Friday, May 15, 2009

Loaves and Fishes

Let me begin by confessing that I don't know for certain how to say what I want to say right now. Still, I'll try.

We have set up a fledgling community garden here in my little town, and that has led to numerous personal interactions and nascent friendships which I'd never suspected would happen.

More than plants can grow in a garden.

I've made friends with numerous stalwarts in the local Methodist Church, for example -- men and women whose worldview is hardly congruent with my own. I've worked with a man named Bob who is a master plumber and with Jim who is a master welder (and county commissioner) and with Lamont who is a master gardener. So many skills, so many people.

Today, I met (or rather re-met) Tim, a massage therapist and psychologist, who determined that he and his wife Frances needed to participate in the project. After some confusion about which plots were still open (our record keeping needs some fine tuning), we got him situated. The other re-acquaintance today was with Ron, the pastor at the local Church of the Nazarene, who wanted a project for his youth group to work on tomorrow during their weekend famine study. Ron and his church volunteered last month for our Big Event work day when they toted bales and slogged through dirt and mulch till our garden was almost ready for planting.

Yesterday, he emailed to ask if there were chores in the garden for his church's youth group to do during their weekend fast in observance of world hunger.


Here's what I learned from Ron: the kids in his church will not eat for 30 hours this weekend. They will work to provide food for others during that time. They will earn money from pledges for each hour they fast. The money will be sent to feed the hungry in Rwanda. He told me that his instructions to them were to learn from their hunger, to understand the relationship between the pangs and their spirits, their souls. His asceticism was heart-felt and heartening, not mean-spirited in the least, but generous and loving.

Understand your luck. Understand the suffering of others. Understand how your spirit is part of this world.

It was an interesting -- even enlightening -- discussion. I mentioned the daily fasting of the faithful during Ramadan, the significance of eating to Christian communion, the ritual of the Seder meal for Jews at Passover. All this (and more) leads me to conceive of food not as mere fuel for our bodies, but as highly charged, symbolic stuff for our souls.

We were on the same page.

We found ourselves -- for the moment, at least -- in absolute agreement. A pastor in the Church of the Nazarene and a secular intellectual nodded and said yes to one another out in a garden with nascent tomatoes and sprouting beans and squash blossoms and okra seedlings and piles of mulch. We didn't and don't agree about theology, ontology, cosmogony, cosmology, ontogeny, ontology, phylogeny, or most other -ogonies, ogenies, and -ologies out there. But when it comes to food, we have common ground. More than that, we want to see another path for understanding our connection to the earth, one in which distinctions between our souls and our bodies amount to so much confused thinking.

Much of that path is bound up in eating.

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