By Francisco Herrera
There's really something pretty unbelievable about the fact that you can stick a couple of seeds in the ground, and after a few weeks the seeds turn into food. It truly is an under-appreciated miracle that some trees in this world have little balls of nutrient, brightly-colored sweetness hanging from them, sweetness that is only as far away as a gentle tug and a greedy bite. Flowers, leaves and vines, water and soil - it's no wonder that the writers of Genesis pattern their image of Heaven after a lush garden.
But as we know, the instant you put one up you know there's work to follow. You have to weed and till the soil, make sure that your plants have enough water, spend time in the sun sweating and getting bit by little beasties. Any and every Garden ultimately thrives as much by human as nature's whim, and the way a gardener wrangles these two forces together is what makes such an endeavor so meaningful - of course to say nothing of the way God's grace is so vividly demonstrated in the earth's bounty. And looking upon a lush, fragrant garden, I think you can catch something of the sweet perfume in God's nose as they looked upon the Earth on the seventh day.
But Genesis teaches us a sinister lesson, too: lush and fragrant gardens are as much a magnet for evil and death as they are for innocence and life. This is something that particularly stuck in my mind as I strolled through the Bohanan Park on my way to the Lind Community garden two weeks ago – thinking about the way that evil had invaded this quiet space, as well. Because when a man running from police drives his vehicle through a swing-set seriously wounding three young children in the process, you can’t help to think the entire space – all of its stories, all of its laughter and fun – is somehow tainted. And though the man who did this thing was quickly apprehended and is awaiting trial, the community still mourns, still grieves.
And parents who once were thankful for the park, now are fearful of having their children come to it.
But say what you like about a park, or a garden - there is always a special kind of spirit that moves some person or some group to make all that effort and shed all of that sweat to create them, gardens and parks, because that Spirit moved a group of people to struggle hard to make a little bit of peace and health in the middle of a wilderness. And by doing so every park and garden does more than provide food, flowers, swings and friendship – they are also curiously stubborn bulwarks against any and every kind of instability and fear. Gardens give life. Parks attract activity. And both provide health and movement and purpose. And most importantly, planting a garden or building a park anywhere makes it plain that you plan on sticking around. And the same magic that inspires the creation of such places, that moves people to do an intimate dance between humanity and Mother Nature, this same magic is also a potent warning to the forces of evil.
Life is here. People are here. We have come to stay. God has come to stay, and the devil has to go to outrageous lengths in order to do anything about it.
And yes, it is a truly terrifying thing to see the forces of evil dig into public spaces like this.
Sabotaging agriculture is one of the soundest ways to humiliate any enemy (what's the point of fighting if you have no food to feed your family?). That's why ancient armies mastered such techniques as sowing salt in grain fields to permanently impede any future plant growth. Since time out of mind corrupt leaders will regularly terrify poor masses of folk by haranguing farm workers or flat out torching fields and orchards ready for harvest – filling both empty wallets and empty stomachs with dread.
Parks, too, are often under evil’s eye. The often times they’re used as an easy open space for criminal activity – a place to catch a victim unawares, a place to sell illegal wears. Oppressive governments, too, also love keeping parks under surveillance. It is dangerous whenever too many people come together some place, some place just to enjoy being outside, to laugh and remind themselves of their humanity: the uprising in Tahrir Square that brought down Egyptian despot Hosni Mubarak, the Anderplatz Demonstrations that heralded the fall of European Communism and the reunification of Germany.
But despite even the thickest pressure and fear, people invariably return to parks and gardens - out of sheer need as much as hopeful defiance - and thus the spirit of God marches on. God planting and tending, the people reaping and enjoying, playing and dance, Satan sowing weeds and salt every chance he can – even murdering the workers who make such vineyards of life and abundance possible.
But I take comfort, forever, that the Devil gets a serious spook out of a flower, giggling children, a peach pit, grown-ups whispering jokes over a beer, a summer tomato. It shows just how fragile and pathetic he is – how fragile and pathetic any tyrant is. And what’s more? These living, sprouting, earth-born, ripening tools of evil’s destruction are sweet to the taste – to God as much as us.
And may the people say amen.