As the bitter cold settles in around me here in New England, I’m settling into Fred Bahnson’s Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith. If you haven’t read it, please, take a moment to find it on Amazon or make some calls to a local bookstore to find it; it’s so worth it. Through beautiful language, Bahnson describes why our connection to the earth is so imperative to our well-being. For we were created as “earth creatures,” literally from the dust, in the Genesis account of our beginnings. Our ultimate call is to live in peace, shalom, with God and others as well as the land. When we live fully into this call, we are changed forever, and we are on a continual path of growth and care for all whom and all that we encounter.
Bahnson’s book is based upon a journey he took to three communities that embody what it means to live in communion with all beings. In the first section, he spends time at the Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina, where he chronicles his reflections on meditation and manual labor with the monks that serve the Abbey and surrounding area. In particular, his understanding of prayer has expanded and recovered much of my notion of prayer as a time for stealing away, for solitude, for silence, for stillness. But he states that “far from leaving our bodies behind, prayer leads us to engage more fully with them, for God cannot be separated from the things of this world.” Rather than attempting to forget my body and my surroundings, Bahnson suggests that we engage all of our senses and live fully into our humanness in order to ground ourselves further in Divine Love.
A beautiful realization I’ve gleaned from Bahson’s book is that each moment is precious and powerful in its own way. The monks “spent much of their day with limited human contact, which made the few interactions they did have … all the more powerful.” It reminds me the beauty of simplicity, and that something as simple as sitting down for a cup of tea with one another can foster incredible intimacy, even when few words are shared. Ultimately, it’s about presence.
I must confess that though I had set out to complete my goodreads goal of reading 52 books this year (and bragging rights to go with it), this book is providing me with slow, steady Sabbath stillness and rest rather than the rush to the finish line. In the digestion of this beautiful piece, I’m filled with peace as I read Bahnson’s discoveries at the Abbey, from his descriptions of theological truths beneath the literal soil to the sharing of narratives between monks. In particular, Father Kevin explained Advent in a beautiful way that mirrors life at the Abbey: “Like a seed in the ground, there’s a whole process of life that goes on in a hidden way, that’s not visible to us. The monastic life is about waiting in expectation that God’s hidden life in us will reveal itself. But it is an active waiting, not passive waiting.” As we eagerly anticipate the holidays and the new year before us, we must recognize that the seeds we plant require germination. We must wait in patient expectation, through the cold foggy mist and through the treacherous blizzards, working to nourish our communities and provide the highest quality of care. But ultimately, it is a Divine and human partnership that pushes the sprout through the heavy soil, when all has been warmed by the sun and we begin our journey anew.