Messy BeautyApril 24th, 2013
I discovered something about myself this week. I learned that I have no problems with hearing that my closets are a wreck (they are!) and my filing system is ridiculously inept (it is). But, I don’t react with such calm when told my gardens are messy….
Filing systems and even closets are at least in large part associated primarily with efficiency. Can you find your necessary paperwork or shoes easily? In contrast, although we do want a garden to be productive – to produce a reasonable amount of fruit or flowers or vegetables, hopefully we all realize that it is about more than efficiency and productivity. In large part a garden exists simply to be …. a source of comfort, joy, and yes, beauty.
Consider God’s Garden – our regional food pantry garden. For me, so focused on living in harmony of the earth, it is essential that an attractive, successful garden be cared for organically. This means that the use of broad spectrum insecticides and herbicides isn’t going to happen. Straight, tilled rows and fumigated plants will be minimal, mulch at a max. Fertilizer is natural – manure and compost. A diversity of plants, including cover crops, will companion each other, attracting beneficial insects and birds. The intermingled colors and textures are splendid, but a more fundamental beauty is implicit in this working harmony.
God’s Garden also includes flowers – flowers that feed the soul and the spirit, if not the belly. Flowers attract wanderers – bees and birds AND people. They encourage us to stop, reflect and be grateful. Flowers occasion prayer.
And yes, gardens are a place of sacrifice also! It takes sweat and effort and sometimes sore muscles to create this place of splendor. In the case of God’s Garden, the sacrificial giving of hours for those less fortunate is substantial. Yet in that sacrifice is beauty of a very special kind.
The great twentieth-century theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar in Love Alone is Credible, wrote extensively about beauty. Beauty, he claimed, is what draws us to God. Beauty IS God. The sacrificial giving of Jesus through the Incarnation, therefore, is lovely. Even more beautiful was Jesus’ death on the cross. We look at the crucifixion scene, and most likely don’t think of beauty. And yet, there, in that messy place of blood and tears and aggression and loss, we find the ultimate beauty, the ultimate love.
In God’s Garden especially at the end of the summer, sometimes the weeds get ahead of us. The sunflowers droop, the tomatoes die. But there, in the sacrificial messy giving of both plants and people, beauty thrives. God’s creation thrives. God’s kingdom lives.
So, if anyone wants to call that garden messy, realize it is a sacred, messy beauty. An essential, messy beauty, focused on God’s work, not our own. Can we dare to believe in, to live with that kind of beauty?
We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it.
Hans Urs von Balthasar
Sue is founder and co-director of God’s Garden of Eatin’, a regional community food pantry garden, located at St. Paul Parish, Englewood.