Nourishing community with good food: An instrument of mercy

“When you eat a meal, thank the farmer who harvested it and think about their livelihood. Food is something that connects all of us as a community, wherever we live.” Oxfam Fact Sheet

This statement is from a farmer and my sister, Ellen Walsh-Rosmann. It helps me remember that something as basic as eating food and sharing it with community influences how I contribute to the reign of God.

I am from a food family. I grew up in a rural, agricultural, Christian community that taught me to understand that caring for Earth and neighbor is an issue of social justice. Our neighbor is the land as are all creatures large and small that also claim the land as home. As a child I would help…

[This is the beginning of my latest column for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report. Continue reading here.]

Cabbage in the FSPA organic garden. (Photo by Jane Comeau)
Cabbage in the FSPA organic garden. (Photo by Jane Comeau)

The sower and the dirt

Sitting on the porch, I watch a robin alight on our lawn, a hopeful sign of spring.  She pecks in the newly turned dirt and nibbles a seed. My mind rages. “Hey! That’s my grass seed we just planted! What do you think you’re doing?”

Big muddy bare spots dot our lawn now that the snow pack is gone. Yesterday, my housemates and I got out in the yard with rakes and seeds to try to bring grass back to these wounded parts. As the robin eats the seed I realize the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:3-20) is not abstract. I don’t usually sow seeds over a large patch of earth. The hard rocky path, the birds that sweep down, the brambles that grow up and choke out the good harvest seem like sweet and distant metaphors. But that bird just ate my seed! And there’s nothing I can do about it. Tonight’s rain could flood the fledgling seeds and wash them into the sidewalk. The neighboring high school students could trample over the yard on the way to class, hardening the soil and making it impossible to grow. More snow could fall. In Wisconsin, in fact, that’s quite likely. A whole flock of robins could find our fragile patch of ground and all the seeds would be gone. There’s nothing I could do.

The helplessness of God and the faithful disciple is highlighted in Jesus’ crucial parable. The seed is the Word of God. In our faithful evangelizing we spread the word of God everywhere we go over the ground of our circumstances. Faith in our life meets the often unfriendly and difficult realities of our daily lives. The birds eat it. The seed falls on rocky ground and the shoot sprouts up only to be withered by the sun and die. The weeds strangle out the good seeds and nothing comes of it. My life is busy and full of distractions. I can’t forgive the evils done against me. No one seems to understand. It’s so much easier to avoid helping out and just watch TV. Sickness, grief, loss and depression paralyze me, making it difficult to function. My heart is hard and rocky and full of lots of weeds.

Some scholars say this should be called The Parable of the Different Soils. The point of the story is not really about the sower or even about the seed. God’s good word pours down endlessly abundant with grace. We, however, do not always receive it. Our heart is the soil. Life’s daily grind and sorrows are the obstacles. The point is there are different types of soil—not just in the human family but also over the course of my own lifetime. Sometimes I am obstinate. Sometimes I am distracted by wealth and good times and easy fixes. Sometimes if feels like every day I am starting from scratch.

Actually, every day I am starting over and maybe that’s the point. Each morning I am given the choice to just live today. To give my day to God. To try my best. To not be anxious about tomorrow or depressed about yesterday. I am not being glib here. This is not easy. Sometimes it takes my entire willpower to get out of bed and brush my teeth and not be paralyzed by fear and sadness. I get stuck so often. Every moment is an opportunity to try again, again, and again.

Often, all I see is the seed that doesn’t grow and all the barriers in my ways. But this story is good news! For starters, God is sowing the good word in our hearts. This is the gift of all gifts. Plus, the good soil produces an overwhelming harvest: 30, 60 and 100-fold. Faith sustains us. Love transforms us. There is hope even for my muddy patches of lawn. The good harvest comes even to our rocky hearts.

Photo credit: http://www.scotts.com/smg/article/info-how_to/image/new_grass_T.jpg

the lesson of spring soil

"cracked through" Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“cracked through” Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
 
soil slides aside
allowing an emergence
flower seed breaks, becoming
resurrected over the reasons and chances
that it might not make it
or shouldn’t come
alive it rises, a new life
a new colorful character in the neighborhood
sustained by the power of the sun
Earth knows how to welcome the stranger
room is made, food provided
a warm loving home to the foreigner
yes to new life, yes to self-sharing
praise for Earth knowing and role modeling
it’s actually quite natural to boldly give
radical hospitality
A crowd prays at a detention center in Illinois, June 2012, blessing a bus as it brings immigrants to the airport to be deported. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
A crowd prays at a detention center in Illinois, June 2012, blessing a bus as it brings immigrants to the airport to be deported. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
A bus full of immigrants leaves a detention center in Illinois, June 2012, to bring people to the airport to be deported. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

Becoming a new fruit and fertilizer

By guest blogger Amy Nee

On Ash Wednesday in 2012 I heard:

“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” – Isaiah 43:19

Last year, when I heard these words at the start of Lent I felt as though God was proclaiming them directly to me. Holding them in contemplation, I was met with another word: compost. At first I took it as an intrusive thought, but soon found it to be my mantra for Lent.

As I looked forward to what was new, I felt encouraged to see what had come before as compost. Not as garbage, but as something that was good and that will continue to be good, so long as it is put in its appropriate place. Like fruit in its season that is good to be eaten fresh, but will grow rotten if it is kept into the next. Yet, it will continue to be good and nurturing in a new way if it is returned to the earth. It will feed and inform what is to come.This year, what I pray for in Lent is a me that is also always changing. Not in a way that is fickle, but flexible –a tree that remains rooted even while transforming with the season. A me that is fresh, that is able to receive and to hold all the good that is bewilderingly and beautifully so continually poured into me.

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A prayer book that was given to me says “Lent invites us to get back to the basics.” I think it’s a good time to not worry so much about what is new, what may or may not happen, whether or not I will respond skillfully or shabbily and to consider the base that feeds my responses and ways of being.

The Ash Wednesday reading this year is from the prophet Joel. God asks, “Return to me, with all your heart.” – Joel 2:12

I think of repentance as a turning and as a returning – not unlike how the seasons are always turning and returning to what was before but in a new way that is particular to the present. And I think too about how much I have drifted into trying to resolve my struggles through analyses, through making a project of myself, through creating unfair expectations that other people or places in my life meet my needs and desires.

The Gospels help me know the basics.  I must love my neighbor and I must serve others as directed in Matthew 25 – the Works of Mercy. Whatever else changes, these remain. And I can choose to remain with them. They are very particular, specific actions that can be practiced anywhere, with anyone. Both practical and impossible, they reveal principles I can practice whatever my surroundings. They also show principles I can use to measure new practices I’m invited into, so long as I continue revolving back toward the center, returning to God in prayer and practice. I daresay the basics are enough to keep me busy, to be both the fruit of and fertilizer for a sacred life!

And with all this in mind, I offer a reading from Rumi (a 13th-century Persian, poet, jurist, theologian and Sufi mystic):

 The One Thing You Must Do

 There is one thing in this world which you must never forget to do. If you forget everything else and not this, there is nothing to worry about, but if you remember everything else and forget this, then you will have done nothing in your life.

 It is as if a king has sent you to some country to do a task, and you perform a hundred other services, but not the one he sent you to do. So human beings come to this world to do particular work. That work is the purpose, and each is specific to the person. If you don’t do it, it’s as though a knife of the finest tempering were nailed into a wall to hang things on. For a penny an iron nail could be bought to serve for that.

 Remember the deep root of your being, the presence of your lord. Give your life to the one who already owns your breath and your moments. If you don’t, you will be like the one who takes a precious dagger and hammers it into his kitchen wall for a peg to hold his dipper gourd. You will be wasting valuable keenness and foolishly ignoring your dignity and your purpose.