Lenten Reflection: We Too Are Creatures

In the summer of 2017, Mark and I led the River of Life Connecticut River Pilgrimage – a 40-day journey of prayer and reconciliation with the land. I invited the more than 50 pilgrims who joined us to return to the prayers from our pilgrimage this Lent. Throughout the season of Lent, I am writing weekly reflections drawing on the themes from the Connecticut River Pilgrimage. They are also being posted by Kairos Earth, the organization that sponsored the pilgrimage. Enjoy!

“The world is like our bodies. It, too, is formed by many limbs and directed by a single soul. Yes, the world is an immense being directed by the power and the word of God, who is, so to say, its soul.” – Origen

Modern life is lived out almost entirely in a human-made bubble. Within the world that Origen describes – the natural, God-created world of which our bodies are part– there is a manufactured sub-world of machines, concrete, currency and climate-control. Through the power of our technologies it is easy to forget that we are creatures, dependent on a world not of our creation for our food, water, and air. All too often this sub-world becomes all-consuming. It begins to feel like THE world itself, all that there is.

Thanks be to God, this is not so. This manufactured sub-world rests within the larger, God-created world. This God-created world holds and sustains us and this smaller world we’ve made.

But how can we remember this? How can humanity return to the lived understanding that we too are creatures? That we belong first and foremost to the world Origen describes? That our very destinies are interwoven, not with the powers and principalities of our human-made sub-world, but with the earth, the rivers, the birds and the beasts? How do we know in our hearts and bodies – not just our minds – that from dust we have come and to dust we shall return?

I believe our first and most important step is to immerse ourselves in the God-created world as much as possible. Or as Steve Blackmer much more simply puts, “Go outside!” And when we go outside, we go to listen, trusting that the earth will remind us who we are and whose we are. We go not to retreat from our manufactured sub-world, to fuel up and go back into the fray. We go to relearn how to be creatures that live in balance with our precious home every moment of our lives. This is the intimacy, this is the relationship with creation, for which our souls and the world’s soul longs.

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Mark getting to know some honey mushrooms!

Are you interested in exploring a greater intimacy with God’s creation? To awaken evermore to your own creatureliness? Consider joining us for the first Earth Credo retreat April 22-27.

Earth Credo is a 5-day immersion in the practice and spirituality of living in right relationship with the natural world. Rooted in the Christian tradition of care for the earth, participants will learn contemplative disciplines that support intimacy with God through Creation and learn practical outdoor skills needed to be comfortable interacting more closely with nature.

Lenten Reflection: Waking Up With the Earth

In the summer of 2017, Mark and I led the River of Life Connecticut River Pilgrimage – a 40-day journey of prayer and reconciliation with the land. I invited the more than 50 pilgrims who joined us to return to the prayers from our pilgrimage this Lent. Throughout the season of Lent, I am writing weekly reflections drawing on the themes from the Connecticut River Pilgrimage. They are also being posted by Kairos Earth, the organization that sponsored the pilgrimage. Enjoy!

Spring comes slowly to Vermont. The day’s light lengthens incrementally and the sun warms. The chickadees come alive with their glorious tunes. The red squirrels come out and begin to scurry and play. Yet, with all this pre-spring activity, a foot of snow still covers the earth I so long to dig my hands and feet into! Spring comes so very slowly to Vermont.

Taking in these little hints of spring available to me (and at this point impatiently wishing spring would come rushing at me all at once) has lead me to reflect on how our inner lives mirror the change of the seasons, especially as it relates to baptism and immersion – the River of Life Prayer Book’s theme for this week. As this week’s intro says, “Baptism was understood in the early church as a ritual drowning – dying to the old self to be born anew in God.” Every year we have the opportunity to watch how the earth herself dies each winter and is born anew each spring. It is a rhythm that will not be rushed and one that is essential for the vitality of our ecology.

So it is with our inner life. The spiritual path is a lifelong process of dying to our false self and being reborn into the fullness of life. The liturgical calendar invites us into this rhythm every year during the Lent and Easter seasons. The earth invites us into this rhythm with each setting and rising of the sun. Our own bodies invite us into this rhythm with our very breath – taking in the new and releasing the old with each inhalation and exhalation.

In the Gospel of John, Nicodemus asks, “How can anyone be born after having grown old?” Jesus replies, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” The spiritual life is saying yes to the possibility that with each year, with each day, even with each breath the gift of a new life – the gift of spring – is available to us.

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This is why we have Lent. To remind us that we need not stay locked, frozen, and trapped in our false selves. The new life of spring, the resurrection of Easter, is always as near to us as our very breath.

May we wake up to this reality this Lent, this day, this very breath.

The Underbelly of Simple Living

February has been a difficult month – the frequent dreary skies have mirrored my weary and restless soul. Mark and I have taken turns being ill or fighting illness the entire month. Our two weekend programs this month were cancelled – one because of our illness, the other because of climate change.¹  Because of physical illness and psychological weariness, daily chores and work have felt particularly burdensome.

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A dreary fall day – pre snow!

This is by no means my first hard season, yet this season is still a first. It’s my first time going through a time of inner isolation, a sense of lost purpose, and pervasive weariness while immersed in this simple way of life. In some ways, this lifestyle has made my felt experience of this season much more difficult. Naturally, I’ve been tempted (and I’ve given in to the temptation) to blame our way of life for my inner restlessness. If only our life was easier and more convenient, I wouldn’t be so lonely, foggy and grumpy. If only I had a bigger home, then I’d be happy. Ha! How short and feeble is my memory! How quickly my mind forgets similar seasons living in a four-bedroom house in the middle of town thinking, “If only I was living closer to the land, then I’d be happy.” Or “If only I had a husband to take care of me, pull me out of this state, etc.” Happiness is not a consequence of environment.

I adamantly reject the idea that more convenience would make me happier. However, I am discovering that living simply requires me to feel my unhappiness at a deeper, more raw level, hence making the felt experience more difficult. This way of life, you see, makes it very, VERY hard to check out.

I’m really good at checking out. It’s my go-to response to stress. When the outer world or my inner world feels like too much for me to handle I reach for Facebook, Instagram, or Netflix. Living without electricity or internet has made it painfully difficult to check out in my favorite and easiest ways! Even though I haven’t binged on Netflix since the fall and I haven’t been on Facebook at home since December, I still feel an inner tug to find something to mindlessly consume when my weariness overwhelms me. My cellphone gets 3G in the yurt (I have to smoosh my body up against the front door to get service, but I get it) and it’s been revealing and humbling to discover how much I find myself in that spot hunched over my phone looking for distraction and relief from my inner woes.

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Beech leaf tenacity

For Lent, I “gave up” accessing the internet when I’m home. At least, I’ve been trying to. It’s only been two weeks and an embarrassing number of my conversations with Mark start with, “Confession: I checked my email, but let me tell you about this message we got!” So often the miracle of my existence, the love Mark and I share, and the infinite wonder outside my door does not seem to be enough. I do not have the eyes to see, so I crave the distraction of what’s happening anywhere but where I am.

It’s not just the removal of distractions that can make it harder to check out of simple living. It’s also a lifestyle that requires regular action for our daily needs to be met. When I don’t have access to the internet – the means to endless abstracted distraction – my next favorite way to check out is sleep, or general mopey slothfulness. In our off-grid 20-foot yurt, I can only be so lazy. We do not have the luxury to distance ourselves from the elements by a mere flip of the switch, reserving contact with the natural world and our bodily needs to times when we’re feeling robust, invigorated and fully alive. On even the worst days, wood needs to be brought in and the fire needs to be stoked if we’re going to stay warm and fed, the ice in the ice box needs to be changed out if our food is going to stay fresh, water needs to be hauled if we’re going to stay hydrated, a 100-yard hill needs to be walked to reach our front door, and our small space needs to be cleaned and organized if we’re going to stay sane.²  Sometimes engaging in these necessary chores plunges me further into my isolation and grumpiness, but more often than not they serve as tiny sacraments – marks of grace – inviting me to be present with the moment, present with the task at hand, and – what is always the most difficult for me – present even with my despair.

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A mid-winter ramble following one of the streams that flows through our property

In our culture of consumerism, we have been trained that negative emotions can be placated, ignored, or even fixed by changing our external circumstances. It’s no coincidence that changing those external circumstances almost always costs money. It’s easy for me to fight this temptation during one day of weariness, but when the fog carries on for days, weeks, or months my mind starts looking around to see what’s wrong. The longer the weariness continues, the harder it is to admit that the fog is probably coming from within me. That perhaps instead of more space or things in my house, I need to restart my routine of walking by the stream each morning, or recommit myself to our rhythm of prayer, or spend a few days in silence and solitude, or pray for eyes to see the infinite beauty and wonder around me. Most likely, I should do all the above.

When the fog of weariness lifts a bit, I am reminded of what I know to be true. A weary and restless heart is almost always not the disease (or dis-ease). It is a sign and symptom of a deeper dis-ease, of something in my inner life keeping me from total freedom and happiness. When hard seasons arrive, they are not something to escape or check out of. Escaping through distractions or sleep may seem like it’s making things better, but it’s only numbing the underlying pain, medicating a symptom without removing the source of the unease.

The hard lesson I’m (re)learning this month is that seasons like these are opportunities to be led by grace into ever greater freedom and a more abundant life. This is the nitty-gritty, the underbelly of this radical simplicity. It’s not always fun and easy. Though the land of the infinite may be within and among us in each and every moment, it doesn’t always feel like it. My trust in this experiment is that, to the extent that I refuse to check out and embrace a life of simplicity, prayer, and love – and all the good, bad, and ugly it reveals – the life and love of the Divine will infuse more and more of my being, giving me eyes to see that even in the hard times, the infinite is at hand!

¹ The uncharacteristic heavy thawing and freezing created very icy conditions in northern New Hampshire, making cross country skiing and snowshoeing difficult and travel on the dirt roads dangerous. Hence, a weekend with Dartmouth College students promising hours of winter play was cancelled. Late winter just hasn’t been wintry enough.
² Of course, chores are not the only way to create obstacles to checking out. Mothers and fathers get the ultimate cred in my book for leading lives that require presence and action no matter how one is feeling.