Sometimes creating change in the world is as simple as planting a seed and waiting for growth.
That’s a core belief promoted by Becca Stevens, an episcopal priest and Thistle Farms, a community of women who have survived oppression, violence, and prostitution. Thistle Farms produces quality products and runs a cafe to support the community. Becca’s newest book is “Letters From The Farm: A Simple Path for a Deeper Spiritual Life,” a beautiful collection of stories that promote what she calls a “farmer’s theology.” Here she offers a glimpse into this theology and how it can make a difference.
RNS: Let’s start at the beginning. What is a “farmer’s theology”?
BS: The farm that I am describing in this book is as much a state of mind as a place. The theology of this farm is a call to a more simple and practical faith where practitioners tend the fields with a posture of gratitude. Faith within a farmer’s theology is about the daily practices of water and weeding in our corner of the vineyard. A farmer’s theology is less concerned about dogma and feels like a dogged determination to grow healthy crops that feed people’s hearts and minds. I think a farmer’s theology lives at the intersection of contemplation and justice. It can be a lonely place, but it is communal in nature.
RNS: You say that healing is the most important sacrament of the church. How so?
RNS: Farmer’s theology is grounded in the idea that love heals. Thistle Farms is centered on the belief that women survivors of trafficking and violence proclaim mercy so profoundly, that through their healing a whole community can find healing. Being a conduit of healing is tied to the church’s mission to proclaim mercy, and to help the world become a place where love and justice grow. If you think about the traditional seven sacraments of the church, to me through this work I have seen that all the sacraments are facets of healing, offered in different ways at different times to a community that is longing to feel the healing power of love.
RNS: Talk about why you chose the thistle to be your symbol?
BS: Thistles are the only type of wildflower left on the streets and alleys where women who are trafficked and addicted are surviving. Thistles are also a great symbol with their deep tap roots that can shoot through concrete and survive drought. In spite of their prickly appearance, their royal and soft purple center reminds me of the beauty found in all of creation. Being a “Thistle Farmer” is a way of walking into the troubled fields in this world. I have learned from the thistle that the world is our farm, and we can love all creation.
RNS: Why should we keep an eye out for the color purple in nature?
BS: Purple feels like the color of tenderness. Sometimes when I see purple wildflowers blooming it makes my jaw clench, it is so lovely! It is reminds me of the gospel call to the disciples to consider the wildflowers as a glimpse of the kingdom of God. The search for purple is a way of keeping an eye out for small signs of hope, and points us to the great truth that God was never far from us. People can choose their own color! The idea is to be looking deeper into the beauty of creation all around us.
RNS: You’ve fallen in love with dirt, you say, and even Jesus was all about dirt. Tell us about the healing properties of dirt.
BS: Dirt is universal and timeless. It’s the community in which all things grow. The lesson of the sower may be one of the most radical in the Gospel. Jesus is turning the soil to uncover roots, to find out what is really planted in our souls. He is inviting us to grow good fruit and to weep at the parched nature of our being. [tweetable]We need to till the earth of our hearts, watering it and weeding the unruly places.[/tweetable]
One of the letters I wrote from Rwanda, where we were covered in the dusty red dirt. It reminded me that the dirt in the parable is connected to that red dirt in Rwanda, and the Black soil of Iowa, and the sandy dirt in Alabama. All soil is connected. Most dirt is pretty worthless for growing unless we work together to cultivate it. The Good News is not so much that rich soil can produce a hundredfold, it is that the rocky, parched, and weedy soil of this world and in my heart can bear new life. Working together, remembering that we are all dirt, makes it possible for all of us to cultivate the good soil of a life of faith.