“A Time to Plant” – book review by Christopher Thompson
A Time to Plant: Life Lessons in Work, Prayer and Dirt. By Kyle T. Kramer. Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2010. Pp. 175.
As an administrator of a lay theology program at a regional seminary and the proud owner of both twenty acres and a 1953 Ford tractor, I couldn’t help but be immediately drawn into the reflections of—well—an administrator of a lay theology program at a regional seminary and the proud owner of twenty acres and a 1953 Ford tractor.
But beyond the uncanny familiarity, Kramer offers a thoughtful set of reflections on his decade long effort to convert an otherwise forgotten parcel of land near St. Meinrad, Indiana into a Catholic homestead which includes a wife and three children.
At least that is the proximate subject. At a deeper level Kramer leads the reader to reflect on a variety of questions facing those seeking to lead a more integrated, holistic life against the backdrop of contemporary America.
Beginning with his experiences in higher theological formation, Kramer recognizes that there was something of a disconnect happening in his life of abstraction, and the desire to live a more focused, simple life impelled him to the edges of modernity. With virtually no experience and an apparent boundless supply of energy, he pushes himself to the limits by taking on the challenge of converting a mere location into a successful farm and home.
There’s something deeply honest about his writing and the work elicits empathy with this personal Odyssey. The narrative seems entirely contemporary. Kramer is obviously bright, well educated, healthy as an ox and laden with privilege. He’s also the child of divorce, searches for meaning through various service projects, falls in and out of love, dabbles briefly in Eastern mysticism and eventually finds his way into the Catholic community.
It’s here that I was eager for a more deliberate reflection. Perhaps there’ll be a follow up volume. The desire isn’t a mere curiosity on my part; it seems necessary. In order to situate the implicit sacramental nature of reality more firmly one needs to draw from the expressed sacramental acts of the church. The Eucharist is that action which satisfies the insatiable desire to get things right with God. Even more so, Reconciliation is that graced privilege of coming to recognize that getting things right just isn’t going to happen without Him. More reflections along these lines might have helped fill in, even assuage, some of the anxiety that seems to linger in the closing chapters.
Overall, it’s an engaging read, and Kramer is to be commended for asking the right questions of himself and the rest of us. He and his family would be welcomed dinner guests in our house. If he hangs around long enough, I just might give him a hammer.
Dr. Christopher Thompson
Academic Dean, Saint Paul Seminary
NCRLC Board Member