Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Gardener

Hello again readers of the S-LC blog, I (Robert Bogdanffy) am writing to you for the second and also the last time as my internship in the office this summer ends. It has been a great, rewarding experience living and working in Grand Rapids.

I can say for sure that part of my heart will forever be in Grand Rapids, especially with the Bouman family, who has so lovingly facilitated the vast majority of my experiences here and also with the S-LC staff with whom I spend many hours a day making work a fun experience. I wish I could write about these great people working here and living in Grand Rapids, I wish I could write all that I’ve learned, but I’m afraid I will have to limit this post to one particular thing. I will be writing to you about the S-LC organic garden, that is part of a larger Calvin College Community Garden [you can read their blog at An organic Garden… talk about new experiences! Even for someone from Romania! Honestly, I grew up in a city, never had to really care for any plants in my communist bloc apartment so I was rather glad to learn something when the gardening task was added to my duties list. My initial approach was very cynical -- why plant a garden on a college campus that has too many plants and grass anyway? Coming from my background I’ve only seen people plant vegetables in order to survive, why would you do that for fun, where is the practical use? Well, now that I’ve watched the plants grow, I’ve tasted the fruit of my/our work and learned so much about parasites and species[I would like to thank the real gardener Emma for that!!] I can say “man, was I wrong!!” Presuming that there are some of you out there that are skeptical of such projects [just as I was], I will try to pen down why my impression changed, and a little about the use of the garden from my personal perspective.

First of all, mankind has evolved to a very hands-off approach towards dining; we have developed very unhealthy eating habits [I believe no one can really argue with that]. In simple terms, there are very few people that are specialized in growing plants and raising animals. They are able to grow massive amounts because of complex modern machinery and chemistry that provides food to the rest of the world. Services have become more and more important, and time scarce, so we use money [which the US seems to have in a never-ending supply] to buy the ready-made [sometimes frozen] food, with none to very little preparation necessary. A friend told me that frozen food was once considered “The food of the future”, well I honestly hope not! I now believe that to fully understand how magnificent God’s creation is, we must grow something, we must care for something, we have to take on the role of creator, protector and harvester. Of course, the size is incomparable to God caring for the entire world, yet a part of that infinite immensity is captured in a little fragile flower, perhaps in the perfect white petals of a lily flower, or in the plenitude of the ever-generous lettuce. When observing the time past, the work done in watering, caring, and picking off harmful bugs you get a sense of wisdom, like you’ve seen a whole cycle of creation. Perhaps this sense is best described by Rabindranath Tagore, in his poem/collection of poems The Gardener, where his wise reflections as a gardener are invaluable and unfortunately cannot be reproduced in this limited post. I can’t even begin to enumerate the great similarities between our relationship with God and caring for a garden. It is a classic comparison, yet how many people today lack that experience, especially in concrete packed cities in Eastern Europe. Man acquires a sense of wisdom and humbleness, develops character, perhaps even a sense of duty towards the world. God has given us so much, we must also bear fruit and act as stewards in His world. We must blossom in His abounding love, true selflessness means giving to all who are needy, not just the people we select and we consider worthy. A plant bears fruit to whoever will pick it, it is a beauty to whoever observes it, the perfect expression of selflessness. For nature lovers it’s easy to understand, but I would go as far as saying that each one of us has this seed inside of us, we are all capable of seeing this beauty. I would like to end this post with an excerpt from Tagore’s poem, and also ask you to ponder/share your experiences and feelings with and about gardens.
“I will give up my other work.
I will throw my swords and lances down in the dust. Do not send me to distant courts; do not bid me undertake new conquests. But make me the gardener of your flower garden.” 
  -Rabindranath Tagore


Janelle and Daniel said...


Fantastic post, it was a joy to read. We just started our own little garden in D&B's back yard and I can totally relate. To me, it seems as though there is something spiritual about gardening (I wrote about it on our blog - there is an apparent connection to me between Eastern Orthodox theology and being involved in creation).

I appreciate living in Romania because it seems as though even though people live in blocs, they generally have a better understanding of where food comes from and what it took to get it to the table (and many people who live in blocs even have gardens!). I do worry that this connection will be lost as it seems that the importance is not recognized explicity beyond, like you said, a matter of survival. What will happen as Romania becomes it's own land of plenty (of sorts, not quite like the US!) as it moves into the future?

Anonymous said...

Hi Janelle, it's great that you posted this response. I can definitely feel that spirituality, as you can sense from the post. Now, one of the reasons why people have a good feeling of what gardening is about is that a lot of older folks today, used to be gardeners and farmers. The forced industrialization has impacted so many! Especially in these new created communist cities like Lupeni and Uricani. We're talking about farmers having their land that has been taken away for the Workers Co-operative, forced to move to Lupeni [story of my grandmother], my dad's family and other thousands, and live in these communist blocks, work in the textile, mining or other industry. I believe relocation could not change their habits, I know people who still grow chickens in their appartments in Lupeni :) I think Romania's process of getting "in-tune" with the world is largely artificially quickened by foreign money, so you can see things like these through the cracks. Some regions like Bucharest are ultra-modern 21st century, some regions like in the Parang Mountains, it's the 5th century.. with nomadic "momarlani". It is an interesting country to live in, a mixed culture, eh? :D

megan said...

Beautiful post!

...not much of a gardener (yet?) myself, I have similar ruminations on God and caring for creation through caring for my children. Both micro in comparison but both a window into our Creator's hand on us.