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!"

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Week 45: Barns

I am percolating a project. I want to hear the stories of local barns. Barns as icons. Barns as embodying the changing culture and legacy of farms and farming.

As an urban pastor in rural ministry, part of my draw to barns is that I know nearly nothing about them, really. Yet, somehow, I love them.

But, true confessions: everything I know about barns I learned in kindergarten.

Old McDonald had a farm – and it was a barn, the farm was.

In the barn were cows and calves, pigs and piglets, horses and colts, hens and roosters and chicks, sheep and lambs, etc., I suppose each in their adjacent stalls. And why? I don’t know, just because animals are nice and warm and fun and make great noises? (The connection between animals in a barn and raising food was never made.)

And Jesus was born in a barn.

And in that dark barn far away there also was a cow, a sheep, a dove, an ox, and a lamb, all co-existing and making soothing noises for a baby to sleep by.

Growing up I never knew a farmer or went in a barn. There was an old structure behind our “old house” (when I was a small child), that I called a barn. And I imagined having my own horse in it. But I have no memory of ever going in this structure. It stood old and empty and longing.

My cousins old, old house in Germantown (Philadelphia) had been the barn where, they said, George Washington's horse slept. But I never, never, pictured it in any way as a barn. That was just a quaint thing to say, I guess.

In college I had a chance to connect with a barn. The first farmer I knew was a Mennonite farmer’s son I met when I was twenty. After his father’s death their Lancaster, PA farm was being auctioned off after seven generations of family farming. He grieved in a way I could not feel. I never saw the barn.

And now? I now have friends who have all kinds of barns.
 A centennial barn that stands empty but for storing the yacht of a friend.
 Huge pole barns that house huge equipment for seed corn farming.
 A small pole barn on an organic market farm that houses a few sheep and cattle.
 Two barns that have been re-constructed as homes, and another as a retreat center.
 One small white barn that was sold recently to a young Amish family.
 One old, dark barn that hosted a dance once, but I had too much fun dancing and never really looked around.

I have not explored barns. I don’t know what they are used for – really. I don’t know the kinds. Or how they are built. I don’t know what it takes to keep an old barn alive.

I don’t know why I love barns. Why my heart goes out to barns. Why they comfort me, even the old falling down ones, as they stand on the corn field across my long driving view. Why they draw my eye.

I ponder such American icons -- wondering if barns are sanctuaries of the land, like country churches are sanctuaries for the people.
I wonder if we know, deep down in our collective earthling consciousness that such shelter is necessary, such honoring essential, for our survival on the land and with the animals. I wonder if barns stand in the gap between the wild, wild world and our domesticated allusion of everlasting abundance, the cultivation of crops, of our daily bread.

Barns seem to me shelters of the presence of God on field horizons, keeping us safe in storms and fed in the cold, holding a warm place between heaven and earth.

And it appears that barns are dying.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Week 44: Migration and Immigration

Migration and Immigration. How can one thrill the heart and the other weigh down the soul?

My eye is drawn daily to light and wings. At dawn a small flock of sandhill cranes pecks about a harvested corn field, backlit by rays of heaven, streaming and raising steam. At dusk dark shadows of flocks line up the length of power lines, facing the setting sun. Is this their form of prayer? These changes in time and season, in flying from one home to the next and back again, evoke wonder.

Changes of immigration law evoke dread. My friend, Gwen, described walking through the desert where many immigrants cross from Mexico to Arizona.

"There is nothing simple about immigration as it stands in these days. From a legal point of view there are no easy answers at all. But I am responsible for God's point of view. And there is only one answer in scripture for the stranger and the neighbor. That answer is welcome and respect."

If laws pass that make it a crime to aid immigrants without legal documentation, then our whole congregation could be sent to jail. Maybe that would be a good thing. Thirty eight states are considering such lawas. But hopefully another way through the wilderness will be found.

This coming week includes Worldwide Communion Sunday. If only the communion could be honest and equal between the communions of Mexico and the United States, between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, between Uganda and DR Congo, that would indeed be a miracle. Until then, the Mexicans and Costa Ricans, and Africans and African Americans and Native Americans (and German, Irish, English, Finnish, French and Swiss Americans) in our little communion seeks to grow in joy and justice.

The birds may lift my heart. But it is brothers and sisters I need to lift my soul. The flock of One God of All.

Week 43: Rural Prisons and Hope

One measure of vibrancy is "passion for life." This fall our congregation is looking for signs of this passion within and around us.

Mark offered to share his passion with us. He is a member of a Florence family. And he is in prison.

But his imagination is not.

Through words, collages, drawings, and selected music, he gave us a whole new picture of what hope looks like for him, from behind bars.

Here are his words:

Passionate Light

To me passion is priceless. Paid for by living life. I was in prison -- so I never paid to go see passion of the Christ. True passion is always right. Fueled with white light. Which we can only visualize -- through holding our hopes tight.

My passion probably came to me through infinite veins. Long before my soul took hold. Long before I became a name. While in the womb hearing the rain. Internal patterns linked like chains.

Our passion often gets cut down to limited lover’s tales. The excuse for such things as Jarreds, De Beers, and Zales. True passion can fill sails. And free mental ships from docks. Trust me -- it’s been my passion, for life -- while I’ve been locked, that keeps me creating my happiness -- with the limited tools I’ve got.

True passion never announces itself. Instead you find it there. In the part of your true being -- that is as delicate as air. .

My passion

In the last five years I have learned that prison is very much part of the reality of rural life in the counties around Florence Church. So much humanity, locked up and hidden away. I have much to learn about the power of imagination that sustains and stretches hearts and minds behind bars, but toward a future of vibrant possibilities.

Week 42: Villa-Miller Farm Meeting

More than sisty farmers gathered at Villa Miller, the seed corn and soy bean farm of Martha and Henry Miller. They were there to hear about land conservancy for farm acreage. I saw a small handful that looked under fifty. What will happen to all the acres in soy beans and corn in the next twenty years. Henry fielded many questions about strip farming -- including other crops in alternate rows and allowing him to drill in his seed without disking the field.

The sense of vibrancy was well grounded. While options for certification of ecologial farm compliace was explained by the young extension service worker, the room was quiet.

Most of the evening was a new foreign language for me. I learned more, as usual, through pictures. I never knew that different parts of the root systems of the corn plant grew at different temperatures.

(Maybe this is why my vegetables never grow well in the pots on my back deck. Hmmmm...the earth gets warm quite quickly.)

As the setting sun glinted off Henry's massive machinery, farmers scattered, and then talked in twos and threes among the trucks and tractors. I would have loved to eavesdrop.

What does the farm world look like to these professional farmers who manaage worlds of mathematics and machinery to produce more per acre than has ever been produced before. What is the future of this kind of wisdom and skill in soil care?

When I asked a pastor/farmer what he thought the future of these farms would be he said,
"Oh, the big companies will buy all these corn and soy bean operations up and run them."

What might that look like? Who will tend Henry's well cultivated land?

Monday, September 6, 2010

WEEK 41: Water, Bread, & Wine (with room for ice cream for dessert)

Our Well Endowed Aunt Lilly provided for us – all fifty of us – a weekend of vibrancy.

Amigo Centre, our friend, was our host:
What is this place where we are meeting,
only a house, the earth its floor.
Walls and a roof sheltering people,
windows for light, an open door.
Yet it becomes a body that lives
when we are gathered here
and know our God is near.*

We had our own rooms, private baths, abundant food and hot coffee, blue lake, crisp air and clear sky. There were long trails through the marsh lined with marsh marigold and fringed gentian and visited by deer. We ventured in canoes and sailboats on the water, on nature walks and treasure hunts in the morning, conversing in the “passion booth” at noon, and reveling in popcorn, Karaoke, dancing and games in the night.

Time comes to a fullness.

When Suzanne led us in worship on Sunday morning it was to gaze out on the forest and the lake beyond as we sang “What is this place.” We breathed new air. We became a new body.

A body of Vibrant Life, given by amazing grace, we walked down to the lakeside for a baptism. We sang and danced the old Shaker tune, “’Tis a gift to be simple,” bowing to one another and to God in our circle of friendship and faith. Water gathered from the lake poured new life over Nora. And, “baptized into ordination for ministry” as the Church of the Brethren understands this rite, Nora served us the bread and wine of the living Christ.

Here we accept bread at his table,
broken and blessed, a living sign.
Here in this world, dying and living,
we are each other’s bread and wine.
This is the place where we can receive
what we need to increase
God’s justice and God’s peace.*

*“Here in this place” by Huub Oosterhuis
Dayenu! This would have been enough! But David suggested that we end our time with dessert at Ice Cream Heaven, the famous Nottawa Sand Lake Party Store – on Aunt Lilly. So we filled the place with a long line, more conversation, and piles of ice cream that dwarfed the cones.

David says, “Food is God’s love made physical.” What a sign of abundant love, that after two nights and most of three days together, huge brunch and dinner meals, lots of laughing, walking and playing together, we still had room for dessert!

Yes, the Commonwealth of God is like a Great Banquet,with room for dessert…AMEN!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Week 40: Vibrant -- "Lit up from within"

The text this Sunday was the Burning Bush (Exodus 3). On my drive to church I was struck at dawn by glory rays streaming through the clouds and trees over Constantine. I wondered, ”Did Moses catch this power surge as sun ran riot through a desert shrub? Would it be a less glorious appearance of God?”

“And, what is it that lit up Moses face, striking awe among desert congregation?”

“This ‘vibrant’ I am seeking in church and community. What is it, really?”

In Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor describes the Presence of God as being lit up from within.

As hard as I have tried to remember the exact moment when I fell in love with God, I cannot do it. My earliest memories are bathed in a kind of golden light that seemed to embrace me as surely as my mother’s arms. The Divine Presence was strongest outdoors, and most palpable when I was alone. When I think of my first cathedral, I am back in a field behind my parent’s house in Kansas, with every stalk of prairie grass lit up from within. …Because I was not brought up in church, I had no religious language for what happened in that gold-lit field…Day by day, the practical implication of this feeling of communion was that I could not walk by a hurt thing without hurting too.
(Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church (pp. 22, 23, 25)

She sees the light as well when it emanates from God’s human creatures. She describes her husband after a Sun Dance ceremony:

His face leaked light, as if every ray of sun that had landed on him that week had seeded his pores. Ed shone, and when he looked at me I felt the beam hit me in the chest across fifty feet of wet pasture.

These experiences left Barbara often in the dark at church in her role as priest. And it is a story I also heard, and felt for myself, in my own brief Exodus from church in Costa Rica. I only met one person there, Armando, my Spanish Intensive teacher, who was lit up by church. On the other hand, I saw light streaming from folks who had left the church behind, or on the side of their main stay of tending land, building community, and growing and eating good food.

How is God sparking up?

It seems in the USA we go to extremes to find the “lightning bolt” that has fallen into memory.

This week 40,000 people will go into the extreme environment of the desert of Nevada for Burning Man, to create a city of creativity and community, self expression and self reliance, no holds barred and no harm done, into be “lit up from within.”

This Sunday at Florence Church of the Brethren Mennonite we entered the old God story in the old way. Thirty five of us came to hear and imagine Moses’ conversation with the “I AM” from the burning bush. We took off our shoes in the presence of God, and we stooped low to wash one another’s feet. Then we were “lit up from within” as we recalled our own holy moments.

Martha recalled arriving in Cuba for a women’s conference, walking through the mud, and being met in the middle of the night by the women of the church who washed their feet. Tears flowed.

Fridbert remembered climbing as high as he could in trees when he was a boy, to be alone, to sway in the wind, to watch all the littleness below. “Sometimes we don’t know until later that we are having a God moment. When I was in those trees I did not know. Now I see.”

Jane and Nora and Dallie and Mary said living bare foot was their way of life. And I remembered that it was my mother’s way as well.

Don reminded us that our feet ground us in holy earth, as much or more than holy heaven.

So, I am not leaving church. I am longing for sparks, both within and out. It is conversations with God and the God World that light me up from within.

Then even a dust mote in the light sparks glory.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Week 39: Lovely Michiana

Home of the Wenger Family at the Hermitage

A day of prayer at the Hermitage (Dutch Settlement Road, Three Rivers) was settling to my soul. The beauty of this place -- roll of hills, waves of grass, silence, but for the wind -- is both familiar and new.

Now I have a whole new set of questions to ask of my native geography.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot -- "Little Gidding"
(The last of Four Quartets)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Week 38: Wildly Vibrant! (Is that a good thing?)

I am a bit unglued.

I have lived "geographically challenged" for the last nine years, since moving to our four acres on County Road 23. Before that time, for the first almost fifty years of my life, I lived in cities: Philadelphia, PA; Grand Rapids, MI; Elkhart, IN. But I still don't FEEL like a belong on CR 23, still don't know my neighbors, still feel like a rural visitor.

Add upon this layer a year of travels to cities and rural areas from Paraguay to Cambodia to Costa Rica and back, and it leaves a lot of sorting to do.

Where DO I live? How vibrant is my life and the life around me? And what invitations have come to me in this sabbatical year? As a part-time pastor, I have some time and energy to spare, to sow. I am "planted" in Bristol, IN and in my Florence parish. Where will I bloom?

(And I realize this can sound like the question of "the little rich girl." Even asking the question is a luxury. An ego indulgence.)

So, you are getting the feeling. This wave of sabbatical re-entry is bouncing me around. Therefore, on Tuesday after spiritual direction, I needed some steadying. So I went walking along the millrace in Goshen.

(1) Sadly, there was no water in the millrace.

(2) There was a new "underpass" for walkers and bikers, dipping under Plymouth Avenue by Shanklin Park. Cool! But that's why the water had been dried.

(3) With camera in hand, I got caught. Flowers, bugs and butterflies became, once more, my visual meditation.

I stopped.

I centered.

I looked and

I delighted in WILD VIBRANCY!

(4) Then I was drawn into the Reith Interpretive Center by the pathway to find a fabulous community resource for learning about and stewarding the natural world.


I found out what I had fallen in love, like the cabbage white butterfly, with. PURPLE LOOSESTRIFE. There was a large poster with the same gorgeous blooms the butterfly and I had just adored. And here is what I found out:

Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), a beautiful but aggressive invader, arrived in eastern North America in the early 1800’s. Plants were brought to North America by settlers for their flower gardens, and seeds were present in the ballast holds of European ships that used soil to weigh down the vessels for stability on the ocean. Since it was introduced, purple loosestrife has spread westward and can be found across much of Canada and the United States….

However, when purple loosestrife gets a foothold, the habitat where fish and wildlife feed, seek shelter, reproduce and rear young, quickly becomes choked under a sea of purple flowers. Areas where wild rice grows and is harvested, and where fish spawn, are degraded. An estimated 190,000 hectares of wetlands, marshes, pastures and riparian meadows are affected in North America each year, with an economic impact of millions of dollars.


This reminded me of a story I heard my last day in Costa Rica. While purchasing a batik card of my favorite bird, the blue crested motmot, also known as the BOBO, the collector at Galeria Namu in San Jose told me this story:

In the villages it is said that the Bobo entices people. We are attracted to its beauty, its colorful feathers, and as it sits perched nearby, we creep closer to catch it and make it our own. But then, as we near, it flies just a bit further on, into the woods. And of course, we pursue. We have come so near! But again it moves, and we follow. We follow and follow, deeper and deeper into the woods. And then the Bobo disappears. And we are lost! Trickster, Bobo! You lead us into these depths only to make us lost!

"But," said the collector, "isn't it interesting how we blame the Bobo, when all the time it was human greed that was in pursuit, trying to capture the beauty of the wild?"

I am on alert. While I consider new decisions, I may be deceived. Ego may lead me to love the Bobo or the Loosestrife. But either of these may be false lovers. Seeking Wisdom, I am humbled on the Way.

That is a good thing.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Week 37: Remembering Tico Tenderness

Muy amable...

There is not any English equivalent.
The soul, la alma de la gente, of the people, of Costa Rica

very very...

Emjoying life.
Quick to laugh and smile.
Loving all babies and little ones.
Gentle in time.
Flourishing in the beauty of land, birds, flowers
and the arts.
Feeding body and soul
on rice and bean,
mango and papaya,
coffee and milk and fresh squeezed orange juice,
and later,
Imperial beer and or sugar cane moonshine.

Look into the eyes of Zelmira Leiton,
sister of my host father.
She has filled the walls
of Mar Inn in Santa Elena
with her blazing paintings of parrots and palms,
waterfalls and cloud covered mountainsides.
She makes a special cafecito for us as a gift
with empanadas and delicate fried pastries
drizzled with the sweet syrup of local sugar cane
to savor with the conversation and laughter
along with our cafe con leche.

Look into the face of Geovanny, her husband,
who calls for the doctor
immediately when Caitlin fell ill.
The Spanish and English speaking Chinese doctor
appears for his housecall at Mar Inn,
and Geovanny insists on driving me immediately
to the pharmacy
in the rain
to fetch the medications.
In one hour, we have had
the call,
the doctor,
the prescription
and the meds,
thanks to the attentive care
of Geovanny and Zelmira.

to our dear ones
our hosts, our new family
in the Monteverde region of Costa Rica
who tended us in their home, their bed and breakfast
in our first week,
making their home our own.

Muy amable. Si!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Week 36: Montezuma Pacific Beach

Sea meets land.
Crabs emerge on rock tops,
appearing from nowhere as the tide
crawls higher on the crushed shell sands.

Montezuma, Costa Rica, beach hangout
of aging hippies and street artists
and the touristically employed,
at the end of the potholy road
across the southern Nicoya Peninsula,

welcomes us
more as friends
than guests or tour-

One more vibrant, rural, creative
community of servants,
waits upon us with massages
offering bananas from the trees,
feasts from the sea
and rum from the islands.

The constant mumbling of the sea rises and
lingers in the rain forest above us, day
and night, rain
and sun, as the limping old man
with the full matted
beard and orange
painted chest
hangs on the streets, night
and day, drunkenly
prophesying the cosmic meeting
of mystics here, on this straggly street
past bars, souvenirs and tour desks
to the ocean.

Howlers monkeys, mono congo, hoot, unseen.
A family of white faced monkeys groom one another
while lounging on a limb over the swimming pool.

A gawdy blue magpie jay -- crown topped transvestite cousin
of our blue jay at home --
pierces an orange hole
in a ripe papaya high above my hammock,
followed by a twosome of yellow and brown toucan-like aracas,
a threesome of brown backed and flecked breasted woodcreepers,
and a foursome of orange, brown and white rimmed butterflies
waiting below on banana leaves.
All together open the papaya menu
over two days,
in four courses
right before my eyes, my nose

At midnight when we are supposed to be sleeping bats
scramble and squeak in the walls of our rooms
after swooping for insects
after sundown at Hotel El Jardin.

Even the walls
are alive!

A week at this hang out,
feasting and grooming,
lazing and basking,
soaks our souls with
air (moist kisses),
wind (monkey howled),
water (wave broken),
and fire (sun-ripe mango):

The gifts of God for the people --
and all creatures --
of God.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Week 35: Monteverde Cloud Forest

Each tree, a living,
breathing, water
collecting, fecund,
vibrant rural

It is not raining in this cloud forest.

Moist clouds above us all
channel strokes
of morning light
striking bright flashing
tones on each
bead, condensed

I am guided and gifted.

In silent Quaker meeting
three bell birds call from tree peaks
and ring our inner ears
to an echoed awake!

Week 34: Costa Rica with Family

Our Well Endowned Aunt Lilly (AKA Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Grant) provided a once in a life time vacation -- for me a return trip of two more weeks in Costa Rica.

Daniel and Kristin flew home from Cambodia. Drew and Caitlin packed up two month old little Lily. And Donald and Rachel and I closed up the house.

We were fed, led, and befriended by all for two weeks as we traveled from Alajuela to Monteverde to Montezuma and San Jose. Many meals and miles later, we have only begun to soak in the rich beauty and hospitality of Pura Vida Land.

Gracias a Dios for abundant, abundant grace!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Week 33: Canoeing the Fawn River

Saturday morning.
Down by the river.
Descend the bank.
Drag the canoe.
Don't slip
and fall in the mud.
Step in
the center of the canoe.







The grasses above
eye level

The river
out of sight
and into new

vistas. The bright
green of willows
breathes under
the call of blackbird,
the swoop of swallow,
sand hill cranes
standing like statues,
fat black snake
coiled in a snag,
the flight of the broad
winged blue heron.
of the bald eagle.

Other canoes
come and go
rounding the bends
in pilgrimage:
twenty seven souls.

Splashing. Racing. Pirating. Sweating. Sweet. Swim. Water

and ripples around
the paddle and under
the bow. Friends
discover together-
ness on the river
hidden away
from roads

in God's grandeaur.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Week 32: Camp as Community

On they list 25 camps within 50 miles of my home.

In this beautiful wooded and lake filled area of Michiana, that means that 25 little vibrant rural communities are created at these camps, all around me, week after week. Camps like Friedenswald and Amigo provide employment for many young people, summer romances, Christian or athletic or artistic or health related formation for counselors and campers.

This summer three young adults from our congregation have worked as counselors and three additional campers have attended. The program director of Amigo Centre, Jason Lichti, and his family of four live at camp. That means that a quarter of my congregation are part of campers communities at Amigo this summer.

I visited Amigo last week and had “pirate lunch” with Rose and Jesse (pictured), Emily and Margaret. I got to join in the Super Man grace:
“Thank you God, for giving us food!”
(raise right hand in fist and sing to Super Man theme, etc.)
We ate fish sticks the shape of fish, friend shrimp and fries with lots of catsup, veggie soup, salad (well, some of us did) and blue jello and coconut inside for dessert.

Table talk moved with lightning speed from favorite camp activities (swimming, free time, arts and crafts, singing) to favorite sports teams, to...
...why Jesus wouldn’t be happy when we say,
“I don’t like the baseball player Ordonez because he is Spanish.”

Before the counselors, Emily and Ryan, scraped and stacked all the plates, and each camper picked what to carry to the kitchen, Jesse informed me that I HAD to drink two full glasses of water. “We ALL do,” he said. He was being sure to acculturate me!

At the end of the meal all those who were on “mail call” at lunch, having received a loyal letter from some parent and gramma, had to join in a circle and sing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” (oh yes, with the actions) before they could get their precious posted items.

I had forgotten how fun this is!

The rituals of camp, passed on from generation to generation, resonate with rituals in many cultures. In the “wild” we are more vulnerable. We have to work together. We are home sick, at least a bit. And we can created community, with all its little picky annoyances and all its delightful discoveries – for one week. What a great experiment in living!

Donald and I took a group of elementary school kids tenting when we were young adults. In the middle of the night, the apple orchard in the valley where we were was rocked by a fierce lightning and thunder storm. The sides of the tents when WOOMPA, WOOMPA WOOMPA as the pounding wind and waffled them. We called from the girls tent to the boys tent:
“What should we do? Should we run for the farm house?”

In the end we prayed the storm out. It was an act of faith and solidarity. Yes, it was on a small, but a very real scale. The memory is vibrant within me to this day.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Week 31: Powerless

It took my husband Donald and I until this evening to correctly identify the name of this tree that fell on our roof in a storm a full week ago. We looked in the tree book and I was surprized to find pressed leaves from page to page. Eight years ago, when we bought this property that is now our home, I had pledged to learn all the names of the trees on the four acres. I wanted to “know” them in order to better love them. That has not happened.

And now, Donald is finally able to determine that the tree that was felled in the wind was a black ash. He is thankful. All the hours and hours of labor he has spent in cutting off limbs, sawing through the middle of the trunk, and cutting woodstove length logs and stacking them will indeed yield warmth. The books says that ash burns very well.

After the seond tornado like storm in one week, we were out of power for 36 hours – 24 of which I was away. In addition to wielding the chain saw for hours, Donald had to throw away all the food in our frig. And our ability to communicate was cut off as well while our land line did not work and cell phones lost their charge. And, of course, there was no internet.

Ironically, I think, last week I began taking a “technology Sabbath” on Mondays – using only the land line phone and no other electronics for 24 hours. That felt good, centering, the two Mondays I tried it. This storm and our loss of trees and power, on the other hand, felt out of control, stressful, and anxiety producing – let alone the ton of extra work it made for Donald.

The swaying grace of green tall (if largely nameless) trees that surround our house has been a gift, a refuge, a shield from sun and sound. But this week the vibrancy of the air, the breath exchanged between humans and trees, stirred to violence. This is humbling. I think it is good. Trees, too, are mortal. And acts of God remind us of our puny power.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Week 30: Little Communions

A green halo deepens over eyes that meet: in communion,
Divine Presence.

(Photo: Rachel Lanctot and her niece, Lily Lanctot)

At the close of a week I ask for memories to bubble up vibrantly. Arising from last week is a series of images of ordinary conversations that became communion.

Tacos and Fresh Strawberries (from Bullard’s Market) shared with Donald and Rachel at our home in Bristol, IN: entering Sabbath Rest.

Little Caesar’s Pizza and Pepsi picked up to share with Drew, Caitlin and Lily, Donald and Rachel, at Drew’s home in Goshen, IN: seeing eye to eye with the waking wonder of Lily.

Morning Fair Trade Coffee and Leftover Danish shared with Rob and Kirstin Vender Giessen Reitsma in their apartment above World Fare, Three Rivers, MI: dreaming of *cino Menno Reformed voluntary service and gardens in the city.


“The Naked Now” and Evening Prayer shared with David and Naomi Wenger at the Hermitage on Dutchsettlement Road, Three Rivers, MI: centering in the stillness as Jesus joins silence.

World Cup on the big screen and late afternoon Coke shared with Fridbert August at the seminary in Elkhart, IN: fostering Brazilian American fondness for our friends at Florence.

Shrimp Salad and Garden Tea (from behind our house) shared with Kay Bontrager Singer on my screened porch, Bristol, IN: satisfying the soul: prayer partners.

A Veggie Medley and Sweet Cherries (from Goshen Farmers’ Market) shared with the Lichti’s and Fenton-Millers on the Amigo pontoon boat, Chapin Lake, Sturgis, MI: delighting in cranes, swimming over muck, and Enneagram shadows: ah! twilight!

Mary/Martha and the Potter’s Clay, enacted and shared with Florence Church of the Brethren Mennonite, Constantine, MI: “becoming again the work of Your hands.”

This week the Host of Vibrant Communions prepared tables before me in a thirty mile radius around Florence Church. I was privileged to drive from one feast to the next. Food, earthy or fast, became fair, with hearts nibbling together at each other in serious delight.

A green halo
over eyes
that meet:
in communion,


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Week 29: Futbol!

The Saturday before the World Cup began I stand on the sidelines to watch Todd Shelly score the winning goal for his travel soccer team in Portage, MI.

Kathy and I find the game at the Portage Soccer Club, about 25 miles from Todd's home in Marcellus, and almost at the end of nine nearly new pitches. It is the only game going that cloudy Saturday afternoon. Todd's parents, Kim and Mark, are well prepared with soccer chairs and umbrellas. And Todd’s team is a joy to watch, the thirteen year old boys to young men, some seeming twice the height of others, passed the ball beautifully to one another. On a corner kick near the end of the game, Todd, a defenseman, backs up his forwards and stops a ball the opposing team ricocheted twenty yards back away from the net. Todd turns and kicks in one motion. GOOOOOOAAAAALLLLLL!

And I ponder...Soccer: a rural/global game.

Images over the last months –

We walk down a dusty path away from one of the ancient temples of Cambodia and by a small village. A group of men, young to old, were kicking the ball from one end of a small dirt field to the other. They turn to look at these foreigners watching their end of the day game. They smile. A naked toddler walks into a garden adjoining the soccer yard. My son greets an old man in Khmer. We smile. The game goes on.

We mourn the death of Bryan, captain of the Marcellus High School soccer team. It was his team jersey that helped the police to identify him. In this little Michigan village, no one is left untouched by this athlete, dying young. We remember the grace of his movement, his passion to play better, harder.

I walk home from the Christian Church (evangelical/Pentecostal) of La Flor, Costa Rica, the third Sunday of Lent. It is noon. The fog has settled in. I cannot see more than twenty yards in front of my face. There are no more mountains. But two local futbol teams are gathering on the field across from the Catholic church. I can barely see the goal from the road above the field. As I eat the noon meal at Finca la Flor I hear shouts and horns from the game, the sound coming clearly through the fog. How can they play without seeing?

It is the first weekend of Semana Santa – Holy Week. The local junta (village leaders) for San Luis, Costa Rica, has been planning a weekend fund raiser for months that will include food, dancing, electric bull riding and a soccer tournament on Sunday. Only in the last two weeks did they realize that this soccer tournament on the perfectly groomed and green field (in a dry, dry land) right next to the church, would take place on Palm Sunday. San Luis is the champion of the area teams. On Palm Sunday they lost, but the fun on the sidelines did not seem dimmed. The church was empty by then.

The following wMonday Geovanny, my host dad, and his thirteen year old son, Danny, join the area men up the mountain at Finca la Catarata. They drink Aguilas and watch Saprisa play Alajuela on the TV. The elevation there allows reception. The game is replayed over rice and beans and fresh tortillas for breakfast on Tuesday.

We fly in a twenty seat plane low over the hills and mountains of southwestern Costa Rica. The roads wind and twist through valleys, over mountains, amid villages. There are small farms scattered, coffee trees on terraces. There may be twenty farms in any one view, but in each nook there is a bright green futbol field next to the church at the center of the village.

Back home in Michigan, Millers and Nofsingers have ESPN so there will be open doors for watching the World Cup together. Ian works on an independent study: sixteen radio programs that will preview the World Cup on the Goshen College radio station. We anticipate a great excuse to get together, driving as much as thirty miles to watch the games with Florence friends, to hang out, yell, drink beer, and learn from the real soccer fans among us.

I Google "vibrant rural soccer" and read the blog for The Transcape Soccer Challenge 2010.

An AIDS awareness group is traveling across South Africa in their own rural football tournament. They will play on all kinds of pitches, give the world a peek, and engage conversation about AIDS. Meanwhile people will fly in from all over the globe, including Martha’s son, wife and twin grandchildren, to watch World Cup Soccer.

For a few weeks there is global community, and the hard feelings and poor calls, while they may be remembered for years, will not cause wars or famine.

Maybe this is why the apostle Paul was also intrigued with sports and imaged the church entering into the hoopla:

"Run with perseverance the race -- the match -- that is set before you, looking to Jesus, the forerunner..." Hebrews 12:2

Week 28: Reading "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen :)

Monday, May 31, 2010

Week 27: "Arise, my love, and come away."

My beloved speaks and says to me:
"Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away...

My beloved is mine, and I am his;
My beloved in mine, and I am hers.
We pastures our flock among the lilies.

Come, my beloved,
let us go forth into the fields,
and lodge in the villages;
let us go out early to the vineyards,
and see whether the vines have budded,
whether the grape blossoms have opened
and the pomegranates are in bloom.
There I will give you my love.

Song of Solomon 2:10-13,16 and 7:11-12

Sunday 30 May 2010: my father celebrated his 85th birthday and was born again into a new marriage! Both he and his bride lost the first loves of their lives in the last two years due to sorrowful deaths. (I still grieve my mother, and wanted to call her often last Saturday, while waiting for Lily to be born.) So for both Dad and Lynn it is a risk to love again, knowing that loving means the joy of loving, caring and sharing and also the grief of releasing, grieving and saying farewell.

They chose to be wed in the garden behind our home, under the bridal bushes. And as Solomon and his bride sought each other in vibrant rural vineyards and fields, they spoke their words of commitment under the open sky and a canopy of trees.

My favorite weddings have been in parks, back gardens, on farms and at camps. The couple and guests “come away” to be surrounded with beauty and all the fecundity of the natural world. Or, like my husband and I, to enjoy the bright and sometimes blizzard like beauty of winter. We were married at a camp in Michigan in January thirty three years ago. Guests came to spend the weekend in cabins, play football on the frozen lake, cross country ski, and sit around the fire in the lodge telling stories and then dancing. And we shared our vows simply, like Dad and Lynn, in a small circle of loved ones.

On days like these it seems there is some force of nature that calls out “LOVE!” from the fields and the forests, lakes and streams. It seems a safer more expansive place to let hormones flow, to invite friends into the dance, to spin and laugh until we cry, to glimpse the promise of goodness blossom.

I admit the first wedding I remember that captivated my romantic imagination was definitely urban. In the artificial lights of dark, mysterious Manhattan my cousin was married in a spectacular Jewish-Gentile celebration. There were vows under a cloth canopy punctuated with the breaking of wine glasses. And in the luxurious hotel ballroom was a seemingly endless dance floor. And as a blossoming teen, I danced with my father…

So “the country” does not have the only corner on romance.

But I want to remember the Song of Songs as I consider the vibrancy that choreographs love – maybe ultimately love of the earth itself. I will officiate at the wedding of a young organic farmer and his bride at the end of the summer. I hope we will hear Gaia singing the traditional blessing that comes from Guatemala:

The peace of the earth be with you,
the peace of the heavens, too.
The peace of the rivers be with you,
the peace of the ocean, too.
Deep peace falling over you.
God’s peace growing in you.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Week 26: New Birth -- beginning the next season of life

Now I have entered a new club -- the Grandmothers' Club. Friends have been telling me there is nothing like it. I am just a one day old grandmother, but it clearly feels like a new universe. I shared the anticipation of Lily Genevieve Lanctot with many friends, in Costa Rica, Cambodia and at home. Now you can share the good news and the adventure with me.

Lily Genevieve Lanctot
was born at home
to Caitlin and Andrew Lanctot
on Saturday, 22 May at 2:05 pm
7# 13 oz and 20" long,
peaceful and round

Florence friends gave me a surprise grandmother shower as I waited for the call yesterday afternoon announcing Lily's arrival. Here are some gems of wisdom they shared with me in a lovely rural cabin on Northern Twin Lake, IN. (I guess that makes it Vibrant Rural Rest and Renewal...)

At the right time take a blanket to the lawn at night. Lay there with Lily and gaze up at the immense sky and stars above. Words may be few but the ooohs and aaahs will be priceless. -- from Linda Christophel

She knows haw important dreams are. And she believes one can never have too many dreams. -- a quote from a book, shared by Martha Miller

I think the sort of grandmother I want to be -- is one who is as patient with my grandchildren as with my flowers, giving them what they need to grow, and then waiting patiently for the miracle of blossoms. -- from Barb Welty

A child in the cradle, if you watch it as leisure, has the Infinite in its eyes. -- Van Gogh, from Verna Troyer


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Week 25: Farm Trek, the Next Generation

What a thrill to know that four of the farms at the Goshen Farmer's Market are tended, at least in part, by folks from my small rural congregation.

Pictured above is Josh Ewert, son of Randy Ewert (Star Trek Fan Extraordinaire).

In southwest Michigan, where a few decades ago family farms were failing left and right, a new generation is sustaining good food in new ways. This is Josh and Randy's first season as market gardeners together.

On Bair Lane in Marcellus, MI, there are three market gardens, all neighboring each other and all connected to Florence Church. And a fourth farm, Sustainable Greens in Jones, is also where Randy works on occasion as well as Maria Montoya and her family, and now recent college grads from Florence Church, Jheny Nieto and Emma Fenton-Miller.

I realized as I bought lettuce and radishes from Luke Nofsinger of One Straw Farm yesterday that it was an act of recycling.
Only last growing season I had walked through White Yarrow fields with Luke as he dreamed of farming -- in France. "Why in France?" I asked. "It's beautiful! And exotic! But it's not a realistic dream for me to be a farmer, even though I love it."

Well, as a pastor I recycled that dream right back to Luke.

"Keep dreaming."

(See related story from August 2009 at the Florence Church Blog)

Luke grew the salad I ate for dinner tonight. I paid him at the Goshen Farmers' Market for his work. And, well, I suppose in his support of Florence Church he pays me!

I'd say that's holy local organic spiritual visionary sustainable recycling!

Market Farms linked to Florence Church of the Brethren Mennonite:

Bair Lane Farm -- Randy, Roxie and Josh Ewert

One Straw Farm -- Luke Nofsinger and Daniela Zehr

Sustainable Greens -- Kate and James Lind and farm workers Randy Ewert, Maria Montoya, Jheny, Brenda and Kathia Nieto, and Emma Fenton-Miller

White Yarrow Farm -- Dale Hasenick and Jo Beachy

Other Florence Church related Farms:

Maple Tree Meadows -- Karla Kauffman (cultivating soul and soil)

VillaMiller Farms -- Henry and Martha Miller (seed corn, soy beans, wheat)

Week 24: Field Trip to Hope CSA

Pastor comes from the Latin pascere which literally means one who puts to pasture, the ministry of HOPE CSA is fitting in its approach to link pastor and pasture, human and humus, soil and soul. (Jeff Hawkins)

A belated entry...

A week ago Monday I took a literal field trip -- to Hope CSA in North Manchester, Indiana. Thanks to Karla Kauffman and Kathy Fenton-Miller, we had a little community pilgrimage, complete with a picnic in a sunny cemetery along the country roads on the way.

Hope CSA to me was the perfect meeting of ecology and theology. Ken Hawkins, the owner and farmer of this family farm, is a pastor with pastures. As a retired Lutheran minister, he now sees his work as growing pastors while farming together. Three groups of pastors come for one day a month. They do farm work together, feeding chickens and bulls, tending crops and fences. Then they eat the good farm food. After a stretch of intentional silence, they reflect together on what they are experiencing and reading about the common ground of tending God's creation and God's creatures.

Ken was a generous host with his time, his wisdom, and his eggs -- a free dozen to those who wanted them. He also encouraged us to come try a day of work and reflection.
"Don't worry about paying," he said. "If you come once, I know you'll come back. It's like when people tell me my free range, organic chickens cost too much. I just give them one. After they taste it they are sure to come back for more!"

Kathy, Karla and I were especially intersted in the wood fired stove used to make pizza on Friday nights through the summer months. All the ingredients (well, maybe with the exception of olive oil) are local. Beginning with dough making on Wednesday, it is quite a production to build the pizzas, bake and serve them. But what a treat! We are hoping to return to try the margarita pizza (tomato, basil and cheese) or sausage pizza (with sausage from Hope CSA beef).

You can read more about Hope CSA at their website:

HOPE CSA -- Hands on pastoral education using clergy sustaining agriculture

J L Hawkins Family Farm
10373 N 300 E
N Manchester IN 46962

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Week 23: All things NEW at Florence

Photo: Micah and lamb on Bair Lane. (photo, thanks to Kathy Fenton-Miller)

Monday -- Baby Lichti, John Floyd, is born! Welcome to the world.

Wednesday -- Met the new lambs and bunnies at the Ewert Farm on Bair Lane.

Two lambs were born by emergency C-section at the hands of Josh and Randy when the mother ewe was perishing. The third was saved by emergency stomach puncture when dying of bloat from too much fresh green grass.

Death and birth. Easter season. Rural drama.

Friday -- Tiny baby squirrel found in the hosta bed at our home.

Saturday -- Constructing the birthing tub for Drew and Caitlin, one month away from due date of our first grandchild.

Sunday -- In a ritual of re-entry, I am blessed as the new pastor of Florence, lambs and all, once more.

"New earth, heavens new, Spirit of God moving..."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Week 22: Last week of sabbatical "away"

Photo: Scarlet Ibis at the Potawatomi Zoo, South Bend, IN.

Sometimes in this sabbatical year birds have come as surprising gifts of delight and wisdom.

The peacock in the snow at the corner of County Road 23.

The blue crested motmot or Bobo’s three glorious appearances that followed me around Costa Rica.

The rare King Vulture or Rey de Zopilotes, sited by our guide, Manuel, in wild Corcovado National Park. The indigenous people honor him as the king of birds, the one who eats death. And does this make him the bird of New Life, of Easter?

More commonly the resplendent quetzal has that honor, worshiped from Mayan times as the god of the air. I had hoped to get a glimpse of this glorious bird in Costa Rica. And as life and humility would have it, I only got to see the splendid back side of the female quetzal. Maybe like Moses only getting to see the back side of God. (Exodus 33:22)

So I paid close attention to the bird that "appeared" in my final week of sabbatical before I return to pastoral ministry.

My last Sunday away from Florence I was able to one more worship with Quakers in the South Bend Meeting. Silence settles around me deeply these days, and all the more so when sitting with “Friends.”

Hmmmm…after potluck, and since I was already in South Bend on a beautiful day, I decided to take myself to the Potawatomi Zoo. I had not visited for close to twenty years and the days when zoo time was shared with our toddlers. So it was a new joy to take in the animals and the light at my own pace and with my companion, the contemplative camera.

Of course there was the heartache of seeing the wild penned up.

But the majesty of the animals did not seem dim to me.

In the final building the BIRD came. Lit from behind, and held behind glass due to injury, was the Scarlet Ibis. It’s color and the red-orange light aura round its feathers was visually delicious.

I soon noted that the Scarlet Ibis was missing part of its left wing. The right was longer and tipped elegantly with black. But the left was stubby. And in the same way I keep checking the hole in my mouth when a tooth has gone missing, this bird shrugged and stretched and flapped its wings as it turned in the light, and then rested.

I remembered teaching a short story by James Hurst entitled “The Scarlet Ibis.” You can read it at this link.

And here is the quote that will let you know how I first “met” this bird in my twenties:

Suddenly from out in the yard came a strange croaking noise. Doodle stopped eating. "What's that?" He slipped out into the yard, and looked up into the bleeding tree. "It's a big red bird!"

Mama and Daddy came out. On the topmost branch perched a bird the size of a chicken, with scarlet feathers and long legs.

At that moment, the bird began to flutter. It tumbled down through the bleeding tree and landed at our feet with a thud. Its graceful neck jerked twice and then straightened out, and the bird was still. It lay on the earth like a broken vase of red flowers, and even death could not mar its beauty.

"What is it?" Doodle asked.

"It's a scarlet ibis," Daddy said.

Sadly, we all looked at the bird. How many miles had it traveled to die like this, in our yard, beneath the bleeding tree?

Doodle knelt beside the ibis. "I'm going to bury him."

So I pondered as I printed this photo. Why this bird, this Scarlet Ibis, this week?

I think it came as a warning for re-entry, just as it came as a warning to an over-bearing older brother in the short story. This brother learns, sadly, that life and healing and hope cannot be forced. And “aid” offered for the sake of ego and not in service of love is deadly.

These can be my temptations.

I have been give glorious gifts in the last two months!

and Scintillation -- life lived in the present and in bodily fullness.

This does not feel like great drama to preach about.
This does not seem like “the revolution of God.”
But for me, it is.

Yet I could be tempted to make it a "recipe" for the God Life.

Humbly, it will only glow with Life if it is allowed to BE…

Scintillating… lived moment, one listening moment, one active moment at a time.

It would be wonderful to have thirty years to keep pondering, and keep pivoting and testing my broken wings on the humble wisdom and glorious colors of these two months. Let's see what this week brings...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Week 21: The feeling of pregnancy and the ninth week of sabbatical

Photo: Caitlin Lanctot, my daughter-in-law, close to ninth month of pregnancy.

The end of sabbatical -- time released from the responsibilities of being the pastor of Florece Church -- feels like the end of pregnancy. Nine weeks does not seem long compared to nine months, granted. But the spaciousness of rest and renewal in another land and another language has been filling me with new life. And I am not sure exactly when it will come to birth, or what it will look like.

If I think nine months back, I was returning from my first global trip of this unusual year. Three weeks in Paraguay and Argentina had allowed me to begin speaking Spanish and engaging friends from the Mennonite global community. I had the joy of meeting Sibusisiwe, my sister-link colleague from Zimbabwe. I experienced the grace of being hosted and fed by Cristel Wiebe in the Chaco of Paraguay and Keith and Gretchen Kingsley in the Chaco of Argentina. I loved it! It was more than I could conceive.

And then Advent led to Cambodia. This land half way around the world is where the rest of my family is living right now. The "sabbatical year" blog began with the colors, flavors, heat, hospitality and beauty of the Khmer people. Hmmm...about mid-way through pregnancy...

Now I have one more week to go before returning to Florence. It can feel tempting to try to MAKE this pregnancy burst, to force some outcome emerge, to induce labor, to get this unknown new life ahead of me rolling! But like birth, if I am humble I accept that what only God can grow in me is Mystery. It will take its own time to show its face. And then it will keep growing and changing like the wonder and challenge of a child.

So it is with special delight I return home to Andrew and Caitlin and their expectations for the birth of their first child. Spring is bright, stroked with new shades of green, yellow, pink, red and purple each day. The light here lingers into evening. And I have time -- to wait, to ponder, to read, to write, and to hold the beauty of expectation in my gaze.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Week 20: Do we look hot?

Donald and Nina on Cano Island off the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica.

In this week of transition and translation -- Lent to Easter, Nina/Donald solo to Nina and Donald reunited, Spanish language emersion to English language tourism -- I have discovered that dreams of paradise are not even close to the unfolding of new life.

What did Jesus say to the one thief?
“Today you will be with me in paradise.”
I wonder what the thief expected, and what he discovered?

What we discovered this week…

Donald retraced some of my journey with me.

On Saturday in San Jose we had a wonderful visit with Martha Miller’s brother, Leo, and his wife, Sonia. I had a wonderful week at their farm upon arrival in Costa Rica. And Donald soon loved them as well.

On Sunday we celebrated Easter at the Basilica of Los Angeles in Cartago, the center of Catholic devotion in Costa Rica. I worshipped there with Henry and Martha and their friend Manuel on the first Sunday of Lent. The culmination was a parade led by an image of the Risen Jesus and followed by a crowd, brass band and clown.

We wound round the mountains and through Paraiso (Paradise) to Finca la Flor where Donald got to walk around the farm and have a conversation with Bri Draabe, the director and now friend.


And then we flew to the paradise of the Osa Peninsula, one of the most remote and protected regions of Costa Rica.

We knew we were in the wild when our small plane dropped over the bay and touched down on the airstrip we couldn’t even see as we entered the jungle. We walked out into the waves of 90+ heat and humidity. From there we were picked up by Miguel. His four wheel drive van forded a river, crossed another on a few planks of wood, navigated local pitted roads, and then parked on the beach. “Tell your husband to take off his shoes and roll up his pants,” Miguel told me in Spanish. And sure enough a boat rode the waves into the beach. We waded out for a ride to Drake Bay Wilderness Resort, about a fifteen minute journey across the bay.

Dreams of Paradise:

Sitting on the beach watching the waves, swimming round Cano Island, walking in Corcovado seeing the animals, and luxurating with my loved one in our seaside cabana.

Reality Day One:

It was REALLY hot. We were both pouring sweat by lunch time. So, yes, we could hike ten minutes to the beautiful beach -- first prepped by a cold shower, then hidden in the shade, a few splashes in the waves, Donald body surfing, a hot walk home, a quick dip in the pool, followed by a cold shower and a nap to recover and another cold shower before dinner! Whew! Paradise is work!

At dinner we were alone, the only visitors at this large resort!

Reality Day Two:

At Cano Island, our first tour destination, the main activity is snorkeling. Hmmmm…. (1) I am legally blind without my glasses and you can‘t wear a snorkel mask with glasses. (2) Neither Donald nor I had snorkeled before. (3) Learning to snorkel while legally blind and riding rolling waves yields motion sickness -- And yes, it is possible to vomit in the ocean while wearing snorkel equipment!

Loved finding the beached boat on this lovely island, just like Gilligan’s Island, at our lunch break (photo) -- with time for three cold water beach showers. (Hearing the theme?)

Donald loved being surrounded by every color of fish over the coral reef on the second snorkel. I stayed on LAND and contentedly contemplated the humorous hermit crabs on the beach.

Reality Day Three:

All morning on our second tour our fabulous guide, Manuel, showed us the diverse world of Corcovado National Park: hidden hummingbird nests, tent bats, orb spiders and spider monkeys, and even the rare king vulture. Yeh! Lunch in the shade.

But starting up the waterfall trail my stomach kind of squeamed out again. So shade for Nina; and a cool swim in the waterfall for Donald. I contentedly studied the display behaviors of the grackles by the Ranger Station.

Reality Day Four:

NO SUN for Nina. Despite the persistent use of #50 sunscreen and long sleeved shirts during the day and vinegar each evening, I was fried. I rose before sunrise to discover a whole new world -- cool and dawning, with birds emerging and howler monkeys bellowing. Donald ventured out later on a sea kayak to explore the river inland at high tide. He also found friends to go round the bay and learned the challenges of a beach landing. I rested, read, wrote. And made plans to cut our time one day shorter in this particular paradise. AIR CONDITIONING was what sounded like heaven to us, so we booked a night in Hotel Amistad, San Jose.

BUT… paradise surprised us WITH WONDERFUL FRIENDS.

They trickled in during the week: Kevin and Helen, the scuba divers from England; Ohm, the Indian-American medical resident on a get-away from Connecticut; Matt and Vernice, kayakers and nature lovers from Ireland; and Jini (Columbian/Costa Rican) and Mike (Costa Rican) social publicists who were hosting a big bash for a group of Imperial Beer context winners at the resort this weekend.

What great conversations we had! Last night, just as an example, we talked about climate change, education and testing, and immigration in all our countries, comedy and “crossing the line,“ Costa Rican culture and conflict styles, the fall of the Catholic church in Ireland, crime, the complexities of Africa, pubs, beer, drunk driving and Auschwitz (NOT in that order!).

We were given the gift of another little global community, and we sat around the table until past 9:30 pm.
Challenges and Hopes
Cross Cultural Connections
Hmmm…this seems almost the same LIFE LIST as my first week at Finca la Flor. Just no dancing -- and that is what we are missing tonight at the Imperial Beer Party at Drake Bay!

So as Donald and I fly home tomorrow night, we have a rich slice of leftover paradise to take home and warm up and share with family and friends around our own table. Buen provecho, todos!




Martha Villalobos and her mother and her husband, Henry Miller (San Jose).

Sonia Villalobos, Martha's sister-in-law (Finca Iriria, Sabana Bonita).

Leo Villalobos, Martha's brother, talking to Martha, Henry and Chema (Finca Iriria).

Guides of Finca la Flor de Paraiso: Laura, Vinicio, Eugenia, Henry, Wilbert, and Bri (director).

Leiton Obanda Family: Cristina, Geovanny, Miguel and Daniel (San Luis).

Friends from Drake Bay: Around the table from left to right are Donald, Matt (Ireland), Jini and Mike (Costa Rica), Ohm (USA), Vernice (Ireland), Kevin and Helen (England).

Our friend "Mono" of Corcovado.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Week 19: San Luis Semana Santa Goodbye

Photo: Miguelito Leiton Obanda looking over the San Luis Valley.

I am back at Cinco Hormigas Rojas (bed and breakfast) in San Jose for another day of transition. I said a fond and tender good-bye to my host family, Geovanny, Cristina, Miguelito and Daniel Leiton this morning. And then I traveled up the mountain from San Luis to Monteverde and then down and up again to San Jose by shuttle bus.

It is a kind of still point, this Good Friday. San Jose is empty and quiet. Almost all businesses and restaurants are closed. Semana Santa is a major holiday for Costa Ricans. There is no school all week, and most folks who are able travel to see family and friends.

So I am here waiting to see my family -- Donald -- tomorrow.

Donald and I have been Skyping as he packs his bags. At the same time he showed me our yard at home, blooming with daffodils and budding with bright green leaves. It will look totally different -- to him and to me -- when we arrive home next Sunday, one week after Easter.

It has been odd to spend this Holy Week away from family and friends. Though my host family is Catholic, we did not attend mass any time during my three week visit due to family and community activities.

Yesterday, Maundy Thursday, we did drive a long way down the mountain to the church at 3 pm with Dona Alicia, Geovanny’s mother. We planned to attend the special footwashing service. But no one was there. We heard two other potential times for the service, 4 pm and 5 pm. So we drove back up the mountain, up La Trocha, and to the supermarket in Santa Elena to buy food and beverages for the many, many visitors who are coming to the family farm, Finca la Catarata, this weekend.

As part of Semana Santa, at the finca there was a steady flow of family, friends, local visitors and tourists. The culture of Holy Week is one of hospitality, visiting, serving one another food and drink, walking together. Danny and some of his teen cousins grabbed their towels and hiked up the trail to swim at the base of the waterfall.

I had lots of time to sit high on the mountainside and soak in the blues of the sky, the greens of the rain forest, and the sounds of birds calling, layered with familial conversations like river tumbling over rocks, and syncopated by the yips of dogs wrestling, and children chasing one another with pails of water.

For “coffee” we have good Costa Rican coffee, of course, and fish and vegetable soup with rice and the traditional “modo” of Holy Week. I meet more of Geovanny’s eleven brothers and sisters and their children. And I got to teach some of the grandchildren how to play Dutch Blitz! Some things work in all languages.

However, it did make me miss my daughter, Rachel, since this is her favorite game.

I was part of this family communion for one more day, ending with a last supper in the evening at home around our small kitchen table.

As I left Monteverde this morning, the shuttle driver asked me a question I have heard many times:
“Why did you come to Costa Rica for these two months?”
This is a good time to stop and ponder…
“I came to be part of the language and culture of Costa Rica. I came away from responsibilities. I came to learn to be present and alive -- to a different world of people and of beauty. I wanted to stop and listen and love.”
I have been granted many gifts.

The Leiton family fully welcomed me into the intimate life of their family at home and the extended life of their family and community in San Jose.

By this week I was able to greet most of the folks we passed by, having met many of the members of the 72 families of San Luis. I jokingly said to Geovanny, “Yes, and 60 of these families are your relatives!” I was not far off.

This week the family visited the cloud forest, to see a female quetzal, and a whole garden of hummingbirds! It was what tourists usually do first in this region. I felt thankful to do it last, and to walk the trails with my family, now my friends, and to see this world through their eyes.

I end this writing on Holy Saturday. It is a day "in between."

Donald is now by my side getting the sleep he missed as he traveled through the night. Tomorrow, Easter, begins a new and final week in Costa Rica.

And now I am seeing through the eyes of Donald as well.