It's Lunasdal Eve, 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.