Slowing Things Down

Summer has arrived, and my garden is finally in. I’ve set aside time the last few summers to tend two backyard patches—one for vegetables, one for herbs. I don’t have a particularly green thumb. Nor am I especially adventurous in my selection of crops. In fact, I’m probably not the most conscientious gardener around. I’m the type that buys seedlings at the big box store, sticks them in the dirt, and hopes for the best. Of course, I remember to water the little sprouts every day… or so. Somehow the weeds in this year’s lettuce patch already have gotten away from me.

I think I enjoy my garden partly because there is still a little boy inside me who likes playing in the dirt, but there’s more to it than that. My garden is a patch of fertile earth, mine to seed, to tend, and the fruits of which to enjoy. In his essay “The Reactor and the Garden,” Wendell Berry wrote, “A garden gives the body the dignity of working in its own support” (in The Gifts of Good Land. North Point Press, 1981). A meal grown in your own garden is a reminder of the too easily forgotten reality of life, that we are creatures of the earth who must labor to live. And this labor is not the kind done in climate-controlled offices, tapping on plastic keys, staring at screens. Human life depends on physical labor, the kind that brings us down to our knees and fills our fingers with the black dirt to which we someday will return. When we labor this way we recognize our dependence on the soil and the weather and all the rest of creation for our very existence.

And if gardening is a reminder, it is also a means of forgetting. When I garden, I’m out of reach of the television and the Internet. Every minute of this past week that I’ve spent thinning my salad greens or fretting over my failing cucumber plants was one more minute not wasted listening to members of Congress as they posture over the federal budget or, far worse, try to explain away their latest personal scandals. I’m a political scientist, and I’m expected to keep track of these things. Usually, I enjoy that job. But listening to the arguments, sifting through the facts, and constantly making sense of the contrived drama served up to us night after night as the latest breaking news all takes so much time and energy. In the summer, I have to step back and let myself spend some of that time and energy on something else. So I plant a garden, and the world slows down for a while.

 Hopefully, your world will slow down long enough this summer for you to enjoy what I believe to be a particularly worthwhile issue of The Cresset. In “The Place of Christian Scripture in the Modern University,” Mark Noll chronicles the Lutheran tradition’s contribution to higher education and considers the balance that Christian scholars must maintain between their faith and the intellectual demands of their scholarly disciplines. In “Does the Way of Improvement Lead Home?” John Fea highlights another kind of balance that Christian scholars must maintain, the one between the need to advance their own careers and the needs of the colleges and universities where they live out those careers. And in the third essay, “Birth Stories,” Lisa Deam remembers the birth of her daughter and explores the use of metaphors of birth in the Bible.

There are so many things in this world that press in on us, that take our time and energy, but so few of them deserve our attention. Charles Vandersee tells us that the academic life is supposed to provide a bit of leisure to think and talk about things that are important (in “The Attic,” pp. 61–62). But even those of us fortunate enough to perform our daily labors in the academy need to be reminded to slow down and let life be less complicated. So this summer plant a garden. Or read a few of those novels you’ve been meaning to get to. Do whatever you need to do to renew your spirit and your faith and to be reminded of the things that really matter.


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