Another excerpt from “Friendship, Humility, and Fidelity to Place: Community Gardening as Moral Formation”:

To work side by side with friends in a garden is also to practice something like friendship with a place – with a particular plot of ground and all of its particular (and peculiar) characteristics. And forming this kind of friendship can sometimes be more awkward, more tentative than trying to build and sustain human relationships. The technology-driven, urbanized cultures we live in do not encourage or expect us to practice intimacy with the earth.

In fact, one of the reasons so many people are drawn to the practice of gardening in the first place is because they recognize (and lament) their detachment from the natural world, their alienation from the sources of their daily sustenance, their sense that the earth itself has become, in this digitized, pixilated, iPhone world, sheer abstraction.

So friendship with the earth, with a particular piece of it, is the patient and hopeful work of becoming familiar, of intimacy practiced over time that can yield the kinds of rewards and pleasures that faithfulness brings to any relationship. Getting to know a place (as with getting to know a person) is about the art of paying attention, of learning to receive hospitality, of acknowledging needs not your own. It is to recognize that the deep pleasures of such knowing are experienced in the ordinary and unremarkable routines of daily life and work, since “whatever is foreseen in joy,” as Wendell Berry has observed, “must be lived out from day to day.”[1]

But it is more than that. Intimacy with the earth – being friends with a place – is inseparable from friendship with God. In the Hebrew Bible, for instance, intimacy with the land is of a piece with Israel’s intimacy with Yahweh.[2] Psalm 65, as Ellen Davis has pointed out, “gives a detailed picture of God the Farmer, humble Caretaker of the earth.”[3]

You visit the earth and water it,

you greatly enrich it;

the river of God is full of water;

you provide the people with grain,

for so you have prepared it.

You water its furrows abundantly,

settling its ridges,

softening it with showers,

and blessing its growth.

You crown the year with your bounty;

your wagon tracks overflow with richness.

                                                                                    Psalm 65:9-11

“What an astonishing picture of God’s care for the world,” observes Davis. “The Creator of heaven and earth viewed as a hard-working but gratified farmer, hot and dirty no doubt, driving home a wagonload of grain.”[4] When we care for the earth through practices like gardening, we become friends with a world that, as Berry beautifully puts it, “subsists, coheres, and endures by love.”[5] 

And we participate in that divine love – the Trinitarian friendship that sustains the cosmos – as we ourselves are friends with one another and friends with the earth that God visits and enriches, prepares and provides for, waters and blesses (Ps. 65).


[1] Wendell Berry, “Whatever is Foreseen in Joy,” A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, 1979 – 1997 (Counterpoint, 1999)

[2] Ellen Davis, “Becoming Human: Biblical Interpretation and Ecological Responsibility,” The Kreitler Lecture, Virginia Theological Seminary, 22 April 2008, 10.

[3] Davis, 11.

[4] Davis, 11.

[5] Wendell Berry, “Health Is Membership,” http://home2.btconnect.com/tipiglen/berryhealth.html