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Center for Action and Contemplation

An Alternative Community

Friday, May 11, 2018


An Alternative Community
Friday, May 11, 2018

One of the core principles at the Center for Action and Contemplation is “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” [1] Nonviolent activist and author John Dear shares the story of a woman and her family who are doing just that.

A few years ago, I was in Oakland, California, and stopped by to visit my friend Anne Symens-Bucher and the new community she and her family had started. The mother of five, a lifelong peace activist, and secular Franciscan, Anne, along with her husband, Terry, founded Canticle Farm, a peace and nonviolence community right smack dab in one of the most violent, run-down blocks in the country. They wanted to explore the connections between poverty, racism, violence, guns, prisons, war, and environmental destruction and seek a viable alternative right there in the thick of everything. . . .

Canticle Farm developed slowly, but after several months, they had fifteen community members living in five houses connected by a large backyard. That backyard became the center point of transformation. Like every other house in the neighborhood, their little houses were separated by fences. . . .

“When we took down the fences between our yards,” Anne told me, “we were also taking down the fences in our hearts. That’s when we really began to know and love our neighbors and make peace with one another. At the center was the garden. Mother Earth was transforming us.” . . .

They knew that making peace in inner-city Oakland meant going deep into contemplative nonviolence, and that meant somehow connecting with Mother Earth. They decided to hold hour-long silent meditation sessions every day. . . .

Then they launched Canticle Farm Sundays. They started with a Eucharistic liturgy. While doing this, they reached out to their neighbors and invited them to lunch and to help out with the organic garden. And they offered them seeds to start their own gardens. As they got to know their neighbors and heard their concerns, they began afternoon programs on various practical items such as cooking, growing medicinal plants, and making herbal medicines. In the process, their neighbors became their teachers. . . .

Canticle Farm’s powerful mission statement:

Inspired by the life of St. Francis of Assisi, Canticle Farm is a community providing a platform for the Great Turning—one heart, one home, and one block at a time. The Great Turning—the planetary shift from an industrial-growth society to a life-sustaining society—is served by Canticle Farm through local work that fosters forgiveness in the human community and compassion for all beings. Canticle Farm primarily focuses on the poor and marginalized as those who most bear the burden of social and planetary degradation, as well as being those who are first able to perceive the need for the Great Turning. Rooted in spiritual practice, Canticle Farm manifests this commitment by engaging in the “Work That Reconnects,” [2] integral nonviolence, gift economy, restorative justice practices, urban permaculture, and other disciplines necessary for regenerating community in the 21st century. [3]

[1] See “The Eight Core Principles of the Center for Action and Contemplation,”

[2] See Joanna Macy and Molly Brown, Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to The Work that Reconnects (New Society Publishers: 2014) and

[3] See Canticle Farm,

John Dear, They Will Inherit the Earth: Peace and Nonviolence in a Time of Climate Change (Orbis Books: 2018), 96, 97, 98-99.

Image credit: Welcome (detail), Canticle Farm, Oakland California. To learn more about Canticle Farm, visit
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: When we took down the fences between our yards, . . . we were also taking down the fences in our hearts. That’s when we really began to know and love our neighbors and make peace with one another.  —Anne Symens-Bucher, Canticle Farm
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