Tomatoes and the Sacred Rhythm of God's Presence

Today's blog comes to you from Angel Woodrum, Farm Church's FIRST intern!  Angel will soon begin her final year of studies at the School of Divinity at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC.  We've been so, so grateful to have her with us this summer!

My mother never took my sister and me to church, but she did have us help in her tomato garden. Every summer my mother would plant a dozen or more tomato plants in our yard. She would plant other things, too—cucumbers, melons, strawberries—but her primary focus was tomatoes. She and my sister would eat them like apples. At the time, I had convinced myself that I didn’t like tomatoes, but I still helped in the garden because I enjoyed being outside. My most vivid childhood memories take place outside—sledding with my sister, watching fireworks in a kiddie pool with my neighborhood friends on the fourth of July, walking around barefoot in our yard full of feral cats and rusted farm equipment. But the memories from my mother’s garden are the ones I keep coming back to more and more.

As a student at Wake Forest Divinity School the question I get asked over and over again in various courses in divinity school is, “What does your spiritual life look like?”—or some form of the question. I never really took this question seriously until taking a spiritual writing class with my academic advisor Fred Bahnson, who directs the Food and Faith program at Wake (which was recently renamed Food, Health, and Ecological Wellbeing program). Fred told the class repeatedly that childhood was a good place to start when writing a spiritual memoir. One evening I talked to him after class to tell him that my childhood didn’t have any spirituality. I didn’t consider myself of any religion until college. He assured me that there was something there, but that I just had to remember it.

I found myself remembering my mother’s tomato garden while I brain stormed writing projects for the class. It didn’t feel like much of a starting place, so I ended up writing about something else. However, since the course I’ve repeatedly returned to the idea of the sacredness of my mother’s tomato garden. Though it wasn’t a church, there was a sacred rhythm to it. In the fall and winter, there was a long waiting. My mother would complain all winter about how the grocery tomatoes weren’t ripe enough, or looked too pale. We wouldn’t have them throughout the winter. We fasted, so to speak, as we waited for the summer when our yard would produce more perfect tomatoes. Like Mary awaiting the birth of her son, my family awaiting the birth of warmer weather so we could enjoy tomatoes. In the spring, my mom would continually talk about the rainfall leading up to Easter. Easter didn’t carry the same connotation to me that it does now. I didn’t think of Easter as the feast following Lent that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. I thought of Easter as the day when my mother would borrow our neighbor’s rototiller. It was a resurrection of the garden.

Thus, my mother’s tomato garden was the first place I learned, unknowingly, the sacred rhythm of God’s presence. This learning in the garden prepared me for my adoption of the church calendar. Christianity and my love of garden fit together organically because of the similarities of the sacred rhythm between the two cycles. One of my professor at Georgetown College, where I attended undergraduate in Kentucky, explained that following the Church calendar is an act of Christian’s reliving the life of Christ every year. My love of gardening and my seminary studies at Wake Forest have lead me to understand a garden as a tangible, embodied way in which communities of faith can live that sacred rhythm. In a garden, death, resurrection, and incarnation take on literal meanings, while inside of church buildings we receive theological teachings and more metaphorical understandings of the stories that ground Christianity. But it is outside in a garden is where we can live and encounter those stories.

After college I decided I wanted to gain more hands-on experience in gardening. I found myself at Anathoth Community Farm and Garden in Cedar Grove, North Carolina where I asked the question of how a church liturgy fits into a garden space. This same question is what brings me to Farm Church this summer. I am excited to spend a summer with Farm Church, as Farm Church denies any attempt at putting a border between garden and church, inside and outside, sacred and ordinary.