When searching for community we sometimes wonder in what direction this path will take us and whom we may meet along the way. I come to this Catholic Worker Farm from Weathersfield , Vermont as a supplicant, and a volunteer to help out for a few weeks. I find myself sharing a 12th century English farmhouse with a very dedicated couple who’s family includes two sons and a diverse mix of faces, languages, and spirits. I awake in the morning with a sense of confusion over what has led me here, my own impulse, or the hand of God. Perhaps both. Then I feel a deep sense of gratitude. To my husband who understands my quest, to Scott and Maria for having me, to the beauty of this place where the corner room I stay in overlooks the lake and garden. I am especially grateful to the guests with whom we share this mystery of life.
We attended Mass at Saint Paul’s this morning and Father Stan spoke about kinds of prayer. He gave us a vision of standing in the water at dawn, waiting to catch a glimpse of the birds as they rouse to meet the new day. Or simply seeing a donkey standing and waiting. There are so many forms of prayer and we must work hard to both recognize and practice them daily.
And so this old, yet new farm requires much work. Volunteers arrive to help with the building of the “Hermitage”, (I think of the Russian Museum with its priceless and countless pieces of art), on the edge of the lake. The lake is a result of quarry mining and the construction of a channel from Birmingham to London to supply coal and iron ore for the city. Apparently the lake is quite deep and inhabited by huge carp that are caught repeatedly by paying fishermen looking for a pleasant country pastime. We are always seeking a return to nature in this modern world of noise, pollution, and loss of the natural habitat. The lake is refuge to many ducks, geese, swans, and herons; they can be seen gliding silently across the water in the morning mist. It is such a blessing to be staying near this body of living water.
Other farm projects include preparing the garden for the winter fallow, completing the poly tunnel (we call them hoop greenhouses in Vermont ), to extend the growing season. The greenhouse and very old farmhouse are in need of never ending repairs. Life is always full of tasks that must be done in order to support the community and guests. It is important to remember to pace oneself in this work, to be humble and always pray for strength and guidance.
I can’t write about my journey coming here to participate in the Catholic Worker Farm community without considering the context of our current world situation. The global financial markets teeter on the brink of chaos, and the US presidential race nears Election Day. It feels as though those who are aware of what is happening are holding their collective breath while others toil on in pain and oblivion. I completed early voting before leaving the States but I am always left with a feeling of having blood on my hands, trying to be a “responsible” citizen in a so-called democracy. The recent American bailout of the corporate criminals is a theft from the people who need housing, healthcare, and education. The horrific war that has been visited on the Iraqi people has turned on its perpetrators. And now people of faith who mount nonviolent protest to these atrocities are being branded as “terrorists” by the domestic security apparatus. How to maintain faith, hope and love with such dark times ahead? Dorothy and Peter are our guides to help us live a Catholic life, pursuing social justice, sharing with the homeless, and attempting to be more self-sufficient on the land.
We devote ourselves to the practice of the Works of Mercy as our salvation in the face of economic collapse, racial tension, class war, and the loss of meaningful, sustaining work. We see both college graduates and immigrants struggling to find work. The community life has much to offer a diverse group of people.
When I return home I will be participating in the launching of the next action to shut down Guantanamo Bay Military Prison come January in Washington DC . We aim to hold the next administration accountable for closing the prison, ending torture at the hands of the US military and CIA, restoring habeas corpus, maintaining a physical presence at the White House, and educating Congress. This “First 100 Days” campaign will begin with a nine day fast starting January 11th, the seventh anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo as part of the so-called “war on terror”. We hope there are people in the European CW community along with others who can find the resources to come for part of this time. It should be quite eventful!
I recall a quote from William Miller who wrote Dorothy’s biography. “Having researched the Catholic Worker phenomenon I might very well have concluded, on the basis of the evidence, that the movement was a well intentioned but ineffectual pietistic activism. On the basis of the same evidence I might have also concluded that is was a flight from reality and was thus madness. But I have come to view the Worker movement as expressing an idea that comes truly out of the midst of life and gives to the human spirit its highest due”.
In the face of unspeakable suffering experienced by the guests of our Catholic Worker communities, we will continue to pray for the grace to open our minds and act with faith in our efforts with the work of penance and resistance.