Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Down on Your Knees

There are many resemblances between gardening and religion. Both of them involve a lot of trying to propitiate higher powers, and both of them involve spending a lot of time on your knees. There is really no way that you can get to grips with the planting and weeding without kneeling on the ground, and when people try to do it some other way they just get appalling back problems.
        Gardening means that you have to be aware of the seasons, the phases of the moon and the weather. You can hope to understand them, and even to some extent predict them, but you cannot control them. You have to watch them in humility and try to submit to their inscrutable decrees. The elements, the sun and moon, the changing seasons, even the wind and the rain, were all gods at one time and humans learned to revere them and persuade them to bestow something edible on us by a combination of nature and our own efforts. We have to learn their laws and accept that sometimes, evil things we cannot control, such as slugs and snails, or peach-leaf-curl, will still wreak havoc in our gardens. Why do these wicked beasts exist? We do not know but we have to grapple with them as part of the great struggle between good and evil in the universe.
       Christian churches still all face East, and we say this is so they will face Jerusalem, but funnily enough most of the pagan temples before them faced East too, because that is the direction of the dawn and therefore the most auspicious. If you want a vegetable plot to succeed, you should orientate it east-west, so that the rows run sideways from north to south. This gives plants the best sun exposure and air circulation. It also resembles the pews in a church.  
        Through agriculture, human beings first learned to cultivate the ethos of delayed gratification. When you hunt, you find and kill what you want, and you eat it immediately. Same with gathering really  - you find it, pick it and eat it. When you plant, you have to wait. You have to do the work and invest time and energy, while having faith in nature to one day give you something back. Faith links gardening and religion, because when you plant a few little specks of seeds in a pot of soil or a trench, you see almost nothing for a long time, and you have to wait and hope. Religion likewise teaches the ethos of delayed gratification. Without this, we would have no advanced civilization. Nobody would invest or do any jobs. The more civilized we are, the more we learn to do this. Delayed gratification means that you devote yourself to bringing up children for years and years and then, one day, amazingly, you find you have a civilized adult who is worth talking to! Marvellous.

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