Wednesday, December 22, 2010

An Advent Gift

One of the joys I’ve experienced this year is accompanying groups in several deaneries of the diocese as they study Catholic Social Teaching. The leaders of the workshops who have gone to three diocesan workshops are sharing the material with other lay leaders throughout the diocese.

I have gone mostly to bring the money to pay for food and travel expenses for the participants (provided by a grant from the US bishops’ Latin America collection), but I have occasionally been asked to help with one of the presentations.

On Thursday, December 16, I took part in a workshop in the deanery of the north of Lempira, Honduras, the final workshop in that deanery.

The themes of the last workshops were the destruction of nature and generalized corruption - two major problems identified by the diocese of Santa Rosa. I had given the presentation on a theology of creation at the diocesan workshop but the lay leaders are responsible for sharing the information, which they normally do very well.

The person who was supposed to lead the presentation on a theology of creation couldn’t come and so the two other leaders asked me to lead the discussion, which was not hard to do since I had already shared this presentation at the diocesan workshop that preceded this. But this experience was remarkably different.

The workshop was in a small training center at the farm of Moisés Rodríguez, just outside of Gracias, Lempira.

I arrived early and walked around with Moisés. I have visited his farm many times , often with visitors who have an agricultural background who marvel at what he has done. And I remind them that Moisés has not studied in school past the second grade.

Each time I am amazed at what he has done with a hillside that is mostly rock. There are fruit trees, fish ponds, vegetable beds, chickens, and more. With a combination of organic farming practices – including drip irrigation, use of frijol de abono (the nitrogen-fixing velvet bean) – and integrated pest management, he has made a garden of a “desert.”

This time he explained how he deals with zompopos, leaf cutter ants that can strip a tree or bush in no time at all. Most farmers use chemicals to kill them. But Moisés noted that the ants are not eating the vegetation on his fruit trees or vegetable plants because they are eating the leaves of the hibiscus plants and some of the frijol de abono. Give them what they like to eat, he said, and they won’t eat the other plants.

Moises with a branch of an orange tree, October 2008 photo

The folks finally arrived and we sat down to a substantial breakfast prepared by his wife Carmela. Many of the ingredients for the meal came from the farm.

Carmela preparing a meal, May 2010

After breakfast I led the presentation of a theology of creation. I started by asking the participants to look at the two creation stories in Genesis.

In Genesis 1, we find the liturgical poem of creation in seven days, which also relates seven times that God sees what he has made as good.

But the story of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2 took on a special meaning that morning.

The Garden of Eden is a place where Adam and Eve live in harmony with all creation. A river waters the garden and there are trees that are agreeable to look at and good to eat. It is truly a home, where there is life and peace, a place where God walked among them in the cool of the day.

As I spoke I could not help relating this account with Moises’ farm. He has enriched the soil with use of nitrogen-enriching legumes like the velvet bean; he has planted citrus trees using terraces to prevent erosion; he has installed a drip irrigation system to bring water to some vegetable crops. He has made it a real garden.

Later in the presentation we spoke of the destruction that sin brings, the breakdown of the original harmony. But I added that the vision of the prophets, particularly Isaiah, is a renewed garden of Eden.

Together we read Isaiah 65, the vision of a new heaven and a new earth which is really a return to Eden. (The parallel passage of Isaiah 11 is read on the first Tuesday of Advent and was read on the second Sunday of Advent this year.) The peaceable kingdom where lion and lamb and ox and child live together is a renewal of the harmony found in the garden of paradise.

One campesino, Pedrito, brought up the story of Saint Martin de Porres, who fed cats, rats, and dogs from the same dish. I can’t help but recall other stories of the saints who lived in harmony with creation, not least of all Saint Francis of Assisi and the story of the Wolf of Gubbio.

I recalled how Moisés deals with pests, like the zompopos, not killing them but providing them with the food they need. He has made his farm a type of “Garden of Eden,” and willingly shares this meesage in workshops he give there.

I didn’t mention it at this workshop but the parable of the peaceable kingdom reminds me of the myriad paintings of the scene by the nineteenth century Pennsylvania Quaker artist Edward Hicks. In the right foreground we see the Isaian scene but in the left background, in most of the paintings, William Penn is making his treaty with the indigenous people, an effort to live peaceably.

One of his paintings has these words inscribed around the outside of the painting:
The wolf did with the lambkin dwell in peace,
His grim carnivorous nature there did cease,
The leopard with the harmless kid laid down
And not one savage beast was seen to frown.
The lion with the fatling on did move
A little child was leading them in love
When the great PENN his famous treaty made
With Indian chiefs beneath the Elm-tree’s shade.
We are offered glimpses of the new creation, in scripture, in the lives of saints, in historical events, and in the farms of campesinos.

We are called to offer glimpses of the Garden of Eden, the Reign of God, in our lives, waiting for the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom in heaven, but showing in small ways how we can live in harmony with nature.

That morning in Mejocote was an Advent gift to me. The scriptures came to life for me as the Honduran campesinos and I shared the story of the Garden of Eden and the prophecy of the Peaceable Kingdom in the midst of a twenty-first century attempt to live those scriptures in a hillside farm.

The paintings of Edward Hicks took on a new meaning for me as Pedrito shared a story of the saints bringing harmony among the creatures.

All this renewed my hope for and my commitment to the struggle for a new Honduras, where, in the words of Isaiah 65,
No more shall there be an infant that lives but a few days…
They shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit…
They shall not plant and another eat….
My chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity….
They will not destroy nor do any harm over all my holy mountain.


Robert Hagedorn said...

Do a search: The First Scandal Adam and Eve.

phoenixwoman said...

Nice story, Brother John. I wish I had Moises' talents with my drip watering. Instead of helping things to grow, it seems to have caused them to rot. Even on that score, I'm not sure, because it's not that they sickened and died. Seeds didn't sprout. Perennials disappeared. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised next spring, but at the moment, I'm all too well aware that it's not just the technology. The gardener matters.

¡Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo!