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Spiritual Reflections

Men in the Garden

by Joyce Tompkins

Joyce Tompkins

Joyce Tompkins is the Religious Advisor to the Campus Protestant Community. Other Spiritual Reflections are available on the Religious Advisor's page.

You can write to Joyce at

There are men in the garden!!! Early one Saturday morning, I was down in the community garden walking my dog. Out of the sixteen plots, eight had people in them - bending, weeding, planting, watering, measuring, mulching, staking, fencing. I looked in astonishment, then looked again to be sure. Yes, every single one of them was male.

There are men in the garden!!! OK, I am trying to avoid my tendency toward hyperbole. I admit that there have been men in the community garden before. I have had a garden plot for six years now, and there have always been a few men down there - older retired types, and sometimes the male half of a younger gardening couple. But it's always been mostly women. This fits with the stereotype of my growing up years, which considered gardening to be a hobby for genteel suburban ladies. Just say "Garden Club" out loud and what picture comes to your mind? You get my point.

I remember how my own father loved to garden, but he didn't have time or space for his own plot until after he retired. He was too busy with the important manly tasks (this was the 50's and 60's) - working at his office job, fixing things, mowing the perfect suburban lawn. But my Dad, who loved to buck the system, found a way to sneak in a little gardening in his spare time by visiting his best friend and tennis partner, Harold.

Harold was an African-American man who lived in the predominantly black part of town called "The Hollow." Zoning laws were less stringent there, and behind his house Harold had an entire half acre of vegetable gardens. I remember the two of them driving up to our house in Harold's pick-up truck, wearing identical straw hats, and carrying bushels of green beans into my mother's kitchen. It's my favorite memory of my father, because of the look on his face - a combination of triumph, pleasure, and boyish rebellion. At his eulogy at the funeral, Harold called my father "the only white sharecropper in Morris County." It was high praise indeed.

When I first began writing this spiritual focus it was April, just after Easter. In the church year the season of Easter lasts fifty days - a period when the resurrected Jesus walked about on earth, appearing to his disciples and engaging in everyday activities like fishing and eating breakfast. On Ascension Day, the church teaches, Jesus rose into heaven to be with the Father, leaving his disciples to take care of the business back on earth. The dualism of this model is not subtle - the divine realm of perfection and order is "up there," removed from the created order of chaos, dirt and messy fertility. It is not difficult to see how other, further steps have spiraled out from this theological split: spirit vs. flesh, male vs. female, dark vs. light. We wandered further and further from the Garden.

But the Hebrew Scriptures tell us that after God created the earth, with all its teeming living things, God said that it was good. The gospel of John teaches that God so loved the world that God enfleshed godself and dwellt among us- the Greek word means literally "pitched a tent." The Creator chose to become a part of the created order. The central idea of Christianity is incarnation, not separation. Perhaps, at last, we are embracing the radical implications of our own theology. Perhaps we are ready to heal the split between material and spiritual, male and female, heaven and earth. Perhaps we are finally turning back toward one another and toward the earth, our common mother. We pause, we breathe, we look into the garden, and what do we see? Men, tending their plantings with tender love. Men, and women, together in the garden. Heaven on earth.