Ministry Witness: When the garden speaks

By Tori Jowers

I’ve attended three workdays at the Garden of Healing over the past eight months. For how few days I’ve been around gardens, I’ve been thinking a lot about them lately. And now that I’m thinking about gardens, I find them in Scripture at every turn. The Garden of Eden is the setting for Genesis, our Savior Jesus Christ chose the Garden of Gethsemane for gatherings with his disciples and for the subjects of his parables, and prophets and psalmists alike echo each other’s calls to care for gardens—both metaphorical and literal. For how many times gardens and gardening are mentioned, they have been strangely absent from sermons I’ve heard. (I hope to be proven wrong, and at the age of 24, there is plenty of time!)

As I’ve reflected on the significance of gardens, I’ve read in Scripture about how God cares for gardens, especially for how things grow. God is using gardens to communicate with us. Indeed, gardens are speaking to us today.

This leads me to the Botanical Garden of Healing Dedicated to Victims of Gun Violence in our city of New Haven. What is this garden, dedicated to victims of gun violence, speaking to us now?

I can share how this garden has spoken to me. Living and working full time from my little apartment, I was driven to the garden workdays out of necessity. I needed to get outside. But what I received in return for willingly risking poison ivy and getting up close and personal with earthworms, has been wisdom from the earth and the women, the grieving mothers, who founded this garden.

They have taught me that to sow life in the face of violence and death is an act of courage. It is even an act of defiance. The systemic and overwhelming force of gun violence would seek to destroy their hope, but the garden remembers their lost loved ones. Planting seeds is their prayer for justice; their daisies get the final word.

During my first workday at the Garden—the day before it opened to the public—I watched several of the founding mothers gather, stand in a line, and scatter handfuls of wildflower seeds onto the earth. Several months later, those seeds had grown into wildflowers standing two to three feet tall, a living testament to their love.

This might seem like an optimistic reflection on the garden. Not entirely. The seeds these mothers plant have every bit to do with their pain as much as their love. The last workday I attended was just a few days after the 23rd person, Melvin Stanley, a father of two with another on the way, was killed by gun violence in our city. I was raking leaves out of flower beds, which felt like a weak answer to this tragic loss and injustice. It didn’t feel like I was doing enough.

Yet maybe, “how can I do enough?” was the wrong question. Maybe I should have been asking, “how can I do good?” and trusting God to transform my actions into “enough.” Maybe, if I could stop chasing “enough,” I could be freed to pursue good and even do more.

We must plant daffodil bulbs and be emboldened to ask for peace in our community. We must be willing to rake leaves and act. This exhortation comes from the example of one of the founding mothers, Marlene. She dutifully attends the garden workdays, talks with and serves alongside volunteers, and then goes home and works on a curriculum for gun violence prevention being taught in our schools. Marlene showed me that planting seeds and turning our hearts toward the community go together. After all, half of gardening is in the harvest! We plant seeds, help them grow, and do something with the fruit. Our Lord calls us to nothing less.

Tori Jowers lives in New Haven, Connecticut, with her husband, Nathan. She works for a Rwandan ministry, Africa New Life, and has been attending St. John’s since August 2020.

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