Economy of Abundance

Grapes waiting to be crushed.

Grapes waiting to be crushed.

I went to St. Procopius Abbey last weekend expecting to attain profound spiritual insights during times of stillness and silence. Instead, I stumbled into one of my deepest lessons during a walk on the monastery grounds, when Greg, the abbey winemaker, invited me to join him and some other volunteers in crushing grapes to make wine.

In the woods outside a large green shed which serves as the monastery workshop we assembled our gear – 1,700 pounds of freshly harvested grapes grown on site, sugar, yeast, a water hose, a scale, large plastic barrels, sulfite spray, and our bare feet! Greg and his crew have tried using machines to extract the grape juice in the past, but found that the old-fashioned method of stomping on grapes with your feet actually works best at separating the skins, seeds, and juice.

After spraying the grapes and our feet with water and sulfite to kill bacteria, we were each assigned barrels of various grape varieties. Since I am carrying a rather unwieldy baby-belly, Kevin, another jovial volunteer, steadied me as I let my feet sink into 98 pounds of fragrant purple concord grapes. The other volunteers joked that I was doing extra work by making wine for two, though I countered that it was actually the opposite – my extra baby weight gave me an advantage and they were getting a two-for-one deal – two people stomping the grapes instead of just one.

Ninety-eight pounds of crushed concord grapes.

Ninety-eight pounds of crushed concord grapes.

Outside on this mild fall day in “God’s great cathedral” of the forest, I sunk my toes quite literally into the extravagant, unmerited abundance of the harvest. Though someone did the hard work of planting and tending the vines, in all truth, the profusion of plump fruit dripping off of them is a gift. And when God gives, it’s not in a measured, controlled fashion – “one for you, two for you, three for you because you worked extra hard.” No, he gives exorbitantly, over-the-top, even more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). He gives until we have overflowing barns and vats brimming with new wine (Proverbs 3:10), so that it would be unthinkable not to call your neighbors and friends over to share in the plenty.

I learned the same thing taking a walk later through the monastery apple orchard. The branches groaned toward the ground under the weight of so many apples, and on the grass I could not take a step without squishing the overripe fallen fruit already being devoured by worms, bugs, birds, and deer. Amidst this jubilant harvest riot, where even the smallest creatures have their share, the nearly $4.00/lb. organic apples that Whole Foods sells seemed ridiculous. So many juicy apples waiting to be enjoyed freely, yet our economy rations and labels them as a commodity for those who can afford it.

It is inevitable that we participate in the market economy, unless we want to live as hermits or in isolated communes in the middle of nowhere. But this weekend, I was refreshed to step out of that economy for a little while and participate in a different kind of economy, God’s economy, where generosity is the currency of choice and the cost of partaking in the abundance is “free.”

The Power of Dirt

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Though the Ash Wednesday saying rightly evokes repentance and humility by reminding us of our mortality, dust is not only a symbol of death. As I have come to realize in delightful new ways this year through poking around in my garden dirt, dead and decaying matter is a powerful source of life.

It is a ridiculously obvious fact that we humans have known since the discovery of agriculture, but something that I as a city-dweller still find wondrous: throw some tiny seeds in dirt, and, with some sunlight and water, they grow to produce delicious edible wonders! In a truly miraculous way, that brown and unassuming dirt, the bedrock of the food chain, sustains our lives.

Starting a garden this year has been therapeutic for me, not only because I have gotten to witness these small everyday miracles of creation and eat yummy vegetables, but also because of my contact with dirt.

It is good for us to touch dirt – not just as a way to symbolically acknowledge our mortality. Dirt is powerful on a physical, cellular level.

Enjoying the dirt and trees of the cypress grove in Colombia.

Enjoying the dirt and trees of the cypress grove in Colombia.

The power of dirt is something that therapists often utilize. When I was getting acupuncture for fertility issues at a Chinese medicine clinic, one of the student doctors there told me to regularly touch dirt to tap into the fertility of the earth. On a recent visit to Colombia where we walked through a cypress grove, our guide told us that people often come to this grove to walk around barefoot, touch the trees, and discharge static energy from always being around electronic gadgets.

It may sound like “new-age” fluff, but it makes sense too from a Christian perspective. God breathed his life into creation, and it means that each created thing – humans, animals, plants, water, sunlight, dirt – somehow resonates with the energy of the Creator. Even rocks, Jesus said, have the capacity to cry out God’s praises (Luke 19:40).

We often spiritualize this knowledge of God’s divine energy in creation. Spending time in creation is good for the soul, we say. But I think it is also good for our bodies, which are inextricably connected to our souls. When we come into physical contact with the goodness of creation – though playing in the dirt, through a walk in the forest, through an ocean swim – something shifts in the energy of our bodies, in our very cells. We are re-attuned to something basic in life. Like receiving the imposition of ashes at the start of Lent, we become more aware of our humanity – not only of our impending deaths, but also of our lives and bodies, which are sustained in the power and love of God.