Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How to Have a Celtic Farm Wedding

First, plan ahead with the farm and growing season in mind.  Arrange a visit from a wise flower-gardening relative early in the year.  She'll arrive with fifty dahlia tubers in your--and your Sweetheart's--favourite range of colours.  Together, you can plant them in the greenhouse in March, where each emerging green shoot will hint at the sweet occasion to come.

Start raising a pig for the feast.  Secure a farmhand who will spend hours romping with the piglets, scratching their backs and rubbing their bellies as they lay in the Spring and Summer sun.  Soak the pigs' daily rations of grain and veggies with leftover milk from a local dairy farm.  Watch them grow and thrive.  When a friend announces he'll be opening a restaurant soon with 100% locally-sourced foods, offer him a chance to supervise the pig roast.  Get some more farmhands to dig/build the pig-roasting pit.  Invite them to stay for the wedding.  Be delighted when they agree.

Send out invitations that you've designed yourself with some public-domain medieval woodcuts of musicians and beehives. Travel with your coloured pencils so you can colour them in during long conservation district meetings and on slow, hot afternoons at the farmers' market.  Be inspired by the displays of produce and flowers set out by the other vendors.

Trade a couple of roasts and some sausage to a fellow market vendor in exchange for help designing your wedding garb.  Stop by her place after the market one day for a consultation, and emerge with hand-written directions and the entire dress cut out.  Be thankful for this wonderful alternative economy.

The mother of one of your farmhands comes to visit with a gift of Highland whisky.  After enjoying some together around a campfire, go down to the Honey Exchange and get some heather honey to go with it.  Hand these off to a friend who happens to be a wonderful baker and commission a "cranachan" wedding cake, flavoured like the traditional Scottish dessert.  The raspberries on your hillside--a gift from your plantsman godfather--will ripen just in time to decorate the top of the cake.

As the seasons unfurl, take time to walk the land.  Meditate on partnership--both human and cosmic.  Consider how, in your shared life, you and the land have shaped each other.  Choose the orchard as your wedding site, knowing that the site plan will need to accommodate the tender bark of young trees and the hesitant movement of elderly knees, as well as a nearby sow and a hive full of bees!

Plan a service with a local minister--the one who "gets it," the one who once gifted you with a manure fork enscribed with the emblem of the church you now serve.  Think about all the people who worked and prayed and lobbied and educated and legislated and voted so that, at long last, you could have the opportunity to take this step and solemnize your vows with full legal and religious recognition.  Struggle to believe it's really finally going to happen.  Struggle to trust that this blessing--and all the legal protections it brings--will actually come to you.

When kinfolk begin to arrive, enlist their help to mow, move the picnic table, and set up the tent on the neighbor's lawn for the reception.  Send some relatives to the "small box" five-and-dime store for last-minute decorations.  Send the siblings off to the church to borrow tables and chairs.

Kill the pig.  Do it yourself, quickly and calmly and thankfully, offering a prayer for the life and nourishment of that sweet small beast.  With the help of sure-footed strong friends and skilled farmhands, prepare the pig and gather wood for the fire.  Honour the creature; waste nothing.

Old Friends arrive (with bagpipes!) and whisk you away from the happy chaos for a night out and a big ol' plate of barbecue.  The next day, let the visiting bagpiper and the bagpiping-bride-to-be indulge in an epic tune-swap while you work on your dress.  When the other Old Friend offers to help with the hemming, let her.  She will sew so quickly and quietly that, before you know it, the hemming will be completed before the other volunteer hemmers even arrive!  Be thankful for Old Friends, for their grace and grace-notes, for their calm and camaraderie.

On the day of the wedding, breathe deeply.  The flowers have opened and your mother and aunt have arranged them all into a host of beautiful bouquets.  Your father and siblings have bedecked the neighbor's lawn with tents and tables for the potluck reception and created an avenue of tiki torches (lent by a friend) between there and the orchard.  Your sister, with her grand sense of design, has used old wooden pallets, logs and stones to create a sanctuary around the drooping boughs of an old apple tree, and it is now flanked with sap buckets full of late Summer flowers.  Chairs are in place, the pig is roasting, and guests are starting to arrive.  Hand out readings to friends: Psalm 148, (to be read by another farmer), Colossians 3:12-15, (to be read by a clergy friend), and an excerpt from Marge Piercy's poem, "The Homely War," (to be read by another dear friend who understands the depth and challenge of love).

Go upstairs, in the little woodshop you spent three years turning into your house.  Get dressed.  Your partner wears her new utilikilt (in brown Carharrt-style canvas, complete with hammer loop) with an Indian cotton shirt and brown velvet vest.  Her "something borrowed" is a pair of kilt hose from our friend Bruce, whose spirit lingers in the circle of love that surrounds us.  Put on the newly-finished and wonderfully-hemmed linen shift, the rusty silk overskirt and the borrowed plum-coloured medieval bodice. Add "something old:" a silk panel from your great grandmother's dress, and the petticoat she wore to her own wedding.  Have your sister tuck a tiny blue butterfly clip into your hair.

Friends have assembled in the orchard in the golden light of a September afternoon.  Kith and kin, neighbors and long travellers, farm hands and farm mentors, dancers and musicians, wise elders and wee bairns, chefs and bakers and clergyfolk and druids... there, among the trees, near the new sow's pen--and a respectful distance from the humming beehive--there is room for everyone.  This is the circle of love we celebrate: the people and other creatures who make our own love possible, the ones who lift us up and nourish us, the ones who affirm and celebrate the life we've made on this land and all the history and possibilities we share together.

The piper is tuning up. Other Old Friends have arrived with harp and fiddle.  (You don't know it yet, but their gift of music will be a song written just for this day, and everyone's hearts will bust wide open as they lift their voices, singing together a chorus of hope, freedom, kindness, love, and a Brand New Day.)  Take your Beloved's hand and proceed to the wooden arch her son carved and raised, with friends, at the top of the hillside, just above the blueberry bushes and the raspberry patch.  Begin the procession...and let Nature, in all her wild beauty and raucous good humour, take it from there:

(Thanks to our friend, Mudranger, for capturing the unplanned hilarity!)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Hard Roads and Empty Nets

Disclaimer: Yes, this is a farmer's blog.  I'm a farmer, and that's at the heart of what I do and how I move around in this beautiful, bruised, burgeoning world.  Now, part of a farmer's job is to pay attention to EVERYthing, especially the connections that bind us all to every other aspect of Creation.  Sometimes, those connections--and their implications--are so powerful that it's hard to explain.  Dry facts won't do it.  So I reach into the storehouse of sacred stories, and it comes out less like an essay, more like a sermon.  Still, the farm--and our way of farming--is right there, mixed up in the myths.  If you've come here to read about farming, you can sidestep the sermon and skip down to other entries as you please, or enter the story here.  Either way, welcome!

Hard Roads and Empty Nets”  
A sermon for April 14th, 2013 (Easter3C) 
(Based on Acts 9:1-20 and John 21:1-19)

I have a lot of questions, today. The first one is the most important, so pay attention—maybe scribble your answer down—and we'll come back to it later. Where do you see Jesus? That's the first question. Think about it. I'll ask you about it later.

Second question: what do you do when a nightmare becomes real? What do you do when the center of your life gets scooped out like the seeds of a pumpkin, leaving you hollow as a jack-o-lantern, staring at the world with empty eyes? What do you do when it all goes south, and you don't know which direction to turn?

That's where they were, Peter and the other disciples. The beautiful vision had crumpled, their hopes were shattered, and they didn't have the first clue of how to pick up the pieces and move on. Everything had gone off somewhere in a hand-basket. So who can blame Peter? He grabbed his favorite John Deere cap—the one with the brim curved just the way he liked them—and his old barn coat, his fleece vest and his rubber boots, called up his buddies and told them to meet him at the old place—you know, just off the side of that back-road bridge down on Range Pond. He grabbed his rod and his old tackle box and headed out, slamming the door behind him. He felt the muddy ground beneath his feet, and then felt the crunch of gravel as he stepped from the driveway onto the road. “When the going gets tough, the tough go fishing.” (Well, maybe that wasn't how the saying really goes, but in Pete's mind, it should have.)

Meanwhile, down another dirt road, on the other side of town, along came Saul. You know Saul, right? He's that guy who's always got an ax to grind, the one who gets up at meetings and starts shouting about THOSE people, and how THEY'RE the cause of all the trouble? You all know Saul. Well, Saul was on his way down to the Town Office to give them a piece of his mind. The closer he got, the more he thought about everything that had gone wrong. He was sure he knew who to blame, and how to shut them up once and for all. He'd done it before. He could do it again. And if he could just get a-hold of the authority to do it, why... I hardly need to tell you what ol' Saul was planning to do. With every step he took, his heart beat a little faster, wrapped up in the heat of his self-righteous rage. Yes, Saul said to himself, SOMEbody's got to clean up this town, and I am the MAN to do it. “The Lord helps those who help themselves...” wasn't that what the Good Book said? (Don't tell Saul, but it isn't in the Good Book. It was Ben Franklin who came up with that one!)

Down at the shore, Pete and his buddies fished for hours. Pete, Tom, Nate, and the rest of the guys stayed out all night, in fact, sometimes talking low so's they wouldn't scare the fish, sometimes just staring out into the darkness, wondering if the sun would ever rise again. Not once did any of them feel a tug on their lines, even though the fishing was supposed to be good. Well, it figured. Hadn't everything else gone all to heck? Well, Jerusalem crickets, why should this be any different? When the dawn did come, it was a cold light—that weak, early Spring light that shows the lay of the land but doesn't warm it one bit. Their lines were empty, their hearts were empty, and—frankly, with all the stress of the last week catching up to them along with the sleep deprivation—their heads were kinda empty too. So when the stranger showed up, right there, between the pond and the bridge, well, they just couldn't figure it out at all. Had he been standing there all night? Nobody had heard a motor, and you know the way sound carries over water. Had he come on foot, or by boat, or what? The light was still weak, and they couldn't quite make out the guy's face, but there was something about him that seemed familiar. None of them could put a finger on it.
“Good morning!” the stranger said. He looked at their empty nets, their slack lines. He gestured over to the other side of the bridge, where there was just a small ledge between the water and the road. “They not biting? How 'bout you try the other side,” he said, and there was a funny catch in his voice, as if he were halfway between a laugh and a sob. Pete thought he must have a screw loose or something, but the guy sure seemed earnest—and, frankly, at this point, what did any of them have to lose? They'd already lost pret-near everything. So Pete and Nate and Tom and the other guys ambled up onto the roadbed and then sidled down onto that little ledge and cast their lines in. And the stranger walked up to the pull-off and started setting up a beat-up barbecue grill.

Now, Saul, meanwhile, had about walked the soles off his shoes, stomping along towards town. In his mind, it played out like some old Western: him all spurs and pointy boots, ten-gallon hat and silver star, catching the unsavory riff-raff and ridin' 'em out of town on a rail. Maybe he'd tar-and-feather them first for extra effect. He'd get rid of everybody that didn't belong, starting with the People From Away.
And that's when it happened. It was like all the lights at Oxford Speedway, come on at once, so bright he couldn't see. And a voice—a voice like the saddest country song you ever heard, calling his name, asking, “why do you persecute me?” Saul flung himself on the ground and asked, “who are you?” and the voice answered, “I am Jesus, who you're persecuting. Now get on into town, hush up and listen. This time, listen good, 'cause somebody's going to tell you good. There, you'll find out what to do.”

Now, maybe you've got the story all figured out. You know what's coming next: Saul loses the spurs and the silver star. He meets up with a Guy From Away—and, because he's been blinded, he doesn't even see the out-of-state plates or the peace bumperstickers all over the back of the guy's Prius—and, even though they circle each other like wild dogs at the start, it turns out they both take God seriously, and the scales of judgment fall away. Both of them change. Together, they create a whole new ministry. And down by the bridge, Pete and his buddies have filled up every bucket and cooler and the whole back of Nate's big Ford truck with the craziest catch of fish you ever saw. The guy at the grill in the pull-off calls them over for breakfast, and they have themselves the best fried fish ever, and suddenly they understand: it's Jesus. And we all know how it ends...or maybe we don't.

Because here's the thing. This is how the resurrection happens. Jesus shows up—in the garden, at the shore, on the road—and we don't recognize him. Jesus calls us by name when we're not even ready to hear. Jesus shows up among the people who make us uncomfortable, the people who tick us off, the people we reject, the people we hate. And Jesus shows up at the table, right when our hearts are aching and our souls are absolutely starving, and he reaches out and offers to feed us.

So, maybe we don't know the end of the story. Because maybe the story hasn't ended. Maybe there are new chapters waiting to be written. Maybe God needs us to help the story continue, to help the Good News unfold.

So, where's the crossroads? Where do we see Jesus now? Think for a minute. Who are the people we persecute? Who are the strangers here? Who reaches out and serves us? Who disturbs us? How does the Risen Christ come to each of us, and in what disguise?
I can't finish the story myself. Remember, I'm one of those People From Away. And so, now, I ask you to help me out. Someone—Anyone: where do you see Jesus? And by that I mean: who challenges you? Who feeds you? Who do you persecute? Who opens the way to New Life?

This is how God comes to us. This is how Jesus is revealed. Not locked away in some dusty old book, not a holy relic in a climate-controlled vault. The Risen Christ reaches out to us on the roads we travel, on the shores we stroll, the place we fish, the place our kids learn to swim. Here, now, where our Good Fridays keep bumping up against his Resurrection.

Next time you see Pete, or Nate or Tom at the boat launch... Next time you run into Saul at the Dollar Store, reach out your hand. Because this is our new chapter. We have seen Jesus, and now we have to do the hard work together: living out his kind of love.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Blessing of Dust

I am home, smudged and sweetly satisfied, marked with dust and blessed by it.

The day didn't begin this way.  It began in pain--fully embodied, attention-hungry suffering, bone and muscle in plaintive agreement and vociferous demand. I greeted the rising sun not with joy, but with more of a whimper.

See, a recent blizzard required the shoveling of many paths, and as we are without farmhands, I pitched in a little too earnestly the day before, leaving my back on fire.  After a restless night I awoke stiff and sore, able to move only slowly and with long exhalations, calling on my old Hatha yoga training to "breathe into the stretch."  The Piper performed all the morning farm chores while I watched rather helplessly, unable to lift more than a piece of firewood without wincing.  I managed to make breakfast and tend to household things, but that was about all.

The chiropractor (desperately sought and providentially found) sent me off with into the afternoon with a gracious smile and gentle warnings.  "Don't expect to be healed all at once.  Over the next few days, you'll find the pain moving around as pathways open.  Rest when you can.  Drink plenty of water.  Be gentle with yourself.  Attend to what your body is saying."

My body said, "go home and take a walk."  Back at the farm, the late winter sun was low and golden over the three-day-old drifts.  I gulped a glass of cold well-water and stepped outside.  The snow near the house was speckled with cinders, carried on the wind from the woodstove.  The drifts near the henhouse were scattered with guinea fowl feathers, the exquisitely-patterned calling card of a Cooper's hawk who had slain one of our birds two days before.  Elsewhere the snow was marked with bootprints, animal tracks, sawdust shavings, and blizzard-blown debris: here a spray of pine needles, there a dry oak leaf.  Everywhere I walked, the once-pristine snow was marred with evidence of life and death, decay and disarray.

And then it was time to gather my gear and drive down the road, into the dark, to lead an Ash Wednesday service at my church--MY church, yes, my new and beloved congregation, with their thrift store and food bank run out of the peeling 1800s parsonage, their town populated by hardscrabble locals and seasonal pleasure-seekers.  We put the folding chairs in a circle in the little parish hall.  We shook the ashes of last year's Palm Sunday branches into a small dish.  We sang, haltingly and hauntingly, and listened to the ancient challenges of prophets:
"Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?" 
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. 

Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? 

Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? 
Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, 
to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; 

when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; 

your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. 

If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 
if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, 
then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, 

and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, 
like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; 

you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. 
                          --Isaiah 58:3-12, NRSV

Then we passed around a basin, gently washing and drying each other's workworn hands.  I thought about parched places and watered gardens.  Sitting there in the circle, with my back newly flexible but still tender, I thought about bones made strong.

Another reading, and then it was time for the Imposition of Ashes.  As each person came forward, I pressed my thumb into the ashes and drew the mark on their forehead, saying, "remember: you are dust and to dust you will return, God's beloved child forever."  In silence, we put the chairs away and blew the candles out, then headed out to drive off into the night.

There was grit on the roads and a deep peace over the barren, frozen countryside.  When the pavement gave way to gravel, I could hear the crunch and spatter as my wheels moved over the uneven ground.  The easing of pain, the elemental engagement of the day, the challenge and joy of full embodiment in an imperfect world--all of it rushed sweetly together as the car bounced and jostled down the dark back road.

I have been waiting years for this sweet confluence of ragged edges, this blend of water and ashes into lovely mud.  Praise be for compost and chiropracters and congregations.  Praise be for pain that moves as pathways open.  Blessed be the dust.