God as Gardner, cultivating new growth, has been an image that has emerged over and over in my life the past two and a half months, in various settings. Just when I think God is going to bring me a new theme to explore in my devotional life, he surprises me yet again with this concept of planting, tending, and growing.
The first instance was while I was at the National Youth Workers Convention. The speaker for my Critical Concerns Course (an eight hour seminar over two days) prefaced his course explaining his theology, and this concept was at the core of how he understands God and people. He used the opening chapters of Genesis to illustrate the Creator as one who was causing this beautiful, lush garden to keep expaning and getting better, fuller, more intricate, and more complex to the point that he had to share it and let people enjoy it (with the hope that they would care for it and tend to each other as he always does). The speaker also cited the gospel of John to show us (not only the vine and the brances passage we were anticipating) that the first person Jesus is mistaken for after the resurrection is the gardner. Woah.
The next example was at Ecclesia when Isaiah 5 was preached and Chad had much to tell us about the vineyard in that passage.
The very next day I happened to read Luke 13:6-8 and God revealed incredible insights to me on the parable of the fig tree. (It would take an entire post to highlight my thoughts, so perhaps I will at some point.)
The theme has popped up several other times since then.
Most recently, it came to my attention at worship on Sunday night. For the third Sunday of Advent we were in Isaiah 61--verses about God's deliverance, about God coming to rescue us. We participated in lectio divina together. The first time the passage was read we listened for a key word and the second time we took note of a phrase or a concept that caught our attention.
My word: garden
My phrase: the year of the Lord's favor
The person leading us through this exercise commented on the key phrases people offered aloud. Someone else said the phrase that I had noticed. I listened very carefully to the speaker's words.
"The year of the lord is used to describe a year of sabbath. It is a time when people do not work. They leave their fields and whatever grows naturally they can harvest, but they intentionally take a year off to rest and refocus. During that time people can return to the land that was once theirs. Also, prisoners are set free during this time."
Time off? Not working? Yeah, I know something about that...
Returning to a homeland? I guess that's what you could say Chicagoland is to me...
Prisoners set free? I really think this year will help release me from the tight grip my past seems to hold.
I think I am entering the year of the Lord's favor. Praise be to God.
What are you planning to cultivate in me, Great Gardner?