Lift up your heads

The garden is full of delight these days, dahlias are profuse, we gather juicy cucumbers by the armful each week, ears of corn are beginning to form on nine-foot stalks, and the salad bar has been stocked with all of our lettuce and tomatoes for the last month.  It’s easy to be pleased when you’re surrounded by abundance.  It’s a time to be deeply grateful.

It certainly didn’t happen overnight.  There have been hours of aching work to create the conditions for this growth to occur.  In fact, I still turn around and discover a new patch of pigweed threatening to choke out something I’ve been tending all season; pernicious bindweed that can ensconce an innocent garlic plant in a minute.  It can be satisfying to set myself to the task of clearing this row or that but after a while, hunched over and sweating, it feels like my world has collapsed into an endless battle with insidious plants that are too smart for me.  Sweat stings my eyes and I wonder if it’s worth it at all.

Eventually I’m forced to stand up, often because it’s time to pray.  And then, standing there in the garden looking out over the 155 acres that comprise the land around Emery House, I’m lifted up out of that tiny, agonizing world.  I see the clouds moving in from the West, some of them are the remnants of storms that have been in the news.  I see the sun over the meadow where deer draw near to find crab apples on the ground.  I see a far larger world that dwarfs me; that actually returns me to the right size, and I’m better able to take my own particular role in the vast sweep of God’s creation.

Life in our community is strategically set up to enable us to lift up our heads from the daily grind and return to our place as children of God.  We have regular weeks away to find retreat and respite.  We have a weekly sabbath day that breaks the cycle of toil.  And our rule even counsels us to find moments of sabbath within each day when we can lift our eyes up to the horizon and return to ourselves and to God.

Perhaps there’s an invitation for you to lift up your head.  If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already laid aside something else that held your attention.  Is it time to spend a day or more away from toil to let the grandeur of God’s good creation breath new life into weary bones?  Maybe you just need to behold something beautiful to be reminded of how beautifully you have been made.

We brothers would love to invite you to lift up your heads with us here, at Emery House.  We pray for you.  Thank you for your prayers too!

Half composted newspaper

A few months ago, I was working on turning over the compost in one of our compost bins we have next to our garden at Emery House. I was moving the compost from one bin to another using a pitchfork. I took a deep stab and could feel the tines of the pitchfork slide through something. I lifted up the pitchfork and saw a half decomposed front page of a newspaper.  

The ink on the newspaper was blurry with dirt and half of the whole paper had been torn away. I could barely make out the headline and I could kind of see a photo of someone. I recall the main article was about some crisis somewhere.  

After pausing for a few moments, I continued with my work and moved the half decomposed front page to the next bin. As I continued my work, I couldn’t help but think how often the so called bad things of our lives end up in the compost bin and eventually turn into soil that can grow something fruitful. What if all the nasty headlines of our day-to-day lives end up as fertilizer for something better?  

Try thinking of all the times in your life when you have been severely disappointed by something in the moment, but then incredibly grateful for it in the long run. Times in your life when you have moved from saying oh, why God, why?  to saying oh thank God. Perhaps it was a relationship that ended, or a job that didn’t work out, or a college that you didn’t get into. In the moment, these experiences are so painful and seem barren of meaning. Yet over time, sometimes we can look upon them with gratitude. That is an amazing transformation.  

Every evening after supper, I bring out the kitchen scraps we have accumulated throughout the day in a bucket to the compost bin. Sometimes I like to think about what if my entire day fit inside the bucket I am carrying. The good, the bad, and the ugly of all that I had thought, said, did, and seen that day. I think about what it would feel like to turn it all over to God and ask God to make the most of it.  

I can’t help but think at the end of our lives we will do the same thing. We will look back at all our experiences wondering what we have contributed to the whole and what will come of it all. Sometimes it will be obvious, and we will see the fruits of our labors before our eyes. Yet other times we will have trust in God and the process that breaks down what we have to offer to transform it into something useful. 

Today, consider asking yourself what you are ready to throw in the compost. Maybe a resentment, maybe a feeling of guilt over something that happened long ago, or maybe an anxiety you are feeling over the future. Think about how much better the world would be if everyone did the same.  

Brother Jack SSJE

Holy Places

For several years, we Brothers have been listening to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in regard to our ministry at Emery House. We have also been listening to one another, and we have been listening to the land itself in discerning a path forward.

Over the past year, with the assistance of wise and generous advisors, a vision statement has emerged that crystallizes the essence of that calling. The language that bubbled to the surface pointed again and again to a central theme. Emery House is not just a historic farmhouse & retreat center surrounded by some woods, fields, and rivers. It is, for us, a holy place for all people to experience the boundless love of God made manifest in creation.

Some holy places are world famous and attract pilgrims from around the globe: Jerusalem, Rome, Iona, Lourdes. Some are local or regional treasures where people have found palpable healing and solace. Some embody our bonds of human kinship; they are repositories of sacred memory where our ancestors walk among us. Still others are known only to ourselves. They are imbued with sacred power and peace over time, as we visit and revisit them, in joy and sorrow, celebration and perplexity. To enter their presence is like the familiar embrace of a close friend or the weight of a beloved blanket.

These places of everyday holiness beckon me on all sides as I walk this sacred ground we call Emery House: ancient trees that I listen to as wise elders; the stream that gurgles from marsh to forest thicket to join its big sister, the Merrimack; a gathering of riverbank stones where I pray at sunrise; a patch of meadow where I first met a new flower or gazed up at a new star; the birch that held my back when I wept in the dark or laughed under the full moon. Each of us Brothers have our own holy places here. No two lists are exactly alike. It is beautiful, humbling, and deeply sustaining to hear the stories of visitors, new and old, that echo these experiences. The Spirit breathes, burns, and shines forth in ten-thousand places, eagerly waiting for each of us.

We live in a time when so many are alienated from this living earth and despairing at its ecological crucifixion. The experience of displacement is tragically common. In response, we are called to bear witness to a life-giving alternative: to renew the sacred bond (both joy and responsibility) that comes from belonging to a place. That belonging is born over time, and not without pain. It asks for our hearts.

This land is not a resource, but a vast network of sacred relationships. As we read God’s signs and presence within and alongside the web of all life that resides here, we discover there is room for each of us. There is a place prepared for all who enter in love, attention, and expectancy.

And there is an invitation: to go out into the world to find, for the first or ten-thousandth time, the places waiting for our love and blessing to reveal the holiness they’ve held all along.

May Christ, God’s wisdom and word, go before and behind us on the Way!

Brother Keith, SSJE