Soil and Sacrament

I recently finished reading Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith by Fred Bahnson (2012). I first met Fred when he hosted a conference I was blessed to attend in 2007, Land • Bread • Body, when I was also introduced to the ministry he began at Anathoth Community Garden. Together with A Time to Plant: Life Lessons in Work, Prayer, and Dirt by Kyle Kramer (2011) which I read and heartily recommended to many the week it emerged from Ave Maria Press, Soil and Sacrament takes the reader deep into the spiritual experience of a man longing to connect to the soil from which we have all been formed, to others to whom we’re bound not only as husbands but also as a community of eaters, and above all to God the Father who forms us in his own likeness through the self-giving meal of his beloved Son. Soil and Sacrament begins with the author’s spiritual quest at Mepkin Abbey, the same Trappist monastery near Charleston, South Carolina where I was blessed to spend one week a year on retreat during our time in North Carolina, moves through his early experiences that brought together social justice and food sovereignty in Latin America, explores the Bahnsons’ own experiences in both Western North Carolina and the northern part of rural Orange County which I called home for seven years, and includes additional profound reflections on time spent in a modern kibbutz in Connecticut (which sent me back to watch Ushpizin) as well insights for ministry among recovering addicts and felons not far from my present home in western Washington and the salt of the earth back in North Carolina. Not only owing to the familiar landscapes both Bahnson and I have physically inhabited—if one substitutes the time I was blessed to spend in Eritrea for the author’s mission in Chiapas—but also and more importantly to the similar spiritual restlessness which has lead each of us, in our peculiar and respective ecclesial way, to embark upon seeking God in the grandeur of dirt and parenting as well as the humiliation of the academy and ministry I found my soul resonating with, probed by, edified through, and—as is the goal of all liturgy as God’s work of salvation carried out here and now in efficacious signs—ennobled by Bahnson’s lucid memoir of food and faith. I would commend Soil and Sacrament to all who want to start a community garden, see divine order in soil structure, reverence the deepest sources of nourishment, and struggle like me to be good and faithful disciples of Christ having been awakened by the likes of Michael Pollan to the ecological and social pathologies manifested in our food system which can only be redeemed by conformation to the vision of creation rightly ordered as revealed in the Eucharist as the perfection of that divine self-emptying by which creation first came into being as an expression of love.

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