I listened to Andrew Peterson’s song “Be Kind to Yourself,” for the first time a few years ago and the Lord used it to minister powerfully to me. The song quickly became one of my favorites and I penned its lyrics to put in a binder of favorite messages of truth.
I heard about Andrew’s Wingfeather Saga a few months ago and, although I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading the series, I was certainly intrigued.
But, when I came across God of the Garden, I actually noticed the title/cover and description before I even saw the author. And when I did, it felt like an “added bonus.”
I was immediately drawn to God of the Garden, because it so strongly echoed the things the Lord has been teaching my mom and I, over the past few years.
As I’ve mentioned in a few posts, I live in a gorgeous young food forest that we call “MeadowArc.” The Lord has emphasized to us the importance of taking care of the land—and the animals. Back in Genesis, God urged us to take care of the garden He placed us in, and this is a call He has strongly placed on my mom and I.
And calling to Him a child, He put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”Matt. 18:2-3
This is the verse Peterson includes before the TOC. Interestingly enough, the verse isn’t about gardening nor trees, but it does beautifully capture the themes of the book, which emphasizes wonder—and God’s blessing of His children.
Part memoir and part devotional, the book read much like a found poem, to me (for reference, I really enjoy writing found poetry, so I’m saying this as a good thing), combining fascinating facts about trees with rich experiences informed by trees. As Peterson notes in the afterword, the book truly is about trees. And I thought that was so cool!
Each chapter begins with a William Wordsworth excerpt. Chapters are also likely to include Peterson’s illustrations (typically trees), as well as excerpts from his poems/songs.
Writing and Voice
Peterson’s narrative voice is absolutely delightful: at points beautifully poetic, at other points simple and down-to-earth, with humorous commentary sown in. Throughout, Peterson maintains an honesty and humility that is deeply moving.
As I walked along the footpaths of Peterson’s memories, I found his honesty deeply refreshing. The narrative doesn’t revolve around a single turning-point where “everything changed.” Instead, Peterson fleshes-out multiple life-changing moments, but openly confessed that these moments did not always “stick.”
As someone who really resonates with Peterson’s musical messages, I found it so refreshing that he doesn’t pretend to have life all figured out. In fact, he describes an instance where he spent hours sobbing on the floor of a janitorial closet, only to dry his tears and do a show—simply faking it. And, of course, he explains that it’s one thing to tell others about how much God loves them. It’s another thing to actually experience His presence in the midst of one’s own sorrow and darkness.
The book is indeed full of hope and beauty, enhanced by the author’s transparency. It’s a realistic memoir— not a “look at how I figured it out” story of triumph, but a truthful account of the beautiful, sorrowful and bittersweet experiences of life. For the reader who, like the author, battles with depression, doubt and the lies of the enemy, it is beautifully validating: “No, you’re not missing it. Yes, life really is hard. YES, Jesus has overcome. Yes, you ARE loved. No, you are not the special exception to His love.” (My paraphrase, not a quote)
And these messages truly come through in his discussions of the garden. I can’t lay my finger on exactly how Peterson managed it, except to say that the book is largely episodic in nature, interspersed with tree commentary, throughout. Because trees are so important to Peterson, the arboreal imagery is very organic (see what I did there?) and not at all forced.
Peterson and Trees
The memoir follows a loosely chronological arc, beginning with Peterson’s memories of childhood. Early on, he explains that he feels close to God when alone among trees, because his “mom and dad modeled it for [him]” with their “Thinking Tree.”
Peterson also describes the trees he grew up around, going on to explain that the number of trees he plants is usually indicative of how rooted he feels in a place. While he planted no trees in a temporary home, he has planted forty-seven trees at The Warren, his current home of twenty-six years.
Throughout the text, trees are not mere literary symbols. They’re altar stones that mark significant moments of life, long-standing witnesses:
When it comes to doing the hard work of remembrance, we don’t have much to go on… 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.Andrew Peterson, God of the Garden, pp. 197-198
Highly recommended to a variety of people groups: gardeners and poets; those who appreciate the writings of William Wordsworth and Henry Thoreau, L.M. Montgomery and Thomas Traherne; naturalists and those who don’t get outside much, but need to; land developers and conservationists.
This is a book for Christians, one that calls God’s children back to wonder, back to the Garden, while also recognizing “that the Son is present in the silence of the desolate wood, the Spirit moves the branches of those leafless trees, and the Father looks on with a gentle patience.”