Magazine article U.S. Catholic

On Fertile Ground: The Holiness of the Eucharist Is Alive in the Soil with Which We Work

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

On Fertile Ground: The Holiness of the Eucharist Is Alive in the Soil with Which We Work

Article excerpt


The smell of horses and leather filled the air as I made the last harness adjustments, stepped behind the team of willing Belgians, and drove them to the walking plow that stood at the head of the garden. Trace chains clinked against the doubletree as I hooked the plow. I joined the lines in a plowman's knot and ducked into the loop they formed, situating the smooth leather around my back. With the loop running under my left arm, across my back and around my right shoulder, I was able to control the team while I took hold of the plow handles, worn smooth with repeated use. Pursing my lips, I kissed the air and the horses stepped forward. The plow came alive, and as I lifted the handles ever so slightly, its point dove into the fragrant earth.

We were plowing.

This spring season marks the 22nd year of our life on Plowshares Farm. I have lived on this small patch of Kentucky hills and hollows longer than I have lived in any one place, and it has left an indelible mark on my soul It is in this place that I have nourished a childhood fascination for all things of the earth, all beings wild and unfettered by human constraints.

It is also in this place, in the simple rhythm of work, the seasonal cycles of time, and the bloody, dirty, glorious reality of life, that I have come to a deeper, more intimate sense of God and a fuller appreciation of my faith.

Green and full of spring's energy, the team stepped out at a brisk pace, so I leaned backward a bit, tautening the lines to temper their enthusiasm. Quickly adjusting the position of the plow for greatest effect, I locked my eyes on a dogwood tree at the end of the garden. I was laying out the first furrow, which would guide all subsequent cuts of the plow, and I did my best to make it smooth and straight by keeping the dogwood between the horses' heads as we plowed.

At the end of the garden, we turned and plowed in the opposite direction, laying the newly turned soil against the first cut furrow. The pattern was established and our work became a mantra, drawing me deeper and deeper into earthly communion, deeper and deeper into my connection to the divine.

Perhaps better than any other work I have done on the farm, the intimate and meditative nature of plowing behind a team of horses has deepened my understanding of the connections that exist among me, my fellow humans and other living beings, the elements of the earth that contribute to life, and the God who is present in it all. It is in such work that the deepest meaning of the Eucharist has been revealed to me.

The Eucharist, one of my primary experiences as a Catholic of my relationship with God, is also one of the primary tenets of a deeper understanding of our relationship with the earth. In cultivating my earthly connections, I have come to a greater understanding and appreciation for the significance of the sacred liturgy I celebrate in community each week.

Each time I plowed, slowly and methodically turning roots to the sun, a grand web of relationships was revealed. The smell of my sweat mingled with the horsey smell of the animals doing most of the work. The loamy earth filled my nose with the richness of rotting life, worm castings, teeming bacteria, and memories of all living things once at home here, now contributing the stuff of their lives to the soil that would feed my vegetables.

My eyes scanned the ground for knapped flint points that would betray the past presence of the ancient hunter whose food may have been laced with some of the very atoms that now feed me. …

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