Holy Week Reflections- Maundy Thursday

This year once again we had a Jewish-style seder meal for the Passover and to remember Jesus’ Last Supper. I haven’t thought about this enough, but I find the tension between the two stories and how they relate to one another fascinating. That Jesus chose this moment when everyone was celebrating the POWER of God to show the humility of God.

I love this quote from Jean Vanier, “We admire and obey those who do great, brilliant things; we put them on a pedestal. But admiration is not love. Admirable people do not need us. Love implies proximity, mutuality. When people love, they need each other and are vulnerable to each other. With the incarnation, the all-powerful One becomes the little, powerless one. He needed his mother to feed him, love him, and be in communion with him. He needed the Samaritan woman and asked her for water. And we will discover that he needs each one of us. He wants to dwell in each of us as a friend. He is knocking at the door of our hearts, begging to enter and become our friend.”

I was organizing it this year, which meant I spent most of the day running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off. I couldn’t have done it without a TON of help from Clara and her parents and Brother Kentigern. We cooked a four-course meal with Jewish-American food (salad, matzah, matzah ball soup, potato kugel, and almond lemon macaroons), and it was absolutely delicious.

The table was beautiful, with candles and white tablecloth, and we began in darkness as our oldest guest, and dear friend, Georgiana, lit a candelabra while the community sang: “Hail, gladdening Light, of His pure glory poured, Who is th’immortal Father, heavenly, blest, Holiest of Holies – Jesus Christ our Lord! Now we are come to the sun’s hour of rest; The lights of evening round us shine; We hymn the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit divine! Worthy art thou at all times to be sung With undefiled tongue, Son of our God, giver of life, alone: Therefore in all the world thy glories, Lord, they own.” (Phos Hilaron, John Keble)

We followed the Jewish seder pattern, except that instead of a ritual handwashing (to symbolize being clean to come before God), we had a footwashing to remember the Last Supper. I was really struck by this quotation about it that Jimmy shared with me, “The history of humankind has changed since God has knelt humbly at our feet, begging our love. We can accept or refuse. Jesus is chained to our freedom.” “It is always very moving for me when someone with disabilities washes my feet or when I see a person wash the feet of their mother or father. It is the world turned upside down.” -Jean Vanier My first footwashing was last year, and I was very embarassed (which is really unusual!) because I had been wearing sandals in the mud all day, and it took two people, one on each foot, to get my feet clean. But I suppose that’s the point. Our God is a god who doesn’t mind coming down, not just to our level, but below, to the parts of us we’d rather people not notice or deal with.

We also had the Eucharist after dinner. The laughter, fellowship, and love I saw around the table was so wonderful, and I hope that Jesus’ Last Supper was like that. It makes it that much more of a contrast to that night in the Garden of Gethsemane and the events following.

My prayer for the evening was about the Egyptians, who suffered from the plagues due to Pharaoh’s decisions, and for everyone who suffers from the unthinking or bad decisions of others.

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Spring has ALMOST sprung!

I am getting really excited for spring, there are all sorts of little signs that it is coming popping up around the Friary. We had Snowdrop Day last weekend, the snowdrops are all looking magnificent. They are Brother Vincent’s speciality. He has an amazing number of different varieties in the Secret Garden. If you know anything about snowdrops, you will geek out. If you don’t know anything about snowdrops (like me) they are still beautiful! He also has a shrub called the Daphne jaqueline postil that has the most heavenly scent I have ever smelled, which is flowering now.

The crocuses are up, and stunning. I was afraid they wouldn’t show this year due to all the disturbance from the biomass digging, but they have bravely come up! And all the bulbs that Lizzie and Clara planted on their knees in the snow and rain are starting to show some leaves! We had a garden meeting yesterday, and talking about sowing and watering and digging in compost is making me itch to be taking advantage of the lengthening daylight and spend all my time with my hands in the soil! The cows are still in their winter quarters, but starting to get a bit desperate for greenery. I take them little treats of ivy and brassica leaves from time to time, but they start to expect it and then they get pestery. They may have killed the walnut tree in their paddock by stripping much of the bark off before I got around to putting chicken wire on the tree…

As excited as I am about being back in the garden, we have really had a lovely winter. It hasn’t been too wet, and we’ve done an awful lot of hedgelaying, which is one of my favorite jobs. We’ve done the hedge along the top of Francis Field, the one between the Top Field and the Bottom Field, and half of the one along the Batcombe Road. All of these are in really prominent places, where people can easily admire them! They look gorgeous. I love making something that will last, that I can look back on and say, ‘We did that!’ and people will be appreciating in years to come.

But it’s almost spring, time for digging and growing things that won’t last at all because people have eaten them. But that’s another kind of lasting appreciation, because by growing the food we are also giving life to people.

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Recommended Reading from ‘A Kindly Use of Land’

Why living in communion with the land matters to us all. Focusing on the work of Wendell Berry and the ‘New Agrarian’ writers on land and our relationship to it. This is heavily ‘American’ biased, because I am American and these are the writers and thinkers I am most familiar with. If you know others from other parts of the world, I would be very interested in hearing about them! I have tried to include British writers in particular, but don’t feel I have succeeded very well.

Essays

“The Unsettling of America” Berry
“Conservationist and Agrarian” Berry *
“Renewing Husbandry” Berry
“The Pleasures of Eating” Berry
“The Agrarian Standard” Berry
“The Body and the Earth” Berry *
“Standing by Words” Berry *
“Think Little” Berry
“Solving for Pattern” Berry
“People, Land and Community” Berry
“The Mind-set of Agrarianism… New and Old” Maurice Telleen
“Placing the Soul” Norman Wirzba
“Globalization and the War Against Farmers and the Land” Vandana Shiva
“The Agrarian Mind” Wes Jackson
“All Flesh is Grass” Gene Logsdon

Non-fiction
(The Berry books here are collections of his essays. My two most heavily used books for the course were The Art of the Commonplace and The Essential Agrarian Reader)

The Art of the Commonplace, Wendell Berry *
The Unsettling of America, Wendell Berry
Bringing it to the Table, Wendell Berry
Standing on Earth, Wendell Berry
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver *
A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold
Scripture, Culture and Agriculture, Ellen Davis
A Log from the Sea of Cortez, John Steinbeck (skim this one, it’s pretty dull, but has some beautiful passages, read the introduction and Chapter 21)
The Essential Agrarian Reader, edited by Norman Wirzba *
The Contrary Farmer, Gene Logsdon
Food and Faith, Norman Wirzba
The Supper of the Lamb, Fr. Robert Farrar Capon
Inheriting Paradise, Vigen Guroian
Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey (I also recommend his book The Monkey Wrench Gang, a massively influential book for the environmental movement. It inspired the creation of Greenpeace. It’s not agrarian or place-based though!)

Fiction

(There is a focus here on the sub-genre of American Literature that is ‘Southern Literature because the main feature of Southern Literature is that it is place-based and agrarian. I have included mostly Southern Appalachian books because that is my and Wendell’s place!)

Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry *
Hannah Coulter, Wendell Berry
I Am One of You Forever, Fred Chappell *
Run With the Horsemen, Ferrol Sams
Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver
Fair and Tender Ladies, Lee Smith
Saving Grace, Lee Smith
The Coal Tattoo, Silas House

All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriott
The Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien, especially ‘The Scourging of the Shire” *
The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
Watership Down, Richard Adams
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
Tess of the D’Ubervilles, Thomas Hardy

Poetry

A Timbered Choir, Wendell Berry *
John Clare’s nature poems
Mary Oliver *
The Odessey, Homer *
Eulogies and Georgics, Virgil
Thomas Hardy

* = My three top picks from each category

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A Taste of ‘A Kindly Use of Land’

I meant to write this much sooner, but I was stricken low by the bug that has been going around the Friary. Thanks for all the well wishes and prayers! I am feeling much better now.

Two weeks ago I was privileged to lead a course on Wendell Berry, his philosophy on land and life, and on some of the people who have been inspired by him. Berry is a farmer, a writer, an environmentalist, a philosopher, and a person of faith. He was born in 1934, and is from New Castle, Kentucky, and currently works his family farm there. His farm, near the southern Appalachians, is relatively close to the area where I’m from, and sense of place and ‘rootedness’ feature heavily in his work.

Berry, and writers inspired by him, write of a philosophy (rather than a movement) they call ‘New Agrarianism.’ This is a call for a massive social change based on a shift in the mindset of society, which they call the ‘industrial mindset’. Agrarianism is focused on the local; on the people, animals, and land immediately present, and on doing things well and on a small-scale. This is not a call to a romanticized vision of a pastoral history, or a call by some fanatical Luddites to smash all technology, but rather questioning the need for industry and it’s side effects. If technology and industry is beneficial to the people and animals it affects, the agrarians would be all in favour! But they are calling for us to ask the question, “Why do we do this action the way we do? Why do we use this tool?”

Wendell Berry, in a wonderful essay called ‘Renewing Husbandry,’ writes of an incident on the farm when he was sixteen and sent out to plow with a tractor for the first time. A farmhand with a team of mules was doing the same job at only a slightly slower speed in an adjoining field, and Berry writes of the feeling of superiority he had sitting at height on the tractor. He calls it “Exactly the outrage and the low-grade superiority of a hot-rodder caught behind an aged dawdler in urban traffic.” He goes on to write of the damage a tractor does to a field, with little increase in speed or quality, and then questions the value of using a tractor at all. Not using it means more work, but is that necessarily a bad thing?

During the course, we compared the culture shift the New Agrarians call for to the Enlightenment. I think this is quite a useful comparison, as the Enlightenment was primarily a philosophical movement that ended up having a host of practical implications, many of which still influence us today in ways we may not even be aware of. Berry calls it ‘solving for pattern,’ that is, solving the underlying cause of a whole host of problems. This, if done well, will have a cascading effect. Being sensitive to the land’s needs could, down the line, solve the problems of unemployment and urban violence, for example. Paying attention to where our food comes from and how it was produced could have an impact on the health service and on the health of people who otherwise would be struggling with various ailments unknowing that the current food industry is partially to blame.

So where do we go from here? Berry suggests that we start by asking questions, specifically start with something simple that everyone alive has to deal with, hopefully on a daily basis. Where does our food come from and what is in it?

Berry and the other New Agrarians are fascinating to me and I find them immensely inspiring. In my next post I will attach a recommended reading list from the course. I hope you will find time to read some of them.
Pax et bonum,
Lydia

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Dust and Ashes

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

ash

“And YHWH God formed the human being [‘adam], dust from the fertile soil [‘adama].” (Gen. 2:7)

“Both words are related to ‘adom, ruddy, in the Levant, brownish red is the skin tone of both the people and the earth… ‘Adam from ‘adama evokes the specific relationship between a people and their place.” -Ellen Davis, Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture.

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Schedule for A Kindly Use of Land

It’s here! The schedule! I hope to see you on this course!

-A Kindly Use of Land-

“Having once put his hand into the ground
seeding there what he hopes will outlast him,
a man has made a marriage with his place,
and if he leaves it his flesh will ache to go back.” -Berry

A Hilfield Friary course on Wendell Berry and the new agrarians, why living in communion with our environment matters to us all. Led by Hilfield Community member Lydia Reese.

£150/entire course, includes accommodation and all meals (Price may be negotiated depending on individual circumstances)
£15/day, includes a soup lunch.

-Schedule of Events-

-Thursday 19 February
Evening Session: 19:00- 20:45 Hands in the Earth- Sense of place and humans as a part of nature, Lydia Reese

-Friday 20 February
Morning Session: 9:30-11:45 Introduction to Wendell Berry, Lydia Reese

Afternoon Session: 14:30- 16:30 Franciscan Theology and the Environment, Brother Samuel, SSF

Evening Session: 19:00- 20:45 Berry and Friends, how Wendell Berry sparked a movement, looking at other modern agrarian writers, Lydia Reese

-Saturday 21 February
Morning Session: 9:30-11:45 Farming the English Landscape, Rob Walron, local farmer

Afternoon Session: 14:00- 16:30 This Vale and It’s People, land use history of the Blackmore Vale and the South Downs. Including a guided walk from the Friary over Batcombe Down, overlooking the Blackmore Vale, Richard Thornbury and Lydia Reese

Evening Session: 19:00- 20:30 Discussion on new agrarian writings, Lydia Reese

-Sunday 22 February
Morning Session: 10:30- 11:45 Where Do We Go From Here? Lydia Reese

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A Kindly Use of Land

From Thursday 19th to Sunday 22nd of February, I will be leading a course at the Friary on “A Kindly Use of Land.” This is a phrase coined by Wendell Berry, a farmer, writer, Christian, and environmentalist. We’ll be looking at some of his writings and some of other place-based environmental authors (and St. Francis too, of course!) to talk about why living a life connected to and in communion with the world around us is important to everyone. We’ll have some time for reading, some for discussion, and some for enjoying this beautiful part of Dorset.

The course is residential in nature, but we would very much welcome anyone who wanted to come for the day or for less than the full time. I hope to see you there! Contact the Friary at: Telephone 01300 341741 or Email: hilfieldssf@franciscans.org.uk to make a booking.

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