The Headless Marys

It sounds like the title of a zombie-esque film noir: The Headless Marys.

It is in fact the name of a contemplative prayer group to which I belong. At 48, I am the youngest of the bunch. Most are retired nurses or teachers. In other words, they are women who have been active, other-focused, do-gooders most of their lives.

They are not women who indulge in hours of bonbon-eating leisure. The group’s name, while conjuring macabre horror-film images, actually refers to our collective desire to move from our heads to our hearts as the focused centre of our spiritual lives—a la Mary, Lazarus’ sister, who sat at the feet of Jesus while her active, “do-er” sister scurried about in frenetic activity.

As women all sympathetic to Martha and thus inclined toward frenetic activity, our coming together is something of a radical act. We are pushing against our culture’s obsession with stimulation and information and noise and distraction.

As a society, North Americans are so obsessed with sensory input that, when surveyed, 67% of men and 25% of women would rather receive mild electric shocks than sit in silence for 15 minutes.

Ummmm. Hello?

Our little group has enough collective wisdom to recogonize the deep neurosis hidden in these statistics..........

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  (For your extra cyber travel you will be rewarded with a Rumi poem! :))
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The Long-Haul Goodness of Community

“So, how’s the commune?” asks the man with floppy brown hair. I can tell by his smile he thinks he’s being original.

“It’s great,” I answer. “But it’s not a commune. It’s a community.”

He laughs. “Can’t fool me. Lots of people. Organic gardens. Shared living spaces. Sauna. You’re a commune.”

We’re not! I want to protest. And then I wonder, Why am I feeling so defensive? Why do I so NOT want to be identified as a commune?

I’m sure it has something to do with the most popular caricatures of communes. First, the hippie variety: places roiling with free-love, utopian ideals and hairy-legged women. Or, second, the fundamentalist variety: places rife with rules, head-coverings and dour expressions.

Happily, Kingfisher Farm, my home and the home of 24 others, fits neither of these stereotypes.

Here’s the backstory: About five and a half years ago my husband and I gathered some friends, a few of whom we barely knew, and asked them if they wanted to buy a farm together. (A farm that had formerly served as the A Rocha Environmental Centre we helped start.) It’s a big decision–buying a farm—and even bigger when you’re doing it with people with whom you share no blood ties and, in some cases, very little history. Therefore, we met as a group bi-weekly for about five months to discern. Together we explored if a) we liked each other well enough to live together b) Shared enough vision and values to make this place more than a glorified playground for our kids and c) did we have enough money to make it work.

On one particular rainy night, we discussed our creation care values. A man in the group (we’ll call him Ralph) argued for environmental standards for our little farm. He chose dish soap as his case study. We would all need to agree to use bio-degradable, earth-friendly dish soap, no exceptions. A few of us balked. We had nothing against biodegradable dish soap per se, we just didn’t want our kitchens legislated.

Ralph was flummoxed.

Rick (his real name), gave voice to what the rest of us were trying to articulate. “What the world needs,” said Rick in a thoughtful tone of voice, “is not people who can live united to a high standard. What the world needs is a group of people who can get along, despite their differences.”

Ralph left the conversation disappointed. So disappointed, we later learned, that he hardly slept that night. At our next meeting he announced that his family would be pulling out of the process. They were sorry, it was a very hard decision, but they needed firmer standards. The soap conversation was, evidently, just the tip of the iceberg.

“Peace takes time,” wrote Stanley Hauerwas.

This is why I live in community. There’s no walking away from an annoying friend when his signature is scrawled next to yours on the mortgage documents! A commitment to my 24 farm mates over the long haul has created a stability that has opened possibilities to grow in love and forgiveness. We have indeed held each other to our higher ideals, but not in a preachy, finger-pointing way. I have been encouraged, for example, to resist North America’s dominate narrative of consumerism and individualism because I’ve watched my farm mates shop at Value Village and volunteer with refugee claimants and grow vegetables without pesticides or herbicides....

Read the rest over at Shelovesmagazine by clicking here.


Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Hello, Blog Chums!

Here's a piece I wrote a few weeks back for Shelovesmagazine. In case you didn't see it there, I offer it to you now. Actually, if I do say so myself, I think it's one of my better ones. :)  So, read on and then click the link at the end to read the rest over at Sheloves.

I step off the northeast corner of our little farm and into a forest. It’s a small patch of trees really; semi-trucks can be heard barreling down the roads that border two sides of this small Eden. But despite its diminutive size this woodland packs a biodiverse punch. On my arboreal path I have encountered white tale deer, an American beaver, red-legged frogs, rough-skinned newts and birds of copious variety from owls to warblers to heron flying in cruciform overhead. And then there are the trees—magnificent Douglas Firs and towering Western Red Cedars whose branches fall like shawls off the shoulders of giant women.

As I walk amongst these trees I brake spider webs with my face and am reminded ofMary Oliver’s poem and the spider with her “surplus of legs” and injurious glare.

In the fall, when the spiders have grown to the size of coins I walk with a stick, held out like a machete, allowing me to hack my way through the gossamer threads, a hacking which sends the spiders sailing like trapeze artists to safer shores under twigs or leaves. But in spring and early summer I let my face lead the way. The light is usually so dim I don’t see the webs coming, but I walk on anyway, until strings of web and pencil point-sized spiders dangle from my head like Hasidic curls, imply a vow.

And this is my vow: to map this place with my walking. To, every day, wake to the gratuitous wonders served up by the hand of a generous Creator. To breathe in creation, and in that breathing find myself restored, recalibrated.

It sounds very Walden Pond Wonderful, doesn’t it? Walk in the wood, and, voila, a new saner self. It sounds so Walden Pond Wonderful, that even I, an every day forest walker, am tempted to roll my eyes and get on with the daily work of making the world a better place.

But what if I told you that science backs me up on this one? What if I told you that walking in woods lowers the stress hormone cortisol in the brain, while at the same time increasing cerebral blood flow, immune defense and overall mental health—all health benefits that the same amount of walking in the city or on a treadmill do not confer. This is true—studies have shown it, my friends!

.......but wait, there's more!!!......

Read the rest of the article by clicking this link:  Shelovesmagazine


My Half-Way Through Summer Reading List: Books I Have Read, Am Reading, or Intend to Read in These Warm Months

Compass of Affection by Scott Cairns (poetry): This slim volume of new and collected poems has been on my shelf for years. I’ve dabbled in it, but have never read it cover to cover. I’ve picked it up again because a.) Annie Dillard calls Cairns “one of the best poets alive,” and b.) because Cairns penned of one of my all-time favourite terms of endearments (from God to humanity): “beloved numbskulls.”

What a Plant Knows, A Field Guide to the Senses by Daniel Chamovitz (non-fiction, science): This book was one of Amazon’s Ten Best Science and Math Books of 2012. So of course I’m reading it. Actually, I’ve never read a Math book for pleasure and Science books only make my reading list if they are fascinating and accessible to art majors – this one seems both. Here’s a bit of a summary from the back cover: “an intriguing look at how plants themselves experience the world—from the colors they see to the schedules they keep…Chamovitz encourages us all to consider whether plants might even be aware.” Hmmmm!

My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman (memoir): Oh my goodness! I recently finished this amazing book and I am still reeling (in a good way). Christian Wiman served as editor of Poetry magazine (the most prestigious poetry gig going). Not so much a narrative sort of memoir, but paragraph-long musings on faith, doubt, love and hope, all set against the backdrop of Wiman’s devastating cancer diagnosis and prognosis, this book required a thinking cap, but the mental effort is so worth it. As I read I felt my heart/soul/insides expand to near bursting. And throughout the last chapter I wept.

Medicine River by Thomas King (novel): Another book that has been on my shelf for years. I grabbed this one on my way out the door for our annual holiday on Galiano Island because it looked like good beach reading. And it was. It’s the story of a good-hearted, generous half-Blackfoot man who bumbles along with little self-awareness but bucket loads of kindness. It’s also the story of family, community, identity, love and healing.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery (Children’s lit): Can you believe my kids (aged 12 and 14) had never read or been read this book? When I discovered this horrifying fact a few weeks ago I set out to remedy the situation pronto. We finished reading it aloud last night. It was as good as I remembered.

Inner Compass, an Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality by Margaret Silf (non-fiction, spiritual formation): This book is a layman’s Jesuit/Ignatian Theology and Practice 101. While the writing style is a bit clunky, the practical exercises have been helpful especially the insights on consolation and desolation.

Hold Me Tight, Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Dr. Sue Johnson (non-fiction, marriage): Attachment theory meets marriage advice. Johnson is a psychologist and the creator of the groundbreaking Emotionally Focused Therapy. Throw out all that advice you've read about unpacking your childhoods, learning how to argue better, making grand romantic gestures. ”Instead," says Johnson, "get to the emotional underpinnings of your relationship…” Just finished this one last night too. Really good.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Word? The Epic Saga of the Bird That Powers Civilization by Andrew Lawler (non-fiction, journalism/natural history): Here’s the blurb from the jacket: "Why did the Chicken Cross the World presents the sweeping history that this humble fowl deserves. Queen Victoria was obsessed with it. Socrate’s last words were about it. Charles Darwin and Louis Pasteur made their scientific breakthroughs using it. Catholic popes, African shamans, Chinese philosophers, and Muslim mystics praised it. Neuroscientists studying the long-abused chicken brain are uncovering signs of a deep intelligence as well as insights into our own behavior.” This is why I’m reading it. And because one reviewer said that it reads like a mystery novel. And because we keep chickens.

What are you reading, Blog Chums?

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The Slow Sacred Texts of the Dying

photo credti: Macia Pevey

My sister sits daily at the bedsides of the dying.

She is a hospice chaplain. This is her job.

On a recent visit to a private residence, my sister was greeted by the 80-year-old daughter of a 104-year-old dying woman. The daughter, white-haired and stooped, opened the door and in a sing-song drawl called over her shoulder, “Mama, the preacher’s here,” a pronouncement that had my sister rubber-necking over her own shoulder looking for “the preacher” who had snuck in behind her.This geriatric announcement, “Mama, the preacher’s here,” while so funny on so many levels, is also so true. My sister is a preacher. She preaches from the slow, sacred texts of the dying’s last days.

This is what she preaches:

We need to fearlessly affirm. The dying shed all inhibitions. My sister, middle-aged and of normal attractiveness, has been told she’s beautiful by more patients than she can count. The approach of death has not affected these people’s eyesight; it’s affected their inhibition, shattering the veneer of decorum that has kept them from voicing their true feelings and thoughts. The words come forth in childlike innocence and honesty and are therefore the furthest thing from flattery because they are offered by those with nothing to lose or gain. My sister receives these words like the benedictions they are.

We need to connect at all costs. On one particular visit, my sister entered a hospital room to find the patient’s children hunched, each in his or her own chair, paralyzed in isolation and anxiety at the decline of their mother. My sister sat with them, holding their mother’s hand. Gently, she suggested that the patient’s 60-year-old daughter place her hand on her mother’s leg.It was a simple act, but in touching her mother, this grieving woman broke the spell that held her apart from the one she wanted to love. Soon she was massaging her mother’s feet as her siblings swapped stories from their childhood. One truly hilarious story involved a rabid squirrel, a garbage can, and a baseball bat. Soon they were weeping with laughter, the beauty of their connectedness restored by physical contact and their shared stories............

But wait, there's more! To read the rest of this post take a little jaunt over to Shelovesmagazine. The ending is just a click away.

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