Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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Take and Eat

April 18, 2024

Christina Brown

The Cultivating Gardener is a column designed to engage all garden lovers, regardless of skill or experience, as we glimpse, together, the deep tenderness of God hidden in our own backyards. In this column you will find reflections, resources and tips designed to help you expand your vision of what it means to cultivate your own plot of land. As you pursue this good and holy work of garden-tending, my hope is that you will find your own heart lovingly tended by the Great Gardener of both our soils and our souls.

He’s sitting still on the hillside. A light breeze, scented thickly with blooming cowslips and wild hawthorn, tousles his hair. Closing his eyes, he tips his face to the sky, inhaling deeply. The sun—that wondrous orb of fire!—warms his bones. He wiggles his toes deep into the cool mud that proudly boasts tufts of fresh green and opens his eyes. As he surveys the vast expanse of the valley below him, tears of joy begin to form in his eyes; this—this—is beauty. A wild red poppy catches his eye. Her petals form a perfect cup, turned up to the heavens . . . like a chalice, offering glory back to the One who gave it to her . . . He sifts through his satchel beside him and pulls out his pen and notebook. He leans over the sun-washed page and scrawls, 

“For the beauty of the earth . . .” 

Folliot Sandford Pierpoint, twenty-nine-year-old Queens College graduate, penned these words in 1864 on a hilltop in Bath, England, and his poem became one of the most well-known hymns sung around the world today. [1] His words describe our ecstatic encounters with creation and the love of God who placed us within it. He writes,

. . . For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies . . . 

Hill and vale and tree and flower
Sun and moon and stars of light . . . 

Lord of all, to Thee we raise

This our joyful hymn of praise

To Pierpoint, the earth was a gratuitous gift of grace for which the proper response could only be gratitude. (Is it any wonder “grace” and “gratitude” share the same etymology?) But gratitude is a virtue that must be cultivated—it is an active response to a tangible reality. 

When I hear the term “God’s grace,” my thoughts tend to shift (rightly) to the gift of salvation through Christ. But what I (and many of us) can forget is that the very earth we inhabit was the first gift of grace. God’s creation of the world, and the raising up of our bodies from it, grants us the ability to see Him in the soils, amongst the trees, and shimmering out from the stardust of space. 

As a gardener, I would argue that one of the best ways to practice gratitude for the earth is to participate in its labors.

Nurturing the life of the soil is partnering with God, and in this labor we rediscover the fullness of the narrative we indwell.

In the hoeing and the harvesting, our very bodies can recall our first commission to “till the earth,” like an imprint upon our cells that interacts with the sifting of the soil. And following that very first command ushers us into the arc of redemption and restoration. 

What many people don’t know about Pierpoint’s Hymn For the Beauty of the Earth is that it was written as a communion hymn. In fact, it was one of many Eucharistic poems he compiled, alongside others (my favorite is titled The Chalice of Nature) that were eventually collected into published volumes. For Pierpoint, beholding the beauty of the earth inspired him to offer that praise back to God upon the altar. 

During the Eucharist, we partake, and in the cultivation of the land—we participate. And in that labor we find ourselves immersed in both gifts of grace. The death and resurrection of Christ rendered the soil—the grain and vines, bread and wine—sacred. The wheat we grow and the vines we tend become the very bread and wine we bless and eat in remembrance of Him. The Eucharist allows us to taste and see that the Lord is good. And it is our spades, our trowels, our sweat, blood (those thistles hurt!), and tears that produce those gifts.

And Pierpoint knew this well. Most of us have never heard these long-omitted stanzas [2] in his original hymn: 

. . . Jesu, Victim undefiled:
Offer we at Thine own Shrine
Thyself, sweet Sacrament Divine . . .

For Thyself, best Gift Divine,
to the world so freely given,
for that great, great love of Thine . . . 

Cultivating a gratitude for the grace imparted to us in the very elements of the earth and its redemption culminates in Christ. Our humanity and God’s divinity, restored once again to a holy fellowship, can work together in relationship to redeem all things. 

The third stanza of Pierpoint’s poem is probably my favorite, because he says it so beautifully and succinctly; He couples heaven and earth, (or God and man), in the beautiful imagery of the life of the land: 

For each perfect gift of Thine,
To our race so freely given,
Graces human and divine,
Flow’rs of earth and buds of Heav’n:

Christ our God to Thee we raise

This our sacrifice of praise.

It wasn’t until I took up my own garden that I began to truly internalize the significance of my small garden plot. My sweaty afternoons weeding my planter boxes and the rhythms of spritzing mosquito repellent on my bare arms before trimming the sweat pea tendrils began to take on a magnitude I hadn’t anticipated. When I lamented the discovery of my deer-nibbled yarrow foliage on my daily turn in my garden, I found myself, mere moments later, breathing silent thanks for the exotic portulaca that sprouted new flower heads every day. He is making all things new, I’d say to myself. And as I’d bend down to deadhead the withered blooms, I’d realize that, by some great grace, so was I.

So, friends, allow me to again leave you with some encouragement: You don’t need a garden to begin cultivating your own awareness of this staggering reality in your own hearts. A container of herbs on your countertop or a pot of petunias on your apartment balcony is all it takes. And if it sounds overwhelming, start with something easy. Mint is typically very easy to grow—perhaps try that? (But don’t plant it in your garden or it will overrun everything!) 

If you have a garden, plant something new—something you’ve always wanted to try growing in your own backyard. Perhaps it’s a new variety of squash, or that delicate china aster you’ve seen on the cover of your favorite gardening magazine. Whatever it is, I encourage you to cultivate it tenderly, remembering that the God who feeds His world with rain, wind, sun, and soil feeds your heart, mind, body, and soul with nutrients that nourish and strengthen you for the feast of heaven.

And lastly, if you, like me, sometimes find yourself struggling with a disembodied sense of who you are, why you belong on this earth, and where God is in the pain of His people, go outside: Touch the bark of the nearest tree—break off the needle of a pine and lift it to your nose, breathe in its spicy aroma. Bend down and trace a blade of grass or grab a handful of silt and pinch it between your fingers before letting it trickle back onto the ground at your feet. 

As you do these things, something might stir in your chest. Perhaps imperceptibly at first, but you will be startled by a tender reminder that there is a God who put you here, and that this same God united Himself to you by indwelling the dust of a human body, drinking the wine you drink, and eating the bread you eat. He made it, He broke it, and He gave it to us. “Take, eat, this is My body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”

[1] “Folliott Sandford Pierpoint,”, accessed February 9, 2024, 

[2] C. Michael Hawn, “History of Hymns: ‘For the Beauty of the Earth,’” Discipleship Ministries, accessed February 9, 2024, (Emphasis added.)

The featured image, “Sweetpeas starting to bloom,” is courtesy of Lancia E. Smith and is used with her glad permission for Cultivating.


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  1. Terri Moon says:

    Thank you so much for these beautiful insights, Christina! The connection between grace and gratitude, tending the soil and receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, these are so good and true! I also love the hymn you brought into the essay; and appreciate you sharing the story behind it. I especially love the setting of these lyrics by John Rutter. My family listened to it often because we found a recording of the St. Paul Choristers that is just divine. You might like it too:

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