Farm-to-Table Prayers

imageby Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

“We cannot always offer God great things, but at each instant, we can offer him little things with great love.” –St. Jane de Chantal 

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.

imageThis 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.

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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.

Northside Gardening: Reflections and an Invitation from Sr. Katherine

S. Katherine at work in the garden.

S. Katherine at work in the garden.

by S. Katherine Mullin, VHM

“Being outside these days placing fragile plants in moist dark soil somehow lifts my spirit and gives hope that each of us, and really all humanity,  will grow to full strength.”

– S. Katherine Mullin, VHM

Maybe it is because as young girl I saw my dad outside, season after season, so intent on watching the plantings in our backyard, or because, once grown, I spent so much time indoors, even in summer, tending to my teacher lesson-plans for the coming fall, that now I love gardening so much. And this year, after our long harsh winter, it is especially good for my spirit.

As I write this, by chance, it is the Feast of St. Isidore. He was a Spanish farmer who lived in early 12th century and known for his piety toward the poor and animals. His life as a day laborer and man of prayer inspires me. The liturgical prayer for his commemoration reads:

Our friend Willa Mae giving advice and gardening support to Sr. Mary Frances

From the Archives: our friend Willa Mae giving advice and gardening support to Sr. Mary Frances

“God, all creation is yours, and you call us to serve you by caring for the gifts that surround us. May St. Isidore urge us to share our food with the hungry and to work for the salvation of humankind.”

Being outside these days placing fragile plants in moist dark soil somehow lifts my spirit and gives hope that each of us, and really all humanity,  will grow to full strength.

For 25 years now the sisters have put in a garden. There is a strong neighborhood dimension to our gardening and it carries history. The sisters, when they first came to the north side, were given tips by neighbor, Willa Mae, to show them just how best to plant the garden, to include the neighbors. Her advice reflected what she knew the neighbors would love to eat and how her ancestors gardened: starting with collard greens and green tomatoes. Over many years Willa Mae came each summer with more advice and to show us her delight in how it was growing. Now Linda Goynes, our friend and neighbor, carries on Willa Mae’s advice-giving…and she gets first pick of the collard greens in late summer, when they are ready.

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One of our many volunteer gardeners. Will you join us in this summer season?

The garden is a jumping off place for our neighbors and ourselves to reconnect. We have mothers, wheeling their small children by, stop to show those little ones the bright colorful tulips that came up strong this year by May 15, St. Isidore’s Feast day.

Recently the face of one young adult walking by, lighted up and she enthusiastically said, “When I was little I used to come to playtime with you sisters….’member me?” And we did.

Invitation to Garden:

We have started a volunteer night for gardening-every Tuesday night, 7:00-8:00pm followed by Night Prayer with the Sisters.

Do come; offer advice, offer weeding time, offer your presence.

 

 

 

Garden or Bust: Visitation Community in Action

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Join us in the garden!

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

On any given Tuesday night this July at the Fremont House, you might hear the splash of water from the garden hose over the tomatoes, beans, and rhubarb; or note the quiet work of fingers digging into the soil to release some pesky weeds from around the cabbage. Perhaps the sound of giggling catches your ear as volunteers delight in the petunia and zinnias’ border growth? It’s summer time at the monastery, and life is in full bloom in the gardens at the corner of 16th and Fremont Avenue North.

Heading up this summer’s gardening ministry with great enthusiasm is Sr. Katherine Mullin.

“Here you have the same old flowers, but the bouquet is new simply because I have arranged it differently.” -St. Francis de Sales in Introduction to the Devout Life

Perusing the Visitation Monastery’s facebook page, you’ll find words and images from Sr. Katherine, or “SK2“, as she signs her posts,  that highlight her time in this Tuesday- night-summertime ministry with fellow northsiders and Companions.

Gardening Vis Companions: Fabio and Sonja

Gardening Vis Companions: Fabio and Sonja

Sr. Katherine reflects on the service of northside Vis Companions Sonja and Fabio Anifrani, describing their work waking up the shade garden,  pruning old branches, and making way for summer growth. Sr. Katherine states:

“[Fabio and Sonja] revived the spirit of the Sisters as they revived these plants after the long winter.”

To join in this gardening ministry or learn more about the Sisters’ outdoor engagements this season, follow their events here or on facebook.

Stay tuned for more on summer in the city with the Sisters!