By Su McLeod
Church of St John the Divine, Victoria, British Columbia
In this reflection, I’d like to spend some time talking about carrots!
So what do we know about the Noble Carrot?
Depending on type they can be long and slim, long and broad, snack size, uniform in shape and dimensions, or curiously organically formed.
The average person will consume 10,866 carrots in a lifetime
Carrots are not always orange, in fact the first Carrots were purple, with some white or black
the orange carrots we are so familiar with today were not clearly mentioned in early manuscripts.
The carrot is a root
They help us to see in the dark
If we eat lots & lots and maybe a few more they can change our appearance!
Even the most tentative of vegetable eaters love carrots
It was in May this year that my relationship with and perspective of the Carrot changed, I was attending the Ask & Imagine Pilgrimage, a leadership development program for Anglican youth and young adults at Huron University College. I was there in the capacity of Mentor.
One of our morning sessions was on our theology and image of God. Laid out in front of us on a table was a vast array of different small forms, items and things, all cut out of wood, including, among other things, a baseball bat, dog, candle, lighthouse, teapot, pineapple, tree, dinosaur, a hand and – a carrot.
We were asked to think about which one of the things before us best represented God to us and our relationship with God. I chose;
Now I’m going to hazard a guess and say it wouldn’t be your first choice or perhaps the most obvious, but bear with me.
Carrots grow in the dark, nutritious rich earth, the green tops feed off the sun’s energy, in turn nourishing the root, helping it to grow.
As part of the Ask and Imagine program the participants go on a pilgrimage to various communities and ministries in Toronto, I was the mentor for the two pilgrims going to an emerging new monastic community called the Jeremiah Village. The term “New Monasticism” was coined by Jonathan Wilson, in his 1998 book called Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World. There have been examples of New Monasticism as we now understand it since the 1970’s. Some examples you may be familiar with are Jean Vanier’s L’Arche, and Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker Movement. More recent examples are being led by Shane Claiborne, and the Potter Street Community (formerly the Simple way), in Philadelphia. And the community we visited in Toronto, the Jeremiah Village
In its simplest term New Monasticism is an intentional community, living purposefully where they have been called. The places where these communities are located are often not the easiest of places to find yourself or your family. They are often places where there is some suspicion of the Church, where people have been hurt and broken by their experiences, where cultures mix and identity is fragmented.
But it is in these dark places, these misunderstood and misrepresented, these broken and fragmented places where the Carrot is growing, where the green tops are reaching out and beckoning us in to see with our eyes (that are fed and nourished by the carrot!) that we are needed in such places. It calls for us to see the brokenness in our own existence, to not pass judgment or condemn, for it is in the brokenness of our lives that the Carrot is seen by others.
At the time of our pilgrimage, The Jeremiah Village was only 5 weeks old; the very nucleus of its formation, exciting times!
As they begin these formative days for the presence of their community in this neighbourhood, the daily life of the community consists of morning prayer at 7:30 in the parish church of St Ann’s, afternoon prayer at 2 wherever you find yourself to be, and engaging in the community; building relationships with businesses, families, people you pass on the street, simply everyone and anyone in the parish boundaries.
While we were there, we found that we had a free evening, so we did as any prayer-filled pilgrim would do in this situation, hopped on the next bus in to Downtown Toronto.
Only we weren’t alone, we were armed with a Carrot.
We were on a journey to see in to those unexpected places, on the bus, the Hard Rock Cafe, construction site, Bay Street, Hockey Hall of Fame, amongst the garbage, in the English pub, with the homeless guy, the organ donation poster, at Massey Hall, in the phone booth, amongst the graffiti, with the Police officer and in the Art instillation.
We were on a mission to see the Carrot’s presence, to be the call for the storm to be at peace and calm. To challenge the prejudices, and to be a calming presence in the midst of chaos and fear.
Travelling around Toronto that evening and in the parish boundaries of St Ann’s the following morning with a Carrot in my pocket opened up a number of opportunities to do something, the kind of something that horror movies are made of – Evangelize! oh no wait sorry my mistake I think I remember something about a great commission, being sent out in pairs, hey and here we were a trio – a trinity – even better!
As we continued to seek those places where the ‘Carrot’s’ presence is often missed, it was surprising to see peoples willingness to take part in our mission, and curiosity of those who were around.
At breakfast I approached a booth full of police offices, “excuse me would it be ok if I take a photograph of you with this Carrot”
I was met with a puzzled look and chuckles, the staff of the cafe gather around behind me “what is this your own private photo shoot” one of the waiters asks and the officers laugh and then their attention comes back to the Carrot “A what” the police officer who is sat closest to me asks “its a Carrot,” I say showing them again, “I am on a pilgrimage and this is my pilgrim’s pouch. In it I have a shell (the symbol associated with St James the patron saint of Pilgrims and a stone), the Carrot represents God” as I talk the looks become less puzzled and more inquisitive, I continue “I am taking photographs of the Carrot in places where God’s presence is sometimes missed, or misplaced; you guys can continue eating breakfast and talking, would that be ok?” the police officer sitting closest to me looks to the others and then back at me and the Carrot, “sure” “Thank you” I say, I take the photograph, thank them again and then return to the table I had been sat at. On our way out of the cafe the booth where the police officers had been sat was now empty, but as I walked by I acknowledged that moment and gave thanks.
On to the afternoon. Being the start of the summer it was already hot, and finding we needed some refreshments after weeding the church garden we went to a cafe just around the corner from St Ann’s. It was a very funky little place, with retro gadgets and bar stools at the counter. As we were waiting to be served I placed the carrot on one of the stools and took a photograph. There was a lady working on a laptop just to my right, she called me over , “that’s interesting, what is it” I go on to tell her that we are on a pilgrimage, that we were staying with the Jeremiah village at St Ann’s Church, and spoke about what that was about and shared some of their vision and then of course what the Carrot represented, and why we were taking photographs of the Carrot and where else we had placed the Carrot. It was amazing, the lady turned out to be the owner of the cafe, had no idea there was a church just around the corner, (she was not the only person we came across for whom this was a revelation) so many questions, and so much sharing.
One of the best incidences we had with the Carrot though was in the Portuguese Bible store, when the shop assistant wanted to buy the Carrot. “How much?” “It’s not for sale” “How much?”
When I was growing up, we were lucky in that we had a large garden with lots of room to play, explore and grow vegetables. I remember helping my dad plant the seeds. When it came time to harvest the vegetables, it was always exciting to pull up the carrots after watching them grow; seeing those roots starting to come out of the dark nourishing earth. It was exciting to see how they had grown and formed, and how they had transformed and been transformed by that which surrounded them.
Then when I was 16 I got my first job, working for Tesco, a supermarket. As part of that job the corporate motto or expectation was to “be Class A to Serve Class A and to sell Class A”. For carrots that meant they had to be uniform, the same as all the others – no kinks, no flaws, none too big, none too small.
It is not too dissimilar to our experiences of how God is prescribed by some. I say prescribed because that has been the experience for some people. A uniform experience, expectation, and understanding.
God is like the Carrot, living in the dark places beckoning us in to see the light through our own brokenness and in that which surrounds us, and by that we are able to be God’s presence, calming the storm, or stirring it up, depending on the need!
God is like the Carrot, organic not prescribed, non uniform.
For the Tesco supermarkent, the corporate expectation was to “be Class A, to serve Class A and to sell Class A”.
For the Carrot – or, the spiritual life – I think the hope is to Seek the Carrot, Live the Carrot, and Be the Carrot. As best we can.
May God be your root and your foundation
may God be your Calm in the midst of the storm,
may God be your source and your strength.