Sunday, July 26, 2009

What the Gussuck Said

I went to college in Alaska, where the Alaskan Native students sometimes referred to us pale-skinned incomers as "Gussucks." The word was sometimes a playful jest, sometimes a stronger epithet. I understood it to mean, to them, what "Yankee" means to a Southerner and what "Sassanach" means to a Gael. Even when used among friends, with winks and grins, the word has a cutting edge. It was not, shall we say, a compliment.

This morning I participated in a sunrise ceremony to cap a week of indigenous observances known as "Wabanaki Days." The clergyman who usually shares in the service was unable to attend, so I was invited midweek to step in. I was asked to offer a Gaelic invocation and a brief homily that would acknowledge the connection between Euro-American immigrant heritage and our state's indigenous peoples.

This was not an easy situation--Native elders would be participating with drumming and prayers from their traditions, and I was not only the new kid on the block, ceremonially speaking, but a gussuck as well. The invocation wasn't worrying--I had a volume of the great Hebridean ethnographic work, Alexander Carmichael's Carmina Gadelica, and it was full of prayers honoring the elements, creatures, and Creation. I drew on prayers to the sun and the new moon, as well as a blessing that speaks of "power of raven, power of eagle...power of storm, power of land, power of sea..." These ancient prayers allow the Gaelic tradition to speak for itself, while affirming other indigenous earth-centered traditions.

The homily was harder. I knew the sight of a clergyperson in an alb could trigger anger, distrust, and generations of resentment. I debated whether to wear my alb at all, but I wanted to wrestle with the challenge-- the challenge to myself, to conduct myself with utmost humility and respect, and the challenge to them, that my witness might move them to reconsider their long-held assumptions about the general toxicity of anything associated with the Church. My offering of words would be a part of that witness...but hey, no pressure, right?

When we arrived, the stone ridgeback of the point was shrouded in heavy fog. Only barely could we make out the shapes of others emerging from their vehicles in the pearly half-light of dawn. I saw one of the elders cast a disapproving glance my way as I pulled on my alb over my regular clothes. A couple minutes later, she came up to me and asked what church I came from. I said, truthfully, that I'd worked with many different groups and gatherings, but I was a part of the U.C.C. (United Church of Christ.) She leaned close and looked me squarely in the eye. "Is that one of them conservative churches, or liberal?"

"" (I tend to stumble when using the L-word, as I find it an unhelpful and troublesome term, but I knew she was waiting to hear one or the other of the words she'd offered me.)

She leaned even closer, her eyes squinting slightly, pinioning me with her glare. "So, which kinds of folks does your church exclude?"

An unintended smile of pure relief spread across my face. Of course she had every right to be suspicious, to be angry. But what a wonderful question, and how deeply satisfying to say, with absolute honesty, "why, we belong to this church because it doesn't exclude anybody! We welcome everyone!"

It wasn't the answer she was expecting. She actually looked a little disappointed, a little unsettled by my response. But by then people were joining the circle, gathering to take part in the ceremony. We both turned our attention to the work at hand: the acknowledgement of arrivals, the hailing of honored guests, and the clearing and blessing of this sea-carved, salt-washed, mist-wreathed sacred space.

There were words of welcome. A match was set to a small bundle of sacred leaves cradled in a seashell, and the smoke wafted among us, ritually purifying all that it touched. The drummer lifted his drum and sang, in its rhythm, words our bodies could all feel even if some of our minds could not comprehend. Two elders shook rattles in time to the drum. They spoke more words, some in their native languages and some in translation, for the benefit of us gussucks. At their invitation--a nod in my direction with the statement, "Now, I guess we're gonna hear some Christian-churchy-Lord-in-heaven prayers..." I offered the Gaelic invocation I'd prepared, along with an English translation. Two tongues, two languages, slowly revealed the meaning of the prayer, and with each stanza their eyes widened. "Oh King of the elements, be ours a goodly purpose toward each creature in Creation..."

Perhaps they felt a little of the shock of recognition I felt, when first I discovered those words more than a decade ago. My Pacific Northwest upbringing had exposed me to the stories and teachings of many Native peoples, and the words of Black Elk and Chief Seattle were regarded with the same respect accorded to the Christian Gospels. I grew up hungry to embrace teachings that honored the Earth, yet I was fiercely aware of the innate wrongness of "playing Indian." Only when a visiting bard--David Whyte--gave a lecture series on "The Celtic Imagination," did I discover the mythic characters of Salmon, Raven, and Deer in a context I could wholly embrace without borrowing the cultural trappings of others.

Other words, silence, and music followed. The Piper offered her own musical gift, and as she struck in to an eerie tune on the pipes, the elders reached out and signaled for all of us to take hands and make a circle around her. The thrum of the drones, like the beat of the drum, moved in our blood and our bones as well as the mist-laden morning air. It seemed like a suitable and satisfying end. I tucked my now-damp folded notes behind my back, hoping I was off the homiletical hook. No such luck. The same elder who had confronted me at the beginning fixed me, once again, in her sights. She nodded to me. What was I doing there? I was no elder, no great storyteller. Surely I didn't belong... But she was, after all, in charge, and she was telling me to speak. I took out my notes, apologized for relying on them, and began:

We are border people. Like a basket's woven design or Celtic knotwork carved into stone, our life shows most clearly at the edges. What beauty we have lies where pieces are split and broken, where the ragged ends are tucked and woven in.

We are journeying people. Along these edges we move, back and forth, backward and forward, and we carry this history on our back. It weighs us down, like a creel full of seaweed. It pulls and presses, like a basket heavy with stones.

My ancestors were Scottish and Scots-Irish immigrants to Maine. They came on ships from the lands of their people, the coastlines and hillsides that knew them best, held their stories, held their bones. They came as unwilling passengers on packet ships. They arrived awkward and ignorant and scared, like many of their fellow immigrants, having been burned out of their homes and pushed off their land by poverty, circumstance, or government agents.

A story: The British government spent years conducting military campaigns against the Scots and the Irish before they made their raids on the so-called New World. Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh, and others used Ireland as a proving ground, a convenient neighborhood of savages to be cleaned up and cleared out. After four years on the blood-soaked frontier, one English correspondent sent this description back:

“Out of every corner of the woods and glens they came creeping forth on their hands, for their legs would not bear them. They looked anatomies of death; they spake like ghosts crying out of their graves... in short space there were none almost left and a most populous and plentiful country suddenly left void of man or beast.” The “void” meant vacant lands for English resettlement. This was the Irish frontier in 1596.

Meanwhile, the SSPCK--the Society in Scotland for Propagating of Christian Knowledge--was intent on stamping out “the barbarian tongue” of Gaelic, the first step towards civilizing the “Wild Scots” of the Highlands. They also busied themselves with New World heathens. In 1735, they began a search for a missionary to preach to Native Americans in the Colonial territory of Georgia. They settled on one Reverend Iain MacLeoid. A Gaelic-speaker, they believed, would be able to converse with the natives quite easily--one barbarian to another.

Less than a generation later, my ancestors came. Like other immigrants, they came for many reasons. Some were good reasons. Some were less than good. Whatever their reasons, they did not arrive entirely without skills--they may have known how to weave and spin, how to carve stone or tend livestock, how to write or keep accounts, but they did not know all that was needed to survive in this unfamiliar land.

Some were so used to fighting, they never learned how to unclench their fists. Kicked out of their own land, they signed up as soldiers to shove other people off their ancestral lands. They remembered how to fight, but they lost touch with the ancient codes of honour that once governed their battles. We cannot be proud of what they did, but we can try to understand the reasons behind their ignorance and fear. We remember them as we remember the dark length of our shadows in the clear light of the rising sun. We cannot shake their darkness away from us. It will follow us always.

Some of our ancestors did not forget the old ways. They remembered that, at the shining heart of their culture, there were sacred rules of hospitality. They understood what it meant to offer food to hungry wanderers, to offer shelter to a stranger. They were humbled to receive the compassion and care of this land's Native Peoples. Without this kind and patient guidance, they would never have survived the biting cold and the bitter winds. With it, they endured beyond the edges of starvation. And because some of them kept the old ways alive, they understood that such actions bind people together and create community, as surely as two colours interwoven become a beautiful design.

We are still travelers, still border people, living at the thresholds of land and sea, standing between cultures, standing at the threshold of survival itself. We still reach, blindly, in our dreams, for that sweet promise of a land called home. We still struggle to find our place in Creation's intricate design, a place in the great pattern of justice and peace where we genuinely belong.

What we must acknowledge is this: we have not made our own way in this world. We arrived here and survived here through the care of countless others, people who helped us over the threshold, cared for our bodies and souls, and ensured our survival in a thousand different ways. We live as a result of their risks, their gifts, their love.

This, then, is how we honor your ancestors and ours: we come back to this place of rough edges, and with the Creator's gracious Spirit and the Travelers’ tales to guide us, we remember. We strive not to repeat the mistakes of our oppressors, who called everyone savages and brutes and other less-than human names. Instead, we humbly recognize that we share this land and this fully human story. We humbly acknowledge that we must listen more deeply as stories and old ways are shared. We are called to move together in this open space, to weave together, from our rough edges, a design of healing and promise, a design of wisdom and beauty.

--copyright Mainecelt July 2009

Source notes: this homily made use of material from the following history texts: Ronald Takaki, A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, (Boston, Little, Brown & Co., 1993)

Michael Newton, We’re Indians Sure Enough: The Legacy of the Scottish Highlanders in the United States, (Saorsa Media, Auburn, NH, 2001)

Photo of Alaska Native mask found here.
Basket image from Diane Kopec collection at the Abbe Museum.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pig Deal.



...sqeeeee! Grunt squee squeeeeee!

For the record, in case anyone out there is wondering,
these are NOT the sounds to which a farmer enjoys waking.

Roosters aren't so great either, but I'll take a nice, normal, healthily-crowing early morning rooster any day over...

Seven Escaped Pigs.

To start with, here's how the weather looked by the time I came in for a short break in the late morning:
That's better than the image on the weather radar this morning at around 6:30, when we were suiting up to go chase pigs. The 6:30 image had a lot more yellow, orange, and red in it. What you also can't see from this image was that our farm was of the storm (think of those ellipses as thousands of rain drops).

The incessant rain has seriously hampered our pig management this year. Enclosures that, in a normal summer, would serve the pigs for a few weeks are turned into muddy morasses in a matter of days. We try to keep them on fresh, clean ground with a lot of places to root, plenty of shade, and an array of twigs and green-growies to chew on and scratch against. Not only are they trampling the greenery too quickly, but the rapid onset of storms has been spooking them enough to bust through the four-strand electric fence.

So imagine a sudden downpour at dawn on a small Northland farm. Imagine the distant rumble of thunder, then the sudden hard patter of arriving rain. Then imagine...Grunt...grunt grunt....squeeee! Yep, that's how our morning began.

Here's a sampling of the clothing we went through during our pre-breakfast "running of the swine." (I should mention, by the way, that we have a total of eight pigs. While the rain poured and seven pigs gleefully jounced around, up the braes and down the glens, Pig Number Eight trundled back and forth inside the fenceline of the old enclosure, fruitlessly calling to all its escaped comrades. I was torn between praising its law-abiding nature and mocking it for its stupidity. In other words, I was not at my compassionate best as a farmer.)

Here are some of the pigs, exhausted after several circuits of the yard, the gardens, the cattle pasture, and the woods. Note that five pigs are sleeping peacefully INSIDE their new fence. Note that one pig is sleeping peacefully OUTSIDE the fence. Oh, well. You can only do so much on a farm after half the workforce departs for an off-farm job. I thought five pigs inside the fence was pretty good, with just myself and a mostly-untrained Border Collie on the job!

Here are two other pigs, NOT sleeping peacefully. They are, instead, pulling the tarp off of the firewood pile, unstacking the wood, rooting in the herb beds, and generally making themselves as much of a nuisance as possible. To put it as mildly as I can, these particular creatures are, umm, "not especially appreciated" right now. (The only reason I'm blogging is that I've given up.)

The renegades seem to be staying fairly close to their fenced-in friends, so my goal now is to just keep an eye on them from the house--with occasional stick-brandishing screaming raids if they get too close to the gardens again--until The Piper comes home. Seven days a week, she picks up a bucket or two of plate-scrapings from a local "breakfast served all day" restaurant. The pigs ought to come running for these syrup-soaked pancake bits, eggs, hash browns, orange slices and triangles of whole-wheat toast. (She'll dump it in the middle of the new enclosure and we'll work together to lift the fence and usher the renegades in.) Heck, I'D come running for that, too. In fact, after chasing pigs all over Creation for the last six or seven hours in the pouring rain, I would eat just about anything sluiced in a trough in front of me, as long as I don't have to cook it myself.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Wise Tiny Creatures and The Sort-of Hat

Alright, so this may not be Hogwarts, but we do have hogs...

We haven't made it to the latest Harry Potter movie. In fact, the penultimate and ultimate books in the series are still buried, unread, somewhere in our old-house-turned-storage-shack, waiting for that novel invention, "free time." Maybe THIS winter, I'll read them!

For now, the season demands the busy-ness of my hands. For those rare occasions when I'm actually forced, by circumstance, to remain seated, I've been toting along my craft basket and making dolls to sell at the farmers' market. I call these my "Wise Tiny Creatures," an affectionate nod to the poem, "Glen Uig," from Richard Hugo's Hebridean poetry cycle, "The Right Madness on Skye." The dolls range in size from two to six inches, about right for use in dollhouses and easy storage in backpacks, Christmas stockings, and coat pockets--a few of the places one might want or need them.

The dolls started with a kit my sister sent for my birthday a few years back. While I was delighted by the ingenuity and ease of the dolls' construction, I found myself itching to push the limits of design and decoration, to come up with something that matched the dancing creaturely images in my head. I wanted dolls with realistic bodies, padded and rounded and pleasant to cradle in one's hand, to tuck in one's pocket, to play with and pose and hold. I wanted engaging little faces, some wise and old, some fresh and young, some pensive, some mirthful, in a wide range of skin tones. I wanted them to be made, as much as possible, from natural, rather than acrylic, fibers and materials. I wanted dolls that would stand up to a fair amount of play, equal to the imaginations of those that might acquire them.

Each doll begins with two pipe cleaners or chenille stems, bent into an armature and wrapped with cotton embroidery floss. The heads are simply wooden beads from a craft store, but I hand-paint the faces--even though I question my sanity and rue the cost of the tiny, quickly-bent brushes each time I do so. I cover the acrylic paint with a few layers of non-toxic gesso and use a non-toxic craft glue to attach hair and beards made from wool that has been washed/carded but not spun.

I found a source for plant-dyed 100% wool felt from which to sew clothes. This is the hardest of my materials to find-- none of our local craft shops carry real wool felt, and I use such small quantities that it hardly justifies the cost of shipping from most internet vendors. (Also, I sew too slowly to use up my own inventory with any speed, but I do wish I had a few more colours!) Lately, my original source seems to have slowed production and cut down their range of offerings. Any suggestions besides dying the wool myself?

Salley Mavor's excellent book, Felt Wee Folk, includes patterns for fairies, pirates, mermaids, and members of a royal court. I've played with a few additional ideas: wizards, saints and a poseable nativity set, among others. A favourite commission: the request to make a doll that looked "Like St. Patrick, but for a guy who's really into Zen Buddhism." (I embroidered yin-yang symbols on the wee saint's stole and tiny gold snakes on the bishop's mitre and robe.) Lately I've taken to making shoes for most of the dolls, which is ridiculously time-consuming but ensures that they can stand on their own--an important feature for both display and active play.

I'll never be able to charge what these dolls are worth in terms of time and care and creative energy--they sell for twenty to forty-five dollars--but I justify them by reminding myself that much of the work is "multitasked" in the service of keeping my hands busy during meetings and such. (I learned years ago that handwork helps me focus and attend much more effectively. In grad school, I kept my hands busy by colour-coding my class lecture notes with a set of a dozen fine-point gel pens. People were always asking to borrow my notes when it was time to study for exams!)

Back to Harry Potter for a bit: devout readers and movie-goers will be familiar with the character/device known as the "Sorting Hat." During the School for Wild Girls, KyedPiper gifted me with a set of circular needles and two balls of lovely colour-flecked chocolate-brown wool-blend yarn. (I should note that my previous knitting experience is limited to two scarves and the back of a vest--one of many over-zealous unpatterned experiments I took on, then muddled and hid in the bottom of a trunk.) She talked about hats she had made and suggested that I try making one for myself.

While watching episodes of "Xena, Warrior Princess" on DVD, Kyedpiper helped me cast on and get set up to knit on circular needles, something I'd never tried. I worked without a pattern and, a couple weeks after she left, reached the stage where I knew I needed to decrease stitches further than the up-til-now-easily-used circular needles would allow. Another friend let me borrow some double-ended needles and taught me how to work with them, and a couple days later the hat was finished. With a vague nod in the Sorting Hat's direction, I have christened this project my "Sort-Of Hat:" I sort-of knew what I was doing and it turned out sort-of how I hoped it would! (I am still debating whether to adorn the tip with a pom-pom or a small bell, or just snip the extra yarn and leave it as-is. I'm leaning toward the bell.)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday Five: Game On!

Jan, over at RevGals, writes:
"In less than three weeks, my family, including children and their partners, will be gathering in Seattle, WA for 12 days...With nine adults (from almost 20 years old and up), I am thinking that we need to have some activities pre-planned--like GAMES! (Any ideas will be appreciated.) So this Friday Five is about games, so play on ahead..."

1. Childhood games?
A childhood friend recently befriended me on Facebook and shared a memory of playing "Wonder Woman" with me and a couple of other friends in our back yard. Poor guy-- I think we spent most of our time chasing each other and tying him up with the "lasso of truth."
In general, my childhood games were messy and elaborate and based on raids of kitchen drawers and my mother's fabric cabinet. There was much tent-making...also an alchemy lab under the lilac and snowball bushes, where we invented countless experimental potions and fermented-blossom "perfumes" that reeked to high heaven.

2. Favorite and/or most hated board games?
Hands-down favourite: "The Farming Game," which I used to play ad nauseum with my best friend as we were growing up. According to the box, the game was "invented on the seat of a tractor" by farmers in Eastern Washington State, and since my grandparents were Western Washington dairy farmers, I felt it was somehow a matter of loyalty to enjoy the game...considering how my life turned out, I guess I took it a bit too seriously! I loved going around the agricultural year on the board, rolling the dice for harvest yields, saving up for cattle and fruit tree tokens, and drawing the cards called "Farmer's Fate." The best one involved a true-to-life explosion of Mount Saint Helens, with all players rolling dice to see if their farm had escaped the cloud of ash. I bought a used copy--one of only three items I've ever bought on EBay--and tried to get The Piper & The Piper's Son to play it with me. Sadly, they were not as impressed...but I STILL love it!

3. Card games?
Best all-ages card game: MilleBornes, a racing game in which cards can be dealt to increase mileage or cause hazards. With a little explaining, it can be played with pre-readers, as the cards contain well-drawn visual clues.
In college, I loved playing the game, "BS," because none of my peers would believe that a pre-ministry student who still wore home-made dresses could bluff everybody under the table. I also liked "War," "SlapJack," and "Egyptian Rat Screw." Card games bring out a devilishly competitive streak in me that I find slightly disturbing, but fun.

4. Travel/car games?
Car trips were about equally divided between sibling squabbles and great game-playing in my family. There were I-spy games, like watching road signs to find all of the letters of the alphabet. We played "20 questions" and "Hink-Pink," in which a person thinks of a rhyming term and then gives out a non-rhyming definition, then has everyone guess the rhyme. (ex: "an insect outlaw" is a "mosquito bandito.")

5. Adult pastimes that are not video games?
We own neither a television nor a game console, as we recognize our own potential for time-wasting and addiction! To be honest, the work of farming, our off-farm jobs, and our community responsibilities keep The Piper and I too busy to indulge in much recreation of any kind. Our big outlet is music. The Piper plays not only the Great Highland Pipes, but also Lowland Smallpipes and the fiddle. She also knows lyrics to the most amazing array of songs, from shape-note hymns to bawdy English Music Hall bits and hard-luck ballads. We have friends that can play other instruments and remember or invent even more verses for our favourite songs.
My idea of heaven is a ceilidh: an evening of organic shared entertainment from singers, story-tellers, musicians, jokesters, and poets, with a bit of dancing and lots of good home-made food added in!

Bonus: Any ideas for family vacations or gatherings?
Share stories! Go around the circle and have everyone share "most embarrassing moments" or "a time when I felt really proud" or "the strangest thing I ever saw" or "the hardest thing I ever did" or "the outfit I wore that upset my elders most" or other good conversation-starters. It's good to do this while people have something to do with their hands: shucking corn, building sandcastles, scrapbooking, etc. so nobody feels too self-conscious.
Planning ahead, I'd encourage everyone to bring digital cameras and some old family photographs or albums. Pass them around and share the stories behind the images. Collaborate to identify places and people and dates, then write all this valuable information down. Asking for favourite recipes and family traditions is also a good idea-- get craftier members of the family to put these all into a book.
Preserve and expand your collective memory!

(Check back later--I'll look through the photo CDs my family had made, and post some great old family images from various generational gatherings!)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Shall We Dance? A sermon for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost

“...When those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.
As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.
They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord.
--2 Samuel 6:13-17 (NRSV)

What is up with David, dancing like that? Has the leader of the Israelites cracked up completely? Maybe it was too much of a strain, going from shepherd boy to soldier to court musician to ruler and priest. Look at the guy, would you? He has an army to lead, a rag-tag nation to manage, and he's out there building a tent for the ark, inviting thousands and thousands of people, calling up noisy musicians, and leaping around half-naked like some holy idiot, like some freakish pop star with only one glove...

I have to confess, when I first read this story, I fell right in next to David's wife, Michal. She's the one up in the ivory tower, far from the madding crowd, watching the party and feeling utterly appalled. Michal was raised to be proper. She was raised to do what people expect. She respected her elders and followed their commands, even when it didn't match her wishes. Even when it made her life really hard. Even when it kept her from making her own choices at all. So when she thought about her parents, her teachers, and her proper role, and then looked out at her beautiful, unpredictable husband, whirling and leaping half-naked in the midst of the crowd... I can understand her distress. I can feel some of her frustration. I can see why she let her own decorum slip as her bitterness rose. This woman, this pretty little pawn of kings and princes—her reputation and her husband were the only things she could claim as her own. And there he was, whirling wildly in ecstatic prayer, sharing too much of himself with all those common servant girls, playing the fool in the name of God?!?

Growing up, I was never much of a dancer, and, outwardly at least, I was never really wild. Knock-kneed and pigeon-toed, I was afraid of mistakes, afraid of being out of step. I was intensely aware of what others might be thinking of me. I was so focused on their imagined “shoulds” and “oughts” that I couldn't feeli the stirrings of my fledgling spirit, flapping blindly towards God. I was unsure of the rhythm in my heart, mostly deaf to the music surging in my soul...
I was the one at the window, all prim and proper, saying, “Come inside. Stop all your wildness. What will people think?”

But God's Wild Spirit kept dancing around me. First it was the music on the radio: three days of live broadcasts from a folk festival, that touched my fearful heart, opening me to the creative joy that transcends cultures. Then there was a folkdance class that welcomed beginners. They taught me how to join hands and move with the shared energy of others. Later came community theatre shows that taught me to care about lives far different from my own.
As I wrestled with my vocation, I watched space shuttles zoom above and bumblebees bumble along, blissfully ignorant that their flight defied the laws of physics. I heard of Nelson Mandela's liberation. I stood at the edge and heard the roar of the ocean unchained. I discovered little weeds cracking the pavement and the Berlin Wall coming down.

In other words, The Ark of God kept rolling in front of my nose, moving me, dazzling me, urging me up and out. I tried to stay indoors, but people kept up such a noise outside, harping on themes of freedom. I tried to keep my nose in a book, but people kept handing me shovels. I tried to stay on the sidelines, but God took my hand and led me into the dance! I put my right foot in...took my right foot out...did the Hokey-Pokey and shook myself about... Lo and behold: turning around— turning around my thinking and my fear, turning to the work of justice and peace-making...really WAS what it was all about!

The years have unfolded. I've learned right foot, left foot, right hand, left hand...I've gotten to the point where I'm even ready to put my whole self in, knock-knees, pigeon toes, and all! I still need to shake myself about a lot--that's part of the reason I have a farm. All that hard work, all that playing in the dirt, shakes off the inertia and keeps me moving. It keeps me feeling whole and connected enough to reach out to the rest of the world.

Recently, our farm had two visitors -- two young women from different parts of the country who wrote, independently, to ask for a week or two on the farm. It seems they'd been having their own crises of confidence, like Michal's bad day at the big Israelite Jamboree. They were both struggling in that very hard space between the demands and expectations of others, their own surging feelings, and the aching hunger of their spirits for a more meaningful way of life.

Jokingly at first, we christened our time together, “The School for Wild Girls.” We made it our business to talk about everything under the sun as we played in the dirt and learned to use power tools. Together, we raged about the inequities of the world and the embarrassments of daily life. We teased each other. We encouraged each other. We drank Moxie. We sang hymns and old folk songs. They went out to the pasture, amidst our long-horned, shaggy beasts, armed only with curry combs. They literally took the bull by the horns.

On Midsummer's Night, we had a bonfire with our Wild Girls. We invited over some musicians—no tambourines or cymbals, but we did have a harp, bagpipes and fiddles—enough for some joyful noise. As the flames crept, then leapt and swept over the tree-prunings, old pallets and busted chairs, we thought about fire: the fire hidden in our Spirits, the embers seldom exposed to God's wild, igniting wind. We thought of all the fears that held us back from our own callings. We wrote them on slips of paper and threw them into the flames.

The piper struck up the pipes. One of our musician friends impulsively grabbed my hand, told everyone else to join in, and led us, dancing and laughing, around the fire. We stumbled, we wobbled...our steps weren't always in time, but the music lifted us out of all our griefs and anxieties. We grinned like the fools that we were. We shouted with unfettered joy, there in the circle, there in the wildness and warmth. We danced in defiance of all our fears. We danced in defense of all we loved. We danced in devotion and prayer. And we danced with all our might!

When they stepped away, at the end of their visits, they had to return to their own people and places. But they went with new confidence and strength—yes, with Moxie. They had taken the bull by the horns. Like the Ephesians, they had gotten a glimpse into the promise of a Renewed Creation. They had been not just welcomed, but adopted, into a new family. They had left Michal's shadows, stepped across the threshold, and joined The Wild Girls.

Now our church is having its own Michal Moment. Here, in this time-worn structure, built by our forebears and maintained by our own hands, we gather, framed by shadows. We've heard the reports of wise advisors, and everything is shifting. We know our status is tenuous, and our efforts to hold our place have exhausted us to the point that we can hardly think beyond bake sales and beans. How can we manage? How shall we survive?

Listen again to the Good News in Paul's letter to the Ephesians:
"[God] has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as [we were chosen] before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before [God] in love. [We were destined] for adoption as [God's] children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of [God's] will, to the praise of the glorious grace that [God] freely bestowed on us in the Beloved... In Christ we have also obtained an that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory...This is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people..." --Ephesians 1:3-14, excerpts (NRSV)

This letter speaks of Adoption...Praise...Hope...Redemption...Glory! This is what we're called to be about! We are called to open our arms, to roll up our sleeves, to wave our banners of welcome and do the hokey-pokey!!! We are called to focus NOT on our woes, but on our wondrous mission: to be the hands and feet of God, dancing the Good News into the world! Too tired? Lean on the Holy Spirit. Let it move you. Not a good dancer? Leave your fears behind. God has enough grace for all of us.

It is hard --it is hard-- not to stare like Michal, clench your teeth or your fists, roll your eyes at a dance or a parade. And it's hard to figure out if there's a place for us out there in that great celebration.
It can seem daunting to step outside of what we're used to—exhausting, even.
But it also takes energy to hold yourself back. Have you ever noticed this?
It costs a certain amount of effort to get your dander up and dig in your heels.
Anxiety, fear, resistance...they're not fuel-efficient. They can nickle and dime you, wear you down, push you to the limit, consume all you have to give, and deplete your spirit, without ever moving you ahead.

On Independence Day, many of us stood on the church lawn and watched the parade. But we didn't lurk in the shadows. We were right out front, up close to the action, waving back to the folks in the parade. You see? We already understand how to do this! Instead of a dark, sleeping sanctuary, a church on its deathbed, onlookers saw a witness, a dedicated crowd serving up a feast!

Our challenge, now, is to carry that shining ark of God's promise out from the shadows, to keep it visible, in broad daylight. We may just be shepherds, or soldiers, princesses or servants, maybe all of the above. We may have come to this place out of duty or obligation or just the need for a share of the food, the rumour of some kind of feast. But here we are and...did you hear that music? Do you feel like joining in? We will have to fill out our dance cards together, think about who we can invite, where we might look for potential partners. We will likely need to learn some new dances with some unfamiliar steps. We will need to think about the wheels on that cart, and plan for where we want the ark to go.

It may feel like a wilderness, a desert, but hold on: God is here with us! We were there, in God's creative wildness, at the dawn of time, as adopted and beloved children. God's Spirit even now moves among us. Somewhere in between Michal and David we stand, on the threshold of the future. We can wring our hands, or we can open them. We can stay in the shadows, or we can step out, get the wheels turning, put up a tent, praise the Lord, and dance with all our might!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Escape from Tir na BOG!

It's been almost forty days and forty nights. Just when I was ready to sign up for ark-building classes, a miracle occurred: we awoke this morning to rainbows on our walls, courtesy of the prism in the window. The sun has finally returned!!!

I greeted this sign of providence with a shriek of glee, hopped out of bed and began scooping up laundry, trundled an armful down the stairs, and revved that washer right up. There was sun, and where there's sun, laundry--and everything else--can DRY!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Licht Amang the Mirk?

Overheard on BBC Radio Scotland, during a weather report:
"Tonight, in the northwest, it'll be dreary; in the northeast, a wee bit less dreary."

The Rain in Maine has stayed mainly on our plain...
and clogged storm-drains, and seeped into our brains.

Slugs of near-Northwestern proportions have been sighted feasting on the sad, rotting remnants of crops and the lush strappy leaves of healthy weeds.

June has seen more than three times its average rainfall this year in Southern Maine. For us, that means ridiculous delays in transplantation and the sowing of warm-weather crops. (Many farmers who planted on a "normal" schedule have lost their crops and will be forced to replant or simply declare the season a loss.) For most folks with livestock, it also means hay-induced desperation. Our hay supplier managed to get some fields cut and wrapped on a rare stretch of sunny days early in last month, so we'll manage, but most of New England's first-cut hay crops are ruined.

We do have our own pasture-management concerns, though: sodden fields are more easily damaged by the hooves of grazing cattle, and our attempts to restrict grazing areas have been foiled. Broilleach, our bull, regards our electric fences as a mere momentary annoyance on the way to the next buffet. Because of these destructive habits, his date with destiny may be coming sooner rather than later--our fields are in too perilous a balance to absorb and rebound from his abuse.

Today it is raining...again. Our last full day of sunny skies was over two weeks ago. I may actually light a fire in the woodstove (in JULY!!!) just so I can run a load of laundry and get it completely dry. This afternoon, when the rain's supposed to slow to a mere drizzle, I may run out and try to plant some more carrots, peas, and lettuce: crops that may survive better than all the melons and squash that go vining and fruiting only in the fields of my dreams.

Speaking of dreams, I sought out some inspiration at the Glasgow Herald's poetry blog. Today's essay seems to be the product of some serious wrestling with heavy (sometimes intangible) objects--an intrinsically Scottish pursuit. Here's the poem, with introductory comments from blog editor Leslie Duncan:

The distinguished Glasgow-born psychiatrist R D Laing (1927-1989) was also an accomplished poet. His collection, simply called Sonnets, was published in 1979 (Michael Joseph). Understandably for someone who looked deeply into troubled humankind, some of the sonnets are dark in tone; but No 37 shows him in pretty positive mood. – Lesley Duncan

There’s Light and Love and Joy and Freshness Yet

There’s light and love and joy and freshness yet.
There’re those who have something to celebrate.
There can be times we hope we’ll not forget.
A helping hand is not always too late.

Up really high there’s still clear perfect blue.
Morning must dawn as long as there is night.
Without the old there’s nothing to renew.
Once in a while it almost feels all right.

Although I know that light needs dark to shine,
I don ‘t expect to tell what atoms mean.
The universe is fine without being mine.
The flowers of countless valleys grow unseen.

What is above subsists on what’s beneath.
The world is not entirely blasted heath.