I have had this book sitting on my shelf for a few weeks now, in a pile of books that I have slated to examine if not fully review. I noticed that the most recent episode of the “Nick and Josh Podcast,” to which I subscribe, featured a dual Good Friday/Earth Day interview with Kyle T. Kramer, author of A Time to Plant: Life Lessons in Work, Prayer and Dirt (Ave Maria Press, 2010). Kramer is perhaps best known to the readership of this blog for his columns in America magazine, the Jesuit weekly. The interview on the “Nick and Josh Podcast” reveals what an interesting guy Kramer is and I recommend having a listen. I found myself drawn back to the book that only previously glanced through to have a closer look. It is really a nice treat and I think that Springtime is the perfect time for someone to read this book.
The book is a very interesting look at the nexus of theological reflection, ecological sustainability, farming and personal journey. Kramer, who earned an M.Div. at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, is well-versed in the theological literature that he draws upon, not in slavish or overly technical ways, to substantiate his experience and give voice to what he sees as the natural connections between the earth and spirituality.
Kramer is very honest and forward about his own life experience and observations. It is refreshing, if at times a little uneasy, to be brought so close to his life. The uneasiness, I might add, doesn’t come from gratuitous comments as much as the unusual presence of such transparency in books today.
When he draws on sources, sparingly in overt ways but clear in his outlook and worldview, he does so from the best: Wendell Berry and Michael Pollan (a favorite of mine), to name but two. He also has a fully embodied sacramental outlook, something that Catholics and those with Catholic-esque imaginations alike will certainly recognize and appreciate. Take, for example, this short excerpt from his chapter on farming and food:
Eating is an inescapable and fundamental way in which we relate to the world, which Jesus, in centering so much of his ministry around meals, must surely have recognized. Like a sacrament, food is an outward and visible sign of a deeper, complex, and generally hidden reality. It can be a symbol of destruction, as when poorly grown food represents the layers of personal, cultural, economic, political, and environmental ill heath that are its causes or effects. It can be a symbol of health and healing, as when a simple, delicious, and nutritious meal embodies the love and care involved in its growing, sharing, and eating. Like the Eucharist, good food represents the partnership between human and divine effort: fruit of the earth, whose seasons and cycles of growth are in God’s control; and the work of human hands, which cooperate with nature and nature’s God to coax crops from the soil. (117)
I definitely recommend this book and suggest that those who are particularly close to the earth, whether as hobbyist gardeners, lovers of nature or full-time farmers, particularly pick up this text. Even those who haven’t a green thumb (or any green finger for that matter — any plant entrusted to my care inevitably dies) will like this book.