Today was day number eight living and working on an organic biodynamic farm just north of San Jose in the province of Heredia. Eight days and almost as many blisters. Student hands trying and hopefully, slowly, painfully, becoming planting hands, weeding sands, sawing hands, pruning hands, shepherding hands, digging hands.
The farm is small. Just over five hectares. To come here and see it, the work of one man, gives one the romantic indulgence of imagination, of a simple life where one grows their own food and derives a peaceful happiness from the deep and uncluttered joys of a land that provides and a family to love. One can see hundreds of deep green coffee plants overshadowed by banana and plantain trees, a greenhouse full of green and other colours with the plants reaching heights only the tropics would allow, and gardens full of all kinds of vegetables known and unknown as sheep graze in cordoned off pastures nearby. To see is easy and so is to imagine. I was at this same farm eight weeks ago, seeing and imagining. “The simplicity, the joy, the peace, they must feel!”
Happiness, joy, peace, simplicity…all these are very present here. But so are blisters. So is getting up at 6AM to work and “finishing” work at 8PM with endless work still to do. So is a family who has problems and arguments like any other family. So is a farmer who believes so strongly in what he’s doing but tells me every day that this kind of life is HARD.
The purpose of these “community immersion experiences” of the program that I and my friends are taking part of all over Costa Rica is to understand and realize different and alternative ways of living being practiced in this country. Here, I am catching the smallest glimpse into what it means to live in connection with the land through small farm biodyamic agriculture. It is a wonderful sight and a hard life. Such alternatives we like to idealize and yearn for are crucial ways of living and, I believe, absolutely necessary, but the physical and mental fatigue that comes along with the rewards are all too real too.
Rodrick, the farmer and his family with whom I living and working, told me a few days ago that “To cultivate the land is to cultivate the spirit”. What a beautiful statement. What a beautiful thing to read. What an easy thing to read. Rodrick has much to say on spirit and the power, the rhythms, the “Christ-forces” in the land as he calls them but I don’t have time to describe it all nor do I understand it all. Yet I am realizing the profundity of this simple statement after a few days having been here. Cultivating the land is a powerfully relational and intimate experience with Creation. But it is not easy: “through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life”. He is rewarded for his labour by full bunches of bananas, luscious heads of kale, and rich homemade-all-the-way coffee but it is by the sweat of brow and break of back. He is a servant of the land. He goes to bed exhausted each night but with the peace in the knowledge that he is interacting and harmonizing with Creation to create of it life, good and right, despite the discords that run through his land and the world. That is his spiritual cultivation. It is not easy either.
We do not cultivate the land. In so many ways our lives (I’m referring to people like me, choose to disassociate at will) are so much easier than Rodrick’s. Yet as such they are so much further disconnected from the cultivation of the land, from the harmonization with Creation if I can paraphrase it that way. Are our spiritual lives that “easy” too? That “disconnected”? We romanticize cultivating the land for a living when in reality it is backbreaking work, perhaps we romanticize and live a romanticized cultivation of the spirit, our life’s work, when it should be mind, body, soul breaking work.
The blisters on my hands are a stinging reminder of the clash of two very different ways of living. They hurt but that is good. Pain helps me to build towards a deeper, broader, more inclusive understanding that there are many different and alternative ways of living but transitioning to practice a different way of life is a hard process as is living that life when it is a transition from the physically comfortable to the physically uncomfortable. I hope and pray for and believe I have felt in my time here the spiritual blisters that are a result of being pushed into deeper waters that call me to look into my own life and be challenged to reflect and react on what it really means to be a Christ follower. Something to think about on this Easter Monday that we reflect not only on Jesus’ death and resurrection but on the example He was in his life, a HARD life but showing us how we can cultivate the spirit, cultivate servant-hood, in how we choose to live our lives.
1 Colossians 1:10
“So that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”