Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Final Week of a Sabbatical Year -- Week 52

Good, good, good, good vibrations!
(I'm talking bout excitations!)...
Gotta keep those lovin'
vibrations happening, yeh!

(The Beach Boys)

Vibrancy is vibration.
Rural: earth.
Rest and Renewal: sabbath and play.

y la gente muy amable,
core culture
breathing away
drenched in beauty!

Ready now
for Lily and the children
to grow me slow

Barns beckon.
Empty spaces.
Stories untold.

Adios, y gracias,
muchas, muchas gracias,
Costa Rica y Ticos, all;

and to you,
Ankor of Cambodia,

Now is only

And again.

Week 51: Saint Joseph's Barn (St. Joseph County, MI)

I began barn interviews in earnest this week with Saint Joseph's barn. This centennial barn, built in 1898, began its make-over twenty five years ago. It is the central retreat space for The Hermitage on Dutchsettlement Road, Three Rivers, MI.

David Wenger shared how a "chance" visit to this barn, eleven years ago, resulted in the call to move here from Washington DC. He and his wife Naomi are the co-directors.

"The spiral staircase is at the center of the character of St. Joseph's barn. As I go up and down it daily, cleaning, preparing rooms for guests, it reminds me to 'be still.'"

When David said this in our interview it made no sense to me. The narrow metal spiral is resoundingly loud under my footsteps in a place soaked in silence. I have always been terribly self conscious when walking on it when I am a retreat guest here. Clong! Clong! Clong!

The mystery was resolved on Sunday when the Wengers shared about their ministry in worship. Naomi shared the secret:

"David has practiced going up and down the spiral staircase silently, letting each foot fall gently and soundlessly on the steps. It is a kind of spiritual discipline."

Ah! Yes, now I Such is the invitation of an old barn, an old soul, tending old souls of prayers who come away here -- to space made for God.

One more week of vibrant rural blogging to go as the liturgical and sabbatical year comes to a close.

peace and silence to all.

More on St. Joseph's Barn will be shared at

Week 50: Bristol Fruit Hills "Barn" Rising

After almost twelve month of a “sabbatical year” it is still the rising sun that takes my heart away. As I drive east on County Road 23, it finds me, glowing, rising over what used to be called “the fruit hills” on the east side of State Road 15. In its midst I see rising the skeleton of a barn! What?

Though I am running late for my first meeting of the day, I make a U turn at the intersection of 14 and 15 and go back to find just that angle, just that moment, when the barn – was it a barn? – was illuminated by the golden sun.

Turning around and coming back toward the sun, I ease off the side of the road and put on my emergency blinkers. Camera is on, ready. But now the sun is blazing higher, and my camera lens only makes its rays stream to the forefront of my view. I shoot and shoot through the small branches along the side of the road, zooming in and out, adding and subtracting light, trying to re-capture that moment when the roof beams perfectly held the sun. But now the sun shades the beams. I cannot see them.

Was it a barn? Who would build a barn? It looked like a barn. It was tall, taller than anything on that hilly side. The roof beams were above the crest of the hill. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were an apple barn?

I fantasize and remember the days twenty five years ago when we brought our small boys to pick apples just there, and to taste fresh milled cider. It was always one of the most delightful days of fall.

That was before growers were afraid of the liability dangers of ladders in apple trees. That was before apple blight robbed the harvest. That was before plastic bags of apples from Washington state or China were so much cheaper than Indiana and Michigan apples and “wise consumers” bought apples only at large supermarkets and no longer family orchards and roadside stands. That was before apple trees were left un-pruned and the weeds grew up around them. That was before apple barns were taken down so that new housing could be built. That was before State Road 15 needed to become wider, with turn lanes, for the new homeowners to reach their new homes.

I took my camera and its photos and sped to my meeting, leaving barn dreams behind.

Mid-afternoon I came home on State Road 15 and pulled off the side of the road across from the “barn.” I got a better look at the structure of the open wooden beams. Is it a barn? Wouldn’t it be exciting if it were a barn? Would one of the big home owners be building a barn? Why?

I pulled out and turned left on the nearest side road to try for another view. Turned in the drive where the home construction company had its sign. Saw the green security gate that would not let me near this – home.

All illusions now gone, I realized this huge home fit perfectly into the “neighborhood.” HUGE home. Larger than a barn. With beams just as tall, but maybe not just as strong.

Why am I captivated by barns, willing them into the sunrise?

When on earth on fertile fields did homes stand taller and larger than barns? And what were these homes to hold? Feed? Living things? Well, maybe a few humans. And why must they cut the apple trees down and plant the trees they think should live here around here.

Judson's Apple Stand is still on State Road 15, on the opposite side of the barn that is no barn. I have never stopped there. I should.

Week 49: Soul & Soil Creates Hilde-Garden

Harvest! Mary Grace, Karla and Donna

Karla Kauffman bought a farm. E-I-E-I-O! And on that big centenniel farm...she decided to grow people. So she invited women in ministry to come for one morning a month for a retreat called Soul and Soil...

...and to cultivate a Hilde-Garden. A what?

For the last nine months a group of six women have gathered on the third Thursday to follow the Benedictine rhythm of study, prayer, work and a common meal. Karla was inspired by the writing of Hildegaard of Bingen.

Hildegaard (1098-1179) was a medieval woman of many talents: Benedictine abbess, theologigan, visionary, poet, composer, gardener, chef, healer. Karla opened to us her visions and the artistry that portrays them. Alongside we studied the contemporary mystic, Gunilla Norris, and read her book, A Mystic Garden. And we took a close look at soil.

After study, silence. Ah!

After silence, garden work. Creating a Hilde-Garden by following her lists of recommended plants. Well, easier said than done.

#1 This was a brand new garden. Yikes! Where do we begin?
#2 Weeds needed removing, an old wall rebuilding, and soil improving.
#3 And how do you find medieval European herbs in 21st century Michigan?

With rosie cheeks we proceeded. Weeds, be gone! Plants were found. A lovely new rock retention wall was grounded.

That first Thursday in April we were rewarded with butternut winter squash souffle, a salad of early nettle greens and dandelion flowers, and dessert of wintered over apples. Ah! beauty, food, fellowship after study, silence, sweat, sweetness, and smooth earth ready for plants and seeds.

So, here we were today, on a rainy October day, seven months later. We pondered Hildegaard's vision of the circles of heavenly beings, drawing all creation toward celebration and justice. We paused in silence and conversation and ponder Hildegaard's words:

Everything that is in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, is penetrated with relatedness. (Hildegaard of Bingen, Skiveas)

October Harvets! Parsley, sage, borage (for courage...but what do you do with borage?), onions,some last beans and green tomatoes.

For lunch, after an appetizer of butternut squash soup with carmelized sage, we had fried green tomatoes with cranberry and walnut muffins and fresh Honey Crisp apples.

As we left this season of retreats and gardening together, Karla brought a basket full of Hilde-garden butternut squash up from the basement of her old farm house to share with us. I took a sprig of sage to carmelize as well.

Maple Tree Meadows, Karla's farm, has been growing people, me, these last months. Before and after sabbatical trips to Costa Rica, these times kept my hands in Michigan soil. We marked the seasons in earth, herbs, and good eating. At at harvest time, we remember abundance:

We do not bear fruit for ourselves. We bear fruit for lfe itself.(Gunilla Norris, A Mystic Garden)

Now, entering a fallow time, we await the return of perennials and new seeds and sproutings.

Thanks to Soil and Soul-Mates Karla, Kathy, Mary Grace, Becky, and Donna.

Week 48: First Barn begins to speak

On Sunday afternoon, October 24, I did my first "barn tour." I made a handout to introduce myself. I had my camera. I had the map provided by Glenn that would help me find some of the barns that his grandfather, George Scherck, had built in the 30's and 40's. The hunt began.

I found a barn on Lutz Road right away. Strong. Newly sided and roofed. And standing alone. This is surely a George Scherck barn with its hip roof, tall.

Hmmmm.... No house on that lot, so I crossed the street to tap on the door. No answer. (This no answer pattern was repeated for most of the day.)

So I left my handout in the door and took a very few photos, and headed on, in each case.

On the corner of Sevison one block from the church, the homeowner was home. So I had the privilege of taking my time walking around and taking photos. What a joy!

But best of all was the last barn of the day, on the Constantine Road near where the bridge crosses over the river. The owner was out by the barn.

Rod was a gracious host. He told me what he knew of the history of the George Scherck barn and the other buildings, walking around in each one. He even called his thirty cats to come to dinner just so I could enjoy the rush of all of them scrambling around my legs to their special "cat room" in the barn, complete with a tiger striped throw on the cat couch!

And I looked, wondered and gathered beauty in my little camera.

The leaves were still orange and gold above the corn stubble. The barns each had their high hip roof glory. But to talk to Rod, to begin the Story Barn, was best of all.

I sense that the year ahead will be an adventure in homegrown history, old timbers, and cats. What could be better.

I promised Rod I would come back for more.

Week 47: "Country Roads, Take Me Home"

I left on Saturday, October 16th, for the twelve plus hours drive to North Carolina. My dad had emergency surgery. He had a dire infection. It was a long ride.

As I drove I listened to Neena Ellis' interviews of centenarians from her book "If I live to be 100." What incredible people! And what was becoming of my Dad this very day?

How gratefully I listened to the end of her reading on my return trip on Friday, October 22nd. After a painful and complicated week of recovery for my father, he was finally starting to feel better. He said, "Well, after my near death experience, I think I can buy a new car." So I could return home in peace and gratitude for the 85 years of his life and his strong heart and spirit. His new life all over again.

As I neared Indiana I loved route 177. I heads out just north of Cincinnati going northwest to Richmond, IN through large, open fields. Most of the corn and soybeans had been harvested. But I did see one combine kicking up dust into the late day sunlight.

And I felt so at home. Open roads. Farms. Old barns. Autumn dusky glow in the sky and across the fields. Vibrant rural beauty to heal the soul.

Week 46: More Barns

Barn encounters are coming my way.

I took the photo above at Art in the Barn, a show in the old barn at Hoke Farm, Goshen. My daughter-in-law had four drawings displayed. The old barn had been modestly remade as the perfect gallery. I loved it. More on that another time...

But even more I love my encounter with another barn lover on Saturday morning at 11:46 am, by the pomegranates in Kroger in Goshen.

A man beside me asked, "What do you do with those things?"

"Salsa," I said.

"Salsa! I am 92 years old! We never had salsa."

"...Do you know what salsa is?" I asked respectfully.

"Of course I do. My grandchildren tell me about these things."

This evolved into a long, long conversation where I learned that he had farmed, lived in Florida, driven RV's, and in that job, brought back such strange fruits as pomegranates. It was clear that we could have stood by those pomegranates talking for a long time.

With my barn project in mind, I asked, "Where was your farm?"

"In Florence township." (That's where my church, Florence Church of the Brethren Mennonite, is!)

"Where?" I exclaimed.

"On Banker Road."


"Banker and Engle." (Really!)

"That's right by my church, the church where I am a pastor."

At this his hardness of hearing seemed to kick in. "What?" Putting together a woman pastor, Florence township, and the church he knew as Brethren was a stretch.

Well, when all was said and done, a good thirty or forty minutes later, I had learned that he was the first seed corn farmer in Florence township, that he knew many at Florence Church, and that he loved to talk and tell stories.

We exchanged business cards. Yes, this 92 year old has business cards in his wallet. I promised, with great joy, to call him so that we could talk more about barns and farming in St. Joseph County.

"Why are you doing this barn project?" he asked.

"Well, I'm an urban girl who is now a rural pastor. I want to learn about farming and its history around the church."

"Where were you born," he asked.


He smiled and shook his head. "You have a lot to learn!"