Reflections of the Life
By Br. Kyle Berceau
On this day where Jesus shares a meal of fresh caught fish on the shore of the sea with his disciples, and this anniversary of pioneering environmentalist Rachel Carson’s death, author of the foundational book “Silent Spring”, it is fitting that my reflections should turn to the processes of nature.
We are currently reading the book “Agrarian Spirit: Cultivating Faith, Community, and the Land”, by Norman Wirzba, in the refectory as a community during our midday meal. The general thesis of this book is that an understanding of an agrarian approach to life can meaningfully and importantly inform deficiencies in the spirituality of our time and offer deeper understanding of Christ’s incarnation and our own personhood, grounding us more in the reality of our embodiment, and our communion as persons with the larger body of life on our planet and its interconnected processes and systems. I find the book to be a real gift, illuminating my heart and mind to some degree of lost common sense as our high-tech, convenience-oriented, quick-consumption culture has over time gradually blinded us from so many simple truths about life and relationship, which we can learn from living close to the land and natural processes.
Jesus shared a meal with me this morning too I suppose, as I encountered his presence in the gift of spiritual insight as I went about preparing my own breakfast. As I was slicing an avocado, one that actually seemed a bit over-ripe to me, I discovered that the avocado pretty much fell right off the skin. In fact, I realized I could basically peel this avocado like many other peel-able fruits. My typical experience with avocados is that I must rather scoop them out of the skin; and I thought those were ripe. Nay, I think I learned something today.
I think back to another experience I had when I was house-sitting for a friend in Arizona who had a peach-tree. Part of my responsibility was to pick the ripe peaches off the tree each day and to store them for ready consumption. In the true sense of Agrarian Spirituality, I learned in that experience that ripe peaches would require only the lightest touch to fall off the branch of the tree; I remember thinking it was almost as if they gave of themselves to me when they were ripe and ready/desiring to be eaten. (Oh how juicy and mouth-wateringly delicious is a fresh, home-grown ripe peach by the way!). In contrast, peaches that were not yet ripe would require a significant tug or yank on the branch if I were to yet pull them from the tree. I was moved in that experience by the wisdom of nature and God’s love and gift in that which he has created for us to enjoy. I was quite literally moved to want to treat that tree and her peaches kindly; I was moved to gratitude for her gift of love in offering of her most enjoyable fruit in its appropriate time and season.
And so this grace returned to me with the avocado I was slicing today. A little on the softer end, to my perhaps misinformed mind, but certainly by no means past ripe — rather, fall-off-the-skin good. “And Christ-in-Kyle looked, and saw (and tasted!) that is was Good!” Like the peach, the avocado in God’s natural wisdom seems to want to give of itself when it’s season of growing and nurturing has come to fulfillment. I am confident to think that this “kairos time” of the peach and avocado at once coincides with its fullest flavor and strongest nutritional profile, most harmonious to the processes and natural wisdom of the human body, their consumer, in turn.
As these lessons from being present to nature and observing natural growing processes suggest, Agrarian spirituality can teach us how to love God more deeply and live more fully human lives in union with God’s glory shining omnipresently in all his plants, animals, other creatures and life processes. First, we learn to be kinder to the natural world around us. God gave humans a special place in his universal order, but the gift of the human intellect is to exercise our God-given dominion not as power to Lord it over creation, but rather to be stewards and lovers of that creation — of God’s glory written into each member and life process that belongs to the living community of creation all around us. If I have to rip a peach off the branch from which it grows and is nurtured to maturity, before it reaches its natural maturity—well, try it, does it not feel unnatural and almost painful to the heart – abusive?
Might these reflections also inform my relationships on a human level? A refrain from the Song of Songs goes, “Beloved, I adjure you, do not stir up love before its time.” Do I personally have the patience with God to allow his life in me to unfold in its natural way unto fulfillment?; how often do I get impatient and want to jump from the Vine that nurtures me to quicken fulfillment of my own accord? Will the unripe gift be as good as if I had the patience to wait for God’s timing and fulfillment, allowed it to be watered and nurtured in all his fullness. Won’t the gift be sweeter, to me and for the world, if I have the patience to abide in the Vine until the gift of the Spirit has fully ripened in my heart?
On a social level, like the sadness of the early-harvested peach that will not get to give of itself in the full glory of what it knew it could have been for the consumer at maturity, how many of us humans like to feel trespassed in that way by others, when expectations are imposed on us for activity that is not in line with God’s will for us and his dignity in us, his love working itself out, gradually bearing fruit in us in its own season. “Beloved, I adjure you, do not stir up (or stifle!) love before its time.” How do I, how do we, each trespass one another and God’s work when we interrupt divine processes at work, refusing to honor the vision of God’s gift in each other, as each of our lives shimmers in some kind of glory and moves from glory to glory, from new seed to new maturity. In doing so, we effectively spoil the gift of fruit each has to offer, and rob one another of the more perfect gift we can share for the fulfillment of our own love and that of God’s greater glory in the world.
As St. Paul encourages us in our Christian life then, let everything be done for building up. And in flow with Jesus’ own Agrarian Spirit — he who both observed and taught natural processes, and lived harmoniously the divine process of submission to his Father’s will — let us live humbly in honor and praise of God’s natural divine processes, that in-so-doing we may allow ourselves to receive from our Lord and Tree of Life the gift of the choicest and most delectable fruit, physical and spiritual, that any of us could ever desire or imagine we could possibly enjoy.