top of page
  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

718 When you feel the need to graft, don’t think about it — just do it

Day 718 Friday, March 4, 2022

When you feel the need to graft, don’t think about it — just do it.


A few years back, an international organization arranged a meeting between monks coming from various spiritual heritages. There were a number of different types of Buddhist monks and Christian monks, with a smattering of others.

One of the seminars was labeled: “Current Problems in Monastic Living.” A reporter slipping into that group was shocked to find that the monks were all discussing problems they had growing tomatoes! This has also been my experience.

What draws monks of every stripe together are the challenges of ordinary life. And often it does seem to be about tomatoes!

It seems as though everyone at Starcross has their favorite heirloom tomato and we plant them all. For example, Sister Julie is fond of a big German tomato called Brandywine. Sister Marti loved Esterina, an incredibly sweet small tomato. Lance is fascinated by German Giant. David and Holly favor things that pair precisely with an entrée. And so it goes. What do I like? The greatest tasting tomato in the world: Rosa de Bern — from Switzerland, of all places.

Having so many varieties is a little inconvenient because, just like people, each one has its own unique needs for development. But the result of our mix, I do truly believe, produces the best slicers and, in addition, the finest tomato juice in the world!

For many years, we and the tomatoes went happily along every summer, and then last year, catastrophe hit. Suddenly, without warning, Verticillium Wilt hit all our prized tomatoes. I see it as a kind of cancer. We didn’t know where it came from or how to manage it in our sustainably grown garden. So, what to do?

We checked around, and yes, I did check with other monks! Lance decided that the best thing would be to graft the new seedlings, at just the right moment, to old resistant heirloom rootstock. It's rather humorous, but this is a method used in the cultivation of cannabis, which is another major crop in our area. Lance borrowed some of their techniques!

I began thinking about some of the people around me who had really rough times with their early spiritual paths. As life moves on, like the tomatoes, they can be hit suddenly by spiritual problems. It's not appropriate for everyone, but for some people, it's a good idea to try to graft new things they have learned and practiced to appropriate parts of their spiritual roots.

A good friend, who is also a poet and mother of an eight-year-old, recently told me that it has surprised her that she is able to return to some aspects of Christianity on her own terms. I remembered that long ago, I was asked to work with some Chinese Christian seminarians at the Graduate School of Theology to see if there might be parts of Buddhism and Taoism that could be incorporated into their spiritual growth.

They were all extremely resistant. But my friend Paul Clasper (1923 - 2011), himself an Anglican priest and missionary, urged me to keep pushing and to encourage them to see how God had broken through in these other cultures. Eventually, most reduced their resistance. I think their spiritual development was enriched as a result.

For myself, at times of great disasters in the human condition, I can fall back on old childhood practices that become something like an automatic mantra. I think this is part of what the Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön (1936 - ), who was herself raised Catholic, means by accepting “The Fundamental Ambiguity of Being Human.”

Well, here we all are; pot growers, tomato lovers, monks and others, all grafting away to improve growth. When you feel the need to graft, don’t think about it — just do it.

Brother Toby

25 views0 comments
bottom of page