Last weekend we held our annual Mission Immersion Weekend for women discerning religious life and/or service in the Church. It was a weekend of prayer, laughter, service, reflection, eating, playing, and living together as a community. I came away from the weekend with a sore back and a full heart.
We did several different types of service during the weekend. Before and after each event, we had time for input on service, social justice, charity, and how to reflect on our experiences (theological reflection). At the end of each day, we reflected on our day, the prayer, time together, service, and anyway we were aware of God’s presence with us during the day.
One of the big lessons for me was that the soil in which we planted tomatoes and potatoes was truly holy ground. It is holy and it is also “holy mystery”.
You see, for one of our service projects we went to Shepherd’s Corner Ecology Center for a presentation by Sr. Diane on the center and on the care of creation. Afterward, we worked with Leslie, the resident farmer. Leslie taught us how to prepare the soil and to plant potatoes and tomatoes. In fact, we planted 50 pounds of spuds and around 60 tomato plants in the process. It was hard work and it was also a time of reflection and prayer.
This planting process all came into clear focus as I was preparing the hole for a young tomato plant – a Roma variety to be exact. The craters we prepared were two feet apart and each received a nice sized scoop of fertilizer (don’t worry I’m not going to get specific here). Then, before placing the tomato plant into the ground, we needed to mix the fertilizer into the soil. As I knelt to do this, I dug in with both of my hands. Pulling my hands up and out, turning the soil, I stopped mid-motion, transfixed on the soil pouring between my gloved fingers. I was overwhelmed with the realization that this soil, or at least all of the elements present in the soil, have existed since the beginning of time. This soil has supported life before. It has grown vegetables, grass, served as a bed for burrowing animals, and perhaps even the foundation of a tent or a place where person or animal slept for a while. Many people and animals have walked across it and in doing so have left their footprints for all eternity.
Lifting the soil and allowing it to flow through my gloved hands also reminds me of God’s Grandeur. In Gerard Manly Hopkins poem we read:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness,
like the ooze of oil crushed.
Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
God created all and is present in all.
We are intimately united with the soil in that we are made of the same elements.
This Holy Ground will nurture the tomatoes and will then lie fallow until we once again turn its dark, moist humus and once again life will spring forth crying out God’s Grandeur.