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)


Guest blogger: Amy Nee

Last week I was invited to speak as a panelist at the National Religious Vocations Conference in Franklin, Ill., and offered this prompt: “Could you describe two key aspects of your faith life right now? In what ways do you feel called by God?”

Directly following that event I joined my community-mate and fellow beekeeper, Regina, in harvesting our first batch of honey from the two hives of bees we’ve been tending since early spring.

Bee Boxes, by Amy Nee

The fact that I would be sharing in the bounty of the bees after responding to that prompt seemed a coincidence of the providential kind. It shaped my answer. My relationship with the bees is part of my relationship with a farm, which is part of an experiment that arose from a growing desire to participate in healthy food-systems. That desire grew from a slow wakening realization that what we eat can be life-giving or destructive to both our bodies and the earth. My well-being is dependent on the well-being of the earth. The earth’s well-being is dependent on the quality of my relationship with it.  Interdependence: a key aspect of my faith, and a calling.

I went to the conference with the egotistical assumption that I had a challenge for these religious men and women gathered to learn how to connect with youth. I would remind them of the gospel call to justice, attentiveness to the poor, relationships of nonviolence with neighbors, enemies and the earth.  Before speaking I had the opportunity to join them for lunch. I learned of their various missions and ministry which ranged from immigration to prison to spiritual direction. They tended to a broad spectrum of needs, and reminded me of how quietly some serve, how necessarily they narrow their focus in order to live in accordance with the calling they’ve received.

The harvest is great and the laborers are few. I often find myself dwelling on this phrase that Jesus shared with his followers – whispering it resentfully when I see the work piled before me – whether it’s dishes to wash, weeds to pull, corrupt systems to confront or guests to serve – entertaining the idea that because no one is tackling the same task I am they are not heeding God’s call, not laboring in the field. The harvest is great indeed, extending beyond my own vision.  If we all focused on the row of carrots, who would bring in the corn? If we all risked arrest to make a statement, who would prepare a meal for the hungry? If all were busy feeding, who would ask why they hunger?

Protest, by Amy Nee

I am almost painfully conscious of the way the many needs are weaved together: humanity’s poor health to the way we disrespectfully garner the energy of the earth; the accumulation of wealth to the deprivation of the poor; the obsession with security to the abuse of the other. I am conscious, too, that when I try to engage with every angle of these issues, I am stretched thin, little able to support the weight of each. Conversely, when I wear blinders that allow me to focus only on one angle, I am blinded from the intricate relationship between the part and the whole.

This is a lesson the Trinity is continually, quietly teaching – a whole is made of many parts – to be holy is to be whole.  We depend on one another and on other living things. Every action we take affects the earth and those who inhabit it. We are one mystical body of interdependent parts. Any time we isolate ourselves, any time I am only Amy, only human, then I am diminishing other people and living beings and I am diminished; then I am not holy. What is actually me, wholly me, is also you, is also the colony of bees we’re sharing honey with, is also men indefinitely detained in Guantanamo, is also the soil that gives and receives life as the bodies of plants, animals and people rise from and fall to it.

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.