As I read, my mind traveled past the abbey church across the fields to a cluster of sheds, where millions of tiny threads of mycelium worked in the darkness. A stringlike network of fungal cells, mycelium is the organism that produces mushrooms. The brothers cultivate mycelium, whose ‘fruit’ supports their life of prayer…the relationship of fungi to life as we know it goes back nearly 450 million years. Indeed, without mycelium, there would be no life at all. Only recently have we come to understand the true magnitude of our dependence on these organisms. We now know, for instance, that at least 90 percent of all plants on earth form symbiotic relationships with a fungus called mycorrhizae. Greek for ‘fungus-root,’ mycorrhizae are ubiquitous, found in nearly every ecosystem in the world.
The relationship works like this: the fungus penetrates a plant’s roots and provides the plant with nutrients and water from the surrounding soil, which the fungus accesses through its mycelial network. The fungus in turn receives starches from the plant. When mycelium grows out into the surrounding soil it is said to ‘run,’ and in doing so it not only forms symbiotic relationships with single plants; it provides links between plant species. In 1964, two North Carolina scientists chopped down a red maple tree and poured radioactive liquid into the stump. Eight days later they found that, within a radius of twenty-two feet, the leaves of nearly half of all the trees, shrubs, vines, and herbs contained radioactivity; mycelium provided the pathway through which the radioactive material spread. The experiment confirmed fungi’s link to every living thing. And every dead thing. Fungi are our biological go-betweens to the world beyond animate life. And like monks at prayer, fungi do their best work in darkness. – Fred Bahnson in Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith, p. 19-20.
– Connect non-related living things in mutually beneficial ways
– Provide pathways for mutual nourishment, not the actual nourishment itself
– Skillfully, intentionally, and silently do their essential work
– Work communally
– Become involved in all areas of life for the sake of the ecosystem
Lord, may we be like mycelium.