A few years ago, I visited Monet’s garden in Giverny. It was just as you’d expect; a dense riot of glorious colour everywhere you turned. Roses, clematis, irises, poppies, dahlias, busy lizzies, sunflowers. And of course, the famous water lilies. It was exquisite. I couldn’t stop taking pictures. Faced with that incredible beauty, all I wanted to do was share it. “Look what I’m seeing!” I wanted to say. “Come and enjoy the colour and the texture and the fragrance of the garden with me!”
If only my camera was as good as my eyes.
The earth doesn’t feel much like a garden right now. We are ravaged by sickness and death, disfigured by racial injustice and oppression. We are decimated by poverty, overwhelmed by anxiety and depression. So much of our world is laid to waste. We are burdened under the profound weight of grief, anger and lament.
In the midst of so much brokenness, these words from the prophet Isaiah are bringing me hope:
For the Lord comforts Zion;
He comforts all her waste places
And makes her wilderness like Eden,
Her desert like the garden of the Lord
Joy and gladness will be found in her,
Thanksgiving and the sound of song.
Isaiah 51:3 (ESV)
God is still at work in the world. His promise is to comfort us, right in the very places of our devastation. He is pouring out His Spirit over the cracked and parched places of our culture, our institutions, our systems and our own hearts. He is transforming our desert places into a beautiful garden, where His grace seeps through all our fissures and fractures, softening the ground, planting seeds of justice and mercy deep within us, so that all His children might flourish and bloom.
But beautiful gardens don’t happen without a great deal of hard work and attention. It takes skill and patience, strength and energy, vision and knowledge to ensure that plants thrive. And we are invited to join in this work. We are invited to tend the Lord’s garden with Him, to cultivate what is good, beautiful and true. We’re invited to clear the ground of rocks that stand in the way of other people’s growth. To pull up the weeds that strangle our own hearts. To prune and snip where we have become overgrown and taken up other people’s space and sunlight. To ensure every person on the face of the earth has was they need to become rooted and established in God’s love, growing up into the full stature of all He has called them to be.
Sometimes it’s hard to look around a desert and imagine anything could grow there. It’s hard to look at a broken and scarred landscape and see the potential it has to nourish new life. But we are made in the image of our Creator, and we are called to co-create alongside him. We are called to use our holy imagination, let our visionary thinking run wild, speak and paint and write and cook into being what we have seen in our spirit.
Art of every colour and flavour has been used throughout history to subvert the kingdom of darkness and bring hope to hurting hearts.
I think about Oliver Twist and 1984, The Colour Purple and Jane Eyre, Ai Weiwei and Banksy, the photographers documenting protests and wars and injustice. Everyone of them, everyone of us, creating something beautiful that plants seeds of hope into this broken earth; something that names what is wrong; something that envisions and inspires us that new life can grow, even here.
So raise your voice, your paintbrush, your camera, your gardening tools. Dig deep, uproot oppression, plant hope, tend compassion. Speak out on behalf of the oppressed. Stand up on behalf of the poor. Let what you create tear down the fabric of injustice and replace it with goodness until every last person on the face of the earth can flourish as a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendour (Isaiah 61:3).
The featured image is from the Oxford Botanical Gardens is courtesy of Lancia E. Smith and used with her permission for Cultivating & The Cultivating Project.
Abby King is a teacher, writer, avid reader and tea-drinker. In the classroom, she loves helping shape little minds, and is passionate about introducing children to great books. When she’s not teaching, Abby spends her time shaping words on the page, writing towards hope in the midst of hard things. Although she finds nature beautiful and inspiring, Abby is most definitely a city girl and makes her home in Birmingham, England. Creative and curious, Abby is a life-long learner who holds degrees in English and Theology, alongside gaining her teaching qualification from the University of Cambridge. In her spare moments, Abby plays flute, piano and cello and spends time with her nephews and nieces, whom she adores.