The Genesis of The Native American Seed Recovery Program
In 2016, the Governor of Arizona became concerned with an issue that the clergy and parishioners of Transfiguration had been aware of for many years. Namely that hunger is endemic and widespread in our State. According to the Association of Arizona Food Banks, and no fewer than 3 Federal Agencies (USDA, FEMA, and HEW), 1 in 4 children, 1in 5 adults, and 1 in 6 seniors are at risk for sufficient daily food. Our answer at this church, back in 2006, was to start the Million Meals for Our Neighbors program. Over the years that program has provided the funding for 1,360,000 meals. The Governor’s answer, however, was to call a meeting to discuss the issue in terms of the relationship between food and agriculture and their effect on food equity. Growers, cattle ranchers, dairies, poultry farmers and food producers from all over the State attended, and even small growers like The Crazy Chile Farm were given a seat at the table. Yet, despite two days of talk, collective brainstorming, and skillful moderation by the Director of the Arizona Department of Agriculture, very little happened. But a chance encounter at the very end of the conference resulted in some very big program adjustments for our little farm.
Just as I was getting ready to leave, Nina Sajovec, Director of the Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture, came over to my table and asked me if I would be willing to use a small portion of The Crazy Chile Farm to do a “grow out” of an indigenous North American bean called a tepary bean. Nina was looking for help with a project to grow seed stock for members of the Tohono O’odham tribe in southern AZ who were trying to re-establish traditional agriculture on tribal lands within the 4,400 sq. mi. of the Tohono O’odham Nation. Cheated out of their water rights in the mid-1890s, the O’odham people lost the ability to farm successfully in the desert. With that loss came the loss of their agricultural heritage, their food supply, their economy, their health, much of their culture and language and, most disastrously, their supply of seeds for traditional, desert-adapted crops. We had quite a discussion, as I was unfamiliar with the tepary bean, and wasn’t sure how we could fit them into our diminutive farm. But Nina persisted, and I ended up leaving the conference with a small bag of beans in my pocket!
As The Crazy Chile Farm begins its fifth growing season, we can look back over a myriad of events and changes. We have increased our growing surface from 4,000 to 10,000 square feet. We have gained access to a team of Clydesdales to grade and disc our two fields. A greenhouse has been added so we can grow our own seedlings. Last year’s chile crop was a record…almost exactly 800 pounds. Jim Soper has re-designed and improved our irrigation system. New equipment has enhanced our production efficiency. Donations of new power equipment have enabled us to better handle weed control and soil preparation. And most importantly, we have not only paid for our own farm expenses, we have been able to use a significant portion of the revenue we generate to fund an extraordinary number of outreach programs…food grants, public school programs and supplies, disaster relief, a women’s shelter and ESL language training for immigrants. Yet nothing has proven to be more important to our growth, our direction, and our ability to love and support our neighbors as Jesus has mandated, as that little bag of seeds that Nina gave us.
Since then, we have learned that the demand for indigenous seeds among the Native communities of Arizona is significantly higher than we first anticipated. And we also realized that we lack sufficient square footage of crop space to have much of an impact by ourselves. After much discussion and prayer, however, we did come up with a solution: Chile is our bread and butter. But crops of chile have to be rotated on a regular basis, so both of our two fields cannot be used for chile at the same time. A simple solution presented itself. We decided that one field would grow chile, and the other would be used to grow indigenous seed crops. Furthermore, we grew enough seeds from Nina’s little bag, that we were able to “share” our crop by initiating partnerships with other small growers to join us in increasing the volume. Then, the program literally exploded. Seeds of other crops were given to us by the Ajo Center (T.O. 60-Day corn and native squash). Native Seeds/SEARCH in Tucson provided even more seeds (Yoeme Blue corn), under a bulk seed exchange program. The resulting grow-outs we did in 2018 gave us enough inventory that we have been able to deliver significant amounts to the Tohono O’odham Community. We also have enough seeds that we have been able to form even more partnerships. We now work with the Ajo CSA, NMSU Ag. Research Center, several members of the Maricopa Community Gardeners, St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix, the Episcopal Diocesan Council on Native American Ministry and, most recently, The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in Colorado. It appears to be working out! Yet without the support and the prayers of this congregation, none of this excitement would have been possible. So thank you, thank you, thank you. You all are the sweetest blessing of all. And if a stranger comes up to you and whispers in your ear “psst…ya want some seeds?” by all means say yes!
In Christ, Bill Robinson
Emmanuel, God with Us
When Nancy and I moved here from California in 2005, the parish we left behind was named Emmanuel (God with us). Has a nice ring to it this time of year, doesn’t it? Among the Arabic speaking people this word has been used since unremembered time as a prayer of longing for the God of All Creation to come and dwell with man (The “el”, or sometimes “al”, at the end of Emmanuel is one of the short forms of Allah). For the Jews, the word meant exactly the same thing, only their longing for the presence of God was manifested in the prophecies of the Messiah, who would not only “dwell” with them but “deliver” them as well. Christians use the word too, almost as a synonym for Jesus, who is regarded as the fulfillment of the Messianic Prophecies and the sign of “God with us”. In many ways Emmanuel, and the longing for relationship with God that the word implies, is at the very core of three faiths. Isn’t it sadly ironic that these same three faiths, all longing for God and sharing the same core belief, have been ripping out each other’s hearts for centuries? Our prayer this Christmas is that the unity of all of our longings for Emmanuel will somehow transcend our self-centered demand for uniformity of culture and practice. Amen
In Christ, Bill Robinson
Icon of the Feast of the Transfiguration by Br. Bill
To better understand the Icon of the Transfiguration, it might be helpful for us to have a short understanding of the nature of an “icon”, and why this particular graphic format is different from other types of religious artwork.
The word “Icon” is simply the Greek word for image, and “icons” consist of symbolic images of Jesus, Mary, all of the canonized Saints and, occasionally, the feasts and events of the church year (such as The Feast of the Transfiguration). They are usually painted on wood, or fresco, or done in mosaic, and they always illustrate portions of scripture. Icons are regarded by the major liturgical churches as “graphic scripture”. Like scripture, icons are said to be written rather than painted. By interacting with icons in prayer and contemplation, icons can become windows and doorways to a spiritual connection that one might not otherwise experience. This is similar to the icons on phones and computers. Interact with these icons by clicking, rather than prayer, and whole programs open up!
The three synoptic Gospels tell us that Jesus took the three apostles, James, Peter, and John “the beloved” and led them up a high mountain. There, as Matthew tells us, he was “transfigured into blinding light; both his face and clothing changing before their eyes”. Mark, in his Gospel, writes that “His face shown like the sun, and His clothes became dazzling white.” And again, Mark says that his clothes were “such that no one on earth could bleach them”.
In today’s Gospel, Luke tells us that the transfiguration took place while Jesus was praying. It is this comment that is depicted in this icon, where Jesus is raising His hands in prayer. Luke says, “While He was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and His clothes became dazzling white.” Then, before the eyes of the apostles, appeared the Old Testament prophets Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus. Then, if that was not already enough, a voice came out of a cloud and said, “This is my Son, the beloved. In today’s Epistle, written near the end of his life, Peter states “We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed.”
The icon we are discussing today is a symbolic representation of the event described in the Gospels. The composition of this icon follows a strictly symmetrical scheme. It shows a stylized mountain landscape, characterized by a central peak that is flanked by two lesser peaks. Jesus stands (or almost floats) on the central peak. He is clothed in a white and gold robe that appears to have dazzling light coming from within it. This is not sunlight. It is what students of theology refer to as the “uncreated light of God”-- a source of light, unlike sunlight or chemical light or electrical light that appears to come right out of darkness. Furthermore, He is surrounded by a gold and red boat-shaped image known as a “mandorla—the ancient symbol of the creator God. At Jesus’ feet is a round medallion showing an Agnes Dei—the Lamb of God, which is one of the earliest symbols for our Lord
Jesus is flanked by the two prophets. Moses is on His left (your right as you look at it), and Elijah on His right, each standing on his own peak. The image of Jesus is larger than the two prophets. This follows an iconic convention, which calls for the most important figure to be the biggest. Moses carries the tablets representative of the Law, and Elijah wears the “mantle of prophesy” that he passed on to Elisha before ascending to Heaven in the chariot of fire. Elijah’s mantle, or cloak, is described in the Old Testament, and in the icon it is shown as somewhat ratty. The same cloak is depicted in one of the stained glass panels at the back of our own church!
The three medallions at the bottom of the icon represent James, Peter, and John. Normally, the three apostles are shown as figures rather than symbols, but the round shape of this icon did not permit that design. The medallions, however, are accurate copies of the symbolic representations of these apostles that also appear in the stained glass windows at the back of our church. These designs have been a part of this church since its construction. So, even though the icon is new to this church, the symbols have design continuity with our whole history. James is symbolized by the three shells. After his martyrdom in the first century, James’ remains were moved to the village of Compostela in NW Spain, and the cockleshell became the symbol worn by pilgrims to his tomb. Peter is symbolized by the crossed keys. Jesus told him: “I give you the keys to my kingdom. James’ brother, John, is identified by the serpent in the chalice, which symbolizes his willingness to drink from the same cup as Jesus, and which leads to his death.
The Latin word for transfiguration, transfiguratio, means, “to be changed to another form”. The Greek word is metamorpheos and has much the same meaning. The Transfiguration, therefore, is a revelation of Christ’s divine nature, a manifestation of the Trinity, and a confirmation of the continuity between the Old and the New Testaments. This is shown symbolically by all of the white and gold lines that crisscross the image of Jesus and seem to come from within Him, rather than from an external source. This light is the central feature of this icon and was mentioned earlier as the uncreated light of God. It is a supernatural light with transforming power that has its source in God’s own being. It is the light that Jesus Himself speaks of in John’s Gospel when He says “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” As Jesus becomes that light, his true nature is revealed. As Paul says in his letter to the Colossians, “For in Him the whole fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily.
Today’s Gospel account of the Transfiguration also serves as a very early recognition of the Trinity. The disciples hear the voice the Father, they see the Son, and they were enveloped by the Holy Spirit in the brilliance of the uncreated light. They also witnessed Moses and Elijah, who represented the “Law and Prophets”, and who confirmed that Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophesies of the Old Testament. Thus, the God they had served so faithfully for so long, without actually seeing, could now be seen and spoken to face to face. Here, in the blinding light on the mountain of the Transfiguration, prophets and the disciples were able to witness God’s personified radiance directly.