Stories Seldom Heard
God the Gardener
August 1, 2019
Welcome to “Stories Seldom Heard”. I would like to especially
welcome the Dominican Sisters of Blauvelt, New York.
Four years ago, in 2015, Pope Francis published Laudato Si:
on Care of Our Common Home. This is the first encyclical that
has focused on the environment even though many of Pope John Paul II’s
writings have called us to “ecological conversion.” The United States
Catholic Bishops’ website (USCCB.org) under the topic of “Environment,”
as well as, many other organizations, have developed and posted on the
Internet study guides for the encyclical. There are programs in
schools, universities, parishes and retreat centers that encourage us to
study Laudato Si. Each of us is asked to read and
participate in the discussions concerning the healing and protection of
our environment. “Leaving an inhabitable planet for future generations
is, first and foremost, up to us. This issue is one which dramatically
affects us, for it has to do with the ultimate meaning of our earthly
Our present study of science and environmental issues affect not only
the way we view the world and our responsibility for caring for it, but
also the way we relate to God. Creation reveals the God in whom we
believe. It is intimately related with our image of and relationship to
God. “The heavens tell the story of God’s glory”: Psalm 19 shouts
God’s handiwork. Saints and theologians have sung the praises of our
Creator God throughout the centuries. The beauty, extravagance,
complexity and unfolding mystery of creation stretches our imaginations,
befuddles and delights us.
This appreciation for the wonder, diversity and the blessedness of all
creation can never start too early. The discussions and explorations of
our faith need to begin when children are very young. It is essential
to help our children understand that we live on a common planet,
intimately connected with one another. Understanding that everything is
connected is a life-long process. So how might we help younger
generations to appreciate, protect and share the resources of our
common, God-given home? One of my brothers gave me a suggestion. He
says, “One of the best parts about being a grandfather is that I have an
excuse to watch children’s creative animated films and read beautifully
written and illustrated children’s books.” Good advice. Not only to
use these occasions for enjoyment, but also to teach our grandchildren,
nieces, nephews and young friends about God and the sacredness of all
Recently, a friend of mine gave me a children's book to read: Big
Mamma Makes the World. Big Mamma is an imaginative metaphor for
God. It is written by Phyllis Root and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
(2). I thoroughly enjoyed it! Root offers a creative
interpretation of the creation story and the illustrations that Helen
Oxenbury pens for each day of creation are charming. The days of
creation are more or less divided as they are in the Book of Genesis.
But Big Mamma punctuates each day with a slightly different phrase than
the one we find in the first book of the Bible. God says, or rather I
should say, Big Mamma says: "That's good. That's real good!"
Big Mamma looks blue and silver in the reflection of the night stars.
She is green in the apple and pear orchard as she relaxes in a summer
hammock. She is shades of black, yellow, white and brown as the days
fade into the sinking sun or rising sun in the morning's first light.
And each day “is good. It is real good." There are many ways we can
imagine God. Big Mamma is just one of them and she does it so well. If
ever there were a portrayal of a loving, generous and gracious God, Big
Mamma is it!
first meet Big Mamma in a vast vault filled with vitality and life -
more life and energy than anyone, but God, could imagine. It is a huge
garden created to sustain life in all its forms and to encourage new
life. It is also a place of beauty and harmony. Even God has to stop
to admire it. On the seventh day God rests. Like a tired man or woman
who has worked in the garden all day, hoeing, weeding and planting, God
rests from God's labor of love. And God names this world, "Good - Very
The Creator and Gardener God, is celebrated throughout scripture. We
hear in the psalms that God "holds the mountains up…calms the clamor of
the ocean…visits the earth and waters it" (Psalm 65). God drenches the
furrows, levels the ridges and softens the soil with showers. God
readies the seeds, prepares the grains and tills the soil to harvest the
wheat. What a wonderful rich image of our Creator-Gardener God! I
wonder what would happen if we truly thought of this world as being
God's garden, God's work of art? I wonder if we saw ourselves as guests
in God’s garden if we would treat our earth differently? Would we
cherish it and be more careful with its precious and limited resources?
has some pertinent questions that help us counter “the seed-bed of
collective selfishness” that we sometimes encounter in our present
world. “The gravity of the ecological crisis demands that we all look
to the common good, embark on a path of dialogue which demands patience,
self-discipline and generosity, always keeping in mind that realities
are greater than ideas” (3). “No system can completely
suppress our openness to what is good, true, and beautiful, or our
God-given ability to respond to God’s grace at work deep in our hearts”
God knows the world needs tending. In Isaiah (28:25) God becomes the
master teacher - or the Big Mamma farmer who invites and teaches us the
discipline of farming. God instructs the plowman how to plow the
fields, turn the soil and harrow it. God teaches the farmers how to
level the field, scatter the fennel, sow the cumin, put in the wheat and
barley. God plants the fennel, rosemary and cumin, but teaches us to
store the grain for bread and the grapes for wine.
The image of a Gardener God is an ancient metaphor. We might not like
gardening. We might find it a drag, too hard or uninteresting. But
this garden we call earth, the world, the cosmos, is in crisis and needs
tending. The ecological conversion that Pope Francis calls us to is
both personal and communal. It requires a spirit of generous care and
tenderness. “It entails gratitude and gratuitousness, a recognition
that the world is God’s loving gift and that we are called quietly to
imitate God’s generosity in self-sacrifice and good works….As believers
we do not look at the world from without, but from within, conscious of
the bonds with which the Father has linked us to all beings”
places before us a great challenge. It was proclaimed on May 24, the
Feast of Pentecost. How appropriate for it is only by grace and the
power of the Holy Spirit that we believers and nonbelievers will be able
to meet this crisis with love and justice. Each of us must find our own
practical response to the Pope’s call to ecological conversion. A good
way to begin might be to listen to a younger person’s concerns about
their and the earth’s future. Recently, Archbishop McElroy of San Diego
stressed the importance of empowering young people. He names them “the
prophetic voice of environmental justice in our nation who are capable
of opening the minds of their elders to the damage being inflicted by
climate change on future generations” (6).
1. Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si
(May24, 2015), 160.
2. Big Mamma Makes the World, Phyllis
Root, Candlewick Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 2003.
3. Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si
(May24, 2015), 201.
4. Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si
(May24, 2015), 205.
5. Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si
(May24, 2015), 220.
6. Brian Roewe, “National Catholic Reporter,” July
26-August 8, 2019.
"Stories Seldom Heard"
is a monthly article written by Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P. Sister is a
Dominican Sister of San Rafael, California. This service is offered to
the Christian community to enrich one's personal and spiritual life.
The articles can be used for individual or group reflection.
you would like to support this ministry, please send your contributions
to Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, c/o Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P.,
2517 Pine Street, San Francisco, CA 94115
Special thanks to Mary Ellen Green, and Maria Hetherton who have helped
in editing this article. To make changes or remove your name from
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Thank you. Bob McGrath.