Blessed by Our Daily Bread
“Blessing, as the biblical writers conceive it, is a kind of ecological phenomenon; it connects God and the creatures in a complex of interlocking relationships,” writes biblical scholar Ellen Davis. As Christians, we believe that our Triune Lord creates, redeems, and sustains all of Creation. We do not believe in a distant God who created in the beginning and then retreated into inaction. We trust in a God whose hand is constantly present in His glorious world, blessing His human and non-human creatures through the abundance of life He brings forth. We believe, as the Israelites did as they journeyed in the wilderness and abided in the Promised Land, that God provides for our sustenance directly from the land He formed and fashioned.
At least, we believe this in theory. The more our society becomes detached from the land and from agrarian sensibilities, the more we grow alienated from the deeply land-based perspective of biblical witness. We begin to think blessing has to be mediated through human channels: a new car, a great job, the latest IPhone. We struggle to understand Jesus’ agrarian parables, especially his promise that if God can provide for the lilies and the ravens, he will directly provide for us (Lk. 12:22-34). A market-based prosperity gospel creeps into our places of worship, as we falsely narrate God’s abundance as capitalistic success and material goods, rather than ecological abundance and plentiful food. The farther we move away from relying on the land as the medium of God’s blessing, the harder it is for us to obey Jesus when he tells us to sell our possessions and trust in the Father to feed us.
Jesus speaks often to this need for humans to build their own safety nets so they do not have to rely on God and the land. He tells the story of the rich man who built many barns to store surplus grain and goods, who says to himself: “‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” (Lk. 12:19-21). This parable always causes my guts to turn, as I feel the urge to rest in the comfort of my savings account. I think of those dollars in my bank as my real salvation—my real medium of provision. But the Lord laughs at my foolishness. How can I call those dollars mine? Could I eat those dollars? What good are those dollars if tonight my soul is required of me? Wendell Berry, the famous Christian agrarian philosopher and farmer, says that the great superstition of the modern era is that money produces food. This is absurdity. Only God creates food.
The perennial problem is our human tendency to think of all that comes from Creation not as gift, but as ours by right. If the rich fool in Luke 12 had truly thought of the land and its abundance as sheer gift from God, he would not have built barns but instead would have shared the grain with his neighbors. In so doing, he would have been “rich towards God” as the Lord desired, rather than “one who lays up treasure for himself” (Lk. 12:21).
If you ask me why we are building the farm at New Garden Park, I could give you a thousand theological and practical reasons. But if you pressed me to give you just one reason, it would be to train us a holy people that learn to rely directly on God for our daily nourishment. To be a people who think of God’s majestic act of creation when they say the words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us today our daily bread.” To be a people that understand for God’s will to be done, “on earth as it is in heaven,” all of His creatures would eat and all of his Creation would flourish. To be a people who do not lay up treasures for ourselves which rust and become moth eaten (Mt. 6:19-20), but instead delight in the treasures from heaven that God causes to spring up from the very soil. To be a people who daily long for and work for New Creation, not in our power, but in the power of the Holy Spirit. To be a people who find it easy to share the Lord’s bounty around a common table.
I also ardently believe that this gardening work will also make us better Anglicans as well. As British theologian, Michael Northcott, recounts, Anglicanism is born from a long tradition of Celtic Christianity on the British Isles that built monastic and lay communities around agricultural work and cherished that natural world: “For the Celts, as for the desert fathers, this work was not primarily for mortification of the flesh but a post-Edenic recreation of a paradisical state in the wild lands where they created self-sufficient dwellings. […] The Celtic churches of Britain took up a sanctification of the entire world of nature, which provided as true an echo of the rural Christ of the gospels as could be found anywhere in Christendom.” We are following an ancient lineage in caring for this little piece of land of ours, surrounded by several creeks and woodlands, with all of its flora and fauna. In longing for its fulfillment in Christ, and working towards its flourishing, we are returning to the roots of our church fathers and mothers who did this work long ago for the glory of God.
Doubtlessly, God could tend to these 9 acres of land without any of our help. Yet, knowing the work will be a blessing for humans, the Spirit calls us to be co-laborers in the garden work, apprentices in bringing life to fruition. According to Genesis, this earth-tending is the first vocation of humans. As agrarian theologian Norman Wirzba states, “To read Genesis 2 is to discover that humanity’s fundamental identity and vocation are determined by life in a garden.” Yet, as we have been learning in this Eastertide sermon series called “The People of the Land,” the biblical drama of how we answer this vocational call to be the planet’s gardeners—and our repeated miserable failures—speaks to the need for Christ’s total redemption of humanity. Thus, at New Garden Park, our aim is to be redeemed Adams and Eves, tending our gifted land in light of Christ’s healing of our own hearts. And in doing this work in the powerful name of Jesus, we hope to bear the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). And maybe a few plums, pears and cherries as well.
 Ellen F. Davis, Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 164.
 Michael S. Northcott. Place, Ecology and the Sacred: The Moral Geography of Sustainable Communities(London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015) 30-31.
Norman Wirzba. “Dramas of Love and Dirt: Soil and the Salvation of the World” (The Cresset, Lent 2014). Accessed October 4, 2016. http://thecresset.org/2014/Lent/Wirzba_L14.html, 7
Lena Van Wyk is a graduate of Duke Divinity School’s Master of Divinity program, where she focused on agrarian and creation theologies. She founded the Duke Divinity Biblical Orchard, a permaculture garden in the heart of Duke’s campus. Lena is currently working as the Farm Director at New Garden Park, a 9-acre piece of land owned and operated by the Church of the Redeemer (ACNA) in Greensboro, NC. You can contact Lena here.