Remember the days when sticky tapes hung from kitchen ceilings to catch the flies, and the poisonous sprays that followed? And remember when Mum used to get us boys to mow the lawns with hand-pushed reel mowers to keep them looking like billiard tables and then trim the edges with hand-operated shears? And God was a supernatural being sitting on HIS throne out there in the sky, watching every sin we committed?
Those were the days when we humans were, unconsciously, plagued with the problem of wanting to be ‘as God’, or as we imagined God to be. God, of course, is not as we imagined. God is unimaginable.
We even wanted to do more than God does. We wanted to dominate and control everything and everyone that we could. We wanted our children to grow up our way and not the way God originated them to be. I grew up thinking that we humans were top dog on the totem pole.
My wife had a dream of buying some land to care for without using poisonous sprays and chemical fertilisers. She wanted to get to know the property, listen to it, talk with it. She wanted to have a relationship with Mother Nature, She wanted to be part of it, a little bit more than a worm, aphids and ladybirds, bees and fruits of the earth, all of which she saw as her working mates, that would tell her about the land. Like most of us males, I had my doubts and could only see the labour involved in not taking shortcuts.There were many conversion experiences in store for me.
The property was only 7,000 square metres with a couple of large tunnel houses, and capable of returning $9,000 per year. We were amateurs with a mortgage and two children to nurture, so we had to get growing and taking whatever other work we could. I asked a commercial nursery what fruit trees would produce fruit for the summer holiday makers and planted 10 plum, peach, nectarine and apricot trees. The plum trees thrived but we lost more than half of the other 40 in the first season to a bacteria called blast. This property was not just telling us; it was shouting, ‘YOU CAN’T GROW STONE FRUIT!’
We discovered that the property had previously grown tobacco for 40 years and had very little life left in it. Our first lettuce grew all of six centimetres high and we had lots of problems with pests. Every lunar month I spent three days collecting manure and whatever nitrogenous and carbonous materials I could get hold of and each year built 10 huge piles of compost. Our “pulsing patch”, as we called her, was a ravenous teenager, hungry for humus. Within seven years our crops were average size, according to non-commercial standards, and home to lots of worms and insects that were now no longer problems, her health was restored, she was in balance and the pip fruit trees thrived.
My wife’s faith and the partnership we have with our land is full of the enlivening power of God, who, I have learned, calls us to be co-creative with the Spirit infusing our universe. I have come to experience God as the evolving power expressing trinitarian dynamism in everyone and everything around us. We are just one small expression of an aspect of the divine within the universe, in which everything is unfolding, not in those neat little boxes we wanted in order to control and exploit them, but often in the unexpected and the random even sometimes in chaos, which is telling us about our planet’s health.
Ron and Edith Sharp’s property is at Riwaka near Nelson.