Saturday, December 29, 2012
Tomorrow morning, I'll stand in front of a new-to-me congregation in a small church somewhere in Maine. I'll preach my "candidating sermon," a sort of ecclesiastical audition, the penultimate step in the hiring process. I've been waiting for this, training for this, for years--decades, actually. Then, after a question-and-answer session, (which sounds much better than "grilling"), I'll leave the room and wait while they vote, as a congregation, on whether or not to accept me as their pastor.
It's all pretty exciting.
And yes, I should be finishing that sermon, the one I've been writing in my head all week. Yet something else is tugging at my spirit's sleeve. Something else has wrapped itself around my heart and--this morning, at least--has garnered my attention.
At midnight, when the seconds ticked just past and the day--12/29/2012--officially began, Maine's marriage equality law came into effect. At Portland City Hall, couples lined up to acquire the first same-gender marriage licenses. Hundreds of others lined up too, there to support them and cheer them on, there to witness to their loving commitments, there to stand in the freezing cold under dark skies and be a part of history in the making. Earlier in the evening, a man who refused to give his name stood at the far edge of the plaza, shouting bible verses and singing gospel songs, bewailing the moral degradation of the state. By midnight, though, the miasma of his diatribe was effectively blown away by a trombone-toting bystander, who launched with gusto into the Beatles' tune, "All You Need Is Love." The gathered crowd joined in and took up the chorus, sending the Love, Love, Love echoing off brick and stone edifices and swirling up into the midwinter night air.
A local seamstress and fellow farmers' market vendor got in on the festivities as well. She and two friends formed a boutonniere battalion, crafting over four hundred in time to hand them out, free of charge, to waiting couples and well-wishers. Others handed out bubble-soap and rose petals so the raucously joyful crowd could fill the air as the first, freshly-married couples re-emerged.
I wasn't there--as much as I love the idea of history-making, the combination of late nights, icy roads, and upcoming professional presentations kept me home and found me under my own blankets long before the clock struck twelve. But this morning, as soon as the farm chores were completed, you can bet I went online to look for news, and grinned extra-wide to see the very first couple sporting--in all the videos and photographs--purple boutonnieres made by my friend.
It turns out, there weren't as many couples lined up as many people expected. But the licenses are only good for 90 days, and I imagine most Mainers--being practical, cautious folk--had the same thoughts The Piper and I have had regarding the challenge of winter travel for friends and relatives, the cost of out-of-season foods and flowers, and a general hard-won distrust of all manner of Good News. Remember, this is New England, where harsh storms weed out the fragile, the foolish, and the unlucky, gentle weather brings biting flies, and the "home team" didn't win a World Series for 86 years.
After reading a few news stories and looking through the photos, I was left mute and awash in the midst of my unsorted feelings. The people who married weren't flashy hipsters or svelte society types--they were parents and grandparents, local working folks like me who--also like me--hadn't dared to hope for a long, long time. They were wistful and reticent, even as the crowd cheered, shy as the press photographers vied to capture a glint of their rings. Mostly, they were people who had lived together and cared for each other year upon year, always without legal protection, always a step away from the condemnation of kinfolk and strangers. Now they were being welcomed into a wider community of support, a wider circle of protection. Still, I thought, maybe some had stayed away because of that very fear: the fear that, in light of recent public shootings, Portland City Hall might not be the best place to be.
Still, I celebrate. I celebrate my friend and her four hundred carnations. I celebrate the couples who walked up the steps together and came out to shouts of joy from an eager and joyous crowd. And I celebrate the weight that...slowly...lifts from my own wary heart. Today, all loving, consenting adults in the state of Maine are now free to marry. Sooner or later, with an eye towards our own hard-earned understanding of committed partnership and our own agreements on sensible scheduling, The Piper and I will make our way into that wider circle of freedom and protection. All over the state, in their own leery and cautious ways, folks like us are making similar plans. Yes, freedom--it's going to have a whole new ring.
Now... I guess I better finish that sermon.
(Photo swiped from K. Skillin. Thanks!)
Sunday, November 18, 2012
May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.”
Sunday, September 23, 2012
There we were, arrayed amidst the splayed shadows of wild asters in the fire's flickering light. After a few minutes of contented, food-shoveling silence, the banter began. There were snippets of song. There were questions about tradition and experience of the season and its shifts. One farmhand asked if I knew any "Mabon myths," Mabon being the pagan name for the observance of the autumnal equinox. I laughed dismissively. "Celts tend to focus on the cross-quarter days, (the mid-points between solstice and equinox), but we don't really do much for equinoxes. The cross-quarter days represent big changes in seasonal work and human agricultural activity. Nothing much changes at equinox. Anyway, balance is too boring to celebrate."
My words stuck in my own craw. I'd spent most of the day at a conference for members and leaders of small UCC churches in Maine. This year's theme was, "full-time church, part-time pastor," a description that applies to the majority of the state's rural UCC congregations. There had been all manner of workshops during the day: successful stewardship, improving worship and music, dealing gracefully with progressive/conservative tensions, involving children more fully, developing local caregiving ministries, and so forth. I was especially interested in a panel discussion of part-time pastors, as I myself hope to be serving a local church as a part-time pastor soon. I sat and listened as every single pastor on the panel admitted that they worked more than their contracted hours each week, and none of them found it easy to manage the boundaries between work and the rest of their lives. All of them felt some aspect of their lives had suffered as a result: their families, their physical health, their intellectual depth and breadth, their engagement in larger issues, and especially their own spiritual well-being.
So, I'm wrong. Balance, it turns out, may be a rare enough treasure that we need to stop, consider it, even marvel at it when it is revealed. Balance is a gift, a source of health and grace. Balance isn't boring at all, but rather distinctive and uncommon. Balance IS worthy of celebration, after all. Maybe I need to start marking the equinoxes with more intention!
Now the coals have burned down, the smores have been consumed, and the sound of singing wood and chirping crickets has faded in the bright, clear light of another September day. After a morning of rushing around, I took off my shoes and grabbed my newly-acquired issue of the journal TAPROOT, the one with a theme of "retreat." I headed up the stairs to my bedroom, each riser a tentative step towards some sabbath-keeping in an effort to build better habits of balance.
It was hard work.
Much to my chagrin, even with a good soul-food journal in hand and my head cradled on my favourite pillow, I could not make myself relax through force of will. When my eyelids began to lower, my internal protestant cattle-prod started jolting away with as much shouldness and oughtness as it could muster. My farm-manager mind came up with a thousand tasks I might yet accomplish in this particular weather and span of time. I pressed on. Taproot offered me an essay by Shannon Hayes on "Radical Homemaking" wherein she explained that her investment of time and presence at home was not an attempt to flee from the day's pressing issues, but rather an effort to engage those issues more fully, an effort to defy consumer culture with deeper interactions, more sustainable livelihoods, and healthier ways of being. This was followed by a gently reflective poem and a photo-essay of various sleepy people settling into their beds.
Something shifted, then. Perhaps the twinging tension of my spine untangled itself a bit. Perhaps the neglected depths of my lungs received long-awaited oxygen as I drew a deeper breath. Somehow I realized, more viscerally than before, the grace that emerges in the tandem disciplines of recreation and rest. I followed the example of those sweet, sleepy people draped across the pages. I let my eyes close. I let my heart and breathing slow. There, in the amber afternoon light, with a slight breeze from the open window and soft sounds of conversation drifting up from the room below, I slipped into the blessed torpor of a good old-fashioned afternoon nap.
Yes, I slept. It wasn't long, but there were dreams and delicious, languid rest. Meanwhile, the rest of the household happily read and breezed and puttered about. Meanwhile, the plants grew and the livestock calmly meandered without my professional intervention. Creation continued to weave its cosmic patterns of mystery and grief and beauty, all without my help.
Huh. Balance. I need to try more of this sabbath/napping stuff. Let's call it...professional development.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
Sermon for Proper 16B 2012: “Hold Everything”
(Based on 1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43 & Ephesians 6:10-20. Copyright Mainecelt 2012))
We had to stay awake. It wasn't easy-- most of us at the Conservation District meeting were farmers, and we'd been up since dawn for one reason or another: nursing a sick animal, repairing a fence, picking greens and packing them off for a long day at the farmers' market. But the District's monthly meeting was an important one. The hard metal chairs and the fluorescent lights would have to be endured.
Now, usually, these monthly meetings are pretty routine. Maybe a landowner needs help with erosion control, and the District's staff works with the board to develop a service plan. Or maybe a town has trouble with storm-water runoff and they ask the Conservation District to help with assessment and management. Usually there's great news from the one of the District's educators, who works with schoolkids on all kinds of projects, like local food lunches and hands-on science where they study the ecology of wetlands and streams. We hear the reports, smile and applaud, and go home feeling pretty good about all these good local efforts to care for our land and water.
But this time around, everything was different. After the usual reports, a new document was handed around, and the room grew quiet. When a copy reached my hands, I realized why. The title read, “Going in Reverse: The Tar Sands Threat to Central Canada and New England.” Nineteen different organizations had signed on, from the Maine Clammers' Association and the Appalachian Mountain Club to the Natural Resources Defense Council and Maine Interfaith Power & Light.
In twenty pages, it laid out the properties of tar sands oil, a type of bitumen: extra-corrosive, extra-acidic, extra-abrasive, and basically extra-everything-bad. There was a map of the 60-year old pipeline they want to send this stuff through, from Alberta, Canada, to Portland, Maine. It explored the potential harm to waterways and watersheds, from the Great Lakes to the Androscoggin, Sebago Lake and Casco Bay, if this bitumen ever busted through the aging metal anywhere along the way.
Turns out, the stuff is so heavy and thick they have to dilute it with lots of chemicals to make it flow at all. They have to pump it at higher pressure, and it tends to heat up as it flows. The more we learned, the more concerned we became. That 60-year old pipeline was built before they imagined pumping anything this thick. And because the pipeline was already built, the company could reverse the flow at any time, without even informing the public.
I lived in Alaska from 1989 to 1994. I knew what a regular crude oil spill could do to wildlife and fishing communities. But this stuff wouldn't just float on the surface and wash up on the beaches. Bitumen sinks. We don't have any containment systems designed for that. If the Conservation District was going to figure out how to serve the public in the event of such a disaster, it was going to require the wisdom of Solomon.
Unfortunately, Solomon had his own containment problem. His people had been on the move for so long, pushed from one place to another, caught up in conflict after conflict...and now that Solomon was king, he wanted to make good on his father David's promise: to raise up a temple with a solid foundation, to root God's people in one glorious place, to announce that God's favour had come to rest right here, right now, finally, in a purpose-built structure with the best materials and designs and craftsmen that royal money and influence could buy.
Solomon was probably a little bit stressed about this. His own route to the throne hadn't been particularly neat and clean. His older brothers had all been victims of wartime schemes, power-plays and horrible misunderstandings, until finally Solomon was the one left standing—the tenth boy-child of David, practically the last in line. And so Solomon prayed. He prayed not for riches or power, but for wisdom and understanding. And God heard Solomon's prayer and blessed him with that very gift.
Now, after all that, the big day arrived: the precious box of holiness that had rolled alongside God's people for so many years, that bouncing little God-buggy called the Ark of the Covenant, was carried up the steps by specially-selected priests, observed by the gathered elders of all the tribes of Israel. They proceeded to sacrifice so many sheep and oxen that the Bible says they lost track. Then the priests carried the ark into the inner sanctuary and installed in the newly-completed temple.
What happens next? A cloud of glory fills the whole temple. It knocks the priests to the ground and rolls through the corridors and seeps out of every possible crack and opening. The temple cannot contain the raw power and beauty and love of the Creator of the universe. Solomon has a serious containment issue. He cries out to God: “But will God indeed dwell on earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built. In other words, never mind the oil. This is a Godspill of epic proportions, and nobody makes clean-up gear or haz-mat suits for that.
Good thing Solomon prayed for wisdom. Wisdom tells him to open himself up to all God's glorious possibilities—and it tells him to keep praying. Pray he does—not just for his royal house, not just for the priests and the elders, not even just for the people of Israel. God is uncontainable. Solomon gets it. And so he prays for foreigners, for everyone beyond the circle of the chosen and the blessed. He prays that all the peoples of the earth may come to know the God who spills out everywhere, and that God would hear and answer even the prayers of the lost and wandering, the poor and the placeless.
Meanwhile, over in the New Testament, Paul is having some containment issues of his own. He's under a special kind of arrest, literally chained to a Roman soldier—sort of a living ankle bracelet for rabble-rousers. Waking and sleeping, he hears the clatter and clank of his captors' plate-mail, the iron rings rattling as they shift, leather bands creaking underneath. There's no ignoring the flash of the swords and daggers suspended from their wide copper-plated belts, or their bronze helmets with the long cheek-guards and wide brims, fancy crest-ornaments stuck on top for extra show. Every soldier's footfall rings on the tile walkways thanks to the iron hobnails on their leather boots. These sights and sounds, along with the clanking weight of his own chains, create the rhythm of Paul's days and nights.
Yet, somehow, Paul is allowed to write. Manacled and under watch, he is still allowed to compose and send letters that travel far. He knows his words may be carried from one household of believers to another, from one faith community to the next. And so, for the sake of his brothers and sisters in Christ, Paul has a little fun at the soldiers' expense. He suggests another dress code for followers of the Christ: not the gear of an imperial warrior, certainly not the gear of his Roman security guards: “ Put on the whole armor of God...fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” Shoes that make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace... Not Bean boots? Not Nikes? Not Crocs? What is Paul suggesting? He goes on with his list of recommended gear: a shield of faith. A helmet of salvation. And the only weapon in the list: “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
This is not, as some Christians suggest, battle gear for Armageddon or the Rapture. This is how we prepare ourselves for all the everyday temptations, all the subtle evils and seductive double-talk that bleed us, bit by bit, in our daily lives. It is gear for our efforts on the home front: gear that shores up the spirit, gear that keeps a heart from breaking in the thankless, exhausting work of care-giving, gear that keeps us engaged in community outreach, gear that helps us respond to those who fear disaster, gear that keeps us connected to the health and healing of our wider world.
The whole armor of God is a metaphor, a way of reminding ourselves that we cannot fight evil with its own weapons—we have to use something different. It is a reminder that God's loving, creative, redemptive power trumps all our clever human constructions, from fancy shoes to temples to pipelines and empires. It is a reminder that we are God's beloved family, bound into the same cosmic network of action and accountability.
Especially, it is a reminder that this work is not for superheroes in a galaxy far, far away. It is here, now, in our own time and place, that we must take on the work of living faithfully. It is here, now, that we shoulder the challenge of reconciliation and justice-making. It is here that we must learn how to walk, proclaiming with each step the Gospel of Peace.
We have to stay awake. Because, all around us, people are trying to shove and shoehorn God into boxes and temples, trying to blind us to the glory of God that seeks to bust out in our midst. They're trying to weigh everyone down with the heavy armor of empires, until our helmets cover our eyes and we trip over our own chains. But we serve the God of the foreigner, the God of royal wisdom and holy foolishness, the God of the last-in-line. We serve the God who longs for our wholeness— and the wholeness of Creation.
We serve a God for whom there is no containment system, and God's power and love spill out everywhere, transforming and healing each of us. This is the Good News. Thanks be to God!
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Lunasdal, (a.k.a. Lughnasadh or Lammas), the old Celtic feast of the grain harvest, has been my mini-New Year for these last eleven years, ever since I boarded a plane in Scotland and ended up in Maine on August 1st to begin my post-seminary life on a new coast. Each year at this time, I do my own bit of in-gathering as I consider the harvest the past twelve months have brought.
I hardly remember that first year, except for the waves of grief and despair that washed over me and lapped at the edges of every small, anxious attempt to explore new ways of working, thinking, loving and being. Just prior to my month-long Trip of a Lifetime in Scotland, I'd been told by the pastor of my home church that my gifts were not evident and my vocation to Christian ministry was unwelcome. Just prior to that, I'd graduated from seminary with honours in a beautiful ceremony that abounded with signs of grace, welcome, and radical inclusion. The pastor's words were a spiritual sucker-punch from which it took years to thaw out, heal, and recover.
The Scotland trip passed in a blur, my intended joyful adventure lost in a fog of pain and betrayal. How I'd love to go back and experience those things while fully alive, fully engaged, fully awake! Still, it was a good gift and I tried to make the most of it, intellectually if not emotionally. There was a week at Ceolas, the traditional Scottish arts school on the isle of South Uist. The Piper and her two sons travelled with me. During the days, I studied traditional singing with Margaret Stewart while The Piper and her eldest son studied with Allan Macdonald and other tradition-bearers. There was a week at Sabhal Mor Ostaig on the isle of Skye, where I took an immersion class in intermediate Scottish Gaelic with Muriel Fisher. There were wonderful rambles up and down and around the Highlands and Islands, with stops in Lewis, Harris, Mallaig and Oban. Finally, there was a week on Iona, place of dream-pilgrimage, heart-home of Celtic Christians the world over.
When I returned to the States, my head was buzzing with cultural riches and vocational longings, neither of which had any apparent outlet. I had only one firm plan in place: get to Maine and find a small place just big enough for my and my shadow to set up housekeeping. Essentially, I went underground, hoping that the old promises of seed and harvest would still prove true, hoping that time wrapped in darkness would one day lead to emergence and fruition.
It was not the darkness of death. My Piper lived only one town away, and her constancy kept the darkness warm and rich and full of earthy promises. Slowly, slowly, I began to put down roots. Slowly, slowly, my new life began to unfurl. The string of hand-to-mouth jobs included barista, deli worker, house-cleaner, nanny, farm-sitter, craftswoman, Gaelic teacher, concert promoter, and "educational technician." Yet there were also days spent tending The Piper's garden and talking together of how we might create a shared life, a shared farm. There were nights among friends, singing our hearts out and playing centuries-old tunes into the "wee smas." While my seminary colleagues were out serving churches, raising families, and organizing labour unions, I was arduously seeking my place in the grand scheme, listening for the sometimes faint, but always present, whispers of guidance from a loving Cosmos.
Many days, my conversations with God felt like the Burnistoun elevator sketch, where two office workers in Glasgow try to direct an elevator's voice-recognition system to reach floor number eleven. (Watch it here. Note: contains a smattering of terms common to frustrated Glaswegians.) There were so many things I wanted to share, wanted to give, wanted to offer up to my community and the world beyond, but I no longer trusted myself to communicate in ways that would reach others or be recognized. And then, one day, I found myself in church again--not the denomination I'd grown up in, but a different one, where I'd heard that all people were actively welcomed. Four years later, I have now passed my Ecclesiastical Council and Examination for Ordination in the United Church of Christ, and I'm now in the process of seeking a church to serve as a local part-time pastor. Yeeeeee-haaaaaaw!!!
Eleven years: eleven season-cycles of fallow time, planting, growth, and harvest. In that time, I've planted fruit trees and watched them bear, taught students and watched them thrive, served churches and felt the Spirit move in our midst. (In between, there have been plenty of failures, plenty of frustration, plenty of hand-wringing and exhaustion!) I've come to understand that my vocation to ministry includes this history-rich, nutrient-poor parcel of land on which The Piper and I have created our farm. Here, rooted in this place, surrounded by love and all the challenges and joys of our rural community, my spirit has been nurtured and restored. Other travellers have found their way here for a weekend, a fortnight, a season...and they have been restored and nourished too. Their paths toward wisdom have varied widely and rarely matched mine. This, too, has been a source of richness!
Eleven years--and was it really two years ago that we bought the farm, after all those years of agonizing? Last year, we bought a Highland bull, a Tamworth boar, and a Devon sow. This year, with the help of friends and WWOOF volunteers, we've raised two greenhouses and an artisanal outhouse. We've welcomed a new heifer calf (born at Bealtuinn/Beltane) and Welsummer hens. A friend stopped by for a music session a few weeks ago, sized up the new greenhouses, and said, approvingly, "You know, this place is really shapin' up to look like a farm."
Happy Lunasdal, Y'all. May your own hardscrabble efforts blossom and bear. May you be blessed with the riches of harvest, joyfully welcomed and safely gathered in.
Sunday, June 10, 2012
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
See, there's a wee barn on our farm that was originally built for The Piper's Jersey cow, Biscuit. Biscuit and her calf, Red Emma, have been gone from the farm for many years. The "two cow garage" morphed first into a woodworker's storage shed, then was repurposed to hold gardening supplies, pigs and chickens. Now, after several generations of pigs and chickens, we have a new plan in mind: tear the whole thing down to the frame and turn it into peoplespace. We imagine book groups, workshops, some nice south-facing windows for seed-starting, and a place for the occasional swagman (or swagwoman) to waltz his (or her) matilda.
That said, the chickens gotta go. We'd been thinking about this all winter and considering the process. We figured we'd cull the non-egg-layers (Mmmm! Chicken stew with dumplings!) and then put them into a moveable coop of some sort. We started looking around at plans and images and studying other people's portable poultry palaces, and the harder we looked, the more perplexed we became. Thankfully, along came Coyote, who had been raising and tending chickens for years and had some ideas and skills to contribute. We decided it was time for a hardware run. Coyote and the Piper and I headed out, with a stop at our favourite cheap seasonal eatery, Fat Boy's, for fortification.
Now, in addition to good, cheap, locally-sourced hamburgers, onion rings and frappes (milkshakes), Fat Boy's has another important feature: crayons and paper placemats. Many a farm project has been sketched on those placemats over the years. We set the paper cup of crayons in the middle of the table and set to work, tossing out possible names for the structure as we went. "Yolks-Wagon" was a solid favourite, but with my taste for the obscure I lobbied for "Taigh-Beak," a play on the Gaelic word for "outhouse." By the time our meal was consumed we'd come to no firm agreement on names, but we did reach the shared conclusion that our moveable coop, in order to fit with our farm's Celtic/British theme, should look something like a traditional Traveller/Gypsy wagon. Alas, due to a local dearth of Travellers and Gypsies, we had only our imaginations and memories to go on, so we boldly scribbled our best approximations of a few paint schemes and sallied forth to the hardware store for said paint and two sheets of red metal roofing.
After we got home, we searched the internet for traditional caravan images. Huzzah! Our paint choices were culturally and historically correct! (Well, mostly. It turned out that "Montpelier Red Velvet," which looked like a basic cherry red under the fluorescent lights of the store, turned out to be sort of a deep raspberry instead.) Our other colours, "Orange Glow," "Blue Flame," and "Globe Artichoke," were right on target. As soon as Coyote had finished the actual carpentry of the structure, with The Piper's occasional help and guidance, I primed the structure and started to paint.
We got one coat of "Globe Artichoke" on the structure before Coyote left. Another WWOOF volunteer helped apply two additional coats, and then I started to play with the other colours. First, I tried out the red paint on the window trim and watched it dry into the aforementioned deep raspberry--not the effect I'd been going for. Next I tried out "orange glow," (really more of a school-bus yellow, but also close to the lovely deep hue of the yolks from our free-range chickens), on the lower portion of three sides. Well, that made everything look bright and cheery, but the big blocks of colour were also intimidating. How shall we get from these bold patches to the complex motifs commonly seen on old caravans? Well, I.....have absolutely no idea. My coop-painting muse has utterly deserted me--and besides, now that it's Spring I have other pressing priorities. It seemed a bit more manageable when the whole thing was three inches high, two-dimensional, and scribbled in crayon on a placemat.
Meanwhile, the chickens seem utterly undisturbed by the paint scheme (or lack thereof). We've been leaving the front door of the structure open and the hens have been seen hopping in and out. I haven't found any eggs in the structure's two laying boxes, but the two-inch layer of pine shavings with which we lined them has definitely been disturbed. More than one hen has apparently been road-testing those nests. Within the next few weeks, I think we'll go ahead and begin culling, then shut the diminished flock in the new structure for a few days to re-imprint their tiny chicken brains with a new concept of "home." From then on, the little hatch on the side of the barn will be closed and their best option for evening roosting will be inside the yolks-wagon/taighe-beak. (With the chickens relocated, we'll be able to start cleaning out the barn in preparation for its overhaul and eventual repurposing.) After a week or two of reliable coming and going from their new abode, we'll move the structure a little farther from the barn each night, and eventually the wee chicken caravan will take its rightful place in the pasture where the chickens can clean up after the cows, following Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm model.
And one of these days, maybe we'll even finish painting the silly wee thing.
(All text and images copyright Mainecelt, 2012, except caravan, borrowed from here.)
Sunday, April 8, 2012
Our first year as WWOOF farm hosts has been the best sort of adventure. Yes, there are risks. Perhaps it takes a certain temperament to open one's home to strangers, to gently negotiate shared space, to relinquish a measure of privacy, to build trust...yet the people who have chosen to travel here have truly blessed us. We have welcomed their widely varying stories and experiential wisdom as much as their energy and willingness to work.
On this Easter morning, as the Piper played the sun up and--gathered at the town landing at daybreak--we heard the story of angels at the empty tomb, I looked over at Coyote, face to the water, perhaps pondering leave-taking and the next leg of a personal pilgrimage. The quilted patterns on Coyote's poncho hinted strongly of wings. Why not? If the risen Jesus could be mistaken for a gardener, why couldn't a travelling farmhand come with wings? There are deep reasons why, in many wisdom traditions, angels and strangers are closely intertwined...
So, on this day of resurrections and possibilities, may we all be surrounded by winged strangers and shining gardeners. May we all be open to winds of change and wild gusts of blessing.
A CELTIC RUNE OF HOSPITALITY
We saw a stranger yesterday.
We put food in the eating place,
Drink in the drinking place,
Music in the listening place,
& with the sacred name of the truine God,
[They] blessed us and our house,
Our cattle and our dear ones.
As the lark says in her song:
Often, often, often goes the Christ
In the stranger's guise.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Serpents of Ireland, I'm sorry.
You did not then, nor now, deserve my ire.
These last few centuries,
I've learned a thing or two,
Cooling my heels under the gentle rains,
Conversing with worms in the earth.
They have taught me with their slender, winding ways
Of the goodness of snakes,
How even our Dear Lord loved them,
Telling his disciples to be as wise.
Yes, I've been thinking,
Hidden away from the weary tread of pilgrim feet--
No zealot now, no fire-starter,
This dark cradle a subtler, slower crucible of sorts--
As I and earth transform
Into each other
And shallow shamrock roots
Spread a ticklish carpeting over my head
How did I ever believe
The Trinity could be my Own Big Thing
In the already ancient, intimately wise
Of this scarred and shining land?
Serpents of Ireland, I'm sorry.
In my arrogance, I sinned against you.
You, no less than all God's other creatures
Deserve to live unmolested,
Blessed, not cursed, from the beginning.
These things--at last--I understand
Now that I, too, have shed my skin.
--copyright MaineCelt 3/2012
Saturday, February 25, 2012
(Based on Genesis 9:8-17 & Mark 1:9-15, common lectionary readings for the first Sunday of Lent, year B.)
Ten nights back, and the moon was still bright, just past its full, round glory, waning gibbous above the faithful remnant of snow. The wood stove had been well-fed, that night, and the warmth had poured up through the grate into our half-attic room. There, in the midst of February, the small room had become stifling. We opened the window half-way and settled in for the night, the bright moonshine spilling in over the sill.
For a while, all was quiet. Wrapped in the cares and business of the day, we gradually eased our whirring minds down into sleep. A truck went grumbling down the dirt road. Again, silence, then—blessed sleep, deep, restoring, healing sleep, peaceful oblivio—WHAT THE HECK WAS THAT?
We struggled awake, sat up in bed, and strained to make sense out of the unearthly series of noises, the rising, dipping pitches, the staccato yips and echoing, resonant howls. “Ohhhhh. Coyotes.”
Once or twice a year, in the deep eroded stream beds that carve through the 30-acre woods behind our house, the coyotes gather. It's often more than one pack that converges, and the range of voices is eerie and amazing. Have you ever heard the coyotes when they gather and begin to sing? One wild call rises into the night, answered by another. Other voices join, and they go on for hours, vying for attention, trying out for solos, and then breaking out into a rolling, wild cacophonous chorus that goes on almost too long to bear, full of spell-binding syncopation, intense dissonance and hackle-raising harmonies.
We lay there, in the over-warm house, in the cold blue moonlight, trapped between the security of our blankets and the unleashed wilderness just beyond our half-open window. And that's as good a place to begin as any. No matter where you are, it's a good place to begin the season of angels and wild beasts, the season of Lent.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
Immediately. It's one of Mark's favourite words. He is so eager to get out the Good News, so hungry to share the power of this life-altering experience, this world-transforming story! Never mind the baby in the stable. The gospel leaps right in at the Jordon, with Jesus being baptised by John. And immediately, the heavens are torn apart, and the Spirit descends like a dove, and a voice names him as God's Beloved child! And before we even have time to figure this all out—before JESUS has time to figure this all out—he's driven, lobbed, forcefully flung right out into the wilderness.
What would have happened if the story took a different direction? “Jesus was baptised, and then immediately went back home.” No, that's not how ministry works. “Jesus was baptised, and immediately went into town.” No, town is for commerce, not transformation.
He had just been baptised. He had gone under the surface of the water. He had been submerged in the flood, a ritual drowning of all the old ways, and he had broken the surface and emerged into light and air and possibility again. He was the new Noah, water streaming off of him, there with a dove of promise and God's voice to declare a new covenant. And, like Noah, in a radically altered landscape, he had to figure out life all over again. Yes. Wilderness. There, with the wild beasts, tended by angels.
Because wilderness isn't just a place we go. Wilderness is something inside of us. We each carry, inside our hearts and minds, a bewildering landscape full of barren places and tangled thickets. It is full of strange characters: shadowy schoolyard taunters, lost and lingering loves, and other ghosts that haunt us, the harsh or compassionate faces of our ancestors, the sweet and frightening demons of our dreams.
We wake and walk with this, move through the world with this wilderness inside us. And, in the neat compartments of home and school and office, in the blind repetition of the daily grind, we cannot expect this wildness to make sense. The paved roads and square rooms—the ones that work so well for machines—do not work so well for our suffering, searching souls.
There's a reason seekers have gone into the wilderness—or created quiet times and sanctuary spaces—for century after century. Whether we hike or paddle into actual wilderness or simply set aside time to pray, meditate, and wander our inner wilderness in God's good company, these spiritual adventures feed our souls.
For the good of our souls, we need time and space away. We need stones under our feet. We need rough old trees. We need the purity of deserts, the rough angles of mountaintops. They help us unclutter our vision until we can see the wideness of God's love. They help us empty out all the competing voices until we can name our personal demons...and only those pure, elemental spaces can bring us the needed clarity. And we don't need to be afraid of this adventure. Remember what happened to Jesus when he went out:
...the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Yes, he faced temptation—really, more of a series of spiritual tests: hurdles to leap on a marathon journey of the soul. But Satan, the great tester, was not his only company. He was with the wild beasts, and angels waited on him. You see, they go together, those angels and wild beasts. God made the rainbow sign as a promise to all of Creation, every blessed thing that lives and breathes in that wonderful, fragile, ferocious, wild and wonderful community of life.
In the wilderness, Jesus was among his sisters and brothers—some furred, some leafy, some buzzing or burrowing, some smooth or scaled, some fringed, some feathered. There, with his wild kin, he was never isolated, not even in his deepest fear, rage, grief and anxiety. Tended by angels, he was shown the blessing of hidden springs and the beauty of unexpected wildflowers. His soul blossomed with them. And after forty days in such company, Jesus was ready to live into the promise of his baptism. He was ready to face the extraordinary work that God was calling him to do.
So, the adventure begins: immediately, whether we are ready or not. We can hide if we want to. We can pull the blankets over our heads or turn up the volume and stay hunched over our little glowing boxes. We can drive faster so we don't see the wild things moving beyond the pavement's edge. But the season of Lent beckons to our spirits, welcomes us into wider and wondrous possibility.
Listen: the wind is rising. Bulbs are starting to stir under snow and half-frozen mud, down in the dark earth. Listen: the stars are dancing above us, pulsing and shimmering to a celestial rhythm we were meant to notice, learn, and share. There are crows in the branches, throwing their glossy heads back with raucous laughter, joyfully urging us on with all their might. Listen: there are coyotes outside our windows, calling us out with their soaring songs.
Come, all you, baptised and blessed. Let us go, immediately, into this season of pilgrimage, these forty days of wild beasts and angels. Let us launch out, immediately, where our inner wilderness and God's creative wildness can meet!
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Ancient stories are full of people freaked out by angels, terrified to come into close proximity with The Light & Power of the Divine. Today, in this hyper-tech age, we seem more likely to reach for, grasp at, and embrace anything that hints at God-like power. Our cities are now so bright they drown out the stars people used to regard with awe.
So... it seems we have the opposite problem of the ancients. We are not frightened by divinity. Instead, we are completely freaked out by dirt. We cringe at the "antiquated" language of "ashes to ashes and dust to dust" because we really can't bear to acknowledge our proximity to decaying matter. We really can't handle being that intimate with earth.
Tonight, I will celebrate Ash Wednesday. For those unfamiliar with this ritual, the dry and brittle palm fronds saved from last year's Palm Sunday are saved and burned into ashes, then mixed with water or oil. In a quiet, meditative service, often after nightfall, we pray together, perhaps sing together, and receive the "imposition of ashes." A finger or thumb is dipped into the ashes and simple cross is marked on each forehead, usually accompanied by the words, "remember: you are dust, and to dust you will return." We then move out into the night in silent meditation.
Here, then, is my offering: a prayer/poem for this strange, earthy, ancient day:
INVITATION TO ASHES:
We are people of the earth:
the grey blowing grit of it,
the shoe-sucking mud of it,
the rich fertile muck of it.
Our bodies are the soil where dreams decay
and seeds of new hope spring up.
In our bones sleep the ashes of ancestors, stuff of old stars.
We are mountains tumbling into sand.
We are crushed stone.
Wait. Be not resentful, nor ashamed by earthiness:
Even dust rides on the breath of the Spirit.
Even the darkest rot is God's fertile ground.
So, Beloved, come: feel the gentle touch.
Accept the ashes.
Wear the dark smudge with quiet joy:
a holy sign that we are never far from Creation's embrace,
and a promise that not even fire can destroy
the startling traces of God's abiding love.
--copyright MaineCelt 2/22/12
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Here's a haiku almanac of the last few months on the farm:
Our thirteen guineas
fed dogs, hawks, and foxes too.
"Free-range" comes with risks.
Amidst shadows in deep woods:
Gold in them there hills!
Celtic year's turning
small lights guide along dark paths
Tonight, we shall sing!
Old Celts used turnips
To light the dead home. Pumpkin's
A New World trade-up!
Into year's dark half
We delve. Opposite of Spring
Isn't Fall, but Root
Brought home hay today
So pigs can burrow and build
a grand storm-proof nest
Come, sweet autumn rain:
All the tools are put away
And pig's got a roof!
O, well-carved pumpkin
Weep not. Full of light you go,
Now to join the saints.
Rural peace of mind:
high woodstacks, jam-full pantry,
Pig's jolt-squeak (fence works).
Bare witness of trees
documents the naked truth
at the branch office.
Wet snow swells the woodland streams
in shade, mushrooms bloom
such goodness in such small space:
WINTER SETS IN:
Ice-rime all around.
Farmstead feathers stir, birds cluck:
Tea-time for chickens!
(Holiday Dollmaker's Lament:)
overtakes. Help! Need some elves
to finish more elves!
Ah, Christmas! Warm fire,
Frozen fields, frozen streams, and...
Frozen shower drain.
Oh, pipes, won't you sing?
Warm, uncrystalize and flow.
I need a shower!
Drink deep, my cattle.
Hose uncoils, fills trough to brim
Before ice returns.
Subzero at dawn
hens huddle in nestboxes
Ah dinnae ken gin
Ye can screeve haiku in Scots;
Thocht I'd hae a gae!
(I don't know if / you can write haiku in Scots / Thought I'd give it a try!)
Dawn o Rab Burns Nicht
Craitures blether poetry
tae toast Scotia's bard.
(Thoughts on retrieving wayward livestock after nightfall:)
We heed neighbor's call,
with rope and boots in snowstorm.
Wanna buy a bull?
Alright, folks: your turn! 'Tis the season for poetic inspiration and creative merry-making. Leave a comment with a haiku or two!