When I arrived at Agape Community, on September 13th, the first thing that I noticed was the vegetable garden, with its almost circular shape, and located in a central position, between the houses and the trees. I thought that the garden was more than a choice: it was a statement and highlighted the centrality of land, of caring and nurturing the land, and of the food that this land provides. The choice for a garden highlighted the interrelation between land and people in ensuring the continuation of life, for us and for the generations to come.
As Nichiren Daishonin, a Buddhist monk that lived in Japan between 1222 and 1282 stressed, humans and their environment are two but not two. They encompass each other, and their harmonious interrelation is fundamental for their own existence. Whether I was working in the vegetable garden or in the house, or chopping wood, the profound and mystic relation with the very land where I was standing, and with all the forms of life that depended on the earth, always overwhelmed me, and left in me a deep feeling of peace.
I remember a lovely walk, on a Sunday afternoon, from Saint Francis House to the hermitage. That brief walk through the woods brought me to another dimension, in which I and trees around me could almost have a direct conversation, very personal and intimate. When I entered in the hermitage I felt like I was entering in my own inner self, a womb in which to rest and give birth to new thoughts and determinations, and in which the solitude was a bridge between my inner universe and the one in which I was immersed.
During my time at Agape Community, I thought about the uniqueness of its mission that bridges sustainable land use, peace, and nonviolence. Now more than ever, these fundamental pillars are crucial in order to ensure the very survival of human beings and of their environment. Each of these pillars is extremely important, but it is their interrelation that decides the way in which we treat our land: a common gift to share with wisdom and generosity, and the common ground where human beings can encounter each other, and are enriched by their differences.
Too often, there is much violence in the food that people eat every day, which often comes from places so far away from us, and is produced in lands that were maybe grabbed from communities that where displaced and left without hope and their means of survival. In some of these lands, complex and delicate ecosystems are destroyed, jeopardizing our planet’s equilibrium.
How many wars are still going on in order to ensure the availability of oil, which is used to bring the food we buy to our tables? How many people do not have a home, cannot share their food together, and enjoy their lives, because of these wars? Too many. These problems seem bigger than our possibility of solving them. However, I think that the solutions start often from our own lives: from our inner transformation, and from the recognition of our common responsibilities in the use of our common resources.
These transformations start from places like Agape, in which the food that is eaten comes from the vegetable garden, where the people that harvested and preserved it, used a respectful and caring relationship with the land. I certainly became much more aware of sacredness of the earth, and of the process that allows preparing food, so that other people and I can enjoy it on our tables. I often reflected on how the same care and love that are put in the maintenance of our houses, which are the common spaces where we live our daily lives, mirror the love and the care for our common resources.
Our willingness to embrace a way of living such as the Agape Community does, based on a respectful and nonviolent interrelation with our environment and the other human beings, can definitely make a change, not only in our lives but in our environment as well. I think that such interrelation is a true form of compassion, because I believe that compassion is a form of co-participation, in which we are willing to learn from each person and each situation, and be able to give up our certainties and securities in order to search for our true identity.
Angela arrived at Agape from her home on the island of Sardinia with a PhD from Chapel Hill, NC in sustainability and geography, after work in Portugal and South Africa. We all benefitted from her energy and spirit of self-giving.