Tag Archives: faith and ecology

Restoring the Earth – Apostolic Farming

One of  my loves is agriculture. Not many would have guessed it. This love has its roots in several places: family, church and the love of food and good health. Catholics and Orthodox Christians have a very long interest in being good stewards of land and water, animals, fish, fowl and agriculture. How we treat these things indicates how we think about ourselves. Neglect and abuse of the land ends badly for everybody. One of the things that I have keenly learned is that too many of have become so disconnected from the land and unconcerned with the quality of our food, the dignity of hard work and the recognition of what we have is given to us as a gift from God.

Benedict XVI reminded us in Caritas in Veritate:

It is necessary, then, to point in a truly unified way to a new balance between agriculture, industry and services, so that development be sustainable, and no one go without bread and work, and so that air and water and the other primary resources be preserved as universal goods (No. 27).

We need to look at some thinking and experience of farming that only begins to put some things together to as to understand work of faith and ecology. Let me propose “Restoring the Earth” some guiding ideas  from Madonna House. We can also call it what Catherine Doherty called, Apostolic Farming.

Just as Pope John Paul gave us a superb theology of the body, we now need to connect that theology with a renewed and robust theology of creation. Many forget that we actually have a theology of creation! This proposal is one that needs to be echoed loudly that shows that farms and farmers incarnate in a particular way God in the world. And because of this fact, we need to be good stewards of the land because God gave us the land and natural resources. Farmers have a vocation  that really mirrors the Order of Deacon: a way to serve and feed others.

Gardening is good for you

Indeed, working in the soil is a good you on many levels, not least on the spiritual and affective levels. We know getting out in the fresh air and working is good exercise. Experience tells me that our whole disposition changes for the better. There is a story that when a certain Dominican nun who was having a difficult day with the novices, she would go to the garden in her monastery. Sr. Columba also encouraged the novices to do the same.

This past week I’ve been settling my commitment to my small agriculture for 2018 with the ordering of some new bee hives, placing an order for new honey bee colonies. This year, I am getting a new species of honey bee from Canada called Saskatraz. This past year I year I had some sort of Russian-mix bee. But I had some issues with the colonies and it’s very possible that only one of three colonies survived.

I have adopted the motto: save the honey, save the church. You could also replace “church” with “culture” or “the family.”

Committing oneself to the honey bee is a commitment to a 100 million year history of life. The honey bee is one of the most amazing insects God has given us! You can’t underestimate the importance of the honey bee in human and animal life. And yet, we humans are not too aware of our actions that obstruct or even kill the bee due to shallow desires like the eradication of dandelions and white clover. Nevertheless, I am doing my part. I daily pray for my honey bees and I have developed an affection for them.

Likewise, I am beginning to organize my mind on what may be planted. With all the seed catalogs I’ve received there is no shortage of ideas; there is a shortage in space and energy to do the work.

Back in November 2017 I planted approximately 15 pounds of garlic in the various gardens I oversee.

As a side note, I ran across a CNN article on the papal garden. Now while the Pope says he’s committed to good ecology and the connection with Faith, he doesn’t personally plant and tend the garden on his 62 acre farm. A shame. But the Roman Pontiffs of recent years have had some sort of garden at the summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, just outside of Rome feeding the pope and his guests. Yet, there is a good example set by Pope Francis in is his desire for fresh food. Apparently, he gets a daily basket of fresh produce which may include seasonal items like broccoli and cauliflower but he also gets handmade cheeses, milk, eggs and yogurt are also made fresh each day.

The papal farm has seven farmers and several nuns who make high-quality olive oil cold-pressed by granite stone from a 1000 olive trees (some dating back to AD 1200), 30 cows, and chickens for nutrient dense eggs and meat. Here’s a brief video.

Lots of work to be done in the next 69 days.

What is meant by “sustainability” by Christians?

We are snowed-in today. The weather is treacherous with the snow and wind outside that I have been able to think about some other things today. Snow days are good for the soul. The recent years have found me thinking more and more about the reasonableness of faith and ecology. The leadership and advocacy for the proper use of the land, air and sea by Patriarch Bartholomew (Constantinople), Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis have raised some good questions about the coherent Christian response to the needs of our environment. These religious leaders have provided good thinking and ways of proceeding without dipping into the reigning ideologies of the political left. For example, Benedict raised the horizons and limitations between human and environmental ecologies. Fast forward, across my computer screen came a very brief note about sustainability by Abbot Tryphon, an abbot in the Orthodox Church living in the Pacific Northwest. For me, the abbot’s words are the beginning of a much larger conversation I am having about the Christian fact of being anointed priest, prophet and king in the Church at baptism, and with Benedictines (monks, nuns and laity) viz. matters of land use, farming, food, as a manner of knowing the Trinity, faith, oneself, and the journey of the self as imago Dei. Benedictines have much to say because their 1500-plus year experiences in these matters of faith and ecology. How do we engage with the land as disciples of Christ in relationship with others?

Abbot Tryphon….

We are, in essence, called to be priests over creation. Sustainability is the current ‘buzzword’ regarding the need for protecting our environment, and is the word being used by environmentalists, governments, businesses, and many average people, as we all face the challenge of saving our world from climate changes, due to the overproduction depletion of the world’s resources. It has been applied to product sourcing, agricultural practices, and technology. It often implies a type of energy that will not—in the foreseeable future—be used up, as some scientists argued was imminent in the case of fossil fuels. It may mean a type of agriculture that doesn’t tax our soil as is being done at the current and alarming rate. The word sustainability is even being applied to waste treatment and water use. These are only a few of the applications that have made use of the phrase ‘sustainable,’ and even in these noted fields the technologies and practices developed have been amazing and immensely beneficial for our culture, humanity in general, and the natural world.

The use of the word “sustainability” is, for us Orthodox Christians, a positive word in relation to our responsibilities as stewards of all that God has given us. It is also a word that people can relate to. Yet despite the laudable achievements within the sustainability movement, there is a dark underside to the usage of the word and the application of the concept. “Sustainable” often means trying to find a “better” way to continue living as we currently do, and often bears within itself an underlying notion of stasis, or remaining the same. For Orthodox Christians, this is unquestionably dangerous.

Imagine a priest upon his deathbed speaking with his confessor about his parish, saying, “Yes, I leave them exactly as I found them; they don’t regularly commit any more sins than when I got to the parish.” Contrast this possibility with, “By the grace of God, they have grown.” All priests are charged with the responsibility of helping their parishioners grow, for there is in fact no such thing in the spiritual life as stasis. If someone is not growing, struggling, and working out his or her salvation, the seeds of degeneration are already planted.

But if we are not ordained priests, we might wonder how this could have anything to do with us. Yet as Orthodox Christians living in the God-created world, we are all, in the deepest sense, priests over creation. His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, said: “Endowed… from the beginning with ‘the image of God,’ humanity is called to continuous self-transcendence so that, in responsible synergy with God the Creator, each person might sanctify the entire world, thus becoming a faithful ‘minister’ and ‘steward.’” We are, in essence, called to be priests over creation, for as ministers of this created universe it is our responsibility to cease doing harm, for our final goal is the transfiguration of creation. The ultimate transformation that must take place within ourselves ultimately brings transformation to the entire cosmos.

The earth is God’s gift to all of us

Earth Day bears us to recall what Pope Benedict XVI said:

“On this earth there is room for everyone: here the entire human family must find the resources to live with dignity, through the help of nature itself — God’s gift to his children — and through hard work and creativity. At the same time we must recognize our grave duty to hand the earth on to future generations in such a condition that they too can worthily inhabit it and continue to cultivate it… One of the greatest challenges facing the economy is to achieve the most efficient use — not abuse — of natural resources.”

(Caritas in Veritate, 50)

Farming, faith and eating well: initiatives

Brooklyn Grange Roof

Interest in growing fresh vegetables and farming is real life these days in many urban settings.There is significant concern for wellness issues like where is our food coming from and how is it raised. The impact of bad practices and careless behavior is taking a toll on people in a multiplicity of ways: poverty, hunger, cancer, mental illness, human sustainability, and the like.

City farming is the subject of this video report by Monocle. It provides some very interesting things to think about like, space, soil, nutrients, people, being co-creators, etc. The three reports given in the Monocle video look at innovative work in Japan, NYC and Norway. Watch the report. In the New Haven area there are some community gardens sprouting up, for example, Yale University has a community garden the Yale Farm (Edwards Street) and then there are lots of modest initiatives. Plus, the growing of farmers’ markets.

I have a modest garden with edibles and decoratives. But I can’t sustain a family on what I grow. I have learned to make pickles from homegrown cucumbers, and I will can tomatoes, but if I had other favorable factors I could do more. My grandparents would be proud since that’s how they managed to live.  What I have concluded is that life is much better with homegrown produce than what is purchased in big stores like Walmart and Big Y. Well, that’s for the spring and summer. Come the autumn and winter we have to go back to the store.

But this matter is a part of a larger question of faith and ecology. The biblical and sacramental life of the Church have something to say to us today. In my mind, Christians have to reclaim what it means to live well with with what God has given through a sacramental lens. For this reason, I am thinking more and more about the role the Benedictines can play in the development of a faith and ecology project. The Benedictine charism is one in which simplicity, faith, work, study, mutual obedience, concern for the other and co-creation with God are high values. Plus, the monastic life with its emphasis on moderation lived in communion with others is key. I would also include the ecclesial movements of Communion & Liberation and Focolare as key infrastructures of grace and holiness. With a few spare moments here-and-there I am trying to think about a Christian’s response to the matter of food, wellness, farming, and the like. People like Ken Myers (Mars Hill Audio Journal), Norman Wirzba (Duke Divinity School), Fred Bahnson (Wake Forest Divinity School) and Wendell Berry (public intellectual) along with Pope Benedict XVI are setting the stage for new things.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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