The Spirituality of Canning

Janet Speth, CSJ on behalf of the Federation Ecology Committee

These late summer days, I await the showing of those first red tomatoes in my small garden. I anticipate their delicious taste fresh off the vine and the enjoyment of preserving them for sauces and soups for cold winter nights.

Participating in the ‘4 P’s of Local Food: Planting, Picking, Preparing and Preserving’ (1) and following the 100 mile radius for purchasing local food continually raises our consciousness about care for Earth. We impact global warming by fostering relationships with local farmers, reducing long distance transportation; and by canning we provide local food year round, decrease food waste and reuse glass Mason jars. However, beyond the environmental impact how does preserving: bottling and canning, deepen our evolutionary spirituality? A few Sisters generously offered to expand my musings.

Julian of Norwich prayed, “Within us – as a sheer gift of God- is the capacity to bring forth what has never been before.” Canning is a work of art and in this creative expression we participate in new unfolding of the Universe. Graced with Earth’s abundance we share in its cycles of dying and re-birthing as fruits are transformed into delicious jams and jellies and zucchini and cucumbers into zesty relishes and pickles. Our rootedness in Earth’s values of diversity, inter-dependency and intimacy is embedded in these sacred relationships with the natural world.

Inter-relatedness is also enlivened as we recapture fond memories of our mothers and grandmothers lovingly putting down garden produce. A sense of belonging to cultural identities and ancestral heritage is nurtured as we now carry forward generational wisdoms of the land. Even if we are not attracted to doing canning, we are steeped in these connections each time we enjoy tasty home-made preserves.

Essential to inter-dependency is community building. Nature manifests this in the intricacies of eco-systems. Canning embodies our charism of presence to the dear neighbour. Together, Sisters Sharon Miller and Pauline Guindon (SSM) make jelly from their crab apple trees for the community at North Bay’s ecumenical “Gathering Place,” which welcomes the homeless, disadvantaged, and economically and spiritually challenged. Sister Gwen Smith (Toronto) makes preserves with the participants at the Mustard Seed Community Kitchen. The communion climax is, “Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord,” with all sharing a dish made from the fruits of their labour. Sisters Linda Gregg and Mary Rowell (in Canada) ensure that food from the Community Gardens at the Villa is preserved and used to nourish the many retreatants that come throughout the year.

Mary Oliver in her poem, Answers, writes: “How she (her grandmother) poured confusion out, how she cooled and labelled all the wild sauces of the brimming year.”

Preserving the fruits of the earth is a holy activity. It takes time, patience, and care and fosters joy. It invites us to attend the body of Christ with reverence and grateful heart. Even the simple act of giving a gift of preserves to family and friends is a reaching out in love. Most importantly it is an act of hope and optimism trusting in the providence of the Divine, bestower of fruitfulness, ever promising the flourishing of all life.

(1) Planting, Picking, Preparing and  Preserving These are the 4 P’s of  Local Food, as coined by Neil Tilley, an organic farmer and advocate for  environmental stewardship from  Newfoundland.

(2) Thank you to Sisters Betty Lou Knox, Pauline Guindon, Sharon Miller, Gwen Smith, Linda Gregg, and Mary Rowell.