• Michael Martin

The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Sophia in Exile.

Biodynamic farming reinforces the very Christian, very Catholic notion of the sacredness of the year. The agricultural cycle and the liturgical cycle are (or used to be) beautifully intertwined. Much like Celtic knotwork, to remove one of these strands from life is to destroy life’s integral unity and beauty. Unfortunately, that is precisely what happened over the course of the centuries until now we find Christianity and agriculture estranged from each other, to the detriment of both. What we have instead are utilitarian liturgical and agricultural models that have even succeeded in making human being strangers to the food they eat, the foundations of religion, the cosmos, and each other.

This has not always been the case, and a belief in the sacred coalescence of religion and agriculture it is not even particular to Christianity. In Virgil’s Georgics, for example, the great Augustan poet reminds the reader of the proper disposition to the land and the gods:

Mark the months and signs of heaven; whither Saturn’s cold star withdraws itself into what circles of the sky strays the Cyllenian fire. Above all, worship the gods, and pay great Ceres her yearly rites, sacrificing on the glad sward, with the setting of winter’s last days, when clear springtime is now come. Then are lambs fat and wine is most mellow; then sweet is sleep, and thick are the shadows on the hills. Then let all your country folk worship Ceres; for her wash the honeycomb with milk and soft wine, and three times let the luck-bringing victim pass round the young crops, while the whole crowd of your comrades follow exulting, and loudly call Ceres into their homes; nor let any put his sickle to the ripe corn, ere for Ceres he crown his brows with oaken wreath, dance artless measures, and chant her hymns.” [1]

Examples of how Christianity was once entwined with agricultural are often dismissed with charges of “paganism,” the go-to libel for lazy Puritans, whether Protestant, Catholic, or secularist. But even a cursory knowledge of how the liturgical cycle when imbued with folk customs enriched human life clearly indicates how impoverished we are. A world without the blessing of the fields, St. John’s fires, and Lammas bread is a shadow world, indeed. H. J. Massingham describes this tragedy as one demarcated by “the dividing line when Christendom began to depart from Christianity.” Can it be described any other way? His diagnosis is irrefutable: “Nor can the Christian Faith (seeing that there is no alternative to it) itself be rejuvenated unless it be equally shown that its own division from nature has pauperized it as an all-sufficient gospel for modern, grown-up, Western man, wrecked in the bitter sea of his own self-will.” [2]

What is easy to miss in (re)connecting the liturgical with the agricultural is that what we are really talking about is a regeneration of Creation. Liturgical acts, sacramental acts, and agricultural acts should be (and rarely are, unfortunately) deeds reconsecrating Creation. So much the less when they are estranged from each other. The marriage of folk and liturgical customs found in the practices of the medieval peasantry maintained this understanding in the agricultural setting, but even earlier practices maintained it with Creation in its wilder forms. The Celtic churches, so difficult to perceive clearly through the mists of history, moved in such an awareness. The legends of the Celtic saints—Patrick, Brendan, Brigit, and Columba for example—are rich with a natural world barely touched by agriculture. Indeed, it is interesting to note that Celtic monasticism with its extraordinary emphasis on asceticism and learning arose in a geographical area almost complete devoid of urban centers. It may be precisely because of this that Celtic monks participated in the wildness of Creation in a manner almost entirely unknown in other contexts. The exquisite Welsh “Litany of the Creation” (c. 7th century) voices this beautifully:

I beseech the people of heaven with bright-armed Michael; I beseech you by the triad of wind, sun, and moon.
I beseech you by water and the cruel air; I beseech you by fire, I beseech you by earth. [3]

It is no accident, I think, that the alternate title for St. Patrick’s extraordinary Breastplate is “The Deer’s Cry.”

My own path into farming—and deeper into Christianity—was accompanied by the intuition (that is the only word for it) of the inner (and real) meaning of the Creation. In my twenties I had heard from a friend that Rudolf Steiner once said that there were three meetings people have with the Trinity over their lives. In the daily rhythm of sleeping and waking, he said, we meet the Holy Spirit via our guardian angel in the deepest part of sleep. Over the course of our lives, he continued, we meet “the Father Principle” but not before the twenty-ninth year (the cycle of Saturn). But over the course of a year, by paying attention to the subtle changes in Nature day by day and as mirroring the liturgical year, we meet the Son. For Steiner, Christ united himself with the earth through his incarnation, baptism, and, especially, crucifixion and resurrection, so it would make sense that we could learn to know Christ through attending to the rhythms of the year, both liturgical and cosmic. “When the year’s course is again felt by humanity as an inner connection with the Mystery of Golgotha, then, by attuning the feelings of the soul with both the course of the year and the secret of the Mystery of Golgotha, a true social feeling will be the true solution, or at any rate the true continuation of what is today so foolishly called...the social question.” [4] I didn’t know whether or not this was true, but I figured it was at least worth exploring. Over thirty years later, I still haven’t stopped this exploration. If we can meet Christ through Nature, he is available to anyone paying attention to the Creation. This is the real takeover from inside.

Farming, then, working with the earth and its rhythms, is in its ideal form to also work with Christ, a truly sacred vocation. Unfortunately, so much of what goes by the name of farming these days, even, alas, in much allegedly “organic” farming, is oblivious if not antithetical to such an ethos. But the reality of the Crucifixion enlivened a dying earth with spiritual forces: it’s as simple as that. Sergei Bulgakov explains the phenomenon with luminous power:

The spear wound, not the breaking of His bones, is the conclusion of Christ’s salvific sacrifice for the redemption of humankind. This blood and water wash human sin and create the New Testament Church, with its grace-bestowing mysterious gifts: baptismal water and eucharistic blood. Out of the side of the old Adam was created woman, who tempted him to fall. But the wound delivered to humankind from Adam’s side is healed by the spear wound in Jesus’s side. The blood and water that flowed into the world abide in the world. They sanctify this world as the pledge of its future transfiguration. Through the precious streams of Christ’s blood and water that flowed out of His side, all creation was sanctified—heaven and earth, our earthly world, and all the stellar worlds. The image of the Holy Grail, in which the holy blood of Christ is kept, expresses precisely the idea that, even though the Lord ascended in His honorable flesh to heaven, the world received His holy relic in the blood and water that flowed out of His side; and the chalice of the Grail is the ciborium and repository of this relic. And the whole world is the chalice of the Holy Grail.”[5]

Given this reality, the methods of conventional farming, with its reliance on chemical fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides—a true culture of death—and its promotion of GMOs and the spreading prohibitions against saving seed amount to sacrilege. To engage in it is to trample on the image of Christ.

Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutzand Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Garden.

1. Virgil, Georgics 1.335-50. In Virgil, Eclogues, Georgics, Aeneid I-IV, trans. H. Rushton Fairclough, rev. ed. (Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library, 1956), 105.

2. H. J. Massingham, The Tree of Life (London: Chapman & Hall, 1943), 17.

3. Oliver Davies, trans. with Thomas O’Loughlin, Celtic Spirituality New York: Paulist Press, 1999), 298.

4. Rudolf Steiner, Cosmic and Human Metamorphoses, translated (Blauvelt, NY: Garber Communications, 1989), 67.

5. Sergius Bulgakov, The Holy Grail and the Eucharist, trans. and ed. Boris Jakim (Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne Books, 1997), 33. My emphasis.

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still from 'A Hidden Life'

Just about a year ago, my wife and I went to the cinema. This may not seem like a big deal to most people, but it is to us. In nearly thirty years of marriage, we have only left the house to catch a film maybe four or five times, no doubt a result of having nine children and a farm. But we went twice in 2019. The first time was to see The Biggest Little Farm, a documentary about a couple’s foolhardy adventure into biodynamic farming. When we left the theater we found a post-it on our windshield that had the words “The Cosmos Loves You” written on its face in black sharpie (we saved it—see photo). The second time was to see Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life, a poetic vision of the life of Franz Jägerstätter, a Catholic and an Austrian farmer who was executed for refusing to take an oath of allegiance to Hitler. Apparently, we only go to see movies about farming and farmers.

My wife gave me a DVD of the film for Christmas this year, and we watched it almost immediately. I’m a big fan of Malick, that most sophiological of filmmakers, and I think his sophiological aesthetic may be partly due to his Catholic background and partly due to his immersion in phenomenology, particularly with the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. Whatever the reasons, Malick’s devoted attention to nature in his films, his preoccupation with people and their relationships—especially with families and their myriad dynamics—and his awareness of the fluctuations of grace in human life disclose (a most Heidegerrian term) the movements of the sophianic in a way no other filmmaker has ever done. I often wonder if he’s studied Sophiology in any formal way. As far as I’m concerned, Brother Malick is a kindred spirit.

One example of this is in the opening scene of his film The Tree of Life (2011), wherein one of the film’s focal points, Mrs. O’Brien (played by Jessica Chastain), meditates on the ways of nature and grace:

A Hidden Life is likewise a meditation on nature and grace, which includes, as in his other films, considerations of sin and tragedy and the sometimes seeming inscrutability of God.

What struck me on this viewing is how applicable the film and the predicament of Jägerstätter (August Diehl) and his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner) is to that of my wife and me in the post-Covid era. In short, Franz and Fani just want to live their joined and hidden life in communion with nature on their farm, with their children and extended family, in the festival and liturgical life of their parish and their faith. Pretty simple. This was essentially our own way of living prior to Covid-19 and the encroaching and ominous cloud of The Great Reset. At the beginning of the film, Franz says, “I thought that we could build our nest high up...in the trees...fly away like birds...to the mountains.”

I thought so, too.

Like Jägerstätter (who, by the way, shares his date of martyrdom—August 9th—with one of my other patrons, Edith Stein), I have found that, try as one might to ignore the machinations of the world, the world eventually shows up at one’s doorstep. At this point, this threat merely exists for me in the realm of angst—the fear that political developments, already compromising everyone’s freedom to live as they wish, will more and more encroach my ability to travel (not that I’m a big traveler), make a living, and raise my children in the manner I see fit. This has to do, for one, with the very real threat of vaccine mandates and vaccine passports, but it also has to do with the dreadful way the current political narrative hinges on the limiting of free speech, free association, and freedom of conscience, and how these development have turned so many into unconscious agents of the government (or the powers behind them). In the film, we see Jägerstätter and his family integrated into their community prior to the annexation of Austria by Hitler. But following his refusal to participate with the Nazi regime, their neighbors turn on Franz and Fani, shunning them, stealing from them, harassing them for not properly serving the Vaterland. Even the Catholic Church offers no solace, encouraging the young farmer (he was only thirty-six when he died) to serve his nation in time of war. “Your sacrifice will benefit no one,” his pastor tells him. During that time, many German and Austrian priests and bishops tried to walk the tightrope between pastoral and national duties, much like the Vatican recently greenlighting Catholic participation in a vaccine made from, among other things, stem cells from aborted fetuses. Politics, indeed, makes strange bedfellows.

I, too, have felt rejection and recrimination from both family and friends over my position on our current social predicament. Haven’t you? I find myself reluctant to tell people how many of my children made it to Christmas dinner, concerned that they would out me to the authorities for violating their rather arbitrary diktats. Perhaps you would applaud them? Nevertheless, I find that to violate my conscience would be to cooperate with evil. Here I stand. I can do no other.

To be sure, the more pragmatic approach would have been for Jägerstätter to take the oath with his mouth while not believing it in his soul—advice he receives throughout the film (and received in his real life, I’m sure). What would it matter? And it would save so much trouble.

Toward the end of the film, after Franz’s execution, Fani utters a kind of prayer in voiceover:

The time will come when we will know what all this was for. And there will be no mysteries—we will know why we live. We’ll come together. We’ll plant orchards, fields. We’ll build the land back up. Franz, I’ll meet you there… in the mountains.”

My entire engagement with farming, with religion, with the world, with my family, is encapsulated in this utterance.

Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Garden.

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  • Michael Martin

The following is a poem from my collection Meditations in Times of Wonder and written on a Winter Solstice six years ago or so. I think it was while I was also writing The Submerged Reality. A solstice meditation.

Reading Boehme on the Darkest Day of the Year

What is it that causes a flock of starlings, all at once,

To wheel, turn, or tumble in the magnificent breathing

Of their migration, rising from bare oak trees, swamp maples,

And alders, from telephone wires and cracked asphalt,

Falling onto withered meadows, dry bean fields, and housetops,

Their voices filling the horizon with fire?

Three days of rain: a constant drizzle punctuated with the occasional

Deluge melted the ten inches of snow that fell five days before.

The grass, out of sight for such a short time, had

Lost its weak green and turned a putrid shade of amber. All this,

Against the grey of the day, suggested I look for other signatures.

The pond reflected only darkness, and a grey heron—

Apparently not interested in migration—

Walked upon its black surface like an illusionist.

I read somewhere that the universe is a hologram,

A dynamic representation of movement and flux,

A part disclosing the whole, the whole ensouling each part.

Cars rattle down our muddy road, headlights unable to penetrate

The fog and drizzle, appearing and disappearing with all the poverty

Of imagination. The hens no longer lay, mice nibble at russets in the cellar,

And we count the dwindling pennies in the bank.

I know this poem’s supposed to be about Boehme, but I can’t focus

My attention on his text. I can’t tear my gaze from its obsession

With all that is broken, all that is grey and dying in the reality of appearances,

With all that is hidden or disclosed in the dark tensions between love and anger.

I crouched near the hive and placed my ear to the wood:

The thrum of bees in their vocation, generating warmth to preserve the queen.

We search through the greyness for the kiss,

For the place where bread and wine are no longer bread and wine,

For a place to place the weakness of our inconsequential gifts,

And deliver ourselves to the consequences of ultimate humility,

The part disclosing the whole, and the whole ensouling each part.

Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Garden.

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