Week 6: Create a Solid Garden Plot
Workbook Exercise: My Rule of Life

Watch: Week 6 Day 1: When Life is Very Difficult
What has sustained you through challenging seasons in the past?
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In this phase of growing a Rule of Life, we’re looking at how we can grow a Rule which will help us through all the seasons of life. I had the great joy of living for several years at our country monastery, Emery House, where I’m sitting now, and during those years it was particularly wonderful to sit every day in our chapel looking out over the beautiful countryside and as the months passed, seeing the trees change and everything take on the color of the changing seasons. And in the summer particularly, and perhaps the spring, it was particularly beautiful and it was a joy to be out in the gardens helping grow fruit and take care of the property. But I remember when the New England winter came, everything changed and it became really quite bleak and cold and I really didn’t want to go out at all. And in a kind of interesting parallel, I think growing a Rule of Life is very similar to that, that at times it’s actually very easy to live the life of faith. Prayer comes to us naturally, we feel drawn to God, and we look at God’s creation and our hearts are filled with joy.

But there are other times in our life when life becomes more barren, more bare. Perhaps we have experienced a bereavement or a change in our plans or our hopes. In those times, it’s much more difficult to embrace life. But actually, in my own experience, it is exactly during those times when having a Rule of Life in place becomes so important. It is then that we really need to turn to those rhythms, those disciplines which we have grown and established, because they will uphold us and they will support us and strengthen us when we feel that life is very, very difficult.

There is a hymn, which I love, which we sing at Easter. Most of the hymns at Easter are joyful hymns. There is one which is in more of a minor key and you will probably know it, it’s called “Now the green blade rises, from the buried grain.” And the underlying imagery of that hymn is that, when we look out at a wintry scene, it seems that everything is dead, but actually underneath the surface something actually very powerful and wonderful is happening and something is slowly growing and when spring comes it bursts out to life again. And that hymn talks about particularly those times when the fields of our heart are dead and bare and we feel really quite desolate. But it’s at those times, when we remain faithful to our commitment to our Rule, it is precisely then that we can experience the wonder and the miracle, as the hymn puts it, of love coming again like wheat which springs up green.

I think this phase of looking at our Rule of Life encourages us to think of the rhythms of our own lives. The rhythms, the summer, the winter, the spring, the autumn of our own lives and how we can maintain our life of faith, our relationship with God, our love for God, during those difficult times and to ask who can companion us during those times and who can help us to cultivate the garden of our lives through every season.

– Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Week 5: My Relationship with Creation
Workbook Exercise: My Creation Collage

Watch: Week 5 Day 7: Restoring Balance
How will you find a healthy and meaningful connection with the natural world?
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One of the things that I have discovered gardening here at Emery House is if they are always planting the same thing in the same place that slowly but surely the soil is depleted and, interestingly enough, once the soil is depleted, the only thing that will thrive in it are the weeds. So in order to keep the weeds out you have to constantly be renewing the soil. So as you think of your life this week, you might want to think about creating your own collage. Think of where is the good soil in your life, where is the stony soil, and where is the soil full of thistles. And as you do that, look at your life and see where is the balance (where is the good soil?), and where are you out of balance (where is the soil full of thorns or the soil full of stones?). So you might want to think what is your relationship with money, is that “in balance”? Is that producing abundantly? Is that producing abundant fruits or is that controlling you? Where is your relationship with consumerism? Where is your relationship with food? Is that in balance or out of balance? And if you want to restore balance to those, what exactly do you need to put into it. What exactly do you need to think about, pray about, ponder about your relationship with money, food, consumerism and begin to restore balance there. Just as the gardener is constantly trying to keep the balance or maintain the balance or restore balance to the good soil so that, like the gardener, the soil of your life can product abundantly.

– Br. James Koester

Week 5: My Relationship with Creation
Workbook Exercise: My Creation Collage

Watch: Week 5 Day 6: The Flow of Blessings
How can you connect with nature in ways that bring life?
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I think one way I try to keep myself open to the flow of the blessings of the natural world is to be in it as much as possible. I have a kind of peculiar habit of enjoying a cup of tea most mornings, late morning and often in the afternoon as well, and if it’s at all possible I like to be outdoors to do that. If I’m at the monastery I love to sit out in our beautiful cloister garden among the trees and bushes and be under the dome of the sky. I think being outside, out of the sort of boxed in spaces and under the dome of the sky gives me a sense of connection with the infinite. And certainly being surrounded by the living things growing up out of the earth in all seasons and the sound of birds in the background, I think these things confirm in me, that strengthen in me, a sense of biological connectedness with all of nature.

– Br. Mark Brown

Week 5: My Relationship with Creation
Workbook Exercise: My Creation Collage

Watch: Week 5 Day 5: Being Pruned
Where could your life be pruned to bear more fruit?
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My own experience of being pruned is that, though I can present myself in prayer more likely than not as being willing to be pruned, the actual pruning happens out in the world as I am rubbing up against other people. So this is another way where I am not in control of the pruning and sort of living in community, but not just in community, and all my interactions with other people – noticing what brings me joy and happiness in my interactions with other people, what rubs me the wrong way, quite literally and figuratively, and where are those rough edges and where are the things that need to be cut away in order to allow my movement through this life to go more smoothly, and seeing that as God’s invitation to grow and to change and not as sort of the external circumstances or as this person is acting up or doing this. That it’s God showing me where these things are that need to be removed or cut away.

– Br John Braught

Week 5: My Relationship with Creation
Workbook Exercise: My Creation Collage

Watch: Week 5 Day 4: Vocation
How would you describe your unique ‘vocation’ in the world?
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I think my sense of – my own personal sense of “mission” (I guess you can call it) in the world, something that might be a couple of steps above like a vocation, is this sense that what God wants out of me personally – perhaps as an expression of gratitude for all God’s given me – is to simply be present in a particular way, to cultivate that, to practice that, to foster an awareness of God’s presence and God’s love both within certain aspects of creation, within my own heart, within other people. I think being in the world in that way is really what God wants out of me; that’s like the primary thing. Now experience has taught me that in some ways that “being,” you know that thing that I feel called to do, is really the generative thing that I feel like is the thing that I have to offer, the thing that I have to give, the blessing that I can pass on. Something that has been given to me that I can then share. Being a monk as a vocation seems to be one of the best ways that I have found to cultivate that, in community. To live a life that helps me aspire to, keep in mind the intention of, and to practice that higher mission of being present and giving that back to the world.

– Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Week 5: My Relationship with Creation
Workbook Exercise: My Creation Collage

Watch: Week 5 Day 3: The Work of Human Hands
What spiritual practices help to strengthen your connection with the natural world?
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There are a few fairly simple practices or rituals that help keep me in touch with nature, with creation. One of them is I have been living in Emery House for a few months and if I am asked to prepare a meal or if I am asked to help beautify the chapel, you know, things like going out to the garden and gathering basil or mint or eggs from the chicken coop for the meal, doing that as a prayer. So when I harvest those things or take those things, I thank God and I thank the earth for having given those gifts to me, to us. I think of the verse from the Eucharistic liturgy that refers to the wine as “…fruit of the vine and work of human hands; May it become for us our spiritual drink.” So I think of something raw that has come from the earth, from nature, and that’s somehow been worked through with the work of my own hands and then becomes something more, becomes sort of an “interspecies collaboration” in a sense, whether it is the meal that ends up on the table or as a painter, I practice egg temper painting, which is paint that is raw mineral pigment and egg yolk and white wine so there is a very Eucharistic symbolism to that. So now when I gather eggs from the chicken coop to make paint, it does really feel like this interspecies collaboration, and I thank the chickens for the gift that they are giving me, the way they are participating in my own creative process.

– Br. Keith Nelson

Week 5: My Relationship with Creation
Workbook Exercise: My Creation Collage

Watch: Week 5 Day 2: Simply Gaze
To what part of nature do you most feel connected, and why?
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One of the exercises that I have engaged in myself, and I have also invited others to engage in, is this practice of focusing one’s attention on an object, any object, something as simple as a table for instance, and actually doing a little mental exercise where you simply gaze at the object without attempting to put any qualifications on it, brown table, black table, nice table, not nice table, table that is in good condition, table that is pockmarked, etc., etc., all the kinds of things that we do. It is also a very powerful exercise to this with a living thing: a tree, an animal, an insect. I just thought what would it be like to do it with a fly [laughs], because I generally impute certain qualities to flies, which may or may not be true. So I think that just simply being with what is and somehow suspending that judgmental voice that is always making qualifications is a very, very powerful thing to do. And I think something that can bring real insight, both into ourselves, into the world we live in, and also a deep sense of peace and centeredness.

– Br. Robert L’Esperance

Week 5: My Relationship with Creation
Workbook Exercise: My Creation Collage

Watch: Week 5 Day 1: Good Soil
How would you describe the ‘soil’ of your heart and soul at this time in your life?
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In this phase, we’re going to explore our relationship with creation and one of the parables of Jesus that has really come alive for me is the parable of the sower. And we know that parable about how the sower went out to sow and some seed fell on good soil and some seed fell among the thorns and some seed fell among the rocky path, and in many ways Jesus is reminding us that our life, the life of the individual, is in a sense like that soil and how we are receptive to the word of God as it is sown into our hearts. Is our heart good soil? Is it abundant? Is it rocky? Is it full of thistles and thorns? And one of the things that I’ve learned here at Emery House in the garden is that the soil can in a sense be all of those things in a very enclosed area. And so as we explore our relationship with creation, we need really to pay attention to what soil both that we are growing in ourselves but also the soil that we are planting. The good soil that Jesus speaks of, the soil that is abundant and can produce 60- and 90- and 100-fold, is also soil which over time, if we constantly plant the same thing and don’t pay attention to renewing that soil, will end up being depleted and will be the very soil that will support the thistles and the weeds.

So as we explore our relationship with creation, we need to explore what it is in ourselves that can give abundance, can produce abundantly, and where is it in ourselves that is full of thorns, full of thistles, full of stones.

– Br. James Koester

Week 4: My Relationship with Others
Workbook Exercise: My Web of Connections

Watch: Week 4 Day 7: Grow into Greater Life
How will you love the people in your life?
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So in this phase we have been thinking about our relationships with others and as we grow a Rule of Life how that Rule of Life might help inform and direct our relationships with others. So at the close of this phase here, we want to step back a little bit and look at the web of relationships that make up our lives, to see where relationships are strong and where they might be weak or even damaged or broken. To see what we might do to build relationships, to foster intimacy and to grow together, and what we might do to overcome obstacles in relationships or breakdowns in relationships. Forgiveness is always a central part of the Christian message and the message of reconciliation is the message that we have for the world. So forgiveness and reconciliation will play a big part in this.

So as we reflect on our relationships, as we look at the relationships in our lives and the relationships we want to foster and grow, the end of this phase gives us a chance to review those and to see how we might grow into greater life with those whom we love and those whom we find difficult to love.

– Br. David Vryhof

Week 4: My Relationship with Others
Workbook Exercise: My Web of Connections

Watch: Week 4 Day 6: Receive Love
How can you grow in the ways you give and receive love?
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As we look for ways that we can love more, love more deeply, all those with whom we share our life, there are certain practices that might help us to distinguish between love and attachment. If we think about the way that the Johannine writings and scriptures speak about love, you know, we think “God is love,” “we love because God first loved us,” and “as Christ has loved us, so we should love one another.” So I think first a Rule of Life, our spiritual practices, the whole rule itself should help us to remain centered in that primary fact that we are loved by God and that all of the love that we give or receive is just God’s love. It’s not our possession, it’s not our product. If we are attempting to, I think, to manufacture it in our own strength as something that is just ours of this little limited quantity that we can give or receive, it is easy for our love to become attachment, which essentially is love without freedom, which is impossible. So when we are attached there is this sense that there’s something blocking that primacy of God’s love, of which all human love is just a reflection, a conduit.

So one thing we might do is just simply periodically, as part of our Rule of Life, review all of the relationships in our life. The relationships in which we are conscious of cultivating love with a spouse, a friend, a family member, and just sit down and perhaps review internally how much freedom is there in this relationship. How much am I getting stuck? Might this person or this relationship sometimes become a substitute for the love of God? Or is this relationship like a window through which the love of God is passing to you? So how attached might you be? And is your freedom being limited or is the freedom of the person you are loving, the freedom of your beloved, being limited by your attachment?

– Br. Keith Nelson