Gardening Hymns

Some of you may have read an article about prison gardens in Monday’s Washington Post [Prison Gardens, article], and if you are anything like me, your response was a big “DUH”. Of course nurturing something, in this case fruits and vegetables, will have a transformative effect on anyone. I’ve read about programs that pair prisoners with animals and have the same kinds of results – dramatically reduced recidivism; kinder, less stressed inmates who gain a sense of accomplishment from their efforts and who are eager to transfer their new found skills into productive work outside of prison. Love will grow anytime we are caring for something. Animals, vegetables, ideas, people.  And being reciprocally nurtured is equally transformational, as any healthy garden will attest.

At St. Alban’s this coming Sunday we’ll sing two hymns about gardening. Well, really they’re about growing God’s love through our lives, but let’s say they’re about gardening. Images of planting and growing are abundant throughout our Christian narrative, and such useful metaphors they are. After all, we couldn’t survive if we didn’t harvest what has been planted, and I think we could make a case for our inability to survive without nurturing the seed of God’s love in each of us.

Nancy Roth, in her lovely book of meditations on hymns writes: I think that the seed is the potential for love: love of God, love of ourselves as God’s creation and love of others…will we make it possible for love to put down roots, by providing the deep soil of prayer and reflection? (A Closer Walk: Meditating on Hymns for Year A, p. 171)

Hymns are prayers too, and the two gardening hymns we’ll sing here at St. Alban’s this Sunday are Father, we thank thee who hast planted (The Hymnal 1982, Hymn 302, ) and Almighty God, your word is cast like seed upon the ground (Hymn 588) [Texts, Hymns 302 and 588]. Whether you sing or simply listen to them on Sunday, perhaps they will nurture something in you that grows into a beautiful and nourishing love.

I wasn’t able to find recordings of either hymn that I thought were worth sharing with you, but there is something else. St. Alban’s celebrated former Director of Music Norman Scribner (1936-2015) in a big way last Sunday, and while the service included many pieces that he was known to have loved, one of his favorite hymn didn’t make the cut, and as a final tribute I include it here. A hymn with its own gardening theme:


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5 Responses to Gardening Hymns

  1. I think finally that hymn singing is a viable form of God’s love. I used to think that fighting was. After all, those little flowers and herbs and birds all have to fight hard to live each day, to grow and to burst through the soil and egg. Actually, we are the only species which sort of negates fighting. However, perhaps the hymn and the fight are not far from one another. I mean each has an order of its own, a growth and precision. In hymn singing, forgive me my ignorance, but you have to hit the note. In Karate, you have to hit the focus. For the board does not break by the hand but by the spirit in the heart shot through the hand. In hymn singing the note is not hit for God except by the love in the heart.

  2. sonyasutton says:

    From Jim Shaffran: I noticed you mentioned a seed metaphor last night when we rehearsed the Willan “Rise Up”, and now this. I consider this Cup a personal Shaffran tribute! When I planned our wedding music, I crafted our prelude on the theme of the garden as a place of refuge and safety as well as subsequent growth through the blessing and love of God. Started with “Someday” as a duet (Ros Manier and Rich), which says “somewhere there’s a place for us”, then a short piece from “Trouble In Tahiti” for solo soprano (Mickey Fuson) which says “There is a garden, come with me – a lovely garden, come and see – there love will teach us harmony and grace – there love will lead us to a quiet place”, then the Willan (sung by Jubilate, the acapella group Carleen and I started), then the Vaughan Williams “O How Amiable” (the sparrow hath found her an house, and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young”, then the Darke “I Will Greatly Rejoice” (the bride/bridegroom stuff and “for as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord God” etc), then the Bernstein “Make Our Garden Grow”. I felt very strongly about the metaphor and still do — thanks for unwittingly giving us a nice 20th anniversary gift here!

  3. Jo says:

    I would just add that hymn singing is not about opening your mouth and singing a note, but rather opening your heart and letting the spirit fly.

  4. The Rev. Carlyle Gill says:

    Fabulous, Sonya. She obviously sings from that place where she walks and talks in the garden with Jesus. My kind of woman!

  5. John Daniel says:

    Whatever happened to Rogation Sunday? It used to be celebrated. Maybe it should be “brought back”.

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