Gardening with Luther image

Gardening with Luther

To Wittenberg, and a hot date with a plate of sausages and a mug of beer.

Last week I paid a short visit to Germany with three friends for a slightly post hoc celebration of the Reformation. Andy Johnston, with a doctorate on Luther and limitless enthusiasm for his subject, was our guide and directed us around key sites in the Reformation story.

The Luther museum in Wittenberg is outstanding, and on a cold December afternoon we had it to ourselves. While Andy salivated over the collection of Reformation pamphlets I was rather struck by this description of Luther’s love of gardening:

Martin Luther discovers his enthusiasm for gardening in 1527, two years after his wedding. He asks his friend Wenzeslaus Link to send him seeds from Nuremberg: “Send as many as you possibly can…No matter how much Satan is raging meanwhile I will laugh at him and watch the gardens, that is the creator’s blessings, and enjoy them to his praise.” And a little further in the same text: “Just get me even more seeds for my garden, if ever possible many different varieties: if I am going to stay alive, I would want to become a gardener!”

This one brief description serves as a summary of all that might be said about Luther:

That he was a man of enthusiasms. There is nothing dry about Luther – he is all in whatever it is he gets into, whether it be theological dispute or growing vegetables. Not for Luther just a few seeds – no, as many as possible!

That he sees every aspect of life as an arena for spiritual warfare. Not many of us do our gardening as a means for laughing at Satan but there is something inspirational about Luther’s deliberate delighting in God through the things God has made. He turns mundane tasks into jokes made at the expense of the devil, and worship to God.

That he makes the most of life knowing that life is vulnerable. One of the miracles of Luther’s story is that he escaped execution. After Wittenberg we visited the Wartburg Castle to which Luther was famously kidnapped to save him from death. It is magnificent, but austere and cold. His Wittenberg garden must have offered Luther a much fuller taste of the goodness of life.

Like Luther, I enjoy gardening. At this time of year there is something very attractive about the thought of “more seeds!” The garden looks bare now, but in a few weeks’ time the snowdrops will be through, followed by the daffodils, crocus, tulips and on into the summer with many different varieties of colours and tastes.

Ten years on from nailing the 95 theses to the Wittenberg church door Luther was growing a Wittenberg garden – with flowers and herbs, vegetables and fruit – to fill his eyes and stomach with good things and pour scorn on the devil. That’s the kind of Reformation worth raising a beer to!


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