By Claudia Aguilar, MDiv ’11, DMin Student.
May 8, 2014—Columbia has had a community garden for a few years. Until very recently, a nearby congregation took care of the majority of the garden. Last year, we were on our own. Some students took initiative and were excited enough to plan and plant a garden. A group of Columbia Seminary faculty, staff, and students weeded, planted, and watered. We had great plans for the garden: we were going to share our abundant crops with Mercy Community Church, an Atlanta congregation that serves mostly homeless men and women. The majority of us had no idea about gardening and many mistakes were made: we caged weeds instead of tomatoes which took us a couple of days to figure out, we weeded out some fresh herbs, and we let a cucumber spoil on the vine thinking it was not ripe.
At the same time, we have learned a lot about God’s creation, God’s word, and God’s kingdom. Creation illustrated the diversity of species that exists in one square foot. We realized that growing just one pound of tomatoes required days and days of hard work and commitment. We longed for the day when we could share our crops with the homeless just to realize that we were only able to produce one strawberry and a handful of fresh herbs. We discovered that organic food does matter. It matters not because it is trendy and cool, but because we witnessed exactly what pesticides do, and more remarkably, just what a bit of compost can do. Eventually, we became more aware of our grocery shopping and eating choices. It became evident to us that in our own homes we conveniently overeat, while so many others are inconvenienced and are often left to starve.
Suddenly, the Word of God is alive. God’s command to subdue the earth (Genesis 1:28) is a tangible reality as we now see how hard it really is to break dry ground and make it cultivable. We understand that the command to be stewards and caregivers of the earth entails being more responsible than we currently are, since taking care of one square foot requires hours and hours of dedication.
The greatest lesson we have learned is that the kingdom of God is not going to look like what we envisioned. We envisioned great plans of feeding dozens of people. In reality, we don’t know if the garden will make it for another week. We knew that following Jesus was radical. But the idea of sharing our one strawberry with others is costly and to some even ridiculous. If we are to eradicate hunger from the face of the earth, we cannot continue our consumption and eating habits as they are. We re-envisioned that feeding the hungry requires ridiculous sacrifice, as we radically give up some of our beyond-abundant possessions.
When I think of faith, theology, and seminary, I put them in the realm of ideas. Maybe because my parents thought that enrolling in seminary was “not practical at all” and highly idealistic. I must say that, in the 21st century, it seems that this particular notion is not that far away from the truth: reading Bibles, books, and articles, learning dead languages, writing papers, dissecting Biblical passages, learning a whole vocabulary to describe the things we learn…these are all highly intellectual activities that seem to be disconnected from the world we live in…until a seed is planted.
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Editor’s Note: February 13, 2017—At the time of the original post, Claudia Aguilar was Associate Director of Recruitment and Student Services at Columbia Theological Seminary, in addition to being an MDiv alumna. Currently, she is a DMin student serving as Pastor for Justice and Witness at Virginia-Highland Church in Atlanta, GA. Over the past couple of years, our efforts at gardening have grown and improved. Starting this spring, we will share space with Global Growers! (Details to be announced soon.)