What good is a front lawn?
An invitation to delight in the untaming of creation.
Last year, my front lawn was a strip of grass that I occasionally pestered my husband to mow. But after reading more about the importance of biodiversity, I understood that replacing monoculture with native plants is one way to show love to my creaturely neighbours.
So last spring, I dug out my grass and put in pollinator flowers and a native tree. This process involved tending to the soil, planting, weeding, watering; there was something to do out front almost every day. And as I worked, I started to notice things. I noticed where the wind was affecting the plants. I noticed how different flowers responded to the flow of water from my eavestroughs. And wow, did I ever notice a wide variety of pollinators!
A year ago, my front yard was the place where I put my garbage and recycling out on Tuesday nights. Now, with all the time we’ve had together, I have a deep respect and admiration for this little plot of earth.
Who is the main character of creation?
Our post-industrial commercial society teaches us to treat creation the way I used to treat my front lawn – as an inanimate backdrop to a drama where we are the main characters.
Not-so-surprisingly, we as Judeo-Christians often read our creation story in Genesis as one in which we are the main characters, too. We read about God creating the water and birds and stars and trees, and calling it all good. And then we get to the sixth day when God creates humanity, he calls us very good, and this is where we think the story climaxes. Of course, God’s creation of image-bearing creatures is an incredible piece of the plot. But this anthropocentric commentary isn’t true to the text.
The real pinnacle of the creation story comes in Gen 2:2, where we read “by the seventh day God finished the work that he had been doing.” All the previous proclamations of creation’s goodness and very-goodness are summed up in a final proclamation of the holiness of the seventh day. Scholar Norman Wirzba writes that “humanity and earth become most fully what they are to be in the celebration of the Sabbath.” Without Sabbath, creation is less than what it was made to be.
How then should we live?
In Genesis, the Creator doesn’t mow or weed or even sow or harvest. He rests.
The Hebrew word for the Sabbath-ful seventh day rest is menuha (מְנוּחָה). Menuha describes cessation from activity, but it also implies divine delight. It is practiced when we give restful, loving attention to good things, such as wildflower observation or birdwatching (Matt 6:26).
Loving attention, according to the Genesis story, is therefore the climax of creation. When we stop, listen, taste and see, that is when we are imaging our Creator best.
Wirzba writes, “According to the biblical witness, there is a correlation between the destruction of creation and the neglect of Sabbath observance. As we fail to appreciate and observe the Sabbath, we are prone to spoil the work of God’s hands and exploit the work of each other.” For all created things to have a proper orientation towards each other and God, the world needs Sabbath.
Observation and delight
Maybe you’ve dabbled in birdwatching and noticed just how colourful songbirds are during migration in the spring. Maybe you’ve found a hiking trail near your place that gives you a whole new sense of home in your town or city. Maybe like my front lawn, you’ve grown in respect and admiration for one particular little spot in God’s creation.
“The universe is not only stranger than we imagined, but stranger than we can ever imagine,” writes astronomer Arthur Eddington. The more you lovingly attend to one small piece of God’s universe, the more you’re able to delight in its strangeness.
Observation and delight resacralize creation. And more than simply a delight, Menuha practice is a way to reorient our souls. We are not the main characters here. We are mere creatures standing with all other creatures before a holy Creator, who gives each of us that seventh-day loving attention in return.
Thank you for sharing your story. I especially appreciated hearing about your awareness, what Calvin De Witt would call your “beholding” of the plants, wind, water.