KANSAS CITY, Kan. (The Leaven) - Prayer comes easily to Maurice Buessing when he’s alone, out on his land, farming.
The parishioner of St. Michael Parish in Axtell said that he can’t help but see the hand of God in his work and when he follows God’s will by taking care of his crops and the soil.
Farming, he said, is good for feeling close to God.
Annette Burton, a member of St. Malachy Parish at Beattie, feels much the same way.
“The special thing we have is that we’re out on the land, and we can see [God] in every aspect - the animals around us, the crops growing, the birds and the flowers, and the rain,” said Burton, who operates a family farm with her husband, Ron.
And when Burton prays, “The Lord is my shepherd,” she understands, from firsthand experience, exactly what that means.
“We had a man who lived near us who owned a flock of sheep, so one day I went over there to see how the shepherd relates to sheep, how it compared with the Scriptures,” she said. “It was awesome to see how his little sheep raised their heads when he called them in. It went exactly along with the parables.”
Farm spirituality begins with a deep appreciation for creation. The farmer does not create the land, or control the weather, or give life to the seeds he plants or the animals he raises - it’s all God, farmers say.
This is not to imply that other spheres of life - the school, the factory, and the office - lack spirituality.
In fact, said Buessing, “I think your relationship with God doesn’t have a whole lot to do with your occupation.”
Still, the nature and purpose of farming creates opportunities and an awareness of creation that might not be present in other circumstances.
In fact, it puts nature - and its vagaries - at the very center of your working life. That has the result of making one aware of one’s dependence on God in a way that sometimes others can forget for months or years at a time.
It also has a way of building community - making you rely on and appreciate your neighbors to an extent that was more common in Gospel times than it is today. Farming creates a natural community of interdependent souls, whose responsibility to their crops, their animals, their neighbors and the land itself is the very expression of their faith and is lived out in the ethos of good stewardship. Farming produces a fundamental human good - food, without which no one could live.
The National Catholic Rural Life Conference in Des Moines, Iowa, recently conducted a series of listening sessions entitled “Women, Land and Legacy.” These sessions, directed to women who own and farm land, discovered a deep spirituality.
“When we asked women about their connections to the land, a series of values came up,” said Carol Richardson Smith, director of the Direction Rural Community Support Program. “God, prayer and stewardship were very high ranking values of all the items, the most often mentioned.”
Further down the list were the related ones of hope, love, healing, and wisdom.
Father Richard McDonald, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Sabetha, Kan., St. Augustine in Fidelity, Kan., and St. James at Wetmore, Kan.,has noticed the deep spirituality of his farming families.
“I think there is a real awareness of the need for dependence on God that you don’t see so easily in the city or suburbs, when your lives depend on how God directs the seasons and weather,” said Father McDonald.
He can see this deeply held belief in God and his bountifulness through the people’s Mass attendance, their prayer life, and eucharistic devotion. His parishioners also exhibit strong feelings of community through their pride in their parishes and the way they help their neighbors. He also sees a eucharistic subtext: Without the wheat they grow, there could be no bread for the Eucharist.
Parables that Christ told, as recorded in the Gospels, often use images taken from agriculture.
“It all goes back to God,” said Father McDonald. “It all has to do with nature, which is not man-made, but [which is] divinely established, divinely ordained.”
Through farming, one can gain an awareness that God directs creation not only to produce the bounty of the earth for the physical life of humans, but also as a way to teach his love and goodness.
Rural spirituality is grounded in practicality and reality, added Father Owen Purcell, a longtime rural pastor, now sacramental minister to St. Mary Parish in St. Benedict.
“I was giving marriage instruction to a young engaged couple and asked what they would be doing early Saturday night after the instruction,” he said. “They said that while there was still daylight, they were going to build another lamb pen!”
Like the eucharistic subtext noted by Father McDonald, Father Owen sees many spiritual connections between rural life and the Catholic faith.
“Farmers work together for self and neighbor in an atmosphere that encourages, respects and depends on community,” he said. “Of course, our Christian and so, Trinitarian, spirituality is based on the loving community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The rural approach is very concretely so.”
The planting, growing and harvesting seasons blend with the liturgical seasons. The realities of life and death - those of crops, animals, and even family members - touch upon the truths taught about death and resurrection. A rain that falls on the just and unjust is never refused, but accepted. The sacraments of baptism, confirmation, Eucharist and matrimony are grand occasions of celebration for families and the whole parish.
“A farmer has to trust,” said Father Thomas Dolezal, a former rural pastor, now pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kan. “They go out there and invest their whole lives in their crops, and they trust God to bring that crop to its fulfillment. I see a farmer as really being able to touch God in a way no one else can through that trust and creativeness they share with the Lord.”
This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of The Leaven (www.theleaven.com), official newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City, Kan.