I begin with the earth herself. We engaged in a process of reclaiming and replenishing land adjacent to our Assumption Center. Land which, after years of neglect, had become very hard, dry, compact – and rocky. Our work involved many hands over many weeks. After laying out our plots, we began the difficult task of digging and carrying away buckets of rock. Next came sifting out the smaller stones, broken glass and debris. To replenish the soil, we used a combination of composts : “community compost” from the sisters’ compost pile, under the patronage of Sr. Mary Ann ; “city compost” from our friends at the Regional Environmnental Center ; and “cowpost” from our pilgrimage with Fr. Aidan, A.A. to Roger’s Dairy Farm. The result : dirt was transformed into soil capable of holding moisture and supporting life. And, through this process of rebuilding the soil, then planting, caring for, harvesting and sharing the bounty, individuals became community. The work of the garden was boundary shattering – it provided a bridge to cross what can be experienced as chasm of class, culture and language.
The best examples of this individual transformation can be seen in our Garden Blessing. We were seeking closure : the work was done, but we didn’t want to just slip apart. We were looking for recognition of all the hard work, the food shared, the community we had become. And we wanted to find a way to ritually give thanks to the earth for her gifts and to our God.
And so, on Oct. 23 we gathered at our Assumption Center. We were : the sisters of the Worcester Community ; Fr. Aidan, our garden guru ; Guadelupe and Guillermina Dominguez and their children, members of our immigrant families ; Kristen Penkala, Coordinator of Assumption Center ; Ann & Steve Kaune, old friends but new to the garden. Circling our plots, Fr. Aidan, typically dressed in gardening clothes, led us in prayer ; Sr. Nuala, in song. As a sign of hope, we each planted a clove of garlic… as a sign of our stewardship, Fr. Aidan led the children in “putting our dear and gentle garden to bed for the winter” by covering it with straw.
Then, we all went inside for a shared meal : I provided Butternut Squash soup, made with squash and herbs from the garden ; Guadalupe made Flautas ; Guillermina made Mole ; the Kaunes, dessert. In that very simple setting, folding tables and plastic tablecloths, I saw a real cross section of Worcester, of America. We represented diverse backgrounds, professions, languages, and levels of education – gathered at the table as equals.
What was especially beautiful for me to see was Guillermina, a Mexican immigrant who can be shy, insecure about her language skills. I saw her physically leaning into the conversation, listening and following. Not just answering questions, but really engaged and telling her stories. I felt the truth of the words of our Rule of Life : the Kingdom of God is present now.
I want to quickly include the role of the Regional Environmental Center. They are an organization in Worcester, MA working for environmental and food justice. They provide material aid in the form of compost and seedlings as well as technical support. However, they also provide a broader perspective to our garden work by plugging us into a network of community gardeners who not only share similar challenges but also have a passion for social justice. The R.E.C. helps us to think globally and act locally.
And that brings me to… myself. This work in this garden – alone or with others – has challenged me to dig deeper ; to turn over and sift through my own rocky soil ; to allow myself to be both pruned and replenished. Borders and boundaries within myself – narrow definitions of sacred space and prayer – continue to be broken down.
I would very much welcome any questions, suggestions or stories of similar experiences.
Sr.Catherine Anne Soley, R.A.