I plan to launch in the coming week or two a video series from here at the Monastery. Not wishing to risk the possibility of putting viewers to sleep with well-intended pious platitudes, I will be creating hopefully informative and relaxing videos lasting about five minutes each that will be available on our website: christdesert.org. The series will begin with the focus on our farming projects and land reclamation here in the Chama Canyon, as well as visually sharing with you some of our work. I can’t promise a new video will appear each week, but at least on a regular basis.
With the current continuation of lockdown, which means people cannot visit or make private retreats here, I want to bring something of our Monastery to you, our friends and families, who most likely are also experiencing the reality of shelter in place at present.
I will be the narrator of the videos (a la Lord Kenneth Clark and his television series of decades ago, “Civilization”), and a brother will be filming the series. Even though quite a few of our brothers are involved with our farm projects, they prefer not to be in the “limelight”, which I respect, but in no way do I want to give the impression that I am the manager of the all the farming endeavors here. I count on the collaboration of several in the community.
At present our farm includes a large vegetable garden, Navajo-Churro sheep, a donkey to guard the sheep from predators, as well as chickens for eggs, bees for honey and horses for recreation and rounding up stray cattle on our property. All the work of building shelters for our animals has been done by our monks and much of it made possible by generous gifts from benefactors. If a particular area of the farm appeals to you, please feel free to assist as you are able with maintenance costs and expansion of our projects on the farm. Such help would be gratefully received.
We don’t have goats, cows, ducks or other “usual suspects” on a farm, but who knows what we might be led to acquire in time!
The video series we are beginning, which I hope you will enjoy, intentionally begins on our farm. Part of the motivation for us to return to more outdoor and physical work here, which tending gardens and animals necessarily implies, is linked to the analogy of manual labor with the “bigger labor” of growth in the spiritual life. Such progress can be greatly assisted by connection and nearness to the earth, what we place on it and what we do with it.
A beautiful quote from the Prophet Hosea, who was active in the 8th century before Christ, sums up well our agrarian aspirations coupled with spiritual growth. Hosea tells God’s people:
“Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of mercy; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord, that He may come and rain salvation upon you” (Hosea 10:12).
Ironically, perhaps, the Prophet Hosea specifically denounced the Canaanite god of nature, which had integrated itself into the lives of the Israelite people when they first arrived in the Promised Land and learned agricultural methods from the pagan inhabitants already there. In the process, God’s people forgot the true God and turned to idols. We in our day and age desire to find God at work in nature and creation, but not because nature is God. Rather, God is manifest in creation around us and even in the humble tasks we take up each day, whatever they may be, from cooking and cleaning, to crafts and tending gardens and livestock.
Saint Benedict expects his monks will devote part of each day to some form of manual labor, not to fill in time, but to be partakers in the creative and life-giving work of God who created and preserves creation.
Like most things in the monastery, the video project will be a collaborative effort, echoing the beautiful words of Psalm 132 that we chant each Tuesday at Vespers:
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is when brothers live in unity.” The production of the videos will involve several of us here, including a brother who will be the cameraman, a couple of brothers who will do the editing and post production work on each video and a brother who will post the videos on our website.
After viewing, your suggestions for improvement will be welcome. Keep in mind these are not Cecil B. DeMille productions, so you’ll have to go with the flow, as we say.