Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On Land and Home

Some mornings when I'm working in the fields, I listen to books on tape. This morning, I was listening to "The Lemon Tree," by Sandy Tolan. The book delves into the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict through the inter-twining stories of a Bulgarian Jewish family and a Palestinian family. One of the most wrenching themes of the history is the fact that while one family, representing the scattered Jewish people, arrives in what they see as their homeland after 2,000 years and much persecution, another family, representing the Palestinian people, is forcibly displaced from this very same home.

At one point, Tolan describes how Israeli armies are ordered to burn fields that cannot be harvested so that the Palestinian farmers will not return. As I staked tomatoes, I tried to imagine what it would be like to see our crops destroyed by mass arson - the eight CSA boxes that we just filled with produce, this blossoming tumble of tomato leaves and stems that took me most of the morning to twine up, our ripe cucumbers and corn, my favorite purple beans... all that time, labor, and something more, too. Wartime acts of destruction reveal, in a way, the worth of land as more than the "sum of its parts." Among other things, agricultural land represents a people's means to sustain themselves, their commitment to a place, and a peaceful existence.

Agriculture's connection to peace and permanence go way back. In Christian scriptures, the first agriculturalist mentioned, Cain, murders his brother and is cursed to wander the earth with the added punishment of land that will not yield a harvest when he works the ground (Genesis 4:1-14). This pronouncement (and Cain's legendary parents' sad track record) seems to point to the Creator's disappointed intentions for humans. The ability to enjoy the earth's abundance and to reside permanently in the location of production and provision seems to be an elusive blessing throughout scripture's story of God's people. Throughout their enslavement in foreign lands, desert wanderings, and the occupation of the land they thought was theirs, the promise remains that they will "build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit... [and] long enjoy the works of their hands" (Isaiah 65:21). Yet God's promise of home seems never to reach fulfillment, and the people continue in the ways of Cain.

A longing for Home is one of the main reasons that I joined this project (sensing that ancient connection between land and home). I've known something of Cain's restless wanderings myself after about 11 moves in 22 years. At nearly every house where my family lived, we planted a garden or at least a few fruits and veggies. I imagine a trail of produce following us around the world: pineapples in Indonesia, corn in Tennessee, peaches in central California... and here I am today, staking tomatoes in southern California, knowing that next year they'll probably be part of the produce trail. Sometimes all I want is the security of a true home, where I can deeply know and love the place and enjoy its fruits for an indefinite time.

My dear friends, Michael and Pamela, visited this last weekend from San Diego and, probably without knowing it, spoke some words of wisdom into my wonderings (and wanderings). They told me about the little garden they're planting together in their yard. Though no one would expect renters to care for the place aside from the most basic upkeep, my friends are dirtying their hands in ground that is not technically their "own." They only plan to live in the house they're renting for a year, yet they are poking seeds into the soil and patting into place the hope that their garden will be a gift to their neighborhood when they're no longer around to tend to it.

Hearing Pamela and Michael talk about their small act of planting a garden despite an unknown future made me think of our work here. So many of the returns, especially for our work connecting to the surrounding community, are unseen and involve a scary amount of trust in the next group of interns. I only know for sure that I'll be here until mid-summer next year, and may be gone when others harvest what we sow. Yet I believe this relatively short time of connecting to place and developing a home will last longer than my time here, and will be a part of something larger than itself.

In this way, our farm project, like my friends' garden planting, helps me understand what people mean when they talk about the kingdom, or commonwealth, of God. I think that these hopeful plantings are, literally, contributions to a kingdom that doesn't belong to me or anyone else and whose harvest I may never fully enjoy. These thoughts make me wonder if I will ever experience permanence in my lifetime, or a sense of home... but maybe, as I glimpse more and more how our work proclaims a converging reality, I'll somehow live out something of the "Promised Land" on the different plots of rented earth wherever I may live.


1 comment:

  1. Katerina, your post reminds me of an Arab proverb: "If we expect to see the final results of our work, we simply have not asked a big enough question." Thank you for your generous sowing in land and community what will not be fully harvested in your intern year.