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I first planted a garden because of something an Italian monk wrote some 1500 years ago.
His name is Benedict - St. Benedict of Nursia. And the document he penned became known as his Rule or guide for monastic life. As author Jon Sweeney has noted, the Rule of St. Benedict became not only the basic guide for generations of monks in various religious orders, but it established a “way of life rooted in the Gospel and grounded in the scriptural principles of charity, stability and faithfulness.”
Benedict didn’t want the monks to be “idle,” so in addition to their time spent praying and reading the Scriptures, he required them to work with their hands. “When they live by the labor of their hands, as our fathers and the apostles did, then they are really monks,” wrote Benedict. He saw everything done for the Lord as an act of worship, whether it was kneeling at an altar, crafting a table, or working the land.
I wasn’t attracted to woodwork, but I could plant a garden, even though I’d never done that either.
So this city boy grew to love that little plot of ground in our back yard that my wife so generously allotted me.
One of my proudest moments as a keeper of God’s good earth came when my friend, Brother Paul, a Cistercian monk from the Abby of Gethsemani, stopped by on his way to a dental appointment and cast an approving eye on my little Garden of Eden.
I secretly turned more grass into garden, and Lori pretended not to notice.
One thing leads to another: My concern and love for the land soon extended far beyond the piece of earth I tended.
And so last week I found myself on a van with several of the Sisters of Loretto. They were a small representation of the nuns who so courageously refused to allow the powerful Bluegrass Pipeline to survey their land.
Why did they do that, and why was I on the van with them?
The liquids the pipeline would carry contain dangerous fracking material that if spilled - and at least one spill involving all kinds of pipelines occurs every day - could seriously harm the land God has given the nuns and us.
In fact, according to the U.S, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a “significant incident” involving a hazardous liquids pipeline occurs every three days. Due to the highly toxic nature of these natural gas liquids, any spill or leak - however big or small - could be extremely harmful to local residents, the environment, and the land.
And so I joined the nuns in delivering a petition to Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear’s office, urging him to oppose this pipeline, which will threaten homes and drinking water - and would cut through the heart of Kentucky, including my beloved Abby of Gethsemani, the oldest operating monastery in America, where Brother Paul and others live, quietly abiding by St. Benedict’s Rule.
Traveling with the nuns, we talk of how we are up against it. The Bluegrass Pipeline is a powerful entity and promises jobs, although most are temporary, and offers money to landowners for easements.
But my traveling companions are full of faith. There’s the diminutive Sister Mary. You’d never guess she’s been at the Motherhouse since 1958, for she is still as feisty as a Terrier pup. Sister Pauline, a member of the community since 1951, speaks with measured words of wisdom indicative of a life spent in contemplation. Sister Ceciliana’s 63 years as a nun apparently hasn’t dulled the effervescent glow constantly beaming from her jovial face. (Or is the 63 years the reason for her glow?)
The nuns are joined by Co-Members of the Loretto community: Peg, whose smile is infectious, is of the United Church of Christ; Susan, whose quiet reserve belies her wealth of knowledge about the pipeline’s dangers, is a Mennonite; and JoAnn, a Catholic, serves as our capable and faithful driver, as well as a sensitive conversationalist.
We are bound together by the love of Christ that also binds us to the land he entrusted to our care.
“Look at the sun breaking through those clouds,” declares Sister Ceceliana, as we bump along in our van. “It’s almost like a second sunrise.”
Later that day, having returned from our mission to the State Capitol, I stroll around the grounds surrounding the Loretto Motherhouse and see an amazing thing: the sun suddenly splitting the clouds, much like it did earlier that morning. St. Benedict’s words echo in my ears until the wind whispers that it’s time to return to work.
And then I realize I’ve already been there.
Editor’s note: Contact David B. Whitlock, Ph.D., at email@example.com or visit his website, www.davidbwhitlock.com.