This past week I spent a half day at Karla Kauffmann's Maple Tree Meadows farm, for a Soil and Soul Retreat led by Karla. Karla is a chaplain and spiritual director (and court interpreter and sustainable foods enthusiast and a woman with a hearty laugh and lots of energy) who dreams of creating a contemplative Anabaptist sustainable farm community on the 12 acres she purchased four years ago, a small section of an over-100 year old farm. In addition to the farm house and fields, she has a couple barns and other outbuildings and a healthy crop of barn swallows.
Following the Benedictine pattern of study, work, prayer and hospitality, Karla led us first in an hour conversation on a chapter in Ellen Davis' book, Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible.
Then we had an hour to work in the soil. Cathy and I nearly cleared this small weedy patch near the barn, where Karla plans to have a small garden. I enjoyed the coming and going of swallow shadows on the ground, as the birds flew over us to land on the nearby wires.
We dutifully stopped work when the bell rang, moving to a block of solitude -- for prayer, journaling, walking the land or simply resting in the shade.
I sat for awhile on the front porch, barely journaling and instead enjoying the shade of a huge old maple and the view of a sunny meadow with flitting butterflies and swooping swallows, before I went exploring.
As Karla says, this is a wounded farm that has suffered a lot of neglect and that she is slowing mending. This is the back view of one of the barns, home to an enthusiastic vine and a colony of barn swallows.
The window you glimpse through the door is featured in the photo below and was part of the flight pattern for the swallows.
I contemplated the swallows in flight as they entered this window and flew on through the barn, and hoped to catch a glimpse of their graceful swoop in a photo, but I was never quick enough. The best I could manage were the two below, who paused in their flight, perhaps taking a mini-retreat of their own.
Our retreat ended with a tasty feast of green salad, chicken salad, hard boiled eggs, potato sourdough bread, stir fried garlic scapes, yogurt with strawberries,and iced tea sweetened with maple syrup, prepared by Karla from local foods (including the syrup from her trees). We ate out in the shade of a maple, enjoying the breeze and good conversation with the other participants.
A good day, tending to soil and to soul in beautiful June weather on an old Michigan farm.
I've had milkweed on my mind this week, as I keep looking for monarch caterpillars. Morning sunlight created vivid sun and shadow combinations on this patch of milkweed along the millrace. I thought it would be great fun to discover a caterpillar by first seeing it silhouetted through one of the leaves -- either while we were there, or after as I looked through the photos.
But no such luck. The closest I came was this winged flying thing -- and on closer inspection I discovered that it was the actual insect, not just the shadow.
Searching milkweed has led to a number of other familiar and not so familiar insect sightings -- even one of a monarch butterfly, though every time I tried to photograph it, it fluttered away.
I'm reading Marked for Life: Prayer in the Easter Christ, by Maria Boulding, a book about silent, contemplative prayer written with the conviction that anyone seriously committed to this kind of prayer finds themselves experiencing its repercussions in every area of life, and that "this pervasive experience is an experience of death and resurrection which draws us deeply into the Easter mystery of Christ." (p 1).
Her first chapter is on Letting Go -- letting go of the old to make way for new life, leaping with trust from the known to the unknown. She writes of the ways we are all familiar with this from what we see around us in nature -- leaves changing to humus that nurtures crops, acorns that fall to the ground, then sprout, eventually becoming tall trees, babies that give up efficient and speedy crawling for the precarious enterprise of walking upright.
"Life springs and grows where the bearers of life do not clutch it to themselves, but hear the call to let it go in the interests of fuller life and action. The caterpillar consents to the cocoon, sensing its destiny." (p 2).
Ah. Caterpillars. Does the caterpillar consent, or does it go grudgingly into the mystery of the cocoon or chrysalis? Or does it just munch its way along, surprised to discover one day that it is a beautiful butterfly?
I've got images and text running through my head from numerous stories over the years -- The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Hope for the Flowers, a bedtime story tape the children used to listen to about a fearful caterpillar whose title I can't recall -- all with variations on what that caterpillar is thinking.
It doesn't really matter, because of course Dame Maria and those other authors are really writing about us, and we come in many stripes. Some of us consent, some wail, some grumble, some are oblivious -- and all of us do all of these some of the time.
A little further on Dame Maria writes, after a section on obedience and prayer, "...it is still difficult for us to let go of what we have or think we have, of the immediate tangible good which to our caterpillar's-eye-view seems to offer life here and now." (p 6)
Caterpillars, all of us, whether we are praying, "Munch, thanks. Munch, thanks. Munch, thanks." or "Help. Help. Help." or "Into your hands."
For years my friend Mary has been finding monarch caterpillars and bringing them indoors to raise and then set free. Her enthusiasm is catching, and so for years when the milkweed came up, I would search for monarch eggs or caterpillars, to no avail.
Daddy-long-legs, as in the picture above, yes. Red bugs, yes. Holes eaten in the leaves, yes. But no trace of monarch caterpillars for years and years, until finally, one fall, on a young and tender milkweed shoot sprouting in the middle of our yard, I finally spotted a teensy-tiny caterpillar and a couple of eggs.
We brought them into the porch and kept them supplied with milkweed, watching with fascination the cycle of egg to caterpillar, through the five instars -- skin-shedding molts, where the caterpillar stays pretty much the same except for getting bigger and bigger -- and then the creation of the chrysalis, and finally the hatching.
The picture below is from the fall of 2009 and shows two chrysalis hanging from the jar lid that we had been keeping the caterpillars in. One still looks like jade jewelry, the other has just hatched and the butterfly is resting and strengthening its wings.
That was three years ago, however, and since then I have searched milkweed plants and again had no luck finding monarchs.
That's why the discoveries this past week were exciting. First, up at the Hermitage, I found caterpillars on three different milkweed plants. The Hermitage is the only other place I've ever successfully spotted a monarch caterpillar. Two years ago when I was there for the Opening to Grace retreat, I saw one munching away as I neared the end of walking the labyrinth there. Then during this year's retreat, I saw several, including the one below.
Then last week, as John and I took an evening walk along the millrace, I stopped to take some photos of the milkweed blossoms, just beginning to open.
And lo and behold, there was a monarch caterpillar chowing down, large as life and twice as natural. And then, on our way back, from the other side of the path, I spotted a second one. We left them there, taking only the photo along home. Since then, I've continued to check the milkweed around our house. I've seen monarch butterflies, but so far, no eggs or caterpillars. I'll keep looking.
This icon of Christ hangs on the wall of the chapel at the Hermitage Retreat Center. It caught my eye when I attended a Taize evening prayer service there back in March. This was just after our co-pastor Heidi had been in the hospital for a week, receiving a new cancer treatment. It was not successful and she was suddenly looking much more frail and exhausted than she had before.
In the songs and silence of the Taize service, the awareness of Heidi's illness, the impact on her family, and on our congregation hit me at a new, grief-filled depth. I found comfort in prayers at the foot of the cross, and in gazing on this icon across the room. I hadn't looked closely at it yet, and it was only afterwards that I saw with delight that it is Christ as Light Giver.
Light continued to weave itself through the Opening to Grace retreat last weekend. I told something of the first session yesterday. Saturday was another rich day, with four people having focus sessions. There were many tears and much laughter, struggle, and light, as well as some time to wander in the woods and meadows, enjoying discoveries like this monarch caterpillar feasting on milkweed.
On Sunday morning, I experienced another grace-filled moment of light and shadow. At the end of our last session, we were all standing in a loose circle outside, surrounding the woman who had been working and two people who supported her on either side, and we began singing Prayer of Peace by David Haas.
Each verse follows the same pattern, only the subject changing -- first peace, then love, light, and Christ.
Peace before us, peace behind us, peace under our feet.
Peace within us, peace over us, let all around us be peace.
Like several others there, I know hand motions to this song, and we began doing them. As we sang the verse "Light before us....let all around us be light," I noticed my shadow. The sun was behind me, and my shadow was at my feet, spread before me. There was some space between me and the people to either side, so it was quite distinct and I found myself watching it as we sang and moved, feeling the warmth of the sun on my shoulders.
With the last verse, I stood with my arms wide spread and slightly lifted, turning in a circle as we sang "Let all around us be Christ," ending with my shadow like a chalice shape before me. And I glimpsed an awareness that yes, somehow in Christ both shadow and light are held. Tears and laughter, sorrow and joy, all intermingled.
And I remembered the last time I had sung this song was the Sunday before, at the end of our Pentecost service. During our second hour, we had a recognition of Heidi's pastoral work in our midst and we closed with the dance group leading us in this prayer of peace, another day when tears and laughter, joy and sorrow danced together, held together in the Body of Christ.
( I'd love to include a clip of our dance group, with their colorful scarves, but don't have it in a form to post. There is a youtube clip of another liturgical dance group, with their version of the same song here -- Prayer of Peace starts at 4:47.)
You need to add your imaginative senses to this photo -- the warmth of early summer sun on your skin, the whir of hummingbird-sized dragonflies, the rush of wind sounding like surf in the leafy branches and blowing your hair in your face.
I spent this past weekend at an Opening to Grace retreat led by Tilda Norberg. She is in the area for two weeks teaching a course on healing liturgies at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, with this weekend workshop at the Hermitage in the middle.
Tilda uses and teaches Gestalt Pastoral Care, an approach that is rooted in the Christian ministry of healing, and integrates Gestalt growth work, spiritual companioning and prayer for healing. I just recently completed the Foundational program in GPC, receiving my training from Linda Thomas at Pathways Retreat here in Goshen.
It was an incredibly rich weekend and I can only try to share a few images and moments. I was there as support staff, helping with the cooking and clean up, but we were also able to participate in the sessions, along with six participants who each had an opportunity to work with Tilda in the midst of the gathered ad hoc congregation, four observers/intercessors, and three other support staff.
I connected with two themes that showed up in the work done this weekend. The first dealt with aspects of God's call and gifts of ministry, and how those play out in the dance of relationships with others. The second theme had to do with light.
There was literal light, on leaves and meadows and faces, and metaphorical light, as tears gave way to healing and laughter.
Light played an important role our very first evening and I've received C's permission to tell a little about this. C began her session by speaking out of a gray place of pain and loneliness, and proceeded to work with Tilda's guidance, becoming more aware of and expressing aspects of that pain, and then moving to address it through several Gestalt-style experiments suggested by Tilda.
At a certain point, C was standing, having come to a new awareness of the loving way Jesus looked at her thanks to a faith imagination exercise, and Tilda suggested that she go around the circle, with each of us stepping forward and saying, "I see you, C, and in the name of Christ, I see..." and then adding whatever particulars came to us.
C. started on the other side of the circle from where I was sitting, and one by one someone would step forward, look her in the eyes, and say, "I see you, C, and I see a beautiful child of God." Or whatever affirming truth came to us -- each of us found a different aspect to lift out and speak.
My normal tendency in such situations would be to worry about what I would say and to try to plan something out, but I remained relaxed, unsure of what I'd say, but confident that there would be something. I've been learning to trust this sort of awareness, thanks to my spiritual guidance work and the Gestalt pastoral care training, and I think, in this setting, also thanks to the prayers of the intercessors in our midst.
About two people before me, C had turned so that she was now facing the western windows. It had been a cloudy, drizzly afternoon, but just before sunset the clouds were breaking up and the sunshine came and went, playing across C's face as the wind danced the leafy branches of the trees in the yard.
Then the sun came out fully, and C stood bathed in sunshine. And C noticed. "Look at me! I'm in a spotlight!" She stood for several minutes, soaking it in, her face glowing. From where I was sitting, her face was radiant in the light, her eyes golden, and a line from the psalms kept ringing in my ears: Look to him and be radiant.
It comes in Psalm 34, as I found after searching for it later, and the verses around it fit well:
I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant;
so your faces shall never be ashamed.
I don't remember exactly what I said to C as I stood facing her, but I do know that when I said "I see you, C," I felt I was indeed truly seeing her, seeing deep into her golden soul, full of God's radiance.
I'm behind on this blog because I spent the weekend at an Opening to Grace workshop with Tilda Norberg at the Hermitage in Michigan. I was part of the support staff, providing meal prep and clean up, and participating in the sessions as we were able.
I meant to post before we left for the weekend, but last minute preparations here took longer than expected. So here's a post for last Friday, and more will be coming from the weekend as I continue to receive that experience more fully.
I'm enjoying the sunshine and bright flowers of early summer. I was photographing the flower above and clicked the button just as the bee zoomed in. There's plenty of pesticides still out there in the world, but the bees haven't vanished yet, praise be to God.
Some cheerful flowers for gazing at when life seems gray....
And here is "Thistles, part III." John and I went for our usual evening walk on campus a week ago and discovered this thistle thriving in the middle of the prairie plantings, where several days earlier I had not been able to find any thistles except some stunted and dying ones that appeared to have had some chemical treatment.
I would like to now set aside the analogy of thistles and cancer, because this one gave me delight, seeing it thriving and producing a beautiful bloom, glowing in the evening sunlight, thorns and all. I haven't checked recently to see if it's still there, but for the moment when I took the photo, surrounded by golden coreopsis and gray grasses, it was a lovely sight.
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"
Tesserae: small cube-shaped tiles of ceramic, glass or precious stone used to make a mosaic, or in this case, brief essays on some element of lectio divina with Luke 10:38-42.