Religious gardening

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(HOST) Commentator Edith Hunter finds food for the spirit in the garden, along with the peas and beans.

(HUNTER) I have almost, but not quite, given up trying to rescue the word “religion” from the fundamentalists, whether they are Christian, Jewish or Moslem. But as long as I have a garden, I won’t give up.

For me, religion gives life a dimension that is otherwise lacking. For me, a religious experience is one that makes us aware of our interconnectedness with the living universe – of nature, and of people, those who have lived in the past, who are alive now and who will come after us. There is nothing like gardening to add this dimension to our lives.

We are all fellow travelers on this planet, and we should be doing all we can to preserve and enrich the natural world. When litter from the chicken house, loads of manure and compost are spread on the garden, I am putting back what was taken from the soil by my previous gardens.

To me, it is a religious experience to look at a handful of seeds and realize that, by my putting them in the soil, they are going to sprout, grow and produce, not only beautiful plants, but also an astonishing amount of food. There will be all I need and plenty to give away. The potential in the seeds, the power of the sun and the nurturing rain are not my doing. But I have a small role to play by putting the seed in the ground and tending it.

As I prepare the row for the seeds and turn up an earthworm or disturb a small toad, I feel my link with the natural world. As I carefully place the tiny carrot seeds in their new home, I join the song sparrow singing from his perch on the garden fence: “very merry cheer to you, to you, to you.” As I cover the seed with the earth, the orange flash of the oriole catches my eye, and Emily Dickinson reminds me that “To hear an oriole sing, may be a common thing, or only a divine.”

When I hoe my beans, Henry David Thoreau is standing beside me hoeing his. When I pick asparagus, Aunt Mary, who put in the beginnings of this bed 60 years ago, is cutting asparagus with me. When I put my peas in the ground in Vermont, my daughter down in North Carolina is putting hers into that same good earth. Who- ever works this garden after me will share similar wonderful experiences.

All over the world, people are working in their gardens. This is a fellowship that knows no boundaries of time or space, of age or race. If the essence of religion is feeling oneself a part of some- thing larger than oneself, there is nothing like working in a garden to evoke that feeling.

Religion, when so conceived, is unifying, not divisive.

This is Edith Hunter on the Center Road.

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center. She spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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