Monday 4 May 2020

"The Cucumbers of Servitude"

Manna in the quarantine desert.
Yesterday was the Third Sunday after Easter, and so B.A. and I arranged our home chapel and sat down to watch Mass at St. Mary's Shrine in Warrington. Fr. Henry Whisenant preached a fine homily, and Fr. Ian Verrier impressed us with his musicianship as usual. Naturally Mass itself was as beautiful as it always is, and I certainly hope that more Catholics take advantage of our strange exile to see what the Traditional Latin Mass looks like.

Fr. Whisenant's homily observed that the Israelites in the desert were willing to give up "the milk and honey of the Promised Land for the cucumbers of servitude" in Egypt. I thought that was a brilliant use of words. The Israelites also sighed for the melons, onions and garlic they had in Egypt, which they had enjoyed more than the manna they were currently eating, or at least they thought they did.

I wonder if Fr. Whisenant was suggesting that God is giving us the manna of the Trad Mass in our present emergency and we should not be sighing for the melons of modernity, but I suspect that is my memory mixing up the homily with Wendell Berry's "Christianity & the Survival of Creation." I read some of it before Mass, some in the afternoon, and the last pages this morning. It is a long essay.

Berry blasts "Modern Christianity" therein, and this was the essay with which I found myself most often in argument. In its earliest form it was a lecture at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and Berry was really addressing Protestantism. Obviously Catholics cannot be excused, for we have individually been as wasteful as anyone else---with some honourable exceptions. Wherever there are cloistered convents and monasteries, work as well as prayer is held to be holy and there is good husbandry and thrift.  Wherever there are rules of fasting and abstinence, there is reflection on food. Also, wherever couples refuse to use artificial means to prevent conception, there is a honour and a respect for the laws of nature and for life. Contemporary Catholics even have (and argue over) a "theology of the body," thanks to St. John Paul II.

From Saturday's walk.
In addition, I am not sure to what extent the Catholic Church can be said to collude with the state in the destruction of land, air and water in the English-speaking nations because, with the exception of the 20th century Republic of Ireland, we have not been the religion of the ruling class in English-speaking nations since 1535. In fact, I've heard the Catholic clergy in Quebec did everything they could to keep the laity on their farms and keep alive the traditional French-Canadian way of life. (They ultimately failed.)

That said, it's a good, thought-provoking essay, and it made me think that ecology is too important to be left to modernists and the Left. Quite a lot in it is compatible with, or was anticipated by, traditional Catholicism. Of course, the suggestion that churches are no more holy than the roofless cathedrals of the woods, etc., does not take into consideration the Blessed Sacrament. But of course Berry is not a Catholic.

Naturally I cannot but think also of Pope Francis, Laudato Si' and Querida Amazonia. What is so aggravating for Eco-Trads (by which I mean a traditionalist Catholic who thinks about Creation and stares the realities of pollution in the face) is that the pontiff does and says things about the natural world most likely to frighten and offend orthodox Catholics. The very last thing a Christian leader should suggest to Christians is that reverence for God's creation involves worship of the Earth Mother, or that the Earth is a super-intelligent Creature, or that Andean prayer and sacrifice to the Earth Mother has intrinsic value.

Pope Francis has unfortunately done this, and not as much through his Boff-infused publications as through his actions. The Amazonians (the real ones, not their German bankers) failed to get their stories across to the world media last October because their Pachamama rituals stole the show. Someone on the Catholic Left made a self-serving apology for the Catholic Right, but I did my very best to get the Amazonians' stories to our readers. But unfortunately Pagan-Idols-in-Catholic-Church-This-Week is news, whereas Brumadhino-Dam-Disaster-Last-January is not.

I realise that Pope Francis is a subject on which many of my fellow Wendell Berry readers may disagree with me, so I'll leave that there. What would be great would be a giant of orthodoxy blasting the faithful for seeking worldly professions like the civil service instead of humbly learning proper, useful trades like carpentry, and for consuming more often than we produce, and for wasting money on frivolities Made in China instead of investing in our local communities and their poor. In fact, the Made-in-China rubbish is, I contend, the cucumbers of our pre-corona modernist servitude whereas the good homebody habits we have hopefully taken up now are our manna-in-the-desert.

Speaking of manna in the desert, the first of my courgettes (zucchini) to sprout has sprouted more than ever, and a little radish seedling has already appeared in the veg trug this morning. Yesterday I sat under the apple tree while it was warm out and admired my handiwork. Last summer I didn't like to sit out because looking at our humble flat reminded me of our lovely al fresco parties outside the very not humble Historical House and how they were over for good. However, the tended lawn and gardens are something to be proud of, and maybe we will one day have al fresco parties again.

Another kind of manna is my mother's chocolate birthday cake, otherwise known as Black Midnight Cake (Betty Crocker, 1963), and yesterday I made it for the first time. It turned out--it actually rose to Canadian heights--although it tastes slightly different, as I used butter, not vegetable shortening. It may be objectively better for the butter, but it doesn't taste as much like home as it should.

And then there is the brisket B.A. prepared for Sunday supper. Also delicious.

So that was our day: blogging, Berry, Mass-by-internet, Tesco, running-to-newsagents-for-forgotten-sugar, cake-baking, garden-sitting, brisket-roasting, phone call to BA's mother, supper, Skype to my mother.

I have had a request to stop writing about Berry.  Fortunately I have ordered three new books direct from Blackwell's Booksellers, and two are not by Berry, so there may be a change of theme.

UPDATE: This is Traditionalist Catholic Humour at its best:


  1. What! I am finding the posts on Berry super interesting and have been thinking of looking him up myself.

    1. I recommend it! I'm getting his book on Food next.

  2. I am enjoying your Berry reflections also! I first encountered him through his essays at my small Christian college, and in more recent years I have read some of his fiction and poetry. I hear Jayber Crow is the best of his fiction, and I hope to take it eventually.

    I am very inspired too by your gardening. I hope to start doing more in my new home soon! It's been fun reading your lockdown diaries. Thank you!

  3. I too am really enjoying the Berry reflections, his thinking is so apt for our moment in history to help us reflect on the current situation we are living in, and how we may have gotten here. Do keep it up!

    1. Thank you. He really is interesting and wise.

  4. Love the video, adorable!

  5. Please do keep going with Wendell Berry! I've seen his name cited positively but never actually read him. You're inspiring me!

  6. I agree..please continue..I am curious what he says on the topic of food
    Also, I look forward to reading your posts. And I love the pictures you post, especially the nature:)
    Thank you
    p.s.the cake looks yummy..are those raspberries?

    1. Thank you! I wish my computer would let me post more photos. Those are indeed raspberries.