By Gary Paul Nabhan
Call to Worship
Let us remember the words of Saint James:
“The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of Our Creator, Our Lord of Hosts” (5:4).
During this season of harvest, in the year in North American history when 71 percent of our rural communities saw their crop seeds and livestock breeds damaged by drought, let us call all cultures, faiths and nations together to celebrate that which the earth did yield, and to ask for repentance for the elements of climate change, water scarcity and damage to the soil that our own actions as eaters and consumers have triggered.
During a year when a third of the fruits in some American landscapes were left unpicked, to wither on the tree or rot on the ground for lack of legally-documented harvesters, and for fear of harassment by Immigration authorities, let us ask forgiveness from all who needed those fruits who went hungry, and from all who needed the work but who went unpaid.
We know that the number of people turned back from working in our fields, orchards and fisheries has never been greater.
We know that the number of people drawing on soup kitchens, food banks and SNAP “food stamp” programs has never been greater.
We offer these prayers for our farmers so that they may not lose their lands, for our fishers so that they may not see their waters emptied or polluted, for the farmworkers and food service employees so that they may find livable wages and dignity in their work, and for the hungry, that they may be blessed with nutritious foods rather than further marginalized by the American food system.
Let us quiet our minds and open our hearts.
Our Creator, the opportunity you have given us to help be stewards of this earth and to produce food from your Creation to feed the poor is one of your greatest gifts. To work in a way that nourishes rather than impoverishes is a grace you have bestowed upon us.
Our Creator, help us produce worthy fruits of penance as our Brother Francis once did in the fields and orchards surrounding Assisi, in the fishing boats near Lago Trasimeno and the Delta of the Nile.
Our Creator, please help us return to the true meaning of Holy Communion every time we eat even a crumb of bread, sip a droplet of wine, or chew over a morsel of fish. Help us remember the lives embedded in the foods we eat, and how the way we choose to eat may either heal or harm your Creation.
An Ominous Word of Warning from Psalm 105:
He sent darkness, and made the land dark, for they had rebelled against his words.
He turned their waters into blood, and caused the fish to die.
Their lands swarmed with frogs, even in the chambers of their kings.
He spoke, and there came swarms of flies, and gnats throughout their country.
He gave them hail for rain, and lightning flashed through their land.
He struck their vines and tress, and shattered the trees of their country…
Our globalized economy has become more extractive than regenerative: we mine much of the foods that enter our cafeterias and fast food restaurants.
Those of us who live in North America have been blessed by inheriting some of the richest soils, the cleanest and most voluminous streams, the richest forests and fisheries, and the most diverse spectrum of fruits and vegetables on the face of the earth. For decades, we have prided ourselves with the fact that America feeds and sustains itself due to our great ingenuity and hard work, but look again:
We have squandered this gift, and contributed to the causes which now threaten to disrupt our food-producing capacity through global warming.
Our own food economy has become more extractive than regenerative: we mine fossil fuels and fossil ground waters to grow much of the foods that enter our cafeterias and fast food restaurants. We have not only eroded or built upon some of the best soils in the world, but let storms carry their nutrients out to sea to muddy the waters and kill the fish there. As a consequence, in some years, we now must import more food from poor countries than we export or tithe to them. Three-fifths of the fresh produce we eat in winter and spring months come not from American fields and greenhouses, but from Mexican soil, sweat and tears.
We have also broken our covenant to be stewards and careful harvesters of our own lands and waters. We continue to exhaust our soils and contaminate waters just when we should be valuing both more than ever before. We let others do the dirty work for us. Three-quarters of farmworkers who hand-pick fruits and vegetables or process and package meats in the United States are Mexican-born harvesters, and yet we harass and oppress them once they arrive on American lands. As a result, 7 to 9 billion dollars of crops will be left in our orchards, fields and greenhouses this year, rotting while people willing to harvest them to keep their own families alive go hungry.
Let us find fresh ways to collaborate to end the erosion and contamination which creates unusual hardships on the poor and disposed.
Let us find fresh ways to collaborate to conserve all that is valuable on the face of this Earth, this Planet Ocean, so that farmers and farmworkers stay on the land, and fishers and aquaculturists stay in its waters.
A Reading from the Letter of James, Chapter 5, Verses 4, 7 and 8:
“Listen! The wages of the laborers who scythed your fields, which you kept back with fraud, they cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts….Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmers wait for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You must also be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.”
We must now return to follow the path which our lord Jesus of Nazareth once laid out, a path which our Brother Saint Francis of Assisi—the patron saint of ecologists—once tried to follow, step by step, as diligently as any mortal might possibly do.
Walk Christ’s path in a spirit of prayer. Deepen our engagement with all of Creation through walking meditation on our Sister, Mother Earth, so that we may see the gift we have been given.
Walk Christ’s path while seeking the fruits of penance. Seek forgiveness for the damage we have done to the earth and its poor by eating inconsiderately, gluttonously, or without understanding the harm we have done through careless food choices. Seek to heal the damage which has been done.
Walk Christ’s path by emptying ourselves in the spirit of poverty. While we must keep our families and the poor in our communities fed, we must each give up craving what we don’t really need, and consuming that which fattens or poisons rather than healing our bodies.
Walk Christ’s path while staying light on our feet, doing minimal harm to Creation. Grow food for your community in ways that acknowledge that we never farm or garden alone, but are dependent on myriad allies in our foodshed: pollinators, soil microbes, harvesters, haulers, home cooks and chefs. Keep them from harm, and acknowledge our interdependence.
Legend has it that when Saint Francis of Assisi once went out to preach in the fields of Saburniano near present-day Cannara, Italy, the farmers and farmworkers were so deeply moved that they dropped their sickles and scythes to give up farming so as to join the ranks of the Poverelli–the poor but joyful friars who traveled with Saint Francis. But Francis did not want them to leave their families, nor forsake the sacred act of producing food to nourish the poor, the sick and the elderly. And so, he welcomed them into a new order—the Bothers and Sisters of Penance—who fulfilled their vocation by nourishing both the soul and the body as one. Francis recognized that farming is a sacred act, just as eating is. He therefore forbid his brothers and sisters to fast so rigorously that they forgot the sacredness of eating together, as one, as the body and blood of Christ.
Creator, thank you for all of those who farm and fish with us, from pollinator to plankton, from the sower of seeds to those who sew broken nets.
Guide us and grant us grace as we go out to do your work with these lands and waters.
Let us go out and preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, using food to do so.