Ambulance John came to the Food Co-op this week. We hadn’t seen him for a while. He brought with him two sacks of apples and some bananas which were a welcome addition to the fruit we were giving out that day. John drives a beaten-up old ambulance, crudely painted in a shade of dark green and collects food, clothes and furniture from many undisclosed sources which he then takes to charities and people he discovers are in need. How he found us or where he comes from remain a mystery, and for some reason, those of us helping to run the Co-op like to keep it that way. His coming and going is about as predictable as the national lottery winning numbers. Who knows when he will return – he blows where he wills.
The Food Co-op in Bensham is based on the beautiful, humanising model of food pantries begun by Sarah Miles in San Francisco, recounted in her book Take This Bread. The Co-op is as far removed from the conventional UK food bank as we can make it; lots of fresh vegetables, people are members rather than recipients and they choose their own produce, most of the volunteer helpers are also members and access to the weekly co-op is for as long as anyone needs it. Like the first of Sarah’s food pantries at St Gregory of Nyssa, we operate out of a church (the only place willing to offer us rent free space) but unlike California, the North East of England does not have a ready supply of cheap fresh fruit. Prices are too high for us to buy it in for the increasing number of members and their hungry families. Fruit may seem like a luxury, not one of the staples of life, but I can buy fruit when I want to, so, in the spirit of loving our neighbour as ourselves, our view at the Co-op is that we want the people who come to us to get fruit too.
Sourcing it has been another matter. We contacted the obvious people – supermarkets and wholesalers who may have surplus, but generally they failed to reply. The few who did were already supplying their surplus fruit to horse and pony sanctuaries. We thought that a local factory which produces fruit juices for the UK market might be able to offer us fruit at cost price but they didn’t respond to our letters or calls, and neither did their parent company, a multi-national concern with a high level of Corporate Social Responsibility. One or two of us prayed and we continued to look for a supplier, a connection to a guaranteed supply of fruit. But we never found one.
I don’t know when it was that we realised that although we didn’t have this guaranteed weekly supply, fruit was arriving every week. And it was always enough. It never came from the same sources – sometimes an unexpected supermarket surplus, sometime Fareshare, sometimes a cheap offer at the wholesalers and often it came as small individual donations. My controlling, organised mind-set wanted a nice tidy, planned supply of fruit for the next few years, but instead, God supplied what we needed, when we needed it. No more and no less. And what variety! Over the last couple of months alone we have had plums, peaches, apples, limes, grapes, pears, melons, bananas, mangos, blackberries, strawberries, lemons, raspberries, oranges and pineapples!
Inevitably, this brings us back to that whole question of living in the day and trusting in God to provide us with the resources we need at the time we need them, rather than fretting ahead and wanting everything sorted out in advance. The antithesis of fear and worry is always faith and trust. Constantly I have to learn and re-learn the words of Jesus that we should not worry about what to eat or drink as God provides for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field and cares much more than this for us. It’s all about trust. As it says in the Big Book, “We trust infinite God rather than our finite selves.” “We never apologize to anyone for depending upon our Creator. We can laugh at those who think spirituality the way of weakness. Paradoxically, it is the way of strength. The verdict of the ages is that faith means courage. All people of faith have courage. They trust their God.” To me, this faith and trust is not found in the doctrines, dogmas and creeds of religion but rather in placing my trust in a God of love and grace. Where I discover this God, or more to the point, where God chooses to appear is irrelevant – it could be in nature, in the Eucharist, in the kindness of a stranger, in a 12-step meeting or in the arrival of much needed fruit. As Richard Rohr so brilliantly (and uncharacteristically simply) says, “the gospel is not primarily a set of facts but a way of seeing and a way of being in the world because of God. Jesus speaks to the heart, saying (1) God is on your side; (2) God can be trusted; (3) the universe is safe and benevolent; (4) trust yourselves, one another and God; (5) there is no reason to be afraid; (6) it’s all heading toward something good! He does this primarily by touch, relationship, healing and parables.”
As we enter the months of winter, my challenge will be to trust that we will continue to receive what we need at the Co-op when we need it, including fruit. And of course holding on to this trust applies to every other aspect of my life too. I don’t begin to understand how it works, or how I can explain places of atrocity, warfare and starvation and how God’s love and provision is found there, but somehow, I believe it is. But we can only bloom where we are planted and that is all each of us is here to do. So next time you eat an apple or a banana remember this parable of the fruit, reaffirm your trust in God’s care and provision for you and keep on blooming.
You say to God, “I have never seen you provide for me.” God says to you, “You have never trusted Me.” Corallie Buchanan
God will always provide; it just might look different from what we had in mind. Anonymous
Miracles happen everyday. Change your perception of what a miracle is and you’ll see them all around you. Jon Bon Jovi
When we are able to take the next step with the trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we go. Henri Nouwen
My trust in God flows out of the experience of his loving me, day in and day out, whether the day is stormy or fair, whether I’m sick or in good health, whether I’m in a state of grace or disgrace. He comes to me where I live and loves me as I am. Brennan Manning