fostering life in farming, pregnancy and meditation

I’ve been thinking, all of us are called to help foster environments where life can flourish.

This past week I have been blessed to spend time on my sister and brother-in-law’s organic farm.  It was a bit of a retreat, of sorts, as I am in the process of preparing to renew my temporary vows and I am in the midst of some life transition.  (Please pray that I’ll be fully prepared to rededicate myself to Christ at my ceremony on July 20. Thanks!)

The simplicity of country life is healing for my soul. Among the growing plants and animals I was thinking: in ministry, prayer, and community, I am called to foster all life, for Christ is Life.  The awareness that farming is full of Christ’s life isn’t new to me.  I meditated on its endless lessons when I gave a speech of blessing at my sister’s wedding in 2010.  This past week on the farm, though, my consciousness was opened to the truth of Life in new ways.

Life flourishes in healthy community. We are all called to foster the environments that help life be fully alive.  There are a couple of ways we get to do this holy God-work.

First, to foster systems and spaces where life can flourish, we need to care for all who share an environment. I was reminded of this in many ways during my visit, but my example here relates to the impact of chemicals. Although my sister and brother-in-law don’t use chemicals on their farm, most of their neighbors do. Sadly, there was a nearly constant buzz of crop dusters interrupting what would have been otherwise a space free from human noise.  I observed a distinguishable difference in the amount of wildlife present on their chemical-free farm than in the neighbors’ fields. Just going down the driveway to my sister’s house guaranteed encounters with multiple flocks of birds who were seeking refuge in the healthy ecosystem. Naturally, birds can’t flourish in places where insecticides are killing off their food.  Our care for the other creatures who share environments with us allows others to feel safe and at home.  This reminds me of how if we love one another in our homes and communities, we can then open up our space to offer healthy, radical hospitality to those in great need of refuge. Sounds like God’s reign come to me.

Second, fostering life so it may flourish requires attention to the workings of the internal and external.  We are invited, always, to balance our attending to each.  My time visiting the farm was a mixture of prayer, reading and contemplating this translation of St. Theresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle, and also assisting with the work of weeding, cleaning and cooking.  It was a blending of internal and external attending. The book helped me gain peace about the work of balancing all elements of internal and external spiritual living.  Plus, my sister is pregnant. This is a joyous first-time thing, that offered its own profound experiences.  Listening to my sister describe the sensations of pregnancy and constantly consider how her choices were impacting her child, plus seeing the external changes to her body gave witness.  Truly, as I continue to struggle through the trials of loving Jesus with great joy, I am continually challenged to balance and integrate all the ways that God offers blessings to me, internally and externally. We all are.  All activities are full with graces that can bear the fruits of new life.

Our fostering of life shall allow justice to flourish, thanks be to God!
“Sow for yourselves justice,
reap the fruit of piety;
break up for yourselves a new field,
for it is time to seek the LORD,
till he come and rain down justice upon you.”   Hosea 10: 12

In the internal and the external, in our communities and homes, may we foster Life so it may flourish. Amen, Amen, in Jesus’ name, Amen!

“life quite full” by Julia Walsh, FSPA

cooking up the goodness of abundance

Did you know there is enough food in the world to feed everyone?  Yup, it’s true.

Yet, we’re in a major global food crisis and people are dying of starvation while others waste food and have health problems from obesity.  Certainly, a lot of what is wrong with the picture has to do with infrastructure, power, distribution, processing and policies.  Plus, we are not farming very well.  And our love for the game Farmville isn’t helping!

Unfortunately, if we don’t change our sinful ways, we won’t have enough food for everyone in just about 40 years.  This past week I learned from NPR what vices are causing us to run short on food.

The main problems, apparently, are due to the way we farm more than the way we distribute the food.  We need to remember, though, that our consumer culture influences the way things are farmed.  What we buy, cook and eat impacts what farmers grow and how they grow it.

No one wants anyone to starve to death.  Christians understand that Jesus is the Bread of Life and the Eucharist is a Blessed Sacrament that unites us together as a body of Christ.  Farming, cooking and eating are very sacred, holy acts.  These basic, ordinary, life-giving acts are powerful and rooted in the Gospel.

We the people, have some good, God-given power. We don’t have to despair that things will only get worse for humanity just because some scientists have predicted that they will. The Gospel gives us great solutions (feed the hungry, share the loaves and fishes, pray, trust, listen, include everyone and invite others to our tables) and we are graced to be real instruments of peace while we live the Good News.

Plus, as stated in the NPR story, the scientists have suggestions too:

“First, stop cutting down forests to grow crops. Second, instead of that, focus on land that’s already being used to grow food but isn’t very productive… Third, use water more efficiently, also fertilizer. Fourth, in rich countries, don’t throw away so much food. In poor countries, keep it from spoiling before it gets to the people who need it. Fifth, and this may be the most controversial thing in this paper, eat less meat.”

I know I have written about all this food stuff many times before.  Food justice is something that is very important to me, however.  I even make it part of the curriculum in my teaching and work to connect my urban students with rural farmers.  My Eucharistic community works to educate and advocate for food justice.  And, today is a global Blog Action Day and bloggers all over the world are writing about food in order to encourage conversations and actions.  I am honored to participate.

http://blogactionday.org

Plus, it’s harvest season- the season of abundance- so we can be grateful for the great labor of farmers and how they bless us all.

I am excited to be spending some time on my younger sister’s farm this weekend.  She’s a great, young, organic farmer and food activist in Iowa who is modeling for all of us how we can work for change in these systems.  In celebration of her great witness, she has even been featured in the Oxfam World Food Day campaign.

When I return to the city from the farm on Sunday I hope to carry with me some good fruits and veggies.  I’ll be using my favorite cookbook, The More-with-Less Cookbook, to prepare meals for the next week and avoid buying any extra food.

I was thinking it might be nice, though, if we did a little recipe sharing right here on this blog.  What dishes are the rest of you planning to cook up using your fall  harvests?  What cooking tips do you have for me?  I’d really like a yummy, non-conventional way to cook up a big pie-pumpkin.

Sharing recipes is fun because it builds community.  For me, one of the great joys of eating is the experience of building relationships.  With every bite we can celebrate the relationships we have with other parts of God’s creation and with one another.  Together we get to work to create the world, the meals, and the unity that God intended.

While we do all this together, let’s remain mindful that we need to be able to live within all extremes and limitations.  We need to balance.  We need to love and help everyone- no matter how hungry they are- know the goodness of abundance.  As we eat, let’s be grateful and celebrate Life.

St. Paul did it quite well, and so can we:

Brothers and sisters:
I know how to live in humble circumstances;
I know also how to live with abundance.
In every circumstance and in all things
I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry,
of living in abundance and of being in need.
I can do all things in him who strengthens me.
Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress.

My God will fully supply whatever you need,
in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen.  –Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20

living simply to build community

You’ve probably heard the saying: “Live simply so others may simply live.”  Different sources credit the phrase to different wise people, like St. Francis of Assisi and Mother Theresa. Either way, it’s a good mantra and the saying totally carries weight.

Lately a new, yet similar saying has been rattling around in my consciousness:  “Live simply so communities can simply survive.”  It’s not as poetic but I think it’s just as true and powerful. Plus, I made it up (I think) so that adds to its awesomeness. Just kidding!

Anyway, in my recent summer adventures I have been encountering this simplicity truth in a variety of ways. It’s not new stuff to me; I think about it lot.  The circumstances of life, however, just really seem to rub my face in my convictions sometimes.

Last week while I was working with the Peacebuilders Initiative I was blessed to accompany a group of teens on their ministry site visits to the White Rose Catholic Worker here in Chicago.  My friends at the White Rose totally seem like ordinary Christians to me. They dumpster dive, grow and preserve their food, give things away freely, advocate for justice, pray a lot, share everything (including their home with strangers)  and compost and recycle all their waste.  Yet, the teens kept talking about this way of life as foreign to them. It was a reminder to me how my preferred way of life (service combined with sustainability mixed into activism, grounded in good Catholic prayer) is actually quite radical.

Sometimes I forget how my vocation and passions have made me into a counter-cultural creature.  The thing is though, my consciousness doesn’t really make it into an option for me, but a necessity. There’s a fire in my belly that burns me right into action. I live the way I do- and am always seeking to increase my sustainability and simplicity- because it seems to me to be the way we need to live.

When the Peacebuilders and I visited my Catholic Worker friends last week, their community did a really terrific job of organizing programming and hands-on actions in order to help the teens gain an foundational understanding about why people choose to live simply as they do.

One day we watched this video together and discussed how environmentalism is intertwined with Gospel living:

The video left me feeling embarrassed for a variety of reasons.  It feels overwhelmingly inevitable that I cooperate with the systemic injustices related to consumerism. I don’t mean to, I don’t want to. I just seems to happen, I’m sorry.  (I feel like a whiner as I confess this sin, blah!)

But then, I know about alternatives to cooperating with the mainstream.  And I try to choose them as much as possible.  Some of the most basic ways to live simply have to do with food.

My friends at the Catholic Worker House took our Peacebuilder group to their organic farm for some good-old-fashioned labor last week and I was overjoyed (seriously!) to be placing composted manure around plants and weeding veggies.  I was also amazed while I heard the teens say that they had never done anything like it before.   Again, I was reminded that it is sort of a radical thing to grow one’s own food now days.

Then, on Tuesday of this week I was was again doing labor and bonding with Earth.  I helped my sister box up veggies from her farm for her CSA business. As we weeded, harvested, packaged and delivered foods to people in her community I couldn’t help but think the whole thing felt sort of silly- we were working so hard to feed people who also had good land to grow food. My sister echoed my thoughts as we drove around (and wasted fuel) and made deliveries.  She said she’d welcome competition and wishes that CSAs were more ordinary, as it is necessary for us to develop community through local economies. In the same way, I prefer that we’d revert to a culture of neighbors creating hand-made crafts and food for each other. The earth seems to be begging for it.

Let’s do it, Christians.  Let’s free ourselves from bills and material abundance, and live simply so that we are closer to the earth and our neighbors. Let’s build community by sharing in the responsibility of sustainability.  Let’s live life to the fullest and love one another.  The bible tells us to, plus our brothers and sisters far and near need us to help build their communities, not harm them.

As my sister, the farmer, said here, eating food (like all simple actions) is something that connects as a community, no matter where live.   So, let’s connect by living simply. God help us, Amen.

when eating bites

Bad news: people are starving to death; 16,000 children die every day from hunger-related causes.

Good news: God has mercy and God is helping us!  We are being preserved in spite of famine, scripture says.

Upright is the word of the LORD,
and all his works are trustworthy.
He loves justice and right;
of the kindness of the LORD the earth is full.
See, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him,
upon those who hope for his kindness,
To deliver them from death
and preserve them in spite of famine.
Our soul waits for the LORD,
who is our help and our shield.
May your kindness, O LORD, be upon us
who have put our hope in you.
(Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22)

I am a great lover of food.  Much of my life has been centered around it.  I grew up in a farming community and family.   I knew how to pull weeds before I knew how to read.  I knew how to bake and cook before I knew how to drive.  I understood how to milk animals before I knew how to type.

Today my younger sister and her husband are organic farmers.   My parents and my brother now own and run a world famous restaurant, in the middle of nowhere. But I live in the city, away from the family food business.  I tend to go grocery shopping, read cookbooks and then invent and share new culinary creations for fun.  Plus, I love gardening; when work is really difficult at the high school I fantasize about giving it all up and becoming a gardener or a baker.

Food is such a big deal to me that I entered a Eucharistic-centered community, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, before I was 25.  We’ve been adoring Jesus as Eucharist for over 133 years and it is very rad.

Obviously I am not unique because my life is centered around food. It is for all of us.  God designed it that way on purpose. It’s sacramental. It’s unifying. It’s life-giving. It’s essential.  I’m grateful.

Food is also oppressive.  The systems that control our consumption cause people to starve while others throw food away.  In the United States, we keep getting fatter while the rest of the world riots and dies because of food costs.  I wrote a bit about this for a Mexican food blog last week. The reasons why our food problems are so severe are complicated, economical and political.

As we gain awareness of the truth, we tend to be converted.  The freedom paradoxically requires us to be mindful and responsible.  It’s an act of solidarity and community.  Since food unites us, when any person in the body of Christ- in humanity- is suffering, we all are suffering.  For Lent this year I am working hard to simplify my diet, trying to fast, praying for those that are hungry and advocating for systemic justice.

This week at the high school I am leading two big events. Please pray for me and my students!  On Wednesday my seniors are hosting a Peace and Justice Fair. They’ve analyzed complex social problems and will now try to inform the community and inspire others to meaningful social action.   On Friday, we are hosting a Food Fast. The students will not eat for 24 hours, but still be very busy, as an act of solidarity and prayer for people who frequently go 24 hours without eating but keep working hard. I have games and activities planned to teach about global hunger and the students will engage in acts of service.

It’s really not that hard to make a difference.  Like my students, you can play games at FreeRice.com and donate rice to the UN WFP. You can click (and shop for Fair Trade goods) at The Hunger Site and donate 1.1 cups of food.  You can learn about the challenges of farming and survival in the developing countries by playing a game here. And, you can learn about living in poverty in the United States by playing a game here.

There are several other meaningful social actions that really make a difference.  You can literally buy an animal for a community in poverty through the Heifer Project. And, of course, you can pray, fast, give, advocate, and try out simple recipes through the Catholic Relief Services rice bowl campaign.

Together, we fast with hope and trust that our merciful God is leading us through the messy famines and injustices.  As I eat, I believe that the nourishment shall wake us all up to the heavy truth that we already have enough, we just need to learn how to share.  This sharing is the simple way that Jesus taught us, it is the way of freedom.

 

Photo courtesy of Catholic Relief Services.