. A place to dwell and food to eat had to be left for them or they would leave the farmer. Now Israel has given the old law a new humanitarian bent: We are not to take everything for ourselves but to leave something for the one less fortunate that we.

To plow the field up to the last furrow, to attempt to scrape the last bit of profit from one’s labor, betokens a miserly spirit which in the end works to its own disadvantage. Agricultural science [knows] this ecological truth. To drain the potholes and the marshlands, to plow up the submarginal lands, is to create floods and dust bowls.

We need this “concern for the corner” operative in the city as well as the country, and not the contractor who uses the cheapest possible material, replacing one slum with another soon-to-be, or the housing developers who crowd in as many apartments as possible in their high-rises. Without concern for the corner, we poison our streams, kill the lakes, pollute the air, and destroy the quality of human living.

COVID-19 and creation

With all the devastating health and economic impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has brought (which I do not wish to minimize), it’s a relief to hear about one positive effect the pandemic is having: In some ways, the pandemic has been good for the environment.

Less traffic, grounded airplanes, and decreased production in factories have improved the air quality in many places. In India, for example, people are seeing mountain ranges in the distance they haven’t seen in decades due to pollution. Satellite imagery over China shows reductions in nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide being pumped into the air. Cities such as Rome, London, Los Angeles, and New York are Average NO2 concentration in northeastern US. From theconversation.comalso reporting improved air quality.

I’m aware there have also been environmental setbacks. For example, cities report the collection of more garbage (including personal protective equipment like disposable masks).

I nevertheless remain encouraged by the news of improved air quality. Again, I recognize COVID-19 has resulted in lost jobs, economic chaos, illness, and death, and I do not downplay those. But I do wonder whether the pandemic is giving humanity a little preview of how, when it comes to the environment, things could be better.

As a Christian, I believe God calls me to care for his creation. It is among the first tasks he gives to the first humans in the first garden. And it’s a recurring theme in the Bible. In addition to mandating a weekly sabbath rest, God also commanded his people to give creation a Sabbath rest: “In the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest… Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines.” God promised that if his people obeyed this command, their land would produce enough in the sixth year to provide for them through the seventh year and beyond. God designed creation so that when we care for it, he will direct it to care for us. I wonder if COVID-19 is forcing us to give the land and sky an overdue sabbath rest.

And that leads me to wonder whether instead of trying to go back to normal, we can investigate ways to create a “new normal” in which we can restore jobs and improve the economy while also carefully tending the land and keeping the air clean. Can leaders in government, industry, agriculture, and business find innovative and profitable ways to run things both so people can work and so creation is respected? I ask myself where in everyday life I can recognize and change my greedy and consumeristic tendencies that harm creation. Can I buy a bit less? Can I reuse things more? Can I travel fewer miles? Can I conserve energy?

In the middle of the pain of the pandemic, there has been an unexpected blessing of the environment faring better than six months ago. Can we receive that as a fresh invitation from God to care for creation? I for one would like the air we breathe to not go back to what we called normal prior to COVID-19.

I wrote this article for Perspectives column
in this week’s
Rock Valley Bee.

One less plastic bag in the ocean

I just read about recent expeditions into the Mariana Trench in the northern Pacific Ocean, the deepest part of the world’s oceans. It’s about 7 miles down at its deepest. Reaching the bottom, the scientists’ cameras and traps both captured remarkable creatures God made that thrive in such a cold, dark, inhospitable environment, including tough amphipods (shrimplike crustaceans), intricate sea anemones, and transparent sea cucumbers.

A retired naval officer from Texas with a love for the oceans landed his submersible at the bottom of one part of the trench to meet shy marine life and see vast, untouched underwater landscapes.

Except, as it turns out, it wasn’t so untouched.

Within minutes of his submersible reaching the bottom of the trench, it found trash. The naval officer told reporters his cameras detected Graphic from Maclean's magazineplastic with writing on it. “It could have been a plastic bag,” he said.

That news, more than the fact that this naval officer had accomplished the deepest dive in human history or that his expedition had broken a slew of other records, made the headlines. How had garbage reached the deepest part of the ocean even before humans?

It actually doesn’t take as much as one might suspect. Like dirt in anyone’s home, junk collects at the lowest points. It’s simply a matter of gravity, and the trenches are as deep as it gets.

Humans are “made in God’s image to live in loving communion with our Maker. We are appointed earthkeepers and caretakers to tend the earth, enjoy it, and love our neighbors” (from “Our World Belongs to God”). Finding a plastic bag at the bottom of the ocean is an indicator we can do a better job of caring for God’s good creation as the Bible tells us to.

To care for creation, for the soil, water, and air God gives us, you and I can start small:

    • Use the city’s recycling bins to their full capacity and bring them to the curb every other week. Maybe we should even ask the city to switch the collection schedule so recycling gets picked up weekly and garbage every other week.
    • Use cleaning supplies with less harmful chemicals.
    • Turn off your car when you stop to run into a store or an office.
    • Plant a tree in your yard.
    • Use a refillable water bottle.
    • And, naturally, in light of the plastic at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, bring your own reusable cloth bags to the grocery store and everywhere else you shop.

These reflections appear in this week’s Rock Valley Bee.
I concluded with noting that I care for creation in a small way
by often biking to the office thereby using my car less.

Talking together about creation

Grand Canyon photo found at Reader's Digest (rd.com)

Jesse and Maria are visiting the Grand Canyon for the first time. Both are Christians and marvel at God’s masterful work in the immense canyon.

Jesse sees within the beauty around him evidence that the earth is very old. He finds convincing the arguments that the various layers of the Grand Canyon together with the fossils contained therein suggest a slow, orderly deposit of rock and bones over millions of years. He cannot dismiss the radiometric dating analysis scientists have done which suggests the Grand Canyon could be up to 70 million years old. Instead of the result of a cataclysmic global flood several thousand years ago, Jesse sees within the grandeur of the canyon evidence that over a long period of time God carefully and beautifully “laid the earth’s foundations.”

Maria on the other hand takes in the same panoramic beauty and is increasingly convinced that God made the “basement” layers of rock on his third day of creating the universe when he said, “Let dry ground appear.” Maria finds compelling the evidence that the remaining layers were then deposited by the waters of a global flood in the days of Noah and the ark approximately 4,500 years ago. The beauty of the Grand Canyon is redemptive for Maria: Even though it was God’s judgment on sin (the flood) that created the chasm, over time it has become beautiful, reminding Maria of how God can heal the worst of circumstances.

Depending on your perspective, it’s tempting to write off either Jesse or Maria and their interpretations of science and scripture. We might label one as an out-of-touch conservative or the other as a truth-denying liberal. The fact is that both Jesse and Maria are representative of faithful Christians – including many scientists – who subscribe to the authority of the Bible while also taking seriously how God speaks through his creation. Some Bible-believing Christians defend the view that Genesis teaches God created everything in six 24-hour periods and then rested on the seventh day. Other Bible-believing Christians see within the opening chapters of Genesis elegant poetry refuting the false ancient religions that taught the universe was created haphazardly by many gods; therefore the “days” of creation do not need to be understood as 24-hour periods any more than one has to believe God is made of granite or quartzite because the psalmist declares God to be a rock (see Psalm 18).

It’s sad but true that Christians are often harsh and uncharitable when they disagree over matters of creation. However, it’s also true that both Jesse and Maria and all the Christians they represent are together Christ’s ambassadors on earth and will be together for eternity in the new heaven and earth. So it makes sense that, even if it means agreeing to disagree, we begin figuring out how to get along here and now! And it makes sense for both adults and students at school to examine and evaluate the various biblical and scientific perspectives on creation, not fearful of them, but eagerly expecting to grow in appreciating and understanding God and his creative work.

I wrote this column for this week’s Rock Valley Bee
where I noted that I find Deborah and Loren Haarsma’s book
Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution,
and Intelligent Design
helpful in thinking about this subject.

Good news for all creation

An unexpected word shows up in the Great Commission as recorded in the Gospel of Mark. In the more familiar version in Matthew, the risen Lord Jesus instructs His disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations.” In Mark, the language is even more inclusive: Jesus says, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15).

All creation? Does that include “hill and vale and tree and flower, sun and moon and stars of light?” Preaching to people is one thing, but how do you preach to things?

I don’t think we’re supposed to begin expecting plants and animals to respond to the Gospel in rational, human ways, but I do think this verse reminds us of how the Good News of Jesus impacts literally everything. The apostle Paul writes of how “creation has been groaning.” In some way, shape, and form, “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into … freedom and glory” in part as God’s people go about their work and in whole when Jesus returns. When it comes to redemption, God has His eyes on all creation, on everything He has made – from enormous blue whales swimming the oceans to infinitesimal quarks within an atom. God’s purposes in bringing new life has an impact on a universal level.

It makes me wonder… Is the way we tenderly care for our pets an expression of Christ’s life-giving presence in us? If God’s purpose is to redeem creation, are we cooperating with that purpose on our farms, or is God going to have to make a lot of repairs because of the ways we’re using His animals and land? Can we make connections between recycling and celebrating the resurrection? Creation graphic found via GoogleDo our industries “preach” to the environment God’s good, life-giving intentions for His world?

In addition to the image-bearing humans God puts in your life, what other parts of creation are you going to bless because the Holy Spirit of the risen Christ is alive and working in you?

I originally wrote this for Trinity’s CRC’s “Grace Encounters” newsletter, a publication of our Outreach Team.

Skink

After a couple weeks of vacation and a week of Vacation Bible School – the fun “Kingdom Rock” where kids stand strong for God – I’m blogging again.

Part of our family’s vacation time was spent at Newton Hills State Park in South Dakota. While there, we met another family, the dad who happened to be a biology instructor at the University of South Dakota. Going for a hike together was very insightful as he described the various species of flora and fauna. A definite highlight was discovering a skink in the grass at the end of our hike through a section of the Woodland Trail. Monica’s dad was the first to spot it, thinking it was a slithering snake. But snakes don’t have legs!

Prairie Skink

Our biologist friend quickly identified it as a skink and noted that sightings of these little striped creatures are rare as they are very secretive and like to hide camouflaged in the undergrowth. Apparently if a predator finds and grabs it by its tail, it can shed its tail and grow a new one. Wikipedia reports that a small isolated population of skinks lives in Manitoba – the only lizard native to that province and one of only five lizard species who make their home in Canada.

I’m glad Dad spotted the little fella so we could observe it for a few moments, appreciating its intricacy and being reminded of how so often cool things come in small packages. Keepin’ my eyes open for the small stuff today…

Close encounter with a grizzly bear

This was the experience of Val Ellis from our Telkwa church family. She wrote this a few weeks ago and gave me permission to post it here. Thanks, Val!



grizzly bearI had my first close encounter with a grizzly bear a few Sundays ago. My husband was looking out the window and called me out of bed. I was a little bleary-eyed but stumbled over to the window in the kitchen. There in front of us, not more than 100 feet away, was a young – maybe 2 year old – grizzly across the driveway from us. He (or she) was oblivious to us staring at him and was casually sitting in the field scratching himself, sniffing the air, and wandering about like he every bit belonged there. The grizzly markings were all there: Humped shoulders, brownish gray colour, with silver tips. No mistake that it was any other kind of bear. It stayed in the yard for about 20 minutes before a car came along the roadway and scared it off.

I can tell you I was so excited! It makes me marvel at God’s creation all around us. Yes, we live in an area that is ruggedly beautiful and we share our space with some of nature’s most wonderful creatures. God provides us with His handiwork everyday if we just stop, take a moment, and notice what He has done. We are indeed blessed with His beauty and majesty all around.

Thank you, Lord, for such an awesome peek of Your creativity.

Credit:
The grizzly bear photo comes from National Geographic.

Train ride home

Today I rode the VIA train from Prince George back home to Telkwa.  What a fantastic way to see familiar yet spectacular terrain from a new perspective!  I wrote down some of the things I saw and arranged it into a poem…

Wise-cracking stewards
and amiable travellers
see
birds in flight,
islands in lakes,
bear cubs in trees,
an eagle high above,
lily pad-filled ponds,
hay bales in the fields,
trees pointing to the sky,
reeds standing in swamps and
antiques behind forgotten sheds
while surveying gently rolling farmland,
curving around water’s shores,
hugging mountain cliffs and
passing freight trains
as parallel steel rails lead the way.