Sometimes the best pictures are only in the mind, never caught on a camera. I was sitting with Billie in my blue easy chair in the bedroom, and something caught my eye outside the window. It was a goldfinch couple, perching in the peach tree, and then hopping down to the plants beneath. The bright yellow male landed on a dandelion stem–it was a long stem with the flower already gone to seed in a fluffy sphere. The olive green female was perched nearby on another long stem, with a closed flower head above her.
The male carefully made his way up the stem, even as it was bending down under his weight. He made a few tries on different stems. Finally, he succeeded in reaching the fluffy sphere and began pecking at the seeds. I never knew that dandelion seeds were a source of food for goldfinches. I’m glad that I didn’t cut them down! A short while later, they had gone, but I took this photo of the place where they had been. Even though you can’t see them there, in my mind, I can’t forget his purposeful climb along the stem.
Later, I went to sit by the pond, and noticed something tiny and new and green. Several of the perennial pond plants that I planted last year haven’t come back at all. Cardinal flower, blue-eyed grass, arrowhead, and pickerel rush. They were supposed to survive Maine winters so it was a great disappointment, but I kept waiting and watching, since this is the first spring for the pond. Well, today, I found three new tiny stems with distinctive leaves. There are three new arrowhead plants coming up. They are near where the previous plants were, but don’t seem to be emerging from the roots. Maybe they are sprouting from seeds that fell into the water last fall?
You never know when something new might emerge from the hard work that you did before.
A shift has happened in my spirit, and I feel grounded in a way I haven’t felt for several weeks. I’m not sure why, but a few things have happened this week that might be related.
Three days ago, after windy rain, the power went out about 9:30 in the morning. Happily, I’d already eaten breakfast and installed a new shop light in the garage. (As a friend framed it on Facebook one day, it was a project that took two months and fifteen minutes.) So I took a short walk and discovered a few blocks away that a tree had fallen on some wires. It might be a while. I had an appointment to pick up groceries from the store, but also happily, when I called, they said it would be okay to wait until our power was back on.
Waiting for the next several hours, I noticed that my mind was in a kind of tormented withdrawal from its usual access to constant stimulation. No social media (saving my phone battery for more important things), no book to read (saving my phone, etc.), no television shows. Not enough energy to do a project. A really uncomfortable stillness. Margy and I ate lunch on the patio, and I noticed it was much easier to deal with my mind outside, so after lunch I pruned out some raspberry canes. Finally, the electricity came back–and then it was groceries to pick up and process.
Two days ago, in the morning I facilitated a very productive meeting of our Decolonizing Faith Project. We are moving toward completion of a Zoom version of our workshop for faith communities. That felt good.
Later that day, Margy and I decided to go on a rare outing. We took a drive to search for beautiful autumn color, and found our way out to Range Pond, about forty minutes from where we live. (And by the way, for those who aren’t from around here, I don’t know why but Range Pond is pronounced Rang Pond.) I took my shoes off and waded in the still warm water, delighted to watch the sun ripple off the sand. Sun, water, trees: a healing balm for our souls.
Yesterday morning, after a long night’s sleep, I woke quite early and was writing in my journal, surprised at how peaceful and grounded I felt. I remembered–and this is key I think–I remembered that throughout my adult life there has never been a time I did not hate the atrocities committed by our government. (Wars, empire, ravaging the earth for profit, oppression of people of color, you know the list.) Yes, lately, those atrocities have intensified. But I had protested every administration, and realistically, felt little power to stop those atrocities.
I also remembered that when I was part of the Catholic Worker movement, I learned that resistance can take the form of personalism: we attempt to live out our values personally, and in community–we fed the hungry, housed the homeless, welcomed the “stranger.” We treated all people with respect, and practiced peaceful ways to resolve conflicts. We also protested, not merely to try to change the government, but also to keep clarity in the values we affirmed.
And I remembered that that has always been my own best path of resistance. (That’s why Margy and I chose to green our own living situation, to plant a garden, to learn to more deeply love the land we are living on.) When I was active as the minister of a congregation for many years, I needed to widen my perspective, to hold and affirm many ways of living our values. But now that I am retired, now that I am chronically ill, I am coming back to the core of my own journey. And it is okay to do what I can, and not to be tormented by what I have no power to change.
So all of that was grounding my spirit as the sun was rising yesterday.
And then, later, I did check Facebook, and saw everyone posting about the president getting a positive test for COVID19, and speculating about whether it was true, and what it might mean. And I really do honor the angst that people are feeling about the state of our country, and the election coming up, and the possible undermining of democracy, and so much more. But this time, I didn’t lose my balance. I didn’t get hooked into the chaos. I remembered that I don’t have to loudly condemn every atrocity or agonize over all the pain that I cannot alleviate. It is not a moral necessity to be panicked and despairing over all the evil in the world.
I remembered my own path, my own calling, the small ways that I can live into a vision of mutuality, of respect, of healing. I am writing to help myself remember, for those times that I forget again and again. And perhaps to help you remember your own calling, if you have forgotten in the midst of these strange times. May our many small actions be joined together by the great Mystery into the beauty that is possible.
Yesterday evening, eight of us danced around the pitch pine in our yard, dressing it up with rainbow ribbons for May Day. Did you know that the original Maypoles were not cut wooden poles, but live trees? It makes sense to me, coming from people who worshiped among the trees, who honored and revered the trees. And so what better way to celebrate the full arrival of spring, the arrival of the May, than to celebrate the tree with an ancient dance?
Earlier, I had attached eight ribbons to a small metal ring, and then Sylvia tossed a rock-tied string over a branch so we could lift the ribbons to a good height for dancing. Margy went to a field close to where we used to live to pick forsythia branches to decorate the bottom of the tree. In this time of the earth awakening, we joined our life energy to that of the earth, that we might all be full of life and regeneration. It was a magical moment to be weaving in and out between each other, with our bright colors, dancing on the earth, and finally surrounding the tree, hands joined in a circle.
After a rain-filled night, I took photos this morning. We keep hoping for more warmth…it is only in the 40s today. But we’ve finally finished planting all the bushes. I set up the rain barrels (by putting in their spigots and re-attaching their overflow hoses), and yesterday I found smaller containers for storing a big bag of Kaolin clay (an organic product used for certain orchard pests). Tending and planting and tending.
When I pay attention to what is happening to our planet, I feel so much despair, I feel overwhelmed. I know it is better to plant trees, than to cut them down. I know it is a good thing to tend this small plot of land. But even with many of us planting trees, or protesting, or changing our lives, do we have the power to stop the destruction? No, I think not. But what came to me the other day was this. If we are out there, planting a tree, putting our hands in the soil, watering a seed, dancing on the ground, or even lying in a hammock under a pitch pine, perhaps we can learn to hear the voice of the earth. Perhaps she will see us there, and take pity on us. Perhaps she will open our ears and hearts and guide us into regeneration and healing. This is my hope.
[Photo of our cherry tree with its companion plants.]
I really believe that permaculture offers a way to live in this time of ecological crisis. In Portland, we have a wonderful resource for learning permaculture skills, and offering mutual aid as we learn. The Resilience Hub helps people to regenerate the land, grow healthy food, and build community. In that way, it also cultivates hope. In June of 2017, the Resilience Hub was the sponsor of our Permablitz when over 20 people came to help us establish our garden.
Over the last ten years, the Resilience Hub has become a thriving community organization. This past summer, its founder, Lisa Fernandes, moved on into new, but related work. Lisa’s departure prompted a series of community conversations about the future of the Hub: its assets and challenges, its goals and visions. Margy and I attended many of those meetings, and I was so committed to continue this important work that I volunteered to be on the new Board of Directors. We now have new part-time staff, Kate Wallace as Executive and Programming Director and Benjamin Roehrl as Operations Director. See more about our plans going forward at the website.
BUT–the Hub is at a critical point and needs all of us who care about permaculture in Maine to show up with financial help and renewed involvement. To that end, we created a Go Fund Me campaign, and we are trying to reach our goal in the next few days. I’ve shared it via Facebook, but thought I would add my blog “audience” to this appeal as well. Please check out our page, and donate what you can! And if you are local to southern Maine, sign up to be on our active members list!
One of my favorite definitions of permaculture is “revolution disguised as gardening.” Charles Eisenstein says, (in his recent book, Climate: A New Story,) in this time of ecological degradation, perhaps the most important work we can do is to care for and regenerate the places we live in, the places we love. (More on that later!) That’s what the Resilience Hub is all about. Thank you for helping us to keep it thriving!
Life holds a strength that will not be extinguished, that will crack open the most oppressive of constraints. When I was in Tenant’s Harbor, a few weeks ago, I saw this spruce tree growing out of a huge boulder. Its roots were literally embedded in a crack in the rock itself. I wondered if a seed had found a tiny patch of soil within a crack, or if in fact, the seed, rooting, had created the crack in the rock. But however it first took hold, the roots were now literally splitting the rock in two.
I don’t mean to reduce a boulder to a metaphor for something bad. I love these boulders that populate our landscape from the time of the ice age. They also harbor all sorts of life in the forms of lichen and moss. But just for a moment, I do ask its indulgence to borrow a possible metaphor for hope in these times of despair.
There is so much about which to feel despondent right now. Migrant children confined in tent prisons away from family. Trans friends being erased from official acknowledgement or protection. People in Gaza and Yemen being starved and bombarded with weapons made in the U.S. Misogynists and racists gunning down innocent people in sanctuaries for prayer. Leaders who belittle other people and stir up hate and destroy the earth for profit and greed. I could go on and on. We are facing dire futures, caught in the grip of suffocating destruction.
Tomorrow there will be a vote in our country. Things will get better or worse. I will vote. But I don’t put all my hopes in the vote. As we saw in the election of 2016, elections can be interfered with. (Our own government has also interfered in the elections of other countries.) There has been a concerted effort to suppress the votes of Black citizens in Georgia, Native Americans in North Dakota, others. There are voting machines that cannot be trusted to report votes accurately. I hope that in the vote, things will get better. I hope that so many people vote that we can overcome the suppression. But my deepest hope is not in the vote. My deepest hope is in the power of the spruce to crack the boulder, the power of the earth to restore itself, the power of the love we hold in our beating hearts.
There was one more thing about the spruce. It was not alone. There were two trees growing the crack in that boulder. You can just barely see the second smaller trunk behind the first in the photo above. But here is another photo, a close-up from behind. Two trees–both of them might be said to be caught in the boulder. But they are not caught. They are growing strong, green, full of life and energy. They are cracking that boulder together. And so we humans, too, must not face these despairs alone, must find each other and join our strengths together.
A boulder seems to be hard and unyielding. Roots seem to be gentle and soft. But the rock does yield to the tree. Remember that.
Portland Stands with Standing Rock, Photo by Katrina Van Brugh
Sometimes our spirits know that we must go to another place to support the struggle to protect Indigenous rights and water. But sometimes our spirits tell us to stay put, and lend support from where we are, in whatever we can. That is my particular calling in this moment, even though a part of my heart is out in Standing Rock every day. But I was happy to stand in the rain on Saturday in Portland, Maine, with a few dozen people, including these young people from my congregation. Somehow being in the rain also felt right, because #waterislife.
This week many of my clergy colleagues have gone to the site of the camps, to bring a message of support, and I am glad for them to be there. I am happy that our religious voices can be aligned with sovereignty and justice, after so much damage has been done in the name of the churches throughout the history of this land.
I am also glad personally to be following the spirit’s lead on this, because something is happening right now in our world which is deeper than politics, deeper than the divide between right and left, deeper than what any of the media are willing or able to talk about. It cannot be figured out by thinking or talking. It is deeper than that. It comes from the depth of the mysterious forces that give life, that sustain life, on our beautiful planet.
In a time of despair, that which can give us hope is often hidden from public view, bubbling up in unexpected places. The energy and magic that is Standing Rock is not limited to that one place, but emerges wherever the people find our connection to the land, our connection to the water. Still, what is emerging at Standing Rock goes much deeper than I am able to fully understand, even when I open my heart to the mystery and the flow of it. But every morning, I do open my heart to that mystery, and offer what energy and gifts I may offer to it.
If my search for greener housing is a worthy intention, then there is no particular outcome that must happen right now. The energy carries its magic and I will learn from whatever I experience on this path, and it will lead me in the direction of that intention.
Similarly, if my work on the book, Finding Our Way Home, is, at root, a journey into Earth Community, then there is no necessary outcome. Whether it is published or not, whether it is read or not, on some level it doesn’t matter at all. The intention creates its own magic and the journey will unfold in its own way and time in the direction of Earth Community.
Last week I was reading architect Sarah Susanka’s book, The Not So Big Life, and found these words:
“Every moment brings forth an untold number of alternative possibilities each of which has the potential to give birth to a multitude of life experiences. There is no one way in which things need to unfold… How perfectly the universe provides when we don’t intervene by trying to manage and control the process.”
At that time, we were waiting for news about cost estimates for renovations and building work that would need to happen on a house we’ve been exploring for the last four weeks. Her words helped to calm my heart, and then give me some equanimity when we learned that the work would be more than we could afford. We had to let go of that particular set of outcomes. Not without some sadness. It was one of the homes that made our hearts sing. But I remembered that there is no one way that things need to unfold.
There are many moments on both of these journeys when I feel stuck or impatient, worried or disappointed, aching for things to turn out in a particular fashion. But today, I asked myself the question–Do I trust these intentions? Do I trust the flow of the River of Life? I remember the old adage–Don’t try to push the river. Let it carry you. I asked myself, Am I in the River?
And yes, I trust these intentions. Yes, I trust in the flow of the River of Life. And yes, I know, deep in my being, that I am in the River.
This week there have been no new houses to look at, but that is just as well because we are waiting to see what loan amount the bank will approve for us. I have also shifted from sabbatical time to a week of study and preparation for fall worship and return to full-time ministry. Today I’ve been reading books on Life Coaching, to learn strategies that coaches use to help people achieve their goals. I’ve thought that perhaps the tools of coaching might be useful for leadership in my congregation, and also useful personally to achieve our goal of finding greener housing, and living in ways that unite us with the living Earth.
I completed one book, whose author describes the most important tools for achieving coaching results as: motivation, positive frames of thinking, and confidence. I am going to be snarky for a moment and say it sounds a little like the worst of new age thinking–“just believe it and you can make it happen.” I do believe that we can access resourcefulness in ways that help us to achieve our goals. I like the tools that enable us to do that. But I don’t buy how everything seems to hinge on positivity and rejection of the possibility of failure. (I have two more books to explore, so perhaps I will discover that this one isn’t the best representation of the coaching philosophy.)
I am remembering Joanna Macy‘s advice to honor our pain for the world, to honor all the so-called “negative” emotions as well as the positive. Our pain is not just a hindrance to achieving our goals, but also a resource for compassion: our pain for the world comes from our deep interconnection with all of life.
Joanna speaks about the three stories of our time–the ways we understand what is happening in our world. The first is “business as usual” in the industrial growth society, believing we can just go on as we have been doing, and everything will sort itself out. But the industrial growth society is actually on a suicidal path because it is built upon destroying the natural world. The second story is called the “Great Unraveling,” a story of the destruction of our society, the mass extinction of species, climate disasters, and nightmarish post-apocalyptic scenarios in which people fend for themselves and turn on each other. The third story is called the “Great Turning,” in which human beings make a profound shift toward a life-affirming society, through major changes in our energy consumption, our social and economic structures, and especially in growing to understand that all beings are a part of one living Earth.
My desire for greener housing springs from my hope to be a part of a Great Turning. But Joanna points out that we have no assurance of success in our work to transform the world toward a life-affirming society. We could just as easily fail in our efforts, and witness the downfall of humanity and the extinction of our species along with so many others. Yet that very uncertainty can be the source of our hope and of our motivation.
Bald Eagle, photographer unknown
I went for a swim at Winslow beach today, and as I floated on the ocean waters, I saw a beautiful bald eagle flying overhead. A small bird was chasing it at first, but then it soared on a long straight path towards the western sky.
As I ponder the concepts of motivation and hope, I realize that I don’t find my own motivation through messages of assured success and positivity. I feel more resonance with the hope that springs from uncertainty.
There is no guarantee that Margy and I will find greener housing, and no guarantee that human beings can turn our society around toward a way of living in harmony with the earth. But for that very reason, we must give it our passion and our dedication and our best efforts. We must put our whole energy into the story that offers Life.
Here is the description of the book from the publisher’s page:
The challenges we face can be difficult even to think about. Climate change, the depletion of oil, economic upheaval, and mass extinction together create a planetary emergency of overwhelming proportions. Active Hope shows us how to strengthen our capacity to face this crisis so that we can respond with unexpected resilience and creative power. Drawing on decades of teaching an empowerment approach known as the Work That Reconnects, the authors guide us through a transformational process informed by mythic journeys, modern psychology, spirituality, and holistic science. This process equips us with tools to face the mess we’re in and play our role in the collective transition, or Great Turning, to a life-sustaining society.
A true gift I have experienced in Joanna’s work is a way to experience my own grief for the world, not as a debilitating or paralyzing weight, but as a doorway into experiencing my deep interconnection with all beings. We begin in gratitude, and the spiral of the work takes us through grief and interconnection, and we go forth with new strength for changing our lives and our world. I came away from the intensive feeling more alive and whole, and with new ideas for bringing people together around this work. Reading a book or a blog can be a solitary experience, but gathering with others to discuss a book, or doing practices together that make the ideas come alive, can be profoundly healing. I am dreaming of how I might bring this work to Maine.
I am continuing in my series of blogs about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in honor of the anniversary of his death, April 4th. I am exploring what his life can teach us about the experience of the Divine Mystery.
I want to acknowledge that there are many people who do the work of justice, without relating to a God of justice. Their work comes out of a belief in human dignity and connection, and God has nothing to do with it, for them. And that is really fine with me. When we have experienced the connection we share with other human beings, I believe it naturally leads to a concern about justice and equality.
But for some of us, there have been moments when we were in despair about injustice, or afraid of what our truth was revealing to us, or ready to give up, like Dr. King had been in his moment of despair. And in those moments, we also felt a divine presence, a presence of courage and hope and strength, empowering us into transformation. This God may not have intervened to take away a difficult challenge, but rather enabled us to find wholeness and self-worth in the meeting of it.
For me, the divine presence gave me the courage to leave the church of my childhood, and leap into the unknown, to find myself as a woman, as a whole and equal person. When all around me the church was saying that women had their place, and it was not in the priesthood or the leadership, when I was hearing that women were weak and vulnerable and needed men to guide and protect them, something enabled me to reject that characterization, and claim fullness. Something I barely even had a name for—but it was a sacred power nonetheless.
Photo by Rick Kimball
For me, the risk involved imagining that God might be a woman, a Goddess. That I might be created in the image of that Goddess. And even though there was nothing in the Bible that described this Goddess, yet it was still the stories of the God of justice that led me out of those old male-dominant images and into new possibilities. As Ntozake Shange put it, “I found God in myself and I loved her fiercely.”
This experience in my own life became a window to understand, at least in part, the kind of transformation the slaves had experienced. How miraculous and lonely it could be, how long the journey, and how frightening the desert. But yet, something unmistakable like a fire to guide the way. It taught me that the divine is a power beyond institutions, beyond containers, yet able to be present in our lives—especially in those moments of transformation, when “the mighty are cast down from their thrones, and the lowly are lifted up.”
I do not ask that anyone believe in the God of my own transformation. It doesn’t work like that. But I do offer it to you as an option of hope. If you are going through a hard time, if you are discouraged, if you are seeking to follow the truth of your heart, if you are sore oppressed. If you are having trouble believing in your own worth and dignity. I invite you to call on that God, and see whether there might be a presence that can help you through.