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Permaculture as Spirituality


This is my liturgical calendar, my rhythm of worship and practice and remembrance—the seasons, solstices, cadences of sunshine and rain. My faith is informed by observing and interacting with the patterns and dynamics of nature. [i]Life, death, life again. Always again … life. Eating, being eaten, transformation of light into sugar and detritus into nutrients. Nothing goes to waste. This is a story of resurrection.

This is my church, my sacred home—the natural world. I experience God most vibrantly in the play of light through cottonwood trees and the raspy call of sandhill cranes, in the smell of living soil and cilantro on my hands. I settle and center when I’m in the wild or my garden; I begin to remember my place within my body, the ecosystem, and God’s wildly loving heart. I know my belongingness here.

And perhaps my identity is even clearer when my existence butts uncomfortably against the limits and needs of this planet and the other beings who inhabit it. I’m reminded that to be separate from this living-breathing world—and from my Creator—is death, spiritually, psychologically, physically.

We are all neighbors; our lives depend on each other for sustenance, whether human, plant, or animal. If we forget we are kin, we lose the abundance and intimacy of family bound closer than blood.

These are my ethics—earth care, people care, and fair share.[ii] These values form the foundation of my ideas and efforts to live in this world. I seek balance in my relationships to people and resources. This affects all areas of life, from food to architecture, transportation, social justice, economics, politics.

I look for ways of integrating each of these elements harmoniously, brainstorming and experimenting (and making plenty of mistakes!) in a local community of committed friends. Together we build, plant, prune, dig, harvest, trade, eat, play—so many prayers rising for peace, hope, and the well-being of all. “Cooperation, not competition, is the key.”[iii]

We take only what we need and share what’s left over or put it back into the community, the ecosystem. Our tithe is composting and planting trees and caring for public lands. We choose to do without, with less (one car instead of two, a postage sized lawn rather than expanse, used instead of new). Our commandments call for respect, honor, generosity.

Diversity is valued and essential (for example, in a monoculture, such as fields of a single crop, additional inputs are needed, whereas fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides are irrelevant in a garden where each plant plays a different role, inviting beneficial insects, building nitrogen and other nutrients in the soil, creating stability and resilience).[iv] Our “membership” is inclusive and welcoming.

This is how I seek the kingdom of God, eternity without beginning or end. Permaculture—from permanent culture and permanent agriculture. Designing systems that are sustainable, integrative, long-lasting. I am putting down roots figuratively and literally, committing myself to a particular place for the duration….

This is the season of dormancy, dreaming. Our garlic is in the ground slumbering, kale and spinach growth has slowed with the cold, and the skin is sealed and taut over the petioles on trees. Meanwhile, we, the humans warm and wakeful in our wool underwear and cozy home, also dream of spring.

My husband and I pore over seed catalogs and drip irrigation order forms. We map out new beds and layer them deep with anything organic we can find (cardboard, junk mail, old manure, last year’s compost).[v] We cut curbs and dig basins to hold the water that comes rarely this time of year, but in torrents in the summer.[vi]

We share meals with our neighbors from the canned and dried abundance of last year’s harvest. We love as much as we can and learn to love even more—the kind of love that is unconditional, sacrificial, forever.


Image: Aspens by Joelle Chase (aspen groves are the largest living organisms)

[iii] Bill Mollison and Reny Mia Slay,Introduction to Permaculture, Tasmania: Tagari Publications, 1991

[iv] Toby Hemenway, Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2000

[vi] Brad Lancaster, Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond;

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