Finding God in the Garden: Backyard Reflections on Life, Love, and Compost
Back Bay, 2003 (2002)
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Reviewed by Theresa Ichino
his is a series of thoughtful reflections on God, the universe, and life in general by a rabbi with many years of experience. Rabbi Balfour Brickner is also an avid gardener who delights in the creation of a very personal garden that reflects not only his preferences but also the knowledge garnered from friendly experts. As any gardener knows, working in a garden provides many hours of opportunity for reflection. Brickner has used this time to ponder his own faith and how it relates to an ever-changing, technological world.
t is evident that Brickner is a scholar, and he affirms that scholarship is in fact a tradition for Jewish rabbis. He provides historical context for his musings and information about Jewish beliefs and traditions, as well as Christianity and the Bible. He also gives tidbits for the gardener. (It is obvious that he has learned much about gardening and may indeed be considered an expert.)
Finding God in the Garden
is an intriguing ramble through the mind of a thinker with many and strong opinions.
rickner touches on a variety of concerns in modern life - sex, organized religion, faith vs. science, life, death, the universe. He is clearly a rationalist, who sees order in the universe: humans have the right to choose and to control their own fates. Nor does he pull punches in criticizing certain ills, indeed, stupidities, in our society. Brickner does not believe that God's will controls our every action. We have intelligence and free will, and can choose what we do - and our choices are often bad ones. This is a viewpoint that permits the coexistence of rationalism and religion.
abbi Brickner says that some of his ideas do not necessarily sit well with devout members of his own congregation. Certainly, some of his views are not particularly comfortable or comforting. His rationalist approach seems cold consolation for those seeking a reason or meaning for the loss of a loved one, or for other injustices or tragedies. And I found his intolerance of animal '
' that invade his garden illogical in view of his oft-repeated assertion that life and death are an unending cycle, and that there is a place for everything.
n the other hand, I liked very much his advocacy of the Jewish traditions of
tikkun ha olam
(the repair of the world) and
(being responsible to other creatures). Essentially, one must live in the world and do right by it. One may not agree with all the author's conclusions. However, I suspect that Brickner himself would be the first to grant that each of us has the right to work these answers out for ourselves. Many of his musings are interesting and serve as a basis to examine one's own beliefs. We do not often have the opportunity to do this - at least without argument!
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