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Artful stewardship

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Today, it’s trendy to denounce consumerism and individualism. But do we know what they are? Consume This! looks for a new way to be Anabaptist in the 21st century by highlighting habits taken for granted. How are thought, faith, and action connected?—Eds.

“As long as you don’t mind living off the land,” she concluded. My host’s caveat assured me I’d found the ideal location for a three-day retreat from the busy life I lead in the city.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes,” Marcel Proust said. But I was to discover a new landscape and find new eyes.

My hosts, the retired parents of a good friend, live in Old Barns, Nova Scotia, a rural strip of fertile land fronting the Bay of Fundy. The Acadians built hundreds of dikes and farmed there before their expulsion. This quiet, peaceful community is my escape from Halifax. It’s a quiet nook nestled among larger farms.

A bright orange caterpillar with a black line down her spine, an uncommon creature discovered eating birch trees, presides over our first meal. My hosts’ attentiveness to the details of the natural world is evident; they will lovingly sketch and identify her before they release her to cocoon in the garden.

We share a simple, homegrown supper of broccoli, baked potatoes, carrots, Brandywine tomatoes, fresh cucumbers, and Pippin apple pie. We discuss the subtleties of flavour, texture, and colour. Tomatoes have never tasted as good as these tart and full-bodied heirlooms with taut pinkish-red skins tinged with streaks of green. My hosts identify four varieties of potato by taste alone. The carrots are honey-sweet.

I see new ways of being and living and consuming that cause me to reflect on my own.

My hosts’ garden is chock-full of vegetables, fruits and herbs that will be canned, pickled, frozen, or stored. There is abundance. The deck is blanketed with bushels of onions and potatoes drying, and the hall is hung with garlic and aromatic herbs. We discuss the scent of dried nettles, reminiscent of cut grass mingled with seaweed, collected by my friend’s artist-father on the Newfoundland shore during a painting retreat. The nettles are brewed into a soothing tea. The wild and pungent flavour of dark purple Italian plums is also a topic of conversation. Gratitude for the creativity of God swells in my heart.

In my life in Halifax, do I have eyes to appreciate or tongue to taste these nuances in simple food?

Like the artist, whose highest compliment comes from an adoring pupil grasping the complexity of his mentor’s masterpiece, or the author whose favourite phrase is “I read your book,” I imagine that God is deeply moved by this attention and dedication to his creativity in the natural world.

My new friends’ attention to these details, is it consumption as art?

In the evening, we sit in front of the blazing wood fire, hearing a story read aloud, while an excess of scarlet runner beans dries in front of the stove. “It’s going to be a hard winter, with the oil prices, I think,” my friend says. Oh good, you’ll have enough to feed yourselves through the winter, I say to myself. But he finishes his thought with “I’m glad we have plenty to give away.”

My beautiful new friends, surrounded by their wild and wonderful garden, have shared all they have with me. I see – in their thoughtful, conscious consumption, and their stewardship – that they are thankful for the smallest detail in God’s provision.  They use what is needed and give the rest away: to the neighbours, the community, and to those who lack.

“Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same” (Luke 3:11).

I return to the city with a bag full of carrots and beets, a recipe for Italian plum kuchen, and dirt under my fingernails.  And I return with a new perspective. I am challenged to notice the taste of tomatoes and the colour of plums. These details of God’s provision inspire gratitude. Gratitude serves as an antidote to immoderation, greed, and overconsumption. I’m also challenged to give generously to my community and to those who lack even the basics, for I know that all I have belongs to God.

The question is not how much I give to God, but how much of his provision do I keep?

With my new eyes, I see and am glad we have plenty to give away.

Kate Dewhurst

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