Shopping Cart


The Spirituality of Gardening

Thursday, 17 March 2022  | Christine Aroney-Sine

It’s garden season here in the Pacific Northwest and my garden room is bulging with salad greens, broccoli and over a hundred tomato plants waiting for warmer weather before they can go out into the garden. Squash and peppers won’t be far behind. Like millions of others throughout the Western world, the recent pandemic has encouraged us to expand our garden and grow more vegetables. We hope that this year at least 50% of what we eat will come from the garden.

I have so enjoyed watching the growth of the community garden movement, which grew in the fertile ground of the 2008 recession and has gained momentum over the last two years as people faced the fear of food insecurity with new garden efforts. The encouragement to spend more time outside to help reduce our stress and anxiety has spurred families and churches to expand their gardens to provide for themselves and their local food banks.

Unfortunately there is often a total disconnect between what happens in the garden and our faith. Many of us are relieved to leave behind our Zoom worship services and our outdoor gathering places for ‘normal church gatherings’. Yet it seems to me that gardening is one of the most profound acts of worship we can engage in. God’s first act after completing creation was to plant a garden - the garden of Eden. It was a garden in which our Creator took great delight. And in the first sighting of Jesus after the resurrection he is mistaken by Mary Magdalene for the gardener because that is precisely what he is - the gardener of the new creation.

So much of our garden activity is performed kneeling, in the position of prayer and supplication. I kneel to weed, to plant and to harvest and in this position often find myself meditating and praying. If I am troubled by some seemingly insurmountable problem, there is no better place to thrash it out than on my knees in the garden. If I am irritable or depressed, there is no better therapy than weeding.

However there is far more than this that makes gardening a worshipful act. I often tell people that I read about the life, death and resurrection of Christ in the Bible, but in the garden I experience it. Every time I plant a tiny misshapen seed and watch it burst into life from its earthy tomb I feel as though I have seen the Easter story reenacted.

To be honest I didn’t really understand the full significance and wonder of the Easter story until I spent my first Easter in the northern hemisphere. In Australia where so many of the trees are evergreens, and flowers are just as likely to bloom in the middle of winter as they are in summer, the breathtaking glory of new life bursting forth in spring time passed me by. Here in the Pacific Northwest, where most of the trees are deciduous and the garden looks dead over the winter, it is far more obvious and breathtaking. Blossoms burst forth into spectacular bloom in the spring. Resurrection is part of the story of every garden and I drink it in with wonder and awe.

Early Celtic Christians, who thrived in Britain and many parts of Europe during the 4th to 8th, centuries were very aware of this connection between the garden and their faith and wove the story of Easter into their farming practices. Three days before sowing, farmers would sprinkle the seed with water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If possible they always planted on a Friday. The moistening hastened the seed’s growth and planting on Friday was always a reminder of Christ’s death and burial. Planting was also symbolic of the planting of Christ, the seed of the new world through whom resurrection life will come for all humankind as well as creation. Even though planting season and Easter do not coincide in Australia, these practices are still a wonderful way to weave the life death and resurrection of Jesus into our gardens.

We have just entered the Lenten season, and are rapidly heading towards Earth Day too, such a perfect time to not only encourage our congregations to get outdoors, but also to help them make connections between the garden and their faith. Several years ago when Earth Day and Good Friday converged, I wrote a liturgy that brought these observances together. However I found I could not stop there, because the story of God in the garden does not stop there. On the following Easter Sunday I expanded the liturgy into a new responsive reading that incorporated the resurrection of Christ as well. These liturgies were a combination of prayers and scripture readings that enriched my soul and my life as I created and read them.

There are other wonderful and worshipful lessons we gain from the garden. I read about the faithfulness of God to Israel in the Old Testament, but I experience something like it every time I watch the rain fall and nourish the seeds that I have planted. I read about the miracle of the fish and loaves, but I experience just as profound a miracle of multiplication every time I am overwhelmed by the generosity of God’s harvest. Last year we harvested over 200kg of apples from our three small trees. I love to hold one of these apples in my hand, cut it in half and pick out one of the seeds. I marvel at the thousands of apples a seed like this has provided us with over the last 10 years.

So perhaps this year we should not grumble because COVID-19 still encourages us to take our worship outside. Maybe we could, instead, rejoice in the garden experiences and curate a whole new practice for our congregations. The gospel stories come alive in the garden. Here we understand more fully the agricultural parables that Jesus so often used. For example gardening has given me a whole new twist on the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:1-9. There is a mantra for gardeners that says: ‘when we have bad soil we build up the soil’ So when a farmer hears that story he thinks: ‘I know how to fix the soil. I can build that rocky soil into good soil!’ It always makes me think of the wonderfully rich soil of the Irish countryside. Once it was nothing but poor quality rocky soil - you know, those rocks that now make magnificence borders around the fields. The Irish farmers built up that soil over centuries - taking out the rocks and adding seaweed - so that now it really is some of the best soil imaginable.

Perhaps we can learn important lessons from this. When someone in our church doesn’t seem to thrive, and we think of them as bad seed, it is not their fault but ours. We have not built up the ‘soil’ sufficiently to make it possible for them to grow and bear fruit. Possibly, rather than tending to criticise and turn our backs as so often happens, we need to build up the soil around them through the nourishment of friends, study groups and encouragement. Maybe then they will succeed in the way that God intends them to.

I would love to see every church in Australia plant a teaching garden out of which the lessons of Jesus’ parables could become more real and meaningful. I think if we did that, the garden would become a place in which we truly anticipate God’s promise for the future. In the garden, as we watch the plants grow and bear fruit in their season it is not hard to believe that one day all creation will indeed be made whole, restored and renewed to become all that God intends it to be.


Christine Aroney-Sine is an Australian physician who developed the medical ministry for Mercy Ships. She is also the founder and facilitator for God Space, an online community that grew out of her passion for creative spirituality, gardening and sustainability. She and her husband, Tom, are cofounders of Mustard Seed Associates. She is the author of The Gift of Wonder: Creative Practices for Delighting in GodRest in the Moment; Return to Our Senses; GodSpace; and Tales of a Seasick Doctor.

Got something to add?

  • Your Comment


Online Resources

subscribe to engage.mail

follow us

Latest Articles