We are growing tomatoes. Zucchini. Onions. Kale. Swiss chard. Lettuce. Mint. Beets. Carrots. Beans. Peas. Melons. Eggplant. Basil. Tarragon. Strawberries. Cabbage. Cauliflower. The community cooperative garden has been a place of labor, rest, renewal, and joy this summer, as we come together as neighbors — sinking our hands into the soil, wielding scissors in the midst of leafy greens and harvesting vegetables and fruits from week to week.
This same sense of satisfaction that comes from my weekly time slot in the garden, comes, too, in the solitary hours I have at my kitchen island. I process the produce and I pray. My presence to the harvested vegetables and fruit has become one of my favorite experiences of God’s goodness this summer.
I’ve always liked to cook, but over the course of the last two years with locally grown food, the joy and satisfaction I’ve gotten from making meals has been transformed through this meditative process. It’s a ‘farm-to-table” prayer experience.
This day, I’m slow roasting tomatoes. In recent weeks I have become much more adept at the process of breaking down the red ripe fruit: skinning, slicing, coring, pulping, seeding, chopping, laying out on the sheet pans. With each step, I bring a kind of awareness. My fingers wielding a serrated knife, my thumb pressing the fruit against the blade, halving the tomato section, and then repeating. I shake the container of salt over the sheet of chopped plum, beefsteak and early girls; I pour over olive oil and grind pepper from the mill. My fingers slide down the stems of fresh thyme and release the herb’s tiny leaves into the oil, creating an aroma that satisfies my greatest olfactory desires.
When I went to visit S. Mary Margaret in the hospital after her heart surgery a couple years ago, I asked if she wanted to pray. It was around the noon hour, and I knew the community would be convening back at the monastery for the liturgy of the hours. Her response, squeezing a pillow into her mid-section, releasing a labored exhale, still groggy from the whole experience, went something like, “Well, we are screwed if it’s not all prayer.”
I think the same is true for processing tomatoes. It’s all prayer. The gardening. The planting. The weeding. The waiting. The watering. The picking. The washing, cutting, roasting. Eating. All prayer.
The awareness of God in each step, of the connection between the earth, the sun, the soil, human labor, the toil, is akin to awareness of my own beating heart, and the breathing of all around me. Bound up in this gardening process is the life cycle of creation; the death and resurrection of the earth and seasons. This awareness shifts my understanding of our communal and solitary labor; transforming a mundane task (like picking a tomato) to a delightful way of engaging and being in the world (making pasta sauce to feed my family!). It’s an awareness, an attitude, that I can bring to other facets of life, then, too, which is generative, nurturing, even healing.
“We cannot always offer God great things, but at each instant, we can offer him little things with great love,” Jane de Chantal says. Chop a tomato. Savor a cucumber. Roast a squash. Mince a garlic clove. Brush your teeth. Kiss another’s hand. Breathe. Hug. Savor. Love.