I have a hard time writing the words, our farm. It’s not our farm. Our name is on its title, but dread overtakes us every time when we slip up and say or write the words, our farm. We can say this farm…or the farm…or Wind and Water Farm…or The Parkland Worker. And it’s just a reminder of how different we are from our surrounding culture.
On the most basic level, I never made enough money in order to buy this land. Over three fourths of my time as as the sole income provider for my family was as a clergyman who was paid enough to qualify for social assistance – 20 years worth – which did not bother the conscience of anyone in any of the wealthy churches that I served. In the end unsolicited money was freely given to us to buy this property without having asked. Friends and former parishioners did this when they realized that we were serious about leaving clerical ministry in a denomination and starting a retreat. At the time we just said that we were resigning my position and the money just came. How we decided to come to this region in particular had been settled when we were welcomed back here and encouraged to make this move by local friends. And it was a relief at the time that we would not have to be concerned about the health care for our children since we would be granted immediate and full medical access when we crossed the border. What was certain in our minds was that what we were about to become, needed to be based on radical hospitality where both those like us and those dissimilar to us would be equally welcome, provided for, encouraged to practise a spiritual discipline of solitude, be likewise fully giving to others who came, expect nothing in return, and to live for as long as they chose.
As for visitors, we do not accept money that will cover the costs of their time here or the services we offer. How much would that be in actual cost? What is the cost of my own eleven years of full-time graduate level education and supervised clinical training worth? How would you ever get people to pay that back? But more importantly, it just seems odd to us to tell folks, if you pay us then you can pray. How does that work? Everything else costs something these days. In urban areas you can’t walk out your front door without paying for something. It’s a trap. Prayer and the air you breathe are about the only things that don’t cost people something any more. And we honestly consider retreats that charge people money to come and stay to be shysters. The Catholic Worker doesn’t charge people to come and stay, why should our hospitality be different for those who come to ease themselves into the dynamics of contemplative prayer? And as far as us being experts at such a practise, and people needing to pay on those grounds, we really have nothing to teach (who is ever an expert at prayer? …a true oxymoron), but just to provide a space and meals and to protect the solitude and to listen to others it they are so inclined to share. As contemplatives we, like the early Christians, are charged with making our own way humbly in the world, and can find employment to meet our own needs here all on our own, thanks…which we have and will continue to do.
There is a line in the sand here. When we leave this place we are very aware that others will not give us the same hospitality that we offer to people here. We accept this. Faith in God – a relationship with Christ – has been made into a pay-as-you-go reality everywhere we turn; capitalism shapes Christian response and potential. But here we would give anyone anything that we can or have without them paying for it; here Christianity shapes economics. Radical hospitality is the only truthful way to live the gospel; everything is bullshit but the open hand – Bruce Cockburn.
People want to buy things from us…honey, haskap, apples, produce, time in our cabins, and meals. How arrogant people are to come onto this farm and impose the way the world works on how God works. We do ask a nominal amount for the hay we produce, and soon for some of the blankets we will weave, but not all. These are ways to pay the most basic bills here – electricity, telephone, taxes. They cost us something to produce above and beyond that which we are given freely, like the fruit from our orchards. But beyond that we will not indiscriminately offer the most basic things that are certainly given to us by God for money. We have no interest in money; we have no interest in accumulation; we have no interest in meeting anyone’s social standards.
Freely you have received; freely give. – Matthew 10:8b
Owe no one anything but love. – Romans 13:8