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The God of the Garden Author Q&A

Andy Whisenant | Jun 22nd

Why did you write this book? What inspired you to write it?

After being sent home from a tour in Britain because of the 2020 pandemic, I found myself grounded for a solid year. After 25 years of touring more or less nonstop, I had a chance to work and keep the property where we live, and I was grounded in another way, paying close attention to place and community and the presence of God in this little corner of creation. I couldn’t stop thinking about trees, and the next thing you know, there was a book. 

For whom did you write this book?

I think of this book as an expansion of some of the chapters in Adorning the Dark about our property. Readers seemed to connect strongly with those chapters, and they wanted to know more about our garden, about our woods and about what it means for us to live out our faith here. During the writing of this book, I asked friends if they had any memories associated with trees, and every single person had a story. There are a lot of ways to dig into what God is telling us through our stories. The topic of trees, it turns out, is a good one. I hope this book provides comfort, because it leads the reader to some beautiful places but some dark places, too—including a certain grove of olive trees where Jesus prayed to his Father.

Talk about the connection between this book and your first one. How will this message resonate with readers who loved Adorning the Dark?

Adorning the Dark is a memoir about creativity. It’s an exploration of what it means to be a Christian with a vocation in the arts but also about what it means to be a Christian, period. Part of that creativity involves our partnership with God’s creation, in the stewardship of the places and people where he’s planted us. In the same way Adorning the Dark gets specific about my story—sometimes uncomfortably so—The God of the Garden gets specific about my relationship with and fascination for the world God made. The first book was about creativity. This one is about creation.

Why is it important for readers to see that “the God of the Garden is and has always been present, working and keeping what he loves”? How do you personally relate to this message?

Over the last few years I’ve discovered a wealth of comfort in the practice of gardening—and not just gardening but also in the habit of paying attention to the way creation is brimming over with God’s presence. It all belongs to him, and he loves it. The metaphors Jesus uses are often agricultural, whether he’s talking about sowing seed, pruning branches, separating the wheat from the chaff or faith being like a mustard seed. I’ve found that those metaphors are more than merely metaphors. They’re windows into the heart of the Creator. He made this world, and he made it good. In an era where we’re largely cut off from creation (we buy most of our food at a store, few of us raise our own livestock and many of us don’t bother to grow anything other than the grass on our lawn), we’re also cutting ourselves off from one of the chief ways the Lord teaches us about who he is and what he’s like. We all suffer. In Christ, that suffering has meaning. Reclaiming that foundational, Adamic call to work and keep the garden has drawn me closer to him, taught me patience and delight and helped me see that part of loving a thing is pruning it to help it grow better. This book is about trees, but it’s also about seasons of suffering that lead to good fruit. 

Tell us about the past year of the pandemic and what it has been like for you to be in one place.

About a month into the lockdown I realized I had spent more consecutive nights in my own bed in 2020 than I had in the previous 25 years. I loved it. The pandemic was hard on a lot of people in a lot of ways, myself included, but one great blessing was the gift of being still. I saw the spring come—every day of it—and the transformation to our lush summer in Tennessee. I saw the trees and fields I loved light up with autumn and then fade to winter. Jamie and I rediscovered one another, too. After years of her holding down the fort and me traveling around doing concerts, we were empty-nesters, sharing life in a deeper way than ever before. This book came from an outpouring of gratitude and time spent reflecting on the Lord’s persistent and sustaining presence in our lives. 

How does our understanding of God as The God of the Garden influence our worship of him?

It gives us a clear picture of our calling, which is to say that we’re called to care for the good-but-broken world he made for us. That world includes, of course, the people he put in it. God is glorified by creation rightly stewarded and humanity rightly loved. The two go together, and I believe we’re most fully living out our vocation when we see the glory of God in nature, in culture and in community. He made us to tend this garden, and the people in it, as he is tending us.  

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

I hope this book helps you to see how wonderful trees are. That’s it. They’re all around us and easy to overlook, but they were made by God to be either good for fruit or simply pretty to look at. Right there in Genesis 1, God made trees and validated beauty for beauty’s sake. Take the time to allow your eyes to be pleased by their drooping branches and shaggy trunks, their white petals in springtime and their blaze in autumn. This is a pure gift, straight from the mind of Jesus. Next time you eat an apple or a pecan, taste and see that the Lord is good. When you go on a hike, keep your eyes peeled for the oldest trees. Learn their names. Stop to touch the bark. Reckon with their agelessness and remember that they were here before you were. It’s a safe bet that they’ll outlast you, too. Treat them accordingly.

Second, I hope that you’ll keep in mind that trees bear witness. When it comes to doing the hard work of remembrance, we don’t have much to go on. Most of our memories up and vanish, and the timeline of what we do remember is sure to get discombobulated as we age. But trees give us a place to hang our hats. Think hard about the trees you remember, and if you’re anything like me, they’ll turn out to be sage and gentle keepers of your days, unlocking memories long since forgotten. Like Abraham, you may even meet the Lord there.

Third, no matter what you do for a living, find a way to get your hands dirty. Most of us have access to a few square feet of dirt. Learn to grow something. Gardening is an embodiment of hope. You may think of it as a hobby for old people and tree huggers, but that’s just not true. In a literal sense, it’s at the core of what we were made to do and to be. If, like me, you struggle with some measure of depression or melancholia, I’m convinced that it’s good medicine. 

Fourth, as the title of the Jane Jacobs essay, “Cities Are for People,” suggests, the very earth was made for people. This world belongs to the Lord, and if you’re a Christian, you belong to him, too. We have a mandate to take care of the place, and we’re told in Scripture that the master of the house is returning. This is more than an environmental concern (though it is certainly that, too). It extends to the way we build things, the way we get around, the way we do the business of life. If God intends for us to flourish, we disregard the flourishing of his creation at our peril. Infrastructure, city planning, creation care, justice, neighborliness and stewardship of resources are all theological concerns. 

Most of all, I hope you’ll find in my story enough of your own that you, too, can dare to believe that Jesus is God, and he loves you. If you’re one of those kids lingering at the back of the crowd, afraid to approach that gentle Jewish rabbi for a blessing, don’t be afraid. He loves you. Let him love you. 

The temple of God is the place where earth and heaven meet. This is true of Jesus, who called himself the temple—and by the indwelling of his Holy Spirit, it is now true of us. Every child of God rambling around the neighborhood is a temple, a confluence of earth and heaven, a tree whose earth-bound roots drink from the river of God and whose branches breathe his heavens. A wedding day is coming when the New Jerusalem will descend, we’ll see the face of our True King, and we will at last know the fullness of time and place and, above all, love. Let us live in the surety of that love by working and keeping what is within our reach, for the good of his creation and the glory of his name. 

Dig deep. Branch out. Bear fruit.