Reading 1: Isaiah 25:6-10a
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
Reading 2: Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20
Gospel: Matthew 22:1-10
Back in May, when the shelter-in-place orders in the Chicago area began to ease, I started volunteering at JustRoots just as their new St. James Church community farm initiative was taking off. The JustRoots project began in 2017 at Legends South Farm in Bronzeville on the south side, and had been partnering with the St. James Food Pantry since the beginning. The co-founders began to think critically about ways they could work together to empower communities to develop access to local, sustainably grown food in areas of the city often considered food deserts. By 2019, the farm had produced over 10,000 pounds of produce with 50% going to local food pantries, and the other 50% sold to Chicagoans through the CSA (community supported agriculture) program and weekly farm stand.
With the pandemic conditions of 2020, food insecurity is only increasing. I was excited to discover JustRoots through a CTU student, to be able to work with the earth and others in a low COVID-risk setting (masked, socially distanced, and outdoors), and contribute somehow to feeding the hungry and promoting health with nutritious produce, including my own. Starting from scratch, moving soil, forming beds, planting seeds, witnessing the earth’s generosity grow in the gift of food has been amazing. Included in the earth’s generosity is the hard work and direction of the JustRoots team and all the volunteers, not to mention the shared joy we experience in the process. The goldfinches in the sunflowers seem to sing this joy, as well as the monarch butterflies and other insects who visit the farm. In four short months, a thriving ecosystem has sprung to life, right next to the elevated train that lumbers by every so often, reminding us that we are right in the middle of the city. I am reminded of the poet Rumi’s words: “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
I am certain we (team and volunteers) are from all different religious persuasions (or none), yet I sense a resonance with today’s Isaiah reading as God “provides for all peoples a feast of rich food… and wipes away tears from every face” through the participation of each person with the earth herself in bringing the farm to life and sharing her abundance. “JustRoots: Cultivating Community” is the full title of the project, and sets the atmosphere for a banquet as it builds community through shared gathering space, community events, and good food! A wedding feast celebrates the relationships among people, which are a gift and not earned; it is an invitation that asks for a grateful heart in response, and in such gratitude we can only continue to open our hearts to others. The earth teaches us generosity and reciprocity. The educational programming of JustRoots has passed on this wisdom and technical knowledge to move more than over 1,000 student and adult learners as the urban sustainable farm movement grows across the U.S. During the 2020 Interfaith Consultation “Good Trouble for a Healthy Planet,” micro-initiatives and community-led efforts were highlighted as significant for the earth’s regeneration. Wherever you find yourself on the earth, listen to her for guidance. What community-led micro initiative can emerge where you are?
Even in the midst of an abundant autumn harvest, a Midwest winter is just around the corner when the earth will rest in snow-covered stillness. The starkness of the four seasons here teaches us the lessons of the reading from Philippians: how to live in humble circumstances, how to know the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, how to live in abundance and in need, and how to share one another’s distress. Especially during these chaotic and anxious times, may we grow in abundant compassion for one another and ourselves as we live fully through these times together.