Everyone has a mother. She is your best argument for how you got here, and for a good chunk of your life she is the only reason you get to stay here. But when you try to explain the entire human race, eventually the genealogies run out and you have to find the mother who never had a mother. The first mama. For the Greeks, this mother who was never a daughter is the ground you’re walking on. Mother Earth. They called her by the name Gaia (γαῖα), which is their word for the land. The Greek myth for Gaia is that she is your mother, your only source of nourishment, and hers is the womb which gave birth to the immortal gods whom you worship.
In the beginning there was only a formless and void something, aptly named Chaos. Then Chaos gave birth to her first daughter, a well formed wide-breasted earth-woman named Gaia. Mother Earth. In spite of the beauty of her mountains, sex still hadn’t been invented, so Gaia had to practice being a virgin mother. Her first child was Ouranos, the sky. He became her first husband, and history moved on. Now Gaia is the bride of mankind. Every gardener is a husband to the earth in the realm of his particular dominion.
This is a myth, but often myths and legends are the truest things around. And even if a story isn’t true, perhaps that doesn’t matter so much as the mileage you get from telling it. Although, usually the mileage you get is an indication of its truth. When a concept like earth as mother has become so prevalent in a culture and defines so much of its thought, the question becomes not whether it’s true, but how true it is. We live in a culture where it’s okay to kill babies. The abortionists are wrong, of course. But they also have something profoundly right. Babies don’t have a right to live. No one does. There is no sanctity of human life, because only God is sacred. We don’t protect babies because they have the right to live; we protect them because it’s a sin against God to kill them. And when we do kill them, it only reveals the truth that no one is innocent. Of course, there’s an exception to every rule, except the rule that we all think we’re the exception. But the point is that when a culture believes something, it’s probably right.
Our culture is Greek when it believes in Mother Earth, but it’s also Christian for the same reason. The Greek mythology of Mother Earth changes the biblical account, but it still captures the important concept in which earth is mother, and also a bride. This second aspect in reference to the bride is one of the most heavily used tropes in all of scripture. Marriage is the most powerful explanatory metaphor the Bible has to offer for understanding the relationship between Christ and the church, and it offers insight for a lot of other relationships as well.
The same theology of the relationship between a man and his wife can also inform us on the relationship between mankind and creation. If the garden is a bride, then the gardener must be a husband to her. Scripture often treats the land as a bride. The people of God are Yahweh’s bride, and so is the land. The two are connected. You cannot have a people without a land to live in. When God promised Abraham a people, he also promised a land which would be theirs. When Solomon built the temple for the people to worship in, he made it to represent the land. From its olive trees to its pomegranates, from its pillars to its massive doors, the temple is a garden and a city, the land in both of its forms. In the new covenant, the temple which is the land, is now the people of God. They are the land, and so the bride of Christ is a garden, and He is the Gardener; a vine, and He is the Vinedresser; a flock of sheep, and He is the Shepherd. The people and the land together are the bride of Christ.
This is why Solomon in the Song of Songs describes his bride in terms of both a garden and a city. Because she is both. This why the prophets describe Israel as a plant when she is growing in Christ, and as a thorny bush when she falls away. Christ took those thorns of Israel’s prostitution on His head when He climbed the cross, and when He came up from the grave, the crown of thorns was resurrected into the garden it was supposed to be from the beginning. When Christ died he was laid in a tomb in which no man had lain before. This is earth described in the same terms of virginity that before had been applied to Mary. Then Christ was born a second time, this time not from the Virgin Mary, but from the Virgin Earth. So earth is a virgin mother, just like Mary. And just like Mary, she is a bride, and ought to be treated as such.
This should be the foundation of every farming ethic: to treat creation as a bride. Of course the obvious objection is that if creation is a bride over which man is called to rule, it follows that the logic can be reversed in a chauvinistic fashion to say that a husband should take dominion over and subdue his wife. Problem? Should a husband rule over his wife? Right now would be a good time to backpedal. But instead, the answer is going to be yes.
No kingdom ever flourished that wasn’t ruled over. Submission to authority is perhaps the most essential condition for beauty and fertility. A man should rule over his wife, but his rule over her should be done for her. No king should ever rule for his own profit, but for the benefit of his subjects, just as Christ did not die to save Himself, but to redeem His bride. Christ’s rule over creation resulted in His death for it. Our rule over creation should lift it up rather than beat it down. Dominion rather than domination.
Mother Earth is a bride to be ruled over with love. Knowing this should impact the way we treat her. Our farming in the soil of her womb should reflect our knowledge that she is a bride. This means that farming can no longer be evaluated merely in terms of inputs and outputs, but it also has to answer to a general attitude toward creation. The argument that we produce food efficiently is not good enough to justify the farming methods we use. The efficiency argument only works to tell us what not to do. If it doesn’t work, don’t do it. But to have a positive idea of what we should be doing, we need a new standard. This standard is to treat creation as a bride. Check your farming methods against that. Do you love her?