Can there be a more popular spice than cinnamon? It’s found in everything from toothpaste to French toast, and especially this time of the year it is one of the most frequently used spices. Sweet potato casserole wouldn’t be right without cinnamon. If it’s missing from apple or pumpkin pie we know it immediately. We put it in cider and hot chocolate, buy pinecones and candles scented with it, and make cookies and breakfast rolls with it. Perhaps no other spice is more important this time of the year than cinnamon. Fortunately, if we run out, we can just run down to the store and pick up a new container for a few dollars.
But have you ever given much thought to what it takes to get the cinnamon into your hands? Cinnamon is a tropical plant, requiring year-round temperatures in the 80’s and heavy rainfall. For this reason, Sri Lanka produces much of the world’s cinnamon supply, with commercial plantations also operating in Brazil, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, and Burma. Two year old cinnamon trees are cut back to stumps, and the shoots that grow from the stump are cut and stripped of their bark. The bark is set in the sun to dry, then the curled bark is gathered, packaged, and shipped around the world. From there, it finds its ways into hundreds of thousands of products on store shelves near you.
Few people stop to think about how in Moses’ time, cinnamon was a highly-prized commodity, used sparingly for anointing or embalming. Until the 16th century, only the very wealthy could afford cinnamon. It was one of the spices that motivated Christopher Columbus to find an ocean route to the East Indies. In fact, it wasn’t until about 1800 that cinnamon became affordable to the common man.
This is just one of a million great stories of the success of the free market and capitalism, of how mankind has reached a point where anything is available to practically anyone at any time for a reasonable price. Adam was cursed after the Fall that he would only eat bread by the sweat of his brow. But not us! We can just run down to the store and pick up a loaf of artisan sourdough for five bucks. For millenia, mankind suffered like Adam, with painful labor all the days of their lives, with the ground producing thorns and thistles alongside the wheat. Not us! Not any more! We have RoundUp to take care of pesky weeds.
But let us not forget that every single advancement in the history of man has been made only with God’s approval. He allowed us to figure out how to make tools. He created animals for us to use for labor and allowed us to figure out how to tame them for that purpose. He allowed us to create the tractors, ships, trains, planes, trucks, and cars necessary to transport goods around the world quickly and cheaply. Ever since Adam, God has slowly allowed us to work less and have access to ever more of the fruits of the earth and the wide variety and abundance of plants and animals He created for us.
Only Adam ever had it better than we do today. Before the Fall, Adam didn’t have to work for his food. God planted the garden. Adam didn’t have to work one second for his food. Adam’s only work was a spiritual one: to contemplate and reveal the greatness of God through God’s creations on this world. Then came the Fall, and the curse that came with it. It has taken mankind how many thousands of years to get to the point we are today. Never in the history of man since the Fall has the majority of mankind worked less and consumed more. And yet what do we do with that time that we used to have to spend in the field, in the vineyard, or in the fishing boat? We have more free time than ever, and what do we do with it?
Do we spend an hour in prayer or devotion to Him, or do we spend it working just a little bit more to satisfy our earthly appetites for more and better stuff? Do we spend an hour in service to our fellow man, or do we spend it on social media, getting more and more angry with our fellow man? Do we spend two hours playing with our children or visiting parents or siblings, or do we spend it watching the latest must-see TV show our friends and coworkers are talking about? Do we spend fifteen minutes saying the Rosary to get closer to Christ, or fifty minutes doing something that leads us further away from Him? Do we give God five minutes after receiving Him in the Eucharist to contemplate His greatness, or are we speeding to the parking lot to go do something more important?
God has continued to give us the gift of less labor, more earthly riches, and more free time every day. How thankful we should be for that gift. And how careful we should be where and how we spend it.