New Monasticism, Indigenous Wisdom and Grief: how practice, truth telling and healing have changed my perspective of ownership
“The teachings of its founders notwithstanding, eventually the Church itself acquired considerable property and allied itself with imperial power. The teachings of Jesus became otherworldly ideals that were not seriously recommended to anyone, and the Kingdom of God was transported from earth to Heaven. This was a major step in the conceptual separation of spirit and matter that has contributed to making materiality, and especially money, profane today. Even more ironically, most people today who profess to follow Christian teachings have turned everything inside out and associate socialism with atheism and private wealth with God’s favor.”
- Charles Eisenstein - Sacred Economics: Money, Gift and Society, in an Age of Transition
“The market system artificially creates scarcity by blocking the flow between the source and the consumer. Grain may rot in the warehouse while hungry people starve because they cannot pay for it. The result is famine for some and diseases of excess for others.”
- Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
“The Lord our God has willed this earth to be the common possession of all, and its fruit to support all.”
- St Ambrose
“Authority is not given to you, steward, to deny the return of the king.”
In her book Monastery of the Heart: An Invitation to a Meaningful Life, one of my favourite religious leaders, Sr. Joan Chittister writes,
“Benedictine spirituality, after all, is life lived to the hilt. It is a life of concentration on life’s ordinary dimensions. It is an attempt to do the ordinary things of life extraordinarily well.”
Our family follows a sacred schedule on our farm, that involves morning snuggles, porridge, and then chant and prayer, using John Philip Newell’s lovely little book Celtic Prayers from Iona. We have two “tea times” during the day, that require us to stop and let go of whatever we’re working on, to release our over attachments to our work.
The intention of our morning “offices” and the tea times, is to set a tone for the challenges of the day and to entrain a release of ownership over the land we live on and the contributions we make. Habitually chanting the Psalms has played a role in our ever-deepening journey of releasing the shame of the story of severance, and resting in these words of Presence:
If I ascend to heaven you are there O God
And if I make my bed in hell
Still you are with me
Where can I go from your Spirit O God?
Deepening this story of Presence, and connection, (instead of Divine abandonment and separation), has its fruits. But the fruits take time. I’ve now been either praying the offices or doing morning chants for about 15 years.
Some of the fruit of this discipline, is arriving in the form of how we view “our” land and how we view all of “our” resources.
Soaked in the enormous wisdom of the last brilliant lecture of Thomas Merton’s life, I am not upholding or proposing Marxism in this little reflection. But nor am I upholding or proposing capitalism as it currently is. I am suggesting that the fruits of an ordinary life that has monastic qualities and indigenous wisdom, may result in ways of seeing the land we “own” as land “entrusted” and is a part of me (and others), at a deeply cellular level. It may result in my seeing the music I make as a pure gift that I show up for. It may compel us to view the food we grow as a Sign and a Wonder, and the cow we milk, our precious Lady Susan, as a part of our family, and community.
This is not new thought.
And this is where the deepest work must happen.
The more I am drawn into the remembrance that we are “people of the gift”, the more I must face the story that robbed the world of this notion. We must begin to work with the trauma we all live under in different ways, as we dare to name the extractive, abusive nature of our civilization.
When we avoid this trauma, it is our own way of not opening the whole can of worms… because grief is like that… which is in part why we have the saying “grief upon grief”.
Our healing process can’t stay within the confines of our own nuclear self. If it does, we are simply healing within the framework of the trauma of the separation story we have used to build this civilization, and therefore, not really healing at all.
So this is the story I am in the midst of… and probably you are too. Placing our healing within the wider story, so that we become preciously aware of the connectedness of other’s wellness, to our own wellness. Placing property we own or exist on, in the Big Picture of Creator’s commons, and so to treat it and all its many creatures with tender respect, as though future generations are already enjoying the fruits of our labour. Placing our longing for intimacy and community within the scope of that longing being a sign of the hope of who we are.
With this telling of a very old story, (that I believe Jesus was telling), there is painful, hard work of admitting that conquest can never be a foundational basis for respect. But here we are, in the midst of this unravelling story, in which we get to do our part.
Here is a song that came out this week... I don't have a lyric video yet because I just finished the vocal before posting it. So listen by pushing play below.
People of the Gift
You don’t come from separateness
You don’t come from selfishness
You don’t come from greed
You come from wild, wild Holy Love
Wild, wild, Holy love
Wild, wild Holy love
My people of the gift
You come from earth, flesh and bone,
You come from deep birthing moans
The Mother’s deep well
And a sacred indwelling,
Of Wild, Wild Holy Love
Wild, wild Holy love
Wild, wild Holy love
My people of the gift
You don’t come from ownership
You don’t come from dominance
Your lust is a yearning
A great ocean churning
For wild, wild Holy love
Wild, wild, Holy love
Wild, wild Holy love
My people of the gift
My people of the gift
There is a popular term often used now by the Millennial and Y generations, that is hopefully the most indicative of the direction we are going.
The word is ‘intersectional’. Or ‘intersectionality’.
This term was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in a paper she wrote for the 1989 University of Chicago Legal Forum. In it Crenshaw points out what she calls the “single axis framework” that has been traditionally used for talking about discrimination. Without using intersectionality, Crenshaw concluded that, for instance, black women were essentially erased - between white women’s sex discrimination cases and black men’s race discrimination cases. Her work is about finding a prism through which we can see how one person can experience multiple disadvantages. I encourage you to watch Crenshaw’s very important Ted Talk here.
This word, intersectionality, is one we ought to be listening to, very deeply
Now, I am a 40-year-old cisgendered heterosexual white mom, so… there are many reasons why the word ‘intersectionality’ might never be on my lips. This word has grown in communities of colour, and the lgbtq+ community, and, in areas where particularly women of colour suffer, immensely.
So to be clear, I am not a scholar on race and feminist theory, but am merely longing to highlight the word, so that any of my listeners who are not familiar with it, can be made aware if its importance.
To be honest, if I wasn’t studying and practicing permaculture farming, I wouldn’t grasp the many ways intersectionality effects people differently. In permaculture, you are asked to consider and observe the whole web of life, which is why many judge this type of farming as impractical, or not plausible, seeing it as needing to have an acute awareness about everything.
Also, if I wasn’t a woman who knows what it feels like to be assaulted, ignored and belittled, the practicality of intersectionality might be lost on me, as it often is by the people least effected by it.
See, the problem with the word “practical” is that it is often used in spaces that don’t have to think in the long term, and, quite the opposite, are praised for the ability to procure short term success. Short term success thinking, breeds a lack of awareness of trajectories. In other words, cause and effect is not built into our current systems thinking. We can see this in shoddy design, and if we look long enough, we can see it in every single aspect of life. Especially in the realms of equality, agriculture, food, birth, shelter, education, health, culture, and death.
Intersectionality ought to even influence holistic design, because it would further limit the speed of mindless progress, and would require more consideration and thought about the future, and about the whole spectrum of the living community.
If John Philip Newell is right, that none of us will be well, until all of us are well, then Kimberlé Crenshaw’s intersectionality is the uncomfortable compressor that doesn’t let us squirm out of inequality so easily. We’re in this together. We can’t just skip on ahead and leave suffering behind us. It will never, ever actually work that way.
I’ve always been struck by the Ark of the Covenant story. That it was to precede the procession, as a signal for their movement forward. If you think about it, that means that warriors and small children and the elderly were made equal by the pace of the Ark of the Covenant. The Mercy Seat, the cherubim, the tablets, slowing down the accelerated trajectory of possibilities, so that wisdom might have the time to arrive and benefit the whole community.
It could be argued that today, climate change might be our Ark. That unless we unite behind the science, and pull on the reins of mass consumption, we will all perish.
I’m not a “denier” by any stretch. Our family grows our own food using carbon sequestration practices, we barely drive anywhere now, and if I fly somewhere to play a concert, it is a maximum of 3 times per year, and out of my concert earnings, we tithe specifically to indigenous food sovereignty initiatives to counter my travel. In a sense, we are climate activists, and I have been clear that I support Greta Thunberg’s movement.
That being said, what has been sitting a bit off for me, is that if we are to include wisdom in the conversation, we’d better be asking: who is in front of the science that we are uniting behind? And… we’d better be asking: if we course correct our human impact on climate change expediently (which is now required), who is being left behind?
I don’t believe technology alone will course correct the climate crisis, but I truly believe humility grounded in nature, will. But if it is to be humility, we can’t be acting out of self righteousness or fear. It has to be simply, because it is good.
There is some mystery here. Do you see it?
At the very point where we are being asked to be expedient, we are also being asked to be intersectional. To consider the whole web.
Mother Earth is asking for broad spectrum balance.
We are collectively reaching the very centre point of the symbol of the cross.
The cross hairs of expediency… and… justice.
Now is not the time for cynicism. Now is the time for the long game amidst acting now. An irony to be sure.
There may come a day, when land is valued by the earthworm count and the amount of carbon it sequesters. When women of colour aren’t experiencing such a prolific disproportion of discrimination. When land reparations brings diversity to stewardship. When all mouths are fed through an abundant gift economy and just charity. When we do what is good, with humility.
Meister Eckhart said, “if the soul can be free from all selfishness, it can shine like the uncreated God who made it”.
May. We. Be. Free.
The children’s book writer Theodor Seuss Geisel, who wrote under the pseudonym “Dr Seuss”, had other pseudonyms too. In one of his lesser known books I Wish that I Had Duck Feet, he goes by Theo. LeSieg (LeSieg is Geisel backwards).
I began reading I Wish that I Had Duck Feet to my kids before I had actually previewed it, and was appalled by the end of the book, how the story turns, and how it ends. I didn’t know Theo. LeSieg was another name for Dr. Seuss, so I didn’t have my irony hat on. I even said to myself, “wow, that is sort of the antithesis to Dr Seuss!”
If I could ask him, I would inquire if he really thought young kids could grasp this kind of extreme irony.
In the book, there is a little boy who wishes he had duck feet, and then antlers, and then a whale spout, then a tiger tail, and then an elephant trunk for a nose. In each case he imagines, the boy arrives at the conclusion that either his mother, or society, would end up rejecting him. Then, he dreams about having the duck feet, antlers, whale spout, tiger tail and elephant nose all at once, and on that page, there is an illustration of him being mocked by proper folk, and arrested by police on the street. He begins to realize that none of these wild accoutrements have any place in his world. So at the end of the book, he has nothing of the wild left, and a crowd of well-adjusted, civil folk are beaming at him with pride, and approval. The very last page is of him walking away from a trash can, full of wild things.
Knowing a bit about Dr Seuss, I can’t possibly believe he would have written this book as a lesson to teach children to be tame and proper. It’s almost like a code for the opposite.
This week, my husband Ian, listened to one of my favourite recordings of mythologist Martin Shaw, telling the story of the Fox Woman, so we've been having wonderful conversations about the story.
Here is an excerpt telling of the Fox Woman Dreaming story, from Dr Martin Shaw’s essay Turning our Heads from the Pelt:
Once upon a time there was a lonely hunter. One day, exhausted, returning to his hut over the snow, he saw smoke coming from his chimney. When he entered the shack, he found a warm fire, a hot meal on the table, and his threadbare clothes washed and dried. There was no one to be found.
The next day, he doubled back early from hunting. Sure enough, there was again smoke from the chimney, and he caught the scent of cooking. When he cautiously opened the door, he found a fox pelt hanging from a peg, and woman with long red hair and green eyes adding herbs to a pot of meat. He knew in the way that hunters know that she was fox-woman-dreaming, that she had walked clean out of the Otherworld. “I am going to be the woman of this house” she told him.
The hunters life changed. There was laughter in the hut, someone to share in the labour of crafting a life, and, in the warm dark when they made love, it seemed the edges of the hut dissolved in the vast green acres of the forest and the stars.
Over time, the pelt started to give off its wild, pungent smell. A small price you would think, but the hunter started to complain. The hunter could detect it on his pillow, his clothes, even on his own skin. His complaints grew in number until one night the woman nodded once across their small table, her eyes glittering. In the morning she, and the pelt, and the scent, was gone.
It is said that to this day the hunter waits by the door of his hut, gazing over snow, lonely for even a glimpse of his old love.
For me, because I am a daughter of the Christian household, I can’t help but often look through that lens. Meaning… when I hear the Fox Woman Dreaming story, I often think of the wildness of the garden and the attempted taming of God. In other words, when I hear the story, I sort of invert the common Eden telling, which usually assumes that everything was nice, and tame, prior to the infamous fruit eating, and only after the fruit eating, is when everything became wild. But what if buried deep in that story, is a forgetting of a primordial part of ourselves that must be remembered, for recapitulation?
And of course, we could say, this tempering the wild, is a necessary part of evolution. Dealing with the lizard brain. Finding practices to aid us with irrational fight or flight reactions. Yes, right, of course, but that does not rule out the question: are there more sides to the evolutionary coin? In our process of evolving beyond the lizard brain, have we also tamed imperative wild parts of ourselves, wild creation, and God too? I'll warrant that this sort of taming is in desperate need of a major course correction.
For mythologist Martin Shaw, particularly schooled in his place in the world, Devon, he does see that there is a bridge from the wild to “conviviality” or what he would call “gallantry”. In his language, real, whole, wildness is connected to whether or not we are initiated. This is my language, too.
We have traded the wild and the hearty, for uninitiated civility - and in most cases, we have called this civility, “Christian”.
I recently mentioned being at my friend’s place, and seeing a nerve gas mask from WWI, hanging on the same wall as an elongated ritual mask of an indigenous origin. These side-by-side images are still haunting me.
My great uncle had to wear one of those nerve gas masks. And one of the times he wasn’t, the nerve gas overcame him, in some filthy trench.
When I used to sit on his knee, I could feel how shaky his body was, and I would look up at the part of his eye that had been grazed by shrapnel.
There he was, born into the story of violence in the name of civility. He had been swept up into the machine of the uninitiated, that would catapult technology into the unimaginably fast pace we find it today.
For some time now, I have been haunted by the concept that our relationship with, and financial investments in technology, has had something to do with separating wholes, and sundering sacred unions, in order to destroy. Like, in order to have God-like powers to destroy life, we need to pull apart and tamper with the building blocks of life.
Then, when I was recently on pilgrimage to Iona, I listened to John Philip Newell speak of his mentor George McLeod. I was truly awestruck by McLeod’s mysticism, as I soaked in his palpably present legacy there in that place.
This quote of McLeod's pummelled me even further than I’ve ever gone, into the haunted longing for initiated union with the wild, and with the God of that wild. It made me yearn for a different story. One in which innovation merges into a union with nature.
This longing never ceases, and is like a prayer.
Here is a quote from Daily Readings with George McLeod, page 68-9,
Suppose the material order, as we have argued, is indeed the garment of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Ghost. Suppose the bread and wine, symbols of creation, are indeed capable of redemption awaiting its Christification. Then what is the atom but the emergent body of Christ?…
The Feast of the Transfiguration is August 6th. That is the day when we ‘happened’ to drop the bomb at Hiroshima. We took His body and we took His blood and we enacted a cosmic Golgotha. We took the key to love and we used it for bloody hell.
Nobody noticed. I am not being cheap about other people. I did not notice it myself. I was celebrating the Feast of the Transfiguration, in a gown and a cassock, a hood, a stole, white hands, saying with the whole Christian ministry, ‘This is my body. This is my blood.’
The while our ‘Christian civilization’, without Church protest, made its assertion of the complete divorce between spirit and matter.
One man noticed. When the word came through to Washington of the dropping of the atom bomb - ‘Mission successfully accomplished’- Dr Oppenheimer, in large degree in our name its architect, was heard to say, ‘Today the world has seen sin.’
I recently listened to the podcast Another Name for Everything with Richard Rohr, Brie Stoner and Paul Swanson. It was the episode from the second season, on parenting. I found myself weeping when Richard said, “if you’re a Christian, sing Jesus Loves Me to your children.” He was speaking about children needing to enter into the Mystery through the particular. Ever since then, I have been singing it every day with my young kids. One time this week, they even sang it with me to the rhythm of my milking our Jersey cow, Lady Susan. It doesn’t get more “particular” than that.
This song Fox Woman, can be heard at many levels. And I am daring to "interpret" the story through song in the first place. What comes up for me with this story is how much we fear the wild, certainly, but mostly, how much we fear death. And maybe even through insular walls, we fear a Creator with both feminine and masculine fire, that would indwell in oneness, with such a wild, fertile, unpredictable world. The voice in this song could be Mother Earth herself, baring her dark breasts, levelled by industry, and showing us her commodified womb, running dry.
For my part, I sing Fox Woman with the longing I have for collective reunion, with our wild creator, and with this wild world. We are causing all kinds of extinction, through the severance story we tell ourselves. And to be at least a bit gentle to people... it is very likely that this severance story resulted at the dawn of human consciousness of mortality. And maybe the reunion story will happen, when we make peace with death.
In the meantime, the lie of separation muffles the cry of the earth, the cry of the wild, and the cry of you, yourself. Because your cabin in the woods, is the Fox Woman's cabin. And she may very well still be stirring a stew at the fire, but has only left your awareness.
We will be forever haunted... we are atomic garments of Christ.
To close, I want to mention again the book I Wish that I Had Duck Feet, written by Theo. LeSieg.
I wonder if perhaps Dr Seuss had heard a rendition of Fox Woman Dreaming, and then perhaps put his tongue in his cheek, and gave civilization what it was looking for. A tame child, who leaves wild things behind. But I wonder also, if he might have written a secret last page we will never see, and on that page, the child grows up to then pick up a gun, or a bomb, as though that is the appropriate, civilized next step, that we all ought to accept.
Look at the image below, of all the wild things in the trash can. If you look more closely, you will see a set of paint brushes, a guitar, and a manuscript, of a novel, or book of poetry.
And although he aches for those wild things, the grown up boy’s parting line will be,
“long live short term profits”.
This is a sermon I’ve prepared to preach at the Erickson Lutheran Church tomorrow.
14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed,
knowing from whom you learned it, 15and how from childhood you have
known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through
faith in Christ Jesus. 16All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for
teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that
everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good
work. 4:1In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living
and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge
you: 2proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or
unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in
teaching. 3For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound
doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers
to suit their own desires, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and
wander away to myths. 5As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the
work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
2nd Timothy 3:14-4:5
I want to respond to the 2nd Timothy text this morning, but I’m going to arrive at the text in a round about way.
Two weeks ago, I was on pilgrimage to the Isle of Iona, Scotland. This island is a place where the ancient history of Celtic Christianity bridges a gap into the very ancient indigenous world of the Hebrides and Scotland.
I sat with other pilgrims in the ruins of St Columba’s hermitage and learned that when Columba and his brother monks went off to evangelize on mainland Europe in the 5th Century, they went around recognizing the light, the essential goodness and giftedness, of everyone they met. Almost like being a Christian was more about bearing witness to God’s beauty and holy purpose in each person, rather than “witnessing” to them.
These days, a part of my journey is digging back into my own heritage, Scottish, Polish and British, to understand, to heal trauma, and so on.
Back in 2009, I was performing a concert in Ullapool, Scotland and was able to travel north from there, to Achmelvich, which is far west and north of Inverness, by the ocean. That is where my McRae ancestors come from. Where my great grandmother grew up.
There was some strange pull there, like my cells were somehow tied to the place, and really ever since then, I have been drawn to understand not only my Christian roots, but also my pre-Christian roots. Like there are pieces to the puzzle that were dropped as we began to tell our story of separation from God and each other.
There has been traditionally, an inclination to interpret this reading in 2nd Timothy, as a shutting off of our pre-Christian history. This text has been used to shy us away from being tempted to mine the wisdom and practices that were passed down from our ancestors.
I want to tell just a few stories I’ve been exploring, to show you the beauty we can find in prehistory.
After the last ice age, in the Scottish highlands and in the Hebrides, there was a people who began venturing there in the summertime. Other inhabited regions between the mainland of Europe and the British isles, which were once attached to the mainland, were eventually covered by the sea and it is believed that some of the people who began hunting and gathering in the summer months in the land we now call Scotland came from lands and cultures that are now under the English channel.
As the region began to warm, and the land, although harsh and challenging, became more inhabitable, and huts began being built and ways of life became more solidified, expressions of culture and spirituality began to emerge. First through rituals held in caves, invoking more feminine gods, and then through standing stones, stone carvings and eventually timber pole circles.
On one island, from around the 4000BC, there are mass, grass covered mounds to this day, that contain the shells of various shell fish, which it is thought, represented a ritual expression of gratitude for the bounty of the sea. Human bodies are buried within the mounds, and due to other burial expressions it is thought these burials are an expression of people giving back to what sustained their lives while they lived. A sort of circular invocation of gratitude.
In other tombs, people are buried with their hand holding a seal fin. It is thought, this most likely indicates that the seals would bring the spirits of the people into the deeps of the sea that fed them.
Another burial site was found in Northern Scandinavia of a mother and her baby, who probably both died during childbirth, and the baby is buried in the cradle of a swan’s wing.
It is interesting that the word inhabit, holds the word “habit”. Historians use the term “enduring habits” for expressions of culture that cannot be traced back to their origin, but have been practiced by a people for a very long time.
In the Shetland Islands, the practice of a bird hunt has been going on since the folks on the island can remember. The hunt involves men scaling down vast vertical cliffs to get to the area where they catch the birds. The practice of this develops a certain set of muscles and skeletal structure in the men.
More recently, a tomb was found where the men buried there, along with skeletons of this particular bird, had the exact same body development as the men who practice this bird hunt today. It indicates that this ritual has been practiced at least since about 4000BC, and until that tomb was found, it was simply a habit practiced by the people, because they carried the tradition within them.
In my research, I've also learned that the last of the tribal Picts in Scotland, were found living in a cave in 1915. These people, living in a traditional way, were forced out of their home, and cave dwelling was immediately outlawed.
There is in each of us, a wildness that was punished, shamed, and “put to rights”. But something that comforts me is that I see this very wildness, in the person of Jesus.
In the 2nd Timothy reading, because we’ve been trained to take the word at its word, to a fault, most of us will be very quick to hear it as a teaching that would tell us to remove our own cultural history from under our feet. In that context, these enduring habits that have been passed down from generation to generation, quickly and flatly become the myths we’re are told not to have itching ears for, and not to wander away to. In other words… this text, and many others have been used out of context, to annihilate the cultures of people. To disempower the ways and stories and habits that enrich our lives and connect people to community and to our ancient past.
But what happens when we place this same text within the context of the myths of the Greco Roman power structure instead?
When Rome invaded Britain in 46AD, Britain didn’t go down without a great fight. One of the leaders who fought, was a woman named Boudica. The reason I bring Boudica up, is because she actually led a charge on the Temple of Claudius, which brought it to rubble.
Now, what is interesting about this, is that once Constantine had Christianized the Western Roman world, the very first church in Britain was built on the foundations of the Temple of Claudius.
It stands today in Colchester, England.
See, Constantine’s Christianity is about exceptionalism and victory. It is about the church triumphant. In other words, by building a church for Christ on the foundations of the temple of Claudius, he superimposed the Jesus figure onto the Roman teaching that once a Caesar had died, they became a god to be worshipped. It perpetuated the hierarchy of royalty and oppression. This is not to say that Jesus wasn’t God incarnate. It is to say that we’ve generally followed the lead of worshipping Jesus like a Caesar, instead of as the self-emptying, outpouring, interwoven God Jesus exemplified.
What if we were to read this 2nd Timothy text once a day for the next week, and examine how we "wander off" to the myths our civilization tells us?
Or rather, because I love the word “myth” so much, I’ll say, how do we wander off to the lies our civilization tells us?
Here are a few of the lies.
That there is never enough.
That life is a race to be won at whatever cost.
That we are not intricately connected.
That the suburban family nucleus is the only model for living that has ever existed.
That everything must and always be, institutionalized.
That we are either “totally depraved” as John Calvin taught us,
Or as science often teaches, that we are generic blobs, in competition with each other, and there is no inspirited nature to the universe.
What if we considered that these are the lies that we wander off to?
What if doing the work of evangelism and not wandering off to the lies, is, like Columba and his brothers, and I daresay Jesus, to recognize the light and abundance of gifts in ourselves and others?
What if the very “myths” we have been told to be rid of, are the rich, cultural stories we actually ought to be developing? Many of our cultural stories are the ones that tell us that we are, as Charles Eisenstein says, “people of the Gift”. People of life. Of sunshine. Of water. Of the earth.
Julien of Norwich even says “we are made of God”. Not just by God.
I was recently at a friend’s place and he has this beautiful, elongated mask from, I believe, an indigenous tribe in South East Asia. Hanging on the same wall, is this complete, elongated nerve gas mask from World War 1. And I was struck by how quickly we’ve made one mask “savage”, and the other one “civil”. Almost no stories or ritual belong to the WW1 mask. And it comes from the result of believing the lies of our civilization. The other mask, no doubt, has a rich, deep ritual, and probably a story… most likely pointing to interconnection.
The Waterboys have a great song that simply says,
I’m gonna look twice at you
Until I see the Christ in you
Till I’m looking through the eyes of love
Till I’m looking through the eyes of love
That is true evangelism. It isn’t persuasion. It is simply the way you look at the world.
And the way we look at the world is the story we tell ourselves. What if there really is joy, texture, richness and inspirited truth in every atom in the universe?
The way we collectively look at the world is how the world is.
Carrying out our ministry fully, is more about not living the lie that we are truly and completely prosperous, when others are enslaved. It is about no longer saying matter and spirit are separate. And in that case, I will go so far to say, carrying out our ministry is about encouraging the recovery of myths and stories and languages that were lost, quite possibly at at the hands of a bad interpretation of this very 2nd Timothy text.
If we can remember our original instructions of interconnectivity, we will be able to move forward into a more Christ indwelling world. “For I shall put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” “No longer will they teach one another, or say to each other “Know the Lord”, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord, for I shall forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.”
* If you are reading this and your experience is as a colonized person, your journey is especially precious, as you navigate healing and taking your stand. This piece was not written to you, so much as in respect of you.
I recently did a pilgrimage to Iona, Scotland that was led by one of the great Celtic Christian voices in the world, John Philip Newell. John Philip stands in the wondrous lineage of George McLeod, Alexander Scott, George MacDonald, St Brigid, Eriugena, Pelagius and Columba as well as a host of Eastern mystics who have lit up his life in the last 30 or so years.
One of the reasons I applied for the scholarship to attend this pilgrimage, is because I was once told by an Anishinabe woman that it wasn’t so much that she wanted me to “go back to Poland, or Scotland”, (the land of my ancestors), but that she believes that white people need to find out who they are. “Because most white people I’ve met have a sickness in them”, she said. To be clear, I hadn’t asked her the cliche question “what, do you want me to go back?” She brought it up, and I deeply appreciated it.
After hearing her say that, it reminded me of Thomas Merton, (in his talk on Sufism to his novices), saying that, “the war in Vietnam is America working out its own neurosis.”
A good part of my journey to the Hebrides was connected to this longing we all have… that reaches back into our own past, to retrieve a cultural wisdom that was suppressed and outlawed, but still found ways to spring back up and resurrect through the cracks.
The other part of my journey also carried the complexity of wanting to wrestle with the demons of being born a colonizer ("We are Legion"). If I am to do the work of untying knots and picking up lost threads, I have to “go there”, and look it straight in the eye. There is no getting around it. There is no smoothing it over. It is difficult, serious work, and it shows up in every facet of life, once you can see it.
I have to face these demons with the Muses and ancestors companioning me, so I don’t flatten the intricate terrain, into an oversimplification. For those of us who have been enchanted by white privilege, we really have no long game, and can often be entitled, when we want change. We as oppressors-who-are-waking-up, can end up in a sort of insipid, spoiled, trance, that makes us flimsy and whiny when in a pinch. Our muscles for subtlety and music are often drastically atrophied, because they haven't had to be fine-tuned. We need wise leaders of colour, many of whom are women or lgbtq+, to be the most heard, the most watched, and the most followed, for what lies ahead. The decentralized, must be held as our center.
And we need to dig down into our own histories.
What was perhaps most striking and surprising from my journey to Iona, was my encounter with Brigid, the goddess from the Celtic druidic tradition, and also the 6th Century Abbess of Kildare, St Brigid. Although most of Brigid’s wells were filled in throughout Scotland, seen as heretical by the Church of Scotland, there is still one of Brigid’s wells, on the Isle of Iona.
It was, for lack of a better description, a mystical experience, being touched by that well. Like some squelched, primordial creature (the Divine Feminine?) that had been long stuck in my throat, was unfettered and released.
I tasted a bit of the freedom that had been there, in the beautiful, organic syncretism before the State interfered with celtic paganism, and celtic Christianity in the 6th century.
I had visions of Brigid suckling the Christ child, as I stood on the highest hill in Iona, Dùn, knowing that the picking up of what has been long forgotten, is needed for the road ahead.
For Brigid, whose druidic lineage had an understanding of “Animism”, the Christ mystery would have been seen as an affirmation. A Mirror that had traveled across vast lands and waters to meet with her ancient wisdom and intuition.
Brigid happily called Christ her Druid, which was to place him in the highest prestige she could.
The Celtic imagination seamlessly could call Brigid the midwife, or foster mother of Jesus, with images of her as his wet nurse. As though she was one of the necessary bridges for pre-Christian wisdom to be carried forward into a widening sphere of acceptance and belonging in that region and culture.
I speak of the legend of Brigid, to point out that somewhere in there, deep under the roots of British colonialism, is a vibrant, plethora of expressions and colours, not conforming to the corruption of the uniform, and the bland.
I wrote this new song White, White World, as a lament - that conformity and vapid monoculture, has driven the complex garden of Creation into such painful imbalance.
I have a theory that the earth's imbalance and power-lust, is 100% connected to the avoidance of untended wounds.
In other words, the balance of the climate, of power, of the earth herself,... will not occur until those of us who "fit in", (in other words, who have built-in power), let the Big Grief come, and give ourselves away. Including giving away, a whole lot... of actual, physical possessions, and property.
I really believe climate change won't be healed with technology, but is a direct result of the imbalance of who gets to steward our breathtakingly beautiful earth.
Perhaps a good measuring stick for blindness to imbalance, is how much time we spend, trying to please and find acceptance in this society. Somewhere in there, for every single one of us, "fitting in" sits uncomfortably, because, it really isn’t who any of us are.
Jiddu Krishnamurti said, “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Most people who judge others as "broken" or "fallen", are the most broken inside. Hiding behind apparently respectable lives.
Every time I am tempted and desperate to fit in to what is seen as normal, there is some Voice in me that calls me back out to the edges... and that has perhaps been my most truest Christ encounter. Not everyone has the luxury of choosing the edges like I do. That's just where they're put.
None of the gospels were written in a privileged vacuum. They originated during the excruciating pain of occupation, and after the horrors of temple destruction, and civil war. When the writers remembered in their own way, the rebel of colour, who lived in nonviolent defiance of "civilization".
And somehow, this wisdom was passed on... that defiance of the kingdoms of this world, was a God thing. Which is why the gospels looks so ugly and SO boring, when possessed by the dominant culture.
I just can't do it.
So, probably very much like you, I seek. I sit in the Unknown. I journey. I long. For a radical balancing, that will challenge me, and that, I hope... will effing rock this world back into vibrancy.
As Martin Luther King said in this NBC interview, most white folk want "more of an instalment plan for equality". But that's not how Christ works. That's not how Symbiosis and Nature works either.
Monoculture is killing our planet.
So... it's time to drop the instalment plan, and go for the gusto.
For the love of God, I guarantee it will be more interesting.
*As a regenerative farmer of white settler heritage, and a songwriter with an AMAZING audience, I have committed to raising awareness about land reparations for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. Please consider supporting Randy and Edith Woodley to resurrect their farm Eloheh/Eagle's Wings. After being attacked by a white supremacist group and having to move, they are ready to begin doing their healing work again, this time in New Mexico.
I can hear the land weeping for their presence. This is the tangible balancing that I speak of!
To help them to become stewards of this land, CLICK HERE.
May only truth be spoken, and only truth be heard. Amen.
This morning I want to focus on the Lord’s prayer text. Also known as the Abba prayer. And by Abba, we mean Householder, the one who makes sure that all in the household have enough.
And then I want to take it beyond the prayer itself into the next section, where Jesus talks in the parable about “brash asking”.
The brilliant Jesus historian John Dominic Crossan, has done immense research on this prayer and about who and what Jesus was about historically. I will be using him as an influence during this whole reflection.
Most of us in this room come from a white settler background. So, many of us have what’s called a pioneer spirit, or work ethic, formed in part by necessity, and also be the ethos of former American presidents, like Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, who believed that “God helps those who help themselves.” Sometimes, even today, people still believe this saying is actual scripture.
It is not.
We see this belief in self sufficiency, in terribly sad situations like what happened to old age pensioners in the 2008 recession. In the United States, the rate of seniors who experience hunger on a daily basis has risen by 45% due to the ’08 recession, and… that demographic is often the least likely to ask for help. We’ve all grown up in a culture that judges us for needing any help, and where we are always praised for our self sufficiency.
I think our pride in this area is in part what caused our white settler ancestors not to ask for more wisdom from the people who were already here by at least 10,000 years. How different things would have been if our ancestors had sought wisdom and welcome, from indigenous people.
Prior to Jesus’ time by a couple hundred years, there was a really interesting group of philosophers called the Cynics. Some historians speculate whether Jesus may have even heard of the Cynics and what they were about, even in his little peasant farming village of Nazareth.
The most famous of all stories about the Cynics is the story of Diogenes and Alexander the Great in Corinth. Alexander comes by on his large war horse and offers Diogenes, who is sitting on the side of the road basking in the sunlight, anything his heart desires, and Diogenes asks Alexander to move over, because he’s blocking the sun.
The Cynic was known for their look. They carried a staff and a wallet, which was really something to tie their few belongings into. They wore sandals and a tunic wrapped off of one shoulder.
You remember in the texts in Mark and Luke, where Jesus instructs his disciples to go from village to village offering healing and tells them to take nothing with them… no staff, no purse or wallet, no extra tunic and no sandals”? Well, some historians speculate that this was Jesus’ way of saying, the Cynics were pretty close in their philosophy, but they were more about self sufficiency - whereas the Kingdom of God is about interdependency. The Cynics were minimalists and they were certainly making a statement about Empire, but their statement was more insulated. So long as they had their daily bread and carried what they needed with them, they could have the gall to tell the victorious Alexander the Great to move along. The similar cynic philosophy that we find in Jesus takes a different turn. It asks for total vulnerability, not for total self sufficiency. The disciple’s surrendered state as they travel, heal, and eat with these over-worked, occupied peasant people, is paving the way for the Spirit of God to flow through them and heal.
Jesus takes the cynic philosophy goes a step further and tells them to keep going, not to stay in one place for too long. Most of us today read that simply as “don’t overstay your welcome” because, again, we’re all about self-sufficiency. But for Jesus, you’ll see him moving from place to place, away from where the crowds begin to gather, because he doesn’t want to turn these places of healing into places of brokerage. “For a mere paltry payment, you will be healed.”
Jesus was certainly interested in exchange, but it was not in the realm of dollars and cents. It was in the realm of mercy which has its roots in the word mercantile. He was about unblocking the flow of divine love that often gets forgotten either in an occupied people, and certainly in the occupiers.
In the gospel reading today, we see Jesus teaching this prayer that we’ve all prayed a million times. The Lord’s Prayer. And if we look at it and measure it up to this saying we’ve often taken as scripture, “God helps those who helps themselves”… this Lord’s prayer is in direct opposition to that statement.
So when Jesus starts the prayer, he calls out: Abba, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven.
If we’re ever at a loss for what the Kingdom and the will of God looks like on earth, for Christians, we look at the person of Jesus. For Jesus, it isn’t just the rich who get adequate health care, housing or water and food. He didn’t just heal the elite and he certainly doesn’t perform the fish and bread miracles for the well-fed and the wealthy. In fact, John Dominic Crossan’s research is showing us that Jesus performed these miracles of food sovereignty and abundance, in direct, nonviolent rebellion to the Roman occupied Sea of Galilee, which had been renamed Lake Tiberius, after Caeser Tiberius, where urban, commercial fisheries had overrun the peasant fishers, ie, some of whom were Jesus’ best friends.
Then Jesus says “give US this day OUR daily bread”, not “give ME this day My daily bread”. This is a prayer of balance and interdependency. It is trusting in the Source of all life even in the face of their Roman occupied world, where Rome would have them grovelling in scarcity.
Then, the prayer says “forgive us our trespasses or debts as we forgive”. The very earliest texts all say “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”, and that it could be interpreted quite literally. The farming and fishing peasants in Jesus’ world were overworked and overtaxed for their resources. Most of the archeological digs and studies of remains from that time and place indicate that a man lived on average to the age of 29-35 and that most of the bodies found were suffering from malnutrition when alive. These people had been forced into monoculture farming to serve the elite in urban centres. This was a brutally occupied place and time and the more the peasants could support each other by forgiving debt, and by sharing, the more likely they were to survive.
It reminds me of how the potlatch, or the potluck was outlawed, here on Turtle Island. The more an occupied people can be controlled from being interdependent with each other, and the more dependent on the occupier they can be, the easier they are to control. I’ll put it this way, if we’re looking for an example of what an occupied people look like in our time, we need not look outside of Canada. We all come from a heritage of our indigenous homeland being invaded by an outside power, and if we are Canadian white settlers, we also have the heritage of being the invader. Which reminds me of a quick story.
In the summer of 2010, I was living in Gimli, Manitoba and the closest church with a liturgical service was the Lutheran Church, so I found myself there most Sundays. The minister was a very clever, funny guy. The first words I heard him say were these: “ so before we start the morning off, I’d just like to say something… if you can’t bend your knees, don’t kneel! God loves your knees just as they are.” Then, he went on to encourage people to attend the Truth and Reconciliation gathering in Winnipeg and said “we Lutherans, we weren’t so blind as to play mercenary for the government by running residential schools… you wanna know why? We couldn’t speak good enough English! This was about assimilation!” So he was funny, but he was also very clever. I see so many of us, whether in or out of the church, avoiding our complicity in the story of Canada. Even right here by Riding Mountain National Park, we have folks decidedly not church going, who are pretty uncomfortable with mentioning the history of how indigenous people were forcibly removed to establish the national park.
That story leads me into the next line in the Lord’s prayer… lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil or from the Adversary.
If we’re thinking or feeling anything when we say this line, it is more often than not the default to think of individual temptations.
But let’s look at the temptation Jesus experienced in the desert where he was led by the Spirit after his initiation rite, his baptism in the Jordan. First, the temptation to turn the stones into bread, to break his fast. Then to throw himself from the top of the temple, to be caught by angels. And then being offered all the kingdoms of this world that had been handed over to Satan, or the Adversary. John Dominic Crossan has looked and looked at these texts, and he has come to believe at many different levels that the temptation Jesus is speaking about in the Lord’s prayer, is the temptation to overcome his oppressors through the use of violence. This is a direct quote of Crossan’s:
“Notice that, actually, the tempter never speaks of “creation” or “the world” or “the earth”, but of “all the kingdoms of of the world” along with their “glory” and “power”. That is the violent world of civilization - rather than the nonviolent world of creation. The tempter cannot offer to anyone the world that God so loved.”
Then Crossan goes on to say:
“What, then, is the difference in precise content between worshiping God and worshiping Satan? To obtain and possess the kingdoms of the world, with their power and glory, by violent injustice is to worship Satan. To obtain and possess the kingdom, the power and the glory by nonviolent justice is to worship God. The last and climactic temptation for Jesus is to use violence in establishing the kingdom of God on earth, and there-by to receive it as the kingdom of Satan. And so also for us.”
I would add, that there is also the temptation in believing in the lie of occupying Rome, that this system is the only kind of power there is. This has been the great sin of the whole church no matter what denomination, really, since the 3rd century. We have been more often than not, on the side of power, trade, oppression and colonization. It might be the greatest irony in the whole world’s history. And I am glad I can see that irony, or I couldn’t be a Christian anymore.
Because then look at what Jesus teaches us to pray next: for thine is the Kingdom, thine is the power, thine is the glory. Forever and ever.
This prayer is first, a prayer for an occupied people. Imagine the many prayers prayed by indigenous people as we Europeans pillaged their family web, Creator’s sacred land. And took their children. I don’t say this out of some contrived guilt trip… I say it because I think praying the Lord’s Prayer ought to instil in us, a deep compassion for what it it must have felt like… and for what it still feels like. This is not something we can easily sweep under the rug. We have to wrestle with it and we have to grieve it.
And it is second, a prayer for all of us who are tempted to believe the lie that we can be self sufficient and to believe the lie of scarcity, that our current culture of power is asking us to play along with. These two lies and the power-over others that is allowed through them, I believe, is why the world is so thrown out of balance.
After teaching the Lord’s prayer, look at the story Jesus goes on to tell. The person knocking at the other person’s door in the middle of the night, is asking for bread because they’re out of bread, and they have had a friend on a long journey arrive, hungry and tired. This story wouldn’t exist if the person on the long journey was too proud to knock on their friend’s door. And it wouldn’t exist if the host was too proud to ask the neighbour for help. In other words this is a story about interdependence. So unlike the saying that passes for scripture “God helps those who help themselves”, it appears as though this teaching is about how God is in and about interdependence, not independence.
Then Jesus goes on to say how much more will God give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. And compares the man’s knocking on the door in the middle of the night, to our brash asking for the Holy Spirit. Again and again, this whole passage is about interdependency. Not about being independent or self sufficient. Asking for the Holy Spirit is not being independent because we are also taught that the very act of prayer is the Holy Spirit working in us, so even asking for the Holy Spirit, is really a coming to consciousness of the deep asking that has always been there. It is our true self, one with God, that is doing the asking deep down in there, where we can sense that holy longing in our hearts.
So what does this look like in community? What does this brash asking look like in practice? Why bother asking for the Holy Spirit in the first place? What does that even mean? If anyone has ever had one small glimpse of the oneness at the heart of all things, they have encountered the Holy Spirit. No one can experience the Holy Spirit and not see the interconnectedness of each other, and of all of life. No one can bear witness to the veil being lifted for just a moment, and not see that what is true is that there is enough. That living in scarcity and fear, is to be led into temptation… and scarcity and fear will never produce anything but division and hoarding, and more violence.
There is this now often overused saying of Einstein’s, that a problem can never be solved with the same thinking that created it… I think Jesus was practicing something very similar when he said, “lead us not into temptation” … that the use of violence can never beget the Kingdom of God.
What if praying thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, is trusting in enoughness? What happens when that is our footing, for the font of the Spirit to flow out from us, here… into this physical world?
May we never pray this prayer again, without remembering who it was, that taught us to pray it, and who also said, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”
Let us sing in the melody of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.
Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed by thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
Forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us
Lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
For thine is the Kingdom
the power and the glory
Forever and ever. Amen.
Firstly, welcome to all the Sunday Song newcomers! It has been a privilege to build a following around this weekly meditation this year!
I was preparing this letter to you yesterday, but kept finding myself unable to send, as describing a yet-to-be-created body of work is sort of like un-spinning a cocoon. But out of a very deep longing to include you and ask for your participation, I will try!
Here's the big announcement:
It has become clear to me that a collection of songs is trying to emerge, which I will record as an album this coming fall, and hopefully release near Christmas or early 2020. It will be the first full length album without spoken word that I have recorded in 4 years!
In order to make room for depth and attentiveness, I will be going on sabbatical from Sunday Song and Rumination from now to the beginning of September, so I can go deep into composing mode.
This week, especially for Pentecost Sunday, I will send along one last SSR (Sunday Song) until I pick it back up in September. I will also be sending a video announcement to get ready to fundraise for the project.
For now I will say that although the album has no title yet... it will be about remembering that the earth is our home. And a tie-in to that remembrance is working with images of -
- food sovereigntist
- wilderness mystic
- nonviolent anti-colonial
- abundance activist (the stamp indent itself, on the mined coin, is really all that belongs to Caesar, the fish do not belong to the commercial power of Tiberius, in a state of regenerative symbiosis, 1 + 1 always equals at least 3)
- dialoguer, shaped by and rooted in his tradition
- deeply embodied earth-dweller
And, as a Christian, I will be working with the above traits out of the belief that "God was pleased to dwell in him, in all God's fullness" and that, those traits are really some extraordinary telltale signs about who God is.
We live in a time in history that polarizes positions about where we live and have our breath. Unfettered, extractive capitalism and commodification (ie. seeing any and all profit making as moral) threatens the future of the whole planet... and it comes from an anthropocentrism and really, a geocentrism - that we are the centre of the universe.
In these times, it is very important to be genuinely humble and acknowledge how vast the cosmos is. Sometimes I wonder though, if our feigned acknowledgement of this vastness, is really a cloaked phobia of nature, and an excuse to stay within the walls of the city and academy, twittering at coffee shops and wine bars, about rural illiteracies.
In this polarized state, we tend to react to anthropocentrism by calling all 7 billion people on earth, a cancer. As someone who feels at home in wild places, to me, this is simply a progressive liberal version of "total depravity", and it often isn't genuine humility at all. In an attempt to remove the human from the top of the pyramid, most of us end up in a rootless, groundless, quasi-intergalactic, post modern dystopia, where having any hope is seen as a denial of climate crisis. That is not the path to a balanced ecosystem.
There is a "third way": that of exploring what it means to live as a part of the great Circle. In my own little way, being attentive to the heartbeat of God-in-the-Earth this summer, and composing/writing about it, is what feels right and good to do.
This album will dance within the context of recollecting a forgotten oneness that we share with the created earth.
Adamah means: "of the earth". Eve means: "to breathe" or "to live". As a symbolic combination, looking at them from a ternary perspective, there is more to that creation story than meets the eye.
Without this recollection, and with only an urban/academic perspective to guide a reshaping Christianity, we will just have a one-sided rudder. We need perspectives from outside the cities and the institutions, too. The world needs to reconnect to its indigenous heart now, more than ever. ALL of the contemplative traditions need it. I might even say - it is imperative.
I believe that Christ in evolution is attempting to reroute us into an actual incarnational state.
Without picking up the deep tap roots of our earth-based lineage, (mostly left behind as untrustworthy, by the first axial religions), we will continue to behave “alien” to this place that is our home. As Christians, if we continue to sing "this world is not my home, I'm just a passin' through", any attempt at removing the cliche that we have had a dismal response to the ecological crisis, will be... dismal. That ideology of "not being from here", is one main reason why we are in crisis in the first place. The hyper-focus on "Jesus ascending", has gotten us into very big trouble.
This is going to be a daring project that walks a fine edge. And I will probably get cut along the way. Maybe even by folks who have supported me in the past. It's a bit scary to be honest.
But I am asking for your support. Moral and financial. Please join on me on Patreon, because I will be building the budget from there (like a Kickstarter), along with a bit of seed money from a caring, anonymous patron. If you are Canadian, there is a way to support me and get a tax receipt. (Please email to ask for more details.) And if you know folks who would believe in this project, please forward this email to them and spread the word. You can also share this as a blog post from my website.
When composing and recording an album, artists need time, space, research resources, and funds to hire professional musicians and engineers who play music for their livelihood... it is how they feed their families.
All of my dear patron friends will hear the album first and will be receiving journal updates on the process throughout the summer. And as always, they will receive the album as a gift, prior to its release.
My hope for the outcome of this album is that people who listen to it, will be simultaneously overcome with relief, and, a depth of belonging. For it is this "belonging" that is a key element, for us to make peace with Mother Earth, and with our own dying. With the cycle of life. A sacred circle.
I want this project to dance with questions like:
- What is the difference between “wholesome” and “wholeness”?
- What is the difference between being “civilized” and being “connected”?
- What is the difference between "dying" and "destruction"?
- What is the difference between "wild" and "unfettered"?
- What is the difference between scarcity-based conservation and living in a regenerative, resilient font of generosity?
- How do we remember that eucharist and baptism and ashes rituals are elemental acts?
Thank-you to the hundreds of people who have emailed me or commented in response to the 40+ Sunday Song and Rumination posts I have written this year! Your input is so appreciated! Watch for updates this summer, as I will periodically send you a video or journal update on how things are going and get ready for a refreshed, invigorated Sunday Song and Rumination in September! The best way you can join me this summer though, is to join me on Patreon.!
The bread maker we got second hand is making its churning noise. Its a sourdough bread, but I have high ideals that I’ll be kneading with my own sweat.The rain patters on the tin roof of our barn home. I am sitting in our living room. Our wee ones are tucked in, and our soon to be one-year-old dog Lucy, who shares my birthday, is asleep on the mat at the door. Rows of starter trays with heirloom plants I planted weeks ago line the south facing windows, as I chomp at the bit to plant the garden. Here we have such a short growing season, but tomorrow is supposed to drop to -1, so I’ll hold off for another day or two. I’ll get the radishes in. Maybe the carrots. If I can incorporate my children into it, as I am home on the range, solo parenting this week.
We were out to visit the bees tonight. Our friend has his bees nestled in the perfect sheltered, South facing spot on this land that owns us and longs to take care of us.
It’s an idyllic enough picture. But layering up the design to have regenerative components is initially, a whole lot of work. And it wasn’t always this idyllic. And it won’t always be. It is a blink of an eye.
Tonight my three-year-old fell asleep as I was reading bedtime stories, so I was able to visit one-on-on with my five-year-old. It was a precious time. He told me that he thought the reason the boy who cried wolf “cried wolf” so many times, is because his parents didn’t have the The Boy Who Cried Wolf story yet to teach him with, because the boy was making the story as he went. My son’s legs are getting so long and I’m having a hard time lifting him these days. He was 21 inches long, like 3 seconds ago. God is in the moment. There will be no clinging. But lots of holding. And lots of letting go.
I watched the post-snow brown for what felt like an eternity. Now the perennial grasses shoot up inches per day. Its an old tale. Its a new tale. The ancients are but a wisp of time on the edge of creation. And yet, they are all here. Planted in this earth. They may be one with the cosmos, as we all are… gases… stardust… but the corporeal is interwoven with spirit, sown together, like true lovers. And so I feel the ancestors here, like seeds who died long ago, opening up, plunging out new life, to sway above us, letting us know that we are not so many rings old after all.
My littlest one helped me plant comfrey around the yearling fruit trees we planted last year. Pincherries. Hardy northern apple trees. Nankings. Currants. Saskatoons. We plunged the comfrey roots down and found worms and took delight in them. We have ticks too. My sister told me I could make a tea tree in a carrier oil solution and rub it through the kid’s hair. It’s working. No ticks at bath time tonight.
And I’m already making a herbal mixture for when the mosquitoes come after this rain.
We drink well water. It smells of manganese. The water has been tested and it is healthy, beautiful, clear water. Plus it has no chlorine. No chemicals. We once had young bed and breakfast guests arrive and turn around to drive back to the city, because they didn’t even want to bathe in the water. It didn’t smell aseptic enough. I could take them to places where there is no potable water if they really wanted to experience it. The new BNB experience… tour the boil water advisory regions, or better yet, walk for miles in 45 degree weather and haul your water back in a jug you yourself made out of clay.
According to the , the ironic number one problem with global warming, is refrigerator’s and air conditioner’s motors. We’re building a cold room this summer. But watch out, there might still be dirt on the potato, and it wasn’t wrapped in plastic, so it’s hard to get comfortable with that potato. (Don’t hear that as cynicism, I’m just trying on my quasi-best curmudgeonly Wendell Berry tone.)
Our copy of Rublev’s Trinity is in my periphery. It was a wedding present. We’ve carried it with us and mounted it ceremoniously in all the spaces we have lived. Our barn-to-home renovation was inspired by its colours. It has watched over us and participated in our lives. Bearing witness to my sometimes desperate motherhood tactics trying to find a balance of giving freedom and giving guidance. They have born witness to the raw beauty of relationship and moments of simple quietude. They have seen how I volley between my ego carrying the world’s problems, and being in a fleeting, but truly compassionate state.
This week’s song is the download my patrons on Patreon got today. I recorded it live on the piano my sister gave me as a “moving into the barn home” present. This version of it became more Trinitarian for me than the other versions, because I sing in multi-gendered pronouns. In other words, I sing it using trinitarian language. Or as Cynthia Bourgeault so perfectly puts it, “Christianity is a ternary swan in a binary duck pond.” Her book on the trinity was based on an essay she wrote called Why Feminizing the Holy Spirit Won’t Work and it is a fantastic read on the dynamism and spiralling, coiling or cork screw nature of the Trinity.
This song is for folks on pilgrimage. For folks who walk miles for their clean drinking water and have to eat potatoes that come from the dirt. It is for the water protectors.
May the vast thouness of God find a channel through this song, to open hearts, so we might cease to live out our whole existence in a paralyzed dystopia, as though we don’t belong here. We do. We’ve just forgotten that we do. It has been a long forgetting, but there are living trees, older than Roman roads. Somehow, in the lining of this roughshod history that strangely landed many of us in Sunday School rooms that smelled of coffee percolators and lovingly prepared pink egg salad finger sandwiches, there was and is, a greening mystery springing through, wherever openings occur.
It is ok to lay your burdens down. To grieve. To pray. To long. To be sorry.
“The balance of our world frequently is seen as a question of power. If I have more power and more knowledge, more capacity, then I can do more. And when we have power, we can very quickly push people down. I’m the one that knows and you don’t know, and I’m strong and I’m powerful, I have the knowledge. This is the history of humanity. And it is in the whole educational system, that we must educate people to become capable and to take their place in society. That has value, obviously. But it’s not quite the same thing as to educate people to relate, to listen, to help people to become themselves. The equilibrium that people with disabilities bring is precisely this equilibrium of the heart.”
- Jean Vanier, in conversation with Krista Tippet, (On Being)
“We’re all waiting to be met.”
- James Finley
The passing of Jean Vanier this week, made me relive some moments where I was truly struck at the heart by love. I’m talking, the big love that pulls at us and drops hints for how our own little story might connect with the Big Story.
I’ve been thinking about how disarming his teaching was. The strikingly gentle delivery, as well as the content, just got right down to the business of loving. I wonder if the combination of transforming out of his naval background and the friendship he experienced with his friends Raphael Simi and Phillipe Seux was the alchemy for such precision into the heart of God.
Reading Jean Vanier’s Drawn Into the Mystery of Jesus Through the Gospel of John, and Befriending the Stranger, were key in the early development of realizing that although my religion preached love, it was often not incredibly loving.
I remember weeping at the image Vanier described, of Jesus keeping himself lower than the woman at the well. And I remember beginning to understand the difference between “alms giving” and relationship. The difference between power over… and mutual connection.
It was about the same time (early 2000’s), where I began to study the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber’s most widely known book, I Thou.
Jean Vanier and Martin Buber’s writing, (and in particular, Jean Vanier’s very life), commenced my first conscious inklings as an adult, of the intrinsic subjectivity of the created world, and the love that incarnates it.
Lately, I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by how mean and patronizing and dystopian the social media world can be. It can be such a beautiful, connecting tool, but I often wonder if the very longing to be met, and to feel meaningful, that Jean Vanier intuited all of us long for, is not being experienced online. But instead, so many are being met with provocation, neurotic insistence, dramatic offended-ness, dramatic defended-ness, hopelessness, and sometimes straight up cruelty.
So it’s a simple question this week. How can we live one moment at a time in the coming few days, practicing vigilance, for where we might be met, and where we might meet others?
Sometimes, it is real, and true, that another person, an abusive person, isn’t safe for you to "meet". And that’s ok. But you can still sense that part in yourself, that wants to be met, and trust that that is really, how everyone feels, somewhere in there.
There isn’t one time when my children have hidden, that they didn’t want me to seek, that they didn’t want me to find. There isn't one time they didn't want my full attention, when they told me a story. It is tender and vulnerable, and what Jean Vanier did for us, is changed how we understood those words. If understood as “weak” or “less”, those words are demeaning. If understood in the way Jean Vanier understood them, they mean: our yearning for wholeness shining through.
We’re all like that deep down. We’re all waiting to be met.
There was a point in the last 3 weeks, where I really began to realize that social media has so much power for good, but also has the potential to be simply the ultimate way for us to work out our own neurosis. So, seeing this in myself, (that I often share things in a reactive state), I committed to not sharing a post on instagram or facebook (my main social media spaces), without first sitting in silence, in the hope that the energy of that sharing will not contribute to a spiral of violence or adolescent drama, but help raise awareness, to hold, and to give back to the great Mystery, the suffering of the world.
In the midst of this Eastertide vigil, has been the reality of Rachel Held Evans' medically induced coma and wondering as so many of us were, what the outcome of her medical situation would be. Sadly, very, very sadly, she died Saturday, May 4th, 2019, at the age of 37, leaving behind her young family.
I tucked my children in tonight, just gutted.
As the rest of us grieve the loss of this brilliant, Christian prophet, may those closest to her be protected from any imposed ownership. And... in particular, protected from any judgemental or "against" energy.
I shared my social media post out of silence today, about Rachel. A wave of grief and gratitude for her life is flooding my newsfeed, and what I have noticed most, is how many people named her as the author who used her privileged position to step aside and offer others a platform.
For me, what I've really appreciated about her, is how she found the words to guide so many sincerely hurting people, through the painful, unmooring process of spiritual metamorphosis. So much shame can accompany this process. It can be terrifying to admit we have been wounded by the religious culture of our upbringing.
It is one thing to preach. It is another thing to live what you preach. There was something in her giftedness for seeing the gem at the heart of her tradition, that challenged her to live those values.
So, this Sunday Song is to honour one of the great theologians of the ancient/renewing Christianity, Rachel Held Evans. May many of her words be on our lips in the years to come.
One phrase of hers that I will forever carry with me, is: "Jesus is how God feels toward us."
The Christianity she discovered through her own seeker's journey, is the kind that will live in the hearts of people, whether there is one church building left standing. It is the kind that was whispered in the mines of Roman occupied Britain in 1st century AD: that the Christ mystery is the great equalizer of slaves and Caesars. Raising what has been made low, and making low what has been elevated. The Christianity that in its marrow, knows "inclusive" and "affirming" doesn't even go far enough... because many in the LGBTQ2 community have a deeply moving, precious teaching voice that needs to be heard in the church. The Christianity that recognizes its own horrific stain(s) on history, and particularly acknowledges that people of color have very integral, important things to say, yes, to the white community, and that it is necessary for those voices to be heard. The Christianity that sees how the innate fire in the belly for teaching and preaching can be born in any kind of person... women included... and that Sophia may be the very fire of that fire.
I have chanted Let This Mind Be in You in front of many audiences. Many have received it very warmly. But I've been amazed at how many people have told me they think it is irreverent.
The irony is that the chant merely quotes Philippians 2:5, which is the beginning of one of the great Christological hymns, harkening to the self-emptying nature of the incarnate Christ.
Well done, good and faithful servant. Rachel Held Evans, in many, very tangible ways, you lived this verse:
Let this mind be in you
Which was also in Christ Jesus
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on a regenerative farm on the Canadian prairies.