by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM May 22, 2021
We’re on the edge of June, the time of my birth month and the month that ushers in so much that offers delight and pleasure in the Northern hemisphere: warm days and cool nights, explosions of blossoming all around, leisure time, and the summer fruits that I so enjoy. At the top of that list: strawberries. Whenever I bite into their juicy deliciousness, I pay the Holy One a compliment and say, “Wow, you really knew what you were doing when you dreamt the idea for this!”
There’s simply no way strawberries could be prepared that’s not cause for my gratitude: purchased fresh from a farm stand, rinsed and eaten out of a supermarket package, sprinkled with sugar and swimming in cream, married to a crepe, crowning a shortcake.
Whenever I shop at a supermarket, I’ve developed the habit of reading the labels affixed to fruit and vegetables, and I’m amazed at the distance they have traveled to reach my corner of the world. Though I try to buy locally as much as possible, I’ve also welcomed Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, Chile, Costa Rica and, closer to where I live, California, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, and more into my home. Imagine what these peaches and limes and watermelon and berries have witnessed since their picking!
I’ve also grown into a consciousness of the callouses of hands, the sweat of brows, the aching of backs, the weariness of long haul truckers, the sore shoulders of those who lift and unpack crates—all to bring me nourishment and pleasure.
When I was awakened to social justice issues many years ago through an invitation to advocate for sweatshop workers in New York City and beyond, I learned these workers were mostly women laboring long hours under unsanitary and often dangerous conditions for meager pay. Since then, I read the labels on any clothing I buy, I offer gratitude for the people who labor, and I pray for the safety and well-being of anyone who has had a hand in bringing a shirt or pants to me.
The same awareness applies to summer fruit but especially to my favorite, strawberries. Someone I never met must have had a similar experience of sudden, deep knowing. Alison Luterman describes this coming into the light of understanding in Bread, Body, Spirit, Finding the Sacred in Food:
“Strawberries are too delicate to be picked by machine. The perfectly ripe ones even bruise at too heavy a human touch. It hit her then that every strawberry she had ever eaten—every piece of fruit—had been picked by calloused human hands. Every piece of toast with jelly represented someone’s knees, someone’s aching back and hips, someone with a bandana on her wrist to wipe away the sweat. Why had no one ever told her this before?”
Why, indeed? But here’s the thing about discovering and knowing: we can never go back to whatever state we were in before our worldview was broken wide open and expanded, before we grew in awareness of both the local and the global price others have paid for our pleasure and enjoyment. So may we keep on enjoying the ripe, juicy gifts of summer, and each time we do, may we give thanks for the givers of those sweet and succulent gifts.
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
If you have a piece of ripe fruit available, you may want to set it some place where you can gaze at it.
Reflect on the abundance of this season and the miracle and mystery that is God’s giving.
Hold in tenderness and prayer all those who have had a part in bringing this fruit to your table.
Eat the fruit slowly, taking into your own body the life and labor of a neighbor across the world.
Featured Image: Louis Hansel, Unsplash
Please remember in your prayer all who will be part of these upcoming events:
May 21 -23: Directed Retreat Weekend at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth in Wernersville, PA. I’ll be one of the guest directors for the weekend.
June 6-13: A guided retreat I’ll be leading for the Sisters of the Holy Spirit in San Antonio, Texas. Thank you!
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