A Gardener’s Theology of Weeds




When I go into the garden with a spade, and dig a bed, I feel such an exhilaration and

health that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others

do for me what I should have done with my own hands. -Ralph Waldo Emerson


Ralph Waldo would have been exhilarated if he had been working with me today. I was digging a bed, sort of.

Our home in Pennsylvania sits in a forest. Seven years ago we carved out a little plot and built a house surrounded on all sides by sixty and eighty foot hardwoods. No sooner had we cleared the land but the jungle began creeping back. It takes eternal vigilance—well, at least April through September—to keep the jungle at bay. Forget about the yard for a few weeks and the green tendrils creep over everything that does not move.

That’s why today I was digging a long bed along the back of the property. A line of rocks marks the edge of the “yard.” (I have discovered that you need a line, a boundary that says, The jungle stops here.) The weeds had crept over the rocks and wild thorny bushes had come cascading over the line. I had to hack back the thorns so I could see the rocks, then pull the weeds that grew among them. I was creating a border just above and just below the rock line that I could mulch, smothering the enemy at least for a few blessed feet. By noon I was exhausted.

Anyone who gardens takes great satisfaction in creating a little piece of order in a jungle of chaos. “Oh! Blessed rage for order,” wrote the poet Wallace Stevens. We need to put our imprint on the world, and that means creating order out of chaos. This, after all, is the Hebrew story of Creation. Elohim beholds everything and “the earth was waste and void” (Genesis 1:2). That’s when God started separating things. The light is gathered into “day” and the darkness is sequestered into “night.” The water goes over here, and not there. “This far may you come,” God says to the seas, “and no farther” (Job 38:11). Dry land. Boundaries. Order. Ahhhhh.

Thus I am—forgive me—a little like Elohim when I stride into my back yard at 8 AM and announce to the chlorophyll-drunken agents of chaos, “This far and no farther!” I am quite unlike El, however, since He could speak the word and it was so, and I must break my back.

Being a co-creator is a burden, and, when the sun sets and I am sitting on my deck with an IPA surveying my rock line, a blessing.

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