The Way the Daffodils Grow

The daffodil bulbs have been on my mind – patiently waiting out their dark, winter days until the warmth of the sun rouses them from their long sleep. They still have a number of weeks left of their earthen slumber as they are still tucked in under a two-foot blanket of snow.

Are they impatient? I wonder. Do they miss the sun? Are they worried that this year the conditions may not be right for them to immerge, soak up the warmth and light, make enough sugars to sustain them for another year of life? Are they concerned that they are “behind schedule?”

They may not be worried about these things, but I certainly am. My mind keeps turning to the daffodil bulbs because I long to be like them. I long to be content with what is—the gifts of the present moment, the present season of the earth’s cycles and the season of my life. To flower when it’s time to flower, and to let the rest be. To do what is mine to do, and let the rest be.

Until this year, I have been quite patient with the long drawn out springs here in northern New England. A friend from Pennsylvania recently asked me if spring has sprung yet at our homestead. I’m afraid not. Spring can’t spring until winter melts. And there is a lot of winter left to melt.

All this snow has really got me down because this year, more so than other years, we have things to do on the land. IMPORTANT things. BIG IMPORTANT THINGS that we can’t do until the snow is gone. This summer we have plans to build a house with an attached bakery. Before we can even begin on the project we need to finish demolishing the original farmhouse on our homestead, fill in the hole from the farmhouse basement, have a septic engineer test our soil for a septic system, set up a temporary electrical box, determine the well sight, and improve our driveways to handle heavy equipment. It’s all quite overwhelming on its own. We have the additional factor of waiting for the snow to melt and the subsequent mud to dry out. The longer the snow is here, the longer we have to wait.

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March 20: the first patch of bare soil on our land since November 9

The snow does not share my sense of urgency, however. I moped around for a good two weeks, bent over my phone nearly every hour, checking the weather yet again to see if the forecast had turned in my favor. It seemed like every time I checked it, the weather forecast got a degree colder and the promised rain was steadily turning to snow. So, eventually I stopped. Yet I still glared out in frustration at the white landscape that was so beautiful to me a month ago. But a month ago, the snow wasn’t in my way.  Now it is so very much in my way.

This resistance to life is exhausting and not super fun. It is humbling too, especially since so much of my work and life is about being present to reality exactly as it is. It turns out it’s a lot easier to embrace reality when it’s not negatively effecting your best laid plans. At some point, the futility of my fretting finally sank in. I could recognize that if our project took two years to finish or even more so, was never finished at all, everything would be just fine. My perspective gradually expanded until the subject of my worrying became appropriately small in the shadow of God’s love, the gift of life, and the abundance of marriage, community, a warm home, and good food.

I always wonder what the catalyst is for a change in attitude. What moves me from that narrow, inward facing perspective to one that is more expansive, present, and free? What finally leads me into these mini-conversions? A regular practice of Centering Prayer – a silent prayer of receptivity to God’s presence—and a loving husband who sees me better than I am able to see myself in such moments are two daily gifts that gently invite me out of a grumpy reverie. This go-round, the season of Lent and the reminder that “I am dust and to dust I shall return” has been the perfect antidote to delusions of overindulgent self-importance.

And, of course, the daffodil bulbs. As I meditate on those hidden, patient bulbs, I am inspired to imitate their trust and their contentedness. In this season, they have become my spiritual teachers.

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May 2017

“Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?’” – Matthew 6:28-30

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.

Lenten Reflection: Mud Season of the Soul

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 earth has begun to thaw in my home region – the Upper Valley along the Connecticut River – with unseasonably warm 40+ degree days. When the frozen ground begins to melt in Vermont, where the majority of the roads are dirt, we experience mud season – the messy, mucky, unwieldy transition from winter to spring. This season, the limbo between the frozen waters and waters that flow clean and free, is an apt metaphor for grace.¹

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Grace is good news. It is the gift of God’s infinite and loving presence available to us at every moment. It is the freedom that does not bind us to our past faults, foibles, and ways of being and acting that wrought pain to the world and ourselves. It is the promise that true healing of our wounds, relationships, injustices, and the earth is possible.

Yet in the transition from our hardened, frozen hearts to life, freedom, and wholeness we need to walk through some muck. When we seek to discard idols and attachments that we may experience the infinite riches of the present moment, our “senses will cry like disappointed children” (Jean de Pierre Caussade in The Sacrament of the Present Moment). When we embrace the freedom of forgiveness we need to look squarely at the pain we caused. When we work for true healing in our lives, our community, and the earth, we must first name the hurt, the disorder, the fracturing. We experience grace to the extent that we have eyes to see the reality of the world in front of us – the muck of wounding, injustice, and exploitation as well as the spring flowers of forgiveness, reconciliation, and freedom.

Lent, then, is our liturgical mud season. It is the season in which we fast and pray, intentionally looking at the places we have fallen short, grieving our role in the cycle of woundedness, and asking for the grace of a transformed heart.

May we embrace the difficult, uncomfortable, painful invitation of Lent, knowing that the muck is a sign of God’s fiery grace melting our hardened, frozen hearts.

¹It’s important to note that true mud season in Vermont is typically late March into April. The sloppiness of this week is unusual.

Lenten Reflection: What Stands Between You & Wildness?

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!

Our winter lives in New England are full of barriers to protect us from the wildness of the outside world – the walls of our houses and the heating devices within; coats, boots, hats, mittens & scarves; our climate-controlled vehicles. Thanks to amazing road crews our routines can continue uninterrupted save the occasional blizzard or ice storm. All these protections keep us cozy, safe, and protected from the fierce wildness of winter.

Barriers that keep our bodies warm and alive on cold winter days are good and necessary protections. Yet our lives are filled with all sorts of other barriers that protect us from the wildness and the unpredictability of God. These barriers also keep us from dying, but they keep us from a spiritual death of the ego. Ultimately, that death invites us into a much greater life than we can possibly imagine.

Lent is a time to discover and strip away the barriers that stand between us and the wild love of God. Because God’s nature is so clearly revealed in the wildness of creation, I think it is also a time to strip away the modern barriers between us and the incarnate wildness of creation.

It may be a few days after Ash Wednesday, but it’s not too late to think about what to fast from this Lent. What can you remove from your life that will bring you into greater encounter with the wildness of God, the wildness of nature, and the wildness of the present reality. What barrier, can you remove to remind you that life – existence itself –  is wild, free and glorious?

Here are some ideas:

Internet/Social Media: We all have had the experience of being transported from where are bodies are to some other place with one ding, swipe, or click. The internet is an incredible tool when used wisely. It also has tremendous power to shield us from the wildness of the present reality – including God and nature. Every time I do an internet or social media fast I am shocked at how programmed I am to reach for my phone as soon as I am no longer preoccupied with something else.

This fast can manifest multiple ways – delete a social media account for the season, limit internet use to working hours, keep a tech-free Sabbath once a week, or remove internet access on your smartphone. And then, look around you, really see the people you walk or drive by, notice how your body feels, pay attention to where your mind goes. Pray that your eyes would open to the infinite presence of God in each and every moment.

Conveniences: Our modern lives are chock-full of conveniences! Surveying our morning routines alone demonstrates this – light at the flick of a switch, water at the turn of a handle, hot water at the turn of another handle, a refrigerator keeping our food cold, a heater keeping us warm. Choosing to fast from a convenience can remind us how interconnected our lives are with the rest of the planet.

You can fast from a convenience by using candles in the evening instead of electric lights, hand wash dishes instead of using a dish washer, or limit the amount of trash you generate during Lent to a quart-sized jar (or smaller!). Consider parking far away from your office, grocery store or church rather than the closest spot you can find. If you are able to walk instead of drive, opt for walking this Lent. You can also remove a barrier between you and your impact on the earth by visiting the source of your conveniences. Visit the hydro dam, solar panels, wind turbines or power plant that produces your electricity or the reservoir that supplies your water.

Noise: The news, background music, podcasts, Netflix, conversation with others, books. We have countless ways to distract us from the physical reality around us, our thoughts, and God’s presence. On the Connecticut River Pilgrimage, silence was the cornerstone of everything we did. Without the silence – 3-4 hours every morning and 20 minutes of silence during communal prayer – the challenge of hearing the voice of the river and the presence of God would have been so much greater. Silence is our greatest aid in encountering the wildness of God, nature, and the present moment. The gift of silence is that it is accessible to us no matter where we are!

The prayer book encourages a practice of twenty minutes of silence two times a day. Additionally, you can fast from noise by not listening to the radio or podcasts; giving up recorded music; choosing to not watch TV, Netflix or movies; or keeping silence until mid-morning each day (you need to get your household in on this one!). Do not be afraid when your mind fills in the silence with noise of its own. You may be tempted to replace your old form of noise-making with a new form. Resist the temptation. If you stay with the silence and surrender your inner noisiness to God, inner silence will come.

It is a terrifying undertaking to remove the barriers we have built to protect us against the wild unpredictability of God, nature, and the present moment. I resonate with Emilie Griffin when she writes,

“‘Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.’ Isn’t that one of the most disturbing sentences in the Scriptures? We know God asks hard things. We know he did not spare his own Son. We know Jesus, prayed, not now and then, but all the time. Isn’t this what holds us back –the knowledge of God’s omnipotence, his unguessability, his power, his right to ask an All of us, a perfect gift of self, a perfect act of full surrender?”

Yet even as we enter this forty day fast, we already know how it ends. We fast, not in a spirit of deprivation, but with the promise that it is only through stripping the old away, through death, that new life will come.

May God give us the courage to strip away all that keeps us from knowing fully the wonder of this wild world and the love of a wild God!