Fall is a wonderful time to live in a rural community (I think it is always wonderful but especially fall). I am surrounded by the bounty of creation, from my backyard garden to the largest farms everyone is preparing for the harvest. I see the abundance of food around me and cannot help considering how connected I am to creation. The Earth and its plants and animals are the means by which God has chosen to sustain my physical existence. Will we ever move to a time when we are no so intimately connected to the soil; I do not know, but right now it is our reality. And yet, in our modern western culture we are growing distant from the land and I find loosing contact with the world around us. I live in a rural setting still it seems most people around me are not connected to creation.
Normally when I think about this grievance I ponder how the distance between us and the soil causes harm to creation. Either because we wantonly and arrogantly abuse the creation God wants us to make into a garden. Or how we fail to see how our present selfishness will impact future generations. Normally, I am frustrated by people who show little concern for creation because God wants to remake the heavens and the earth, as if that absolves us of the responsibility given to us in creation. I do see this as the major consequence of being disconnected from the earth; however, as I think about fall harvest my thoughts go in a different direction. Specifically, being so disconnected from the land negatively impacts us as humans. I think there are two ways humanity is hurt by our distance from creation.
We do not see the need to share. One of the true frustrations of growing a garden is everything comes ripe at the same time. While I can stagger planting vegetables somewhat, there are times I am outside picking green beans by the gallon and sometimes it feels like we have a bushel of ripe tomatoes on the vine. It is in those times that I find generosity easy. I recognize that my survival over the winter is not impacted by canning quart after quart of vegetables. So I am able to see the bounty of my harvest as an opportunity to give away what I do not need. I can give the gift of food to those around me and through these gifts strengthen the bonds between us. Though other gifts can bring me closer to others, there is something about the gift of food which is important. Food brings life and there is something more tangible for me in seeing tomatoes or zucchini going into a bag for a friend. I know I have provided a meal for someone– a meal that person will enjoy, and a meal which will give that person strength to meet a day. We consistently ask God for both food and strength and in this action I step into these roles as God’s surrogate. Yet for so many whose only connection to harvest comes in the supermarket, some of the reality of the food is missing. There is no visual reminder of the produce on the vine or the counter. And for the one receiving, the connection of the giver’s sweat and work is more faint.
We forget what life costs. Not only does fall bring in harvests of fruits and vegetables, it is a time for hunting. I am not in any way suggesting that people need to hunt or fish for their food. But, I have taken part in slaughtering and butchering animals; when I eat meat from an animal I have butchered I am pushed to think about life and death. I take the Bible seriously that humanity is different from other animals and that we are allowed to eat them, but that should not be a light matter. We should consider how death is inherent in our food. For me to enjoy a meal, something, animal or plant had to be eaten. Something had to die. The fruit had to be cut off from the tree or the animal had to die. Harvest time is a chance for me to be reacquainted with death. Death is the hardest part of life for us to understand; yet we must grapple with it. We must recognize what it takes to sustain us in this world day-by-day. Life is a precious gift, and part of remembering this simple statement is recognizing what it costs to maintain life. If I am going to continue living then other parts of creation can not. As we move away from a rural community we seem to forget this concept. Our food is packaged, we do not see the animal carcass or the rotting tomato plant. We are not forced to celebrate life and dwell on death.
These are tough lessons for us. But we must keep them in our minds. We must see the cost of food. We must see the death that our lives produce. We must see how we can give and take part in God’s work. And I think that a way to do this is to become more intimitaly connected with creation around us.