The stocky peasant with the square beard that tumbled down to the middle of his chest stood easily before my father. I heard his usually calm voice acquire a vehement accent: “No, sir,” he said, “it doesn’t do to make the earth angry. It will punish us if we do.”
The words struck me forcibly. I was around thirteen. I wanted to know what our farm manager meant by this strange sentence, and asked my father that night. He smiled; then his face became serious. Father explained to me quietly and with a depth of feeling I did not suspect he had, that mankind was the child and servant of the earth.
The earth was our mother, in a manner of speaking, and farming was a holy way of life. It was a way of life that God meant for the majority of people. In the growing of things, first to feed one’s own family, and then to serve one’s neighbour, man fulfilled himself as a workman.
He went on to say that work was not a curse. Adam had worked; God himself had worked. Work was holy, especially work on and with the earth. One had to be reverent when one was a farmer. God spoke very clearly to those who farmed and taught many lessons in this place of formation.
Above all, He taught them prayer, faith humble submission to his most holy will and reverence for all created things—trees, flowers seeds, grains, animals. Even the tools used for this tending of the earth and of living things must be reverenced.
Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Apostolic Farming
Reflection – You know, for the most part I consider myself a ‘conservative’ politically and economically, as much as I dislike labels in general, the labels conservative and liberal in particular, and as much as I would only claim to be a conservative with huge reservations and significant areas of dissent from the reigning establishment of our day.
For example, I have never been able to fathom the ‘conservative’ contempt for the environmental movement. Now, we can disagree about anthropogenic global warming, and I do. We can have conversations about specific uses of this or that technology and their environmental impact. We can highlight, and indeed must highlight, the more radical fringes of the green movement which truly merge with the culture of death and the rise of soft fascism in our day, calling for example for a global application of China’s one child policy and other horror shows like that.
But surely, for all that, ‘conservatives’ should be concerned to, well, conserve the earth, right? Surely pollution and environmental degradation are not in themselves obvious conservative values? Surely we can see in the earth itself, its integrity, its fecundity, its solidity and beauty a clear affirmation of that most radically conservative of all statements, that God looked on everything he had made, and saw that it was very good?
In Madonna House we don’t talk so much about environmental issues. There are different opinions possible on, say Al Gore and the whole global warming issue. Instead of talking about it, we do stuff. Practical, on the earth, on the land stuff. MH was recycling and composting long before it was cool, and of course there is no more effective way to reduce your carbon footprint than to live a communal life, sharing meals and living quarters with a certain austerity and economy.
But most important of all, we farm. And I would like to share some of Catherine’s insights on this for a few days, taken from her wonderful book Apostolic Farming. We farm because we need to eat and this is the way most in line with holy poverty to produce food. But we also farm because our mission is to restore all things in Christ. Modern man, modern civilization has become very far removed from the earth. We treat the earth as a machine, or as raw material for the machine which is technological civilization.
But the earth is not a machine. A cow is not a machine. A cabbage plant is not a machine. They are living creatures, bound together in a subtle web of inter-relations and interdependence, with human beings bound up in this same network of life and death which is our food, our clothing, our shelter.
So for a few days I want to let Catherine have her say on this. Some consider her a romantic, old-fashioned, hopelessly unrealistic. Maybe she is. I don’t think so. There is something in our modern stance to creation that is deeply disordered, a basic rejection of God’s creative will and the original blessing of the earth’s goodness, and that is the key point in how Catherine, and how MH, approaches environmental questions. To be continued…