I’m very excited about sharing this book. Fred Bahnson is a fine writer, a man of integrity and commitment, and a personal friend. His Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith, explores the many groups today that are trying to live out their faith by growing food to share. It also frankly relates Fred’s own struggles with finding a path for himself that has a connection to both the earth and to God. In the course of the book, Fred visits a meditative food-growing abbey, a spirit-filled Pentecostal garden ministry, a vibrant Jewish community farm (where he learns the asher yatzar, the blessing to say when you’re going to the bathroom), and even the hunger garden—The Lord’s Acre—that I helped start here in Fairview. The caring and commitment of the growers Fred meets is very inspiring. “What each of these projects has in common,” he writes, “is this: a desire to deepen one’s faith through connection to both a piece of land and to a community.”
Through it all, Fred weaves his own personal journey. Indeed, the tiny excerpt I’d like to share here concerns how he got called to found a faith garden.
That night we had the kind of conversation I‘d been wanting to have at the Mennonite church. Here we are, Pastor Grace said, a rural church with prime farmland all around, yet people are going hungry. She had been meditating on a certain verse in the prophet Jeremiah, “to pluck up and pull down, to build and to plant.” Several years before, the building of Cedar Grove UMC had burned to the ground in a freak fire. Here we were literally building, she said. Maybe we should also literally plant? Others chimed in. The librarian wanted a place for kids to play. One man voiced interest in building a barn for a community gathering place. The excitement was palpable.
By the end of that first meeting, I knew for certain that there was nothing I would rather do than help this church start a community garden. They didn’t have a place picked out, there were no funds, they had no idea how to get it going or where the food should go, but that didn’t matter. The reality was that there were hungry people all around us. There was land for growing food, and Jesus’s words feed my sheep were compelling us to act.
I’ve been an edge-dweller in the church universal my whole life, yet I’m always suspicious when people wheel God out to explain their own desires or ill-considered motives, all too eager to substitute theophany for thought, and so it is with great reluctance that I say this: That night driving home from the meeting, I became as certain as I’ve ever been about anything: God was leading me here. I should help them start this community garden. God would work out the details. All I needed to do was give up control. Hop on the ride. Trust.