Increasingly, American Christians are moving away from organized religion. And can you blame them? Who wants to sit through a frequently dull church service when there are so many more “relevant” or “pleasurable” things to do? Does God really want to bore us to death?One suggestion to make more religion more grounded–literally–is to develop a new sacrament, a sacrament of the garden. This was first proposed in an interesting article by Carrol Firmage titled “Preserves” (Dialogue, Fall 2010).
The seven official sacraments of Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, extreme unction, order, and matrimony. Protestants since the 16th century have generally recognized only two official sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. However, the notion of sacrament has often been expanded to include bringing a sense of divine grace, divine communion, and covenant to more experiences than those listed in the formal sacraments. And Carrol suggests that: “To work the land is a sacrament of continuity and caring that links past, present, and future.”
The sacrament of the garden is a place where believers and nonbelievers can find common ground (literally). In such a place, grace is not just what believers receive from their Redeemer, but what idealists working together develop together.
I work a lot on the northern edge of the Navajo Reservation in southern Utah and northern Arizona. Recently, there has been a major grassroots initiative to reestablish gardens and renovate long ignored orchards. Since many Navajos live in very isolated locales, this development has a variety of benefits including: financial, reduced energy consumption, improved diet, better tasting food, enhancing group cohesion, etc.
Similar activities are happening in developing countries. In Uganda and Ethiopia, communities are organizing co-ops and trying new methods of farming, including irrigation. For example, in Uganda where there are pronounced wet and dry seasons, irrigation is being used to grow gardens during the dry seasons. In northern Ethiopia, where it is dry most of the year, irrigation co-ops have been organized along rivers.
The LDS Church, seeing the advantages of gardening, has formulated a “Food Initiative” to assist members, friends, and neighbors in developing countries:
Food Inititative projects focus on home food production. . . . The purpose of each project is to improve personal and family self-reliance through home food production, improved nutrition, diet, and home storage.
Under some circumstances, project start-up materials for a garden and/or a modest chicken coop are provided by the Church. Projects involve classes where participants learn about basic nutrition, eating a better diet, preparing meals in a sanitary way, and home storage. These classes generally take place at the meeting house where the participants attend.
The theological interconnection between religion and the earth is well studied. Now it is time to make a physical connection. And gardens are a good place to start. It is also an excellent way to better understand God’s creation.