gardening

The First Time Resurrection Mattered to Me

An empty tomb. Image via ehrlif/shutterstock.com
An empty tomb. Image via ehrlif/shutterstock.com

I’ve celebrated Easter before. My whole life I’ve dressed up, colored eggs, gone to church.  

But this year was different. This year, I realized resurrection.  

I’m not sure how the realization came.

Maybe it came because this was the first time I gardened. My mother once said, “Gardening is prayer.” I never believed her until I physically saw the transformation of dead earth into mustard greens and zucchini plants. I never realized how good the pulse of the sun felt on my back after months of gray. I never saw seeds push through the darkness of soil and become new life — until this year, when I realized resurrection.

Maybe it came because this was the first time I’ve ever felt depression. This winter was the first time there were no windows in the tomb. The first time I held myself crying in the shower wondering if the emptiness would stop. This year was the first time I saw Lent as a season to sit in deep sadness. The first time I realized that Mary Magdalene sat at the tomb simply because she was just so sad.

Maybe it came because this was the first time I’ve fully embraced a Christian community. The first time I’ve intimately walked through the liturgical season with the same people. The first time I shared the miracle of Christmas and the deep sadness of Lent in the eyes of other vulnerable humans. The first time I’ve attended an entire week of Holy Week services. The first time I sat in the dark on Good Friday after service ended and cried.

This year, I realized resurrection and I’m not exactly sure why.

Five Questions for Katerina Friesen

Katerina Friesen

Bio: Katerina Friesen is studying theology and peace studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind.

1.  How would you describe your current vocational role?
I see my role as both revaluing what has been cast down and degraded and building resilient communities. So far this has taken shape through land-based ministries of farming and community gardening, inviting people to work together and celebrate the sacramental in soil, food, and one another.

2. You spent several years with the Abundant Table Farm Project in Santa Paula, Calif. Can you describe the project and your role there?
The Abundant Table Farm Project is a working farm and young adult internship program that has evolved into a Christian community. I joined the project in 2009 and lived in community with four other women. My daily work of farming gave me a bodily understanding of farm workers’ labor and the need for justice and wholeness in our incredibly disconnected food system.

3. What is unique to the theology of farming—particularly for women farmers?
Women are growing in the field of agriculture in the U.S., especially at the margins of the industrial food system, and they’re doing farming in a very different way. Many talk about their labor as a form of love. Their theology of love is not some abstract idea; it’s an embodied force that feeds them in their struggle for justice, since their work brings them into tension with the dominant food system as well as with patriarchy. I think Jesus’ incarnation challenges us to know love as personal action for the restoration of life, as doing and not just being.

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God Loves Our Bikini Bodies

MY MOTHER-IN-LAW wears a bikini. She is 70 years old and decades of gravity have done their work. But she wears a bikini nonetheless, with a devil-may-care nonchalance to what others her age are more inclined to cover in sarongs, ruffles, and cruise-wear.

She’s my hero.

Her okay-ness with her body has a twofold source. First, she’s Finnish. Do you know any Finns? Untouched by the Puritan prudishness that is historically English and North American, they share a continental European lack of modesty concerning the body, but to the extreme. While other Europeans are going topless on the warm and sunny beaches of the French Riviera, the Finns are flinging themselves buck naked from their saunas into the snow. There’s a reason to take off your shirt in the south of France—it’s hot! But why subject your private parts to the crunch and scrape of ice in the dead of winter? I don’t have an answer, even though I live with a Finn who regularly goes in for the naked sauna/snow frolicking thing. But, the point is, Finns are profoundly okay with their bodies.

How does this relate to Christian theology? My mother-in-law is also a devout Christian, and I think her embrace of the bikini as her swimwear of choice goes beyond her Finnish heritage to her biblical understanding of creation. She understands that when it says in the Bible that Adam was formed out of the dirt (adama in Hebrew), that she too is a human formed out of humus and that humus is good. She actually believes that when it says, “God saw all that he had made and it was good,” that means her body as well. It also means mountains and trees and iguanas, but one’s body is a great place to start.

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Rooted in Faith

BALLS THUMPED against the walls, jump ropes scraped the asphalt, and shrieks filled the air: The kindergarten and first-grade students of Holy Ghost Catholic School in Albuquerque, N.M., were at recess on a chilly December day. The sun was shining and the kids bumbled around in their jackets, oblivious to the cold. Also oblivious were the rows of leafy greens in the two raised-bed gardens just outside the classroom windows. The sun, plastic covers, and just enough water (which the students figured out after a failed crop or two) made for a perfect little garden oasis in the midst of winter.

Seeing me headed toward the gardens, dozens of children made a beeline for the structures, simultaneously shouting “Miss! Can I see?” “Miss, I’ll water them!” They helped me lift the cover to reveal a jungle of rainbow chard, kale, spinach, salad greens, a few radishes, and basil—a kaleidoscope of greens, golds, pinks, and yellows.

“Miss, can I have chard?” Mateo looked at me hopefully, chubby fingers pointing to the rainbow chard. “Sure!” I exclaimed, gently breaking off a leaf. “If you can name it, you can taste it!” Suddenly there were 15 hands in front of me, along with a litany of names: “The pink one!” “Chard! Chard!” “Can I have that spinach?!”

Not everyone was as enthusiastic. “Yuck,” Lenaia said when I offered her a piece of spinach. “I don’t want to eat it, but I’ll water it.”

These plastic rectangular boxes had been the source of so much new life at our school—in the shape of tiny seeds carefully planted by small hands, in the hope represented by the two leaves first to sprout from the dark soil, in the gentle spray of water from the hose and the smell of damp earth, in the curiosity and fascination awakened in the students as they tended their gardens.

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Digging

Monsignor Michael Doyle of Sacred Heart Church in Camden, N.J.

OUR BODIES AND the land are one. Move the earth with your body, dance on it, farm in it, play with it; our final return to it is sacred. The soil is made of clay, like you and me—hydrocarbon molecules, layers of geological and muscular formations, alive. The soil, mountains, and valleys are layered with time like our layered muscle tissue. We dance on the earth in the face of death, for the healing of ourselves and the healing of the land, connected as farmers, dancers, painters, musicians, and lovers of the goodness of the good green earth moving through lament. Our bodies and the earth are one and their healing and grieving are interconnected.

January 2011, around the corner from my house, Anjaneah Williams was murdered, across the street from Sacred Heart Church, pierced in the side, at 2 p.m., walking out from a sandwich shop. It was a Thursday. She died six hours later at Cooper Hospital in the arms of her mother, before the children who deeply loved her. One of the gunman’s stray bullets shot across the street through the stained glass at Sacred Heart. Anjaneah’s death reverberated in the air, an exploding, echoing canyon; a screaming mother in a vacuum, unheard and deafening. Her murder was one of 40 in the neighborhood in the near half-century since the shipyard closed. Forty people on the sidewalks, on the lots where houses once stood, in a neighborhood with 28 known environmentally contaminated sites.

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Congregations Tend the Soil and the Soul with Vegetable Gardens

Photo courtesy Robert Nevel/KAM
Volunteers harvest vegetables at KAM Isaiah Israel in Chicago. Photo courtesy Robert Nevel/KAM

The Rev. Morris G. Henderson wasn’t sure what do with a vacant city block of land behind his 31st Street Baptist Church in Richmond, Va. The church had purchased the plots, but didn’t have the funding to build a planned family life center.

Then, he had a vision.

“Why not build a garden and people can learn to be self-sufficient and we can grow food?” Henderson said.

With an 80-year-old congregant heading the project, the congregation planted its first garden in 2008: watermelons, tomatoes, okra, squash, strawberries, and blueberries.

By the second year, even after the gardening chief had passed away, congregants were getting guidance from the Virginia Cooperative Extension; this year, the church has at least two dozen raised beds, with the bulk of the harvest used for the church’s Monday-Friday soup kitchen.

Gardeners of Youth

We who nurture the life of children could be compared to gardeners, conscientiously serving the God-given stages of the growing plant. We seek to support its development as a seedling, a young plant, and a fruit-bearing or mature plant.

However, Christian educators of young children often begin to water, weed, and prune without first observing children to grasp the stages of their relationship with God. God has planned human and spiritual growth just as well as God has prepared plant growth.

Catholic scholar Sofia Cavalletti and her collaborators Gianna Gobbi and others around the world and in many denominations have carefully observed the stages of newborn to 12 year-old children’s relationship with God, and they have developed an approach to religious formation, called the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, that serves those stages well. The encounter with God over the years includes coming to know God who is love, God who is personal, and God who is just and merciful, as these and other aspects of God match the developmental strengths of the growing child.

Here is that development and its implications in very broad strokes:

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The Death of Darius Simmons and the Seeds of New Life

Darius Simmons. Photo courtesy of All Peoples Church.
Darius Simmons. Photo courtesy of All Peoples Church.

"Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." 
~ John 12:24

When tragedies loom so large, it is difficult to keep a perspective on the small things, to view things on a human scale.

We are trained to see the harvest and ignore the seed. We look at end results for the quick post and tweet. The planting, the watering, the tending is too tedious. Show me the aisles of glowing produce under the florescent lights and keep the dirt and the sweat away. Show me the abundance and not the labor.

And yet, every fruit and vegetable and grain begins as a seed. It begins in the smallest of things.

Soon, the story of Darius Simmons will become larger than life. A story that has picked up some media attention will no doubt soar – for a moment – as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rainbow PUSH continue to walk with his family and call for justice. This is their work and their calling and I bless them for it. I am thankful for it.

Darius’ story is a sensational one – full of racial tension and violence. It is a refrain sung over and over in our nation, the dissonant chorus that reminds us of our nation’s original sin.

A Farm Grows in Motown

The city of Detroit has several thousand vacant houses, but Darryl Howard has at least as many worms. Howard is an intern with Earthworks Urban Farm, a program of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen on Detroit’s East Side. He dreams of running a small business that supplies worms to farms that dot the city landscape.

As Howard and his colleagues (invertebrate and vertebrate alike) know, worms work with materials that, from the outside, appear spent—and surprise us by producing rich, healthy soil. As he digs his hands into the dirt, still in the phase between food scraps and soil, a smile breaks across Howard’s face. “This is how I feed myself, my family, my community, and the world.”

Detroiters often use the phoenix rising from the ashes as a metaphor for the city’s resilience; in its 300-year history, Detroit has gone through several periods of bad times and has come back each time. Yet worms might be just as apt a symbol this time around.

Detroit could come very close to feeding itself. According to the Detroit Food Policy Council, farming less than half of the vacant publicly held land in the city could yield three-quarters of the vegetables and almost half of the fruit consumed by Detroit residents. In a city that bleeds money when buying food, that could be enormously stabilizing.

Furthermore, the economic impact is far from the only benefit. There is cultural and social power in growing food for your community.

The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network cultivates that power alongside the food it grows. Hanifa Adjuman roots herself deeply in this call to cultivation. As education coordinator for the network, she is steeped in the story of farming in Detroit, bringing elders with decades of experience together with youth for whom agricultural work carries reminders of their slave forebears.

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