“Sow carrots in your gardens and humbly praise God for them, as for a singular and great blessing.” So wrote Richard Gardiner, in his book Profitable Instructions for the Manuring, Sowing and Planting of Kitchen Gardens, published in 1599 and cited in today’s Telegraph.
I never had much success with carrots. Mine always came out kind of shrivelled and stunted. But nevertheless, I love the idea of a sixteenth century gardener – any gardener, in fact – standing in their allotment and humbly praising God for the carrot. I wonder how many do give thanks for their vegetables? How many give praise for the potato? Or feel blessed by their brussels?
The great poets of the seventeenth century saw God all around them. They were sacramental poets, who recognised that the material world could reveal something of God. In the words of Paul Mariani, their language ‘pays homage to the splendid grittiness of the physical as well as to the splendor and consolation of the spiritual.’ (Quoted here)
It seems to me that we need to rediscover this kind of sacramental imagination. Christians are wary, perhaps rightly, of the kind of quasi-Buddist pantheism that sees nature as Gaia, as a kind of god. Nature isn’t God, but it can tell us about him. The Psalmist writes ‘you make the winds your messengers, fire and flame your ministers.’ (Ps 104.4) and later on in the same PSalm he gives thanks for some ordinary things:
‘You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.’ (Ps 104.14–15)
He flings it all in in this psalm: bread, wine, olive oil, storks and cedar trees and the wild donkeys braying in the wilderness, the might of the sun and the ships on the sea and living things, great and small. These are not God, but they speak to us about him.All you have to do is learn how to look.
He doesn’t mention carrots, admittedly. But then again, he probably didn’t have an allotment.