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..........

To read the rest of this article click on over to Shelovesmagazine
  (For your extra cyber travel you will be rewarded with a Rumi poem! :))
Click here.


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Getting Grounded

photo credit: Brooke McAllister
Happy Friday, Blog Chums!  I'm writing over at Sheloves.com again today. Click on the link at the end of this post to read the whole story...
A new friend walked with me through our garden. She pointed at the white cloth draped over a row of growing carrots. “What’s that white cloth for?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I replied.

She looked at the garlic bed and remarked on how many green shoots there seemed to be. “How many varieties are you growing?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I replied.

She pointed at a moth fluttering over the cauliflower. “Is that a good moth or a bad moth?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I replied.

And then I crumpled to the ground.

“I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know,” I wailed, clutching my head with both hands and swaying dramatically on my knees. There might have been screechy violin music in the background. The sky might have turned black and the clouds rained blood.

And then I woke up...

Read the rest of this post at Sheloves


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This Just in from the Pope


Actually, the following pontifical sound bites are not “just in," but I did just discovered these morsels of environmental wisdom from Pope Francis this morning. Having a bit of a crush said pontiff (yes, I’m that ecumenical and that much of a religious nerd!), I was trolling around on the internet looking for the Pope's latest wise and pithy musings, as one does, and I came upon his address in celebration of the UN’s World Environment Day, which rolls around each June 5th – so old news, but new to me. True to his track record, what Pope Francis had to say was wise, compassionate and convicting:

Addressing a crowd of visitors and pilgrims in St. Peter’s square, the pontiff said, "When we talk about the environment, about creation, my thoughts turn to the first pages of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, which states that God placed man and woman on earth to cultivate and care for it. And the question comes to my mind: What does cultivating and caring for the earth mean? Are we truly cultivating and caring for creation? Or are we exploiting and neglecting it?”

Moving from the theological to practical, the Pope framed the environmental issue of waste in the context of justice and the needs of the poor:

"We should all remember, however, that throwing food away is like stealing from the tables of the the poor, the hungry! I encourage everyone to reflect on the problem of thrown away and wasted food to identify ways and means that, by seriously addressing this issue, are a vehicle of solidarity and sharing with the needy.”

Of course, this sort of statement is liable to remind us all of those childhood meals when we refused to finish our peas and our mothers harrangued us with guilt laden words like, "Don't you know there are children starving in Africa who would love to eat those peas?!" Which, of course, leaves us completely off the hook because, really, we can't package those peas and FedX them to Somalia.

But we can start to buy only what we need. We can use up what's in our veggetable cripser drawers. We can eat less meat and avoid industrially farmed meat, which requires far more grain and energy calories than it delivers to the eater. We can grow a bit more of our own food and share it with others. With the money we save on meat and wasted veggies we can give to organizations like FH Canada and World Vision who support farmers in developing countries.

We can see our eating as an act of solidarity.
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HomeBrewed Christianity Goes Green



Hello Blog Chums!

I want to make you all aware of a wonderful creation care podcast series that has just come online this week. It’s hosted by a wonderful website called HomeBrewed Christianity (think theology, beer and winsome dialogue).

Yours truly lead off the series on all things Planted and A Rocha. The podcasts are about 50 minutes each and are free for your listening enjoyment (just scroll down until you see the little play button).

Go to http://homebrewedchristianity.com/

Here’s an outline of the series. Enjoy!

Episode 1: Leah Kostamo author of Planted: A Story of Creation, Calling, and Community

Episode 2: Matthew Sleeth author of Serve God Save The Planet , The Gospel According to the Earth & 24/6

Episode 3: Jennifer Butler is part of the new Christian Earthkeeping emphasis at George Fox Seminary. She is co-author of the upcoming book On Earth As In Heaven due out in November.

Episode 4: Randy Woodley with Shalom and the Community of Creation: an Indigenous Vision

Episode 5: John Cobb rang the alarm bell back in 1972 and has recently returned to the theme with Spiritual Bankruptcy: a prophetic call to action.

Episode 6: is a special surprise from new Elder Micky Jones and friend.

Episode 7: is specifically food related. How do get food on the table? What issues are related to feeding a family?

Episode 8: at the the end of each episode, we ask our guest the same 5 questions. Tripp and I are dedicating a TNT to interacting with their answers to the those 5 questions. It will be in the same format that we did the Brueggemann-Fretheim Bible Bash.
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Minding the Gap

credit: Ashkay Davis

I was walking with a friend around our farm the other day. We were looking at the weeds sprouting in the flower bed I am in charge of maintaining. And I confessed that I like the idea of gardening very much and I even like the act of gardening if there are fellow gardeners sharing the task very near my elbow, but a certain inertia sets in when it’s just me and the hoe. My friend, a fellow artsy-type who works as a filmmaker for an environmental organization, said, “Yes, I like the idea of caring for creation, but I have gaps.”

Perhaps it was simply the psychological balm of congruency, perhaps it was the sisterly intimacy born of confession, but whatever the reason, it felt good to admit and label my shortfall.

I am an earthkeeper. My absolutely favourite form of recreation is going for a walk in the woods. I know the names of most of the birds that visit our farm. The majority of the food I eat is cooked from scratch. But I have gaps.

So, I’ve set myself a gentle goal to mind the gaps, one at a time, and without guilt.

Gap Number One: Canning.

In my nearly 46 years of life I have helped two people can tomatoes. But I have never canned as much as a pea on my own. I like the idea of canning. I like the thought of pots bubbling with berries that will become jam, cupboards packed with peaches preserved in sugary juice, kitchen counters crowded with mason jars full of beans (with the light from the window filtering through all those stalks of green), tables laden with...

Uh, where was I?

How I will mind this gap? I will tap on the door of our housemate, Denise, who was raised by Mennonites and therefore knows how to can everything that might possibly grow in a garden, and I will ask her to help me can something.

Maybe beans.
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Gardening with the Least of These


Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many... The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” ... On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
 (I Cor. 12)

It’s easy to be romantic about gardening – red, ripe tomatoes dangling from the vine, shiny green cucumbers, crisp and fresh. In our promotional material for A Rocha’s Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) project, we certainly capitalize on this sort of romanticism, both in recruiting consumers to eat all those lovely organic tomatoes and cucumbers, and also in our recruiting of interns to plant, grown and harvest those beautiful veggies. And usually the romanticism holds. CSA members relish every last bean and brussel sprout, and interns enjoy the soul-nourishing activity of digging in the dirt and falling into bed with sore muscles and the satisfying knowledge that they have provided for the most essential of human needs – food – and they have done so in a way that cares for the earth. Therefore we were a bit surprised by a young intern from Cambodia who came to work in our CSA project. Though he had signed up to serve as a “Sustainable Agriculture Intern,” he was not very keen on digging, planting, weeding or harvesting. He was a lovely fellow, so were puzzled by his work ethic and reluctance to embrace what he had signed up to do. Turns out, farming is peasant work in Cambodia and this guy had a university degree. Once you’ve escaped the drudgery of farming in Cambodia you don’t go back. Farming is what the poor and uneducated do.

It’s easy to be critical of this sort of stance, but upon reflection it hits awfully close to home for those of us born and raised in the privileged North. Very often we’ve relegated the sweaty, backbreaking, daily and dismal tasks of everyday life (whether that be washing dishing, cars, carrots or babies’ bottoms) to those economically desperate enough to do these “thankless” jobs. We have, in fact, reserved the “less honorable” tasks to the “least of these.” The injustice of this sort of hierarchy of labor can be seen in all its starkness in the migrant farm workers who can’t afford to eat the fresh produce that they grow, choosing instead the affordability and convenience of fast food (and therefore unwittingly choosing the array of health problems, from diabetes to heart disease, that go along with that sort of diet). In a word, these workers suffer. But, if we are take seriously the words of Apostle Paul, if one part suffers, the whole body suffers.

An acknowledgment of that suffering and an act of solidarity with those on the bottom rungs of the agribusiness ladder, might be to plant a garden: stand with the least of these, if not literally, then figuratively, under a common sky. Get our hands dirty, break a sweat, grow some food. Such an act not only has the power to create empathy and solidarity, it has the power to ground us, literally, in and on the earth as we become aware of the cycles of seasons and weather; as we slow down and give thanks for the gifts of rain and sun and good soil; as we acknowledge the generous hand who provides it all. If done intentionally, gardening can become an experientially bridge not only between us and the Creator, but also between those for whom growing food is a romantic hobby and those for whom it is a grinding way of life. Sore muscles and callused hands can become a prompt that leads us to remember and pray for our less fortunate brothers and sisters. By planting a garden we proclaim that we are part of a bigger human community – a bigger body – as we give honour to those who appear least.
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Sabbath Simplicity Part II

Credit:  Jeremy Tarling
As we train our gaze to a horizon beyond the consumer habits of our society, the Sabbath becomes a day of refashioning. The recalibration that occurs spills into the rest of the week as we shift away from a consumer-driven way of living toward a relational way of living. Indeed, as I’ve come to recognize the holiness of this one day and as I’ve gazed through this weekly window into the eternal by simply stopping and resting, I’ve begun to realize that God has left windows open throughout the week through which a Sabbath draft flows. Moments are found to realign, to practice that art of saying no, to resist the temptations of competition and consumerism.

As an offering in these Sabbath musings I present a poem written while reflecting on a metaphor common in Jewish lore, where the Sabbath is compared to a queen. Thus, just as one would roll out the red carpet for a royalty, so one honors this day as the Queen of days.

The Sabbath Queen

The days are drones and swirl
about my head, darting,
drumming in my ears.
Beneath them I squat,
swollen with the sting of their concerns
of commerce and competition.

I heave myself
from place to place,
but find nowhere to rest;
all is bustle and business,
when what I need is binding up
of wounds and worries.

But then I come to her—
regal in her unconcern
for the frenzied course I’ve taken.
She is midwife to my frustration,
birthing the stillborn cares,
which she sets aside, swaddled in a solitary
place I do not know.

In their stead she offers
nothing but a place to sit and rest.
And in that rest I am refashioned—
unswollen; the poison of the days transfused
with a nectar sweet and satisfying,
so that when I rise to bid her well,
I am well.

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Sabbath Simplicity

credit:  Brooke McAllister


My family keeps the Sabbath. Not religiously—as in, we don’t always do religious things. But we are pretty religious about “keeping” it. Usually we go to church. Usually we eat simply—eggs and toast is normal fare for Sunday dinners. Usually we say “no” to invitations and engagements unless they involve family. If it’s winter we might go cross-country skiing; if it’s rainy we might read a book aloud as a family; if it’s sunny we might take a walk at the beach. Our only hard and fast rule is no shopping. The point is, we say “no” to certain things. We step out of our normal rhythms of work and commerce and step into a new way of being.

Essentially, the Sabbath is about time. It’s about trusting in a rhythm of time that depends not on clocks attuned to commerce, but on a larger clock attuned to the rhythms of nature and of God. Sabbath is rooted first in the Jewish notion of day, which in their calculation begins at sundown. Thus, we go to sleep as the day is just getting rolling. We wake when the day’s half over. In a society where productivity is the measure of worth, it would seem counter intuitive to begin one’s day by lying down and shutting one’s eyes. The beginning of day is for writing lists, making plans, springing from the starting blocks, not for putting on one’s pyjamas. But in the Jewish creation narrative, the day begins not with the rising of the sun, but with its setting—there was evening, there was morning, the first day. The day begins with rest and is followed by work, a work already begun by God, and into which humans join.

The Sabbath is also rooted in the Jewish understanding that this particular day is a different sort of day, not only in its parameters, but in its essence. The Jewish creation narrative, Abraham Heschel says, declares that the first thing in all of creation that is declared holy is the Sabbath—not a people or a place, but a day. Everything else in creation is declared good, but this day, the seventh day, is declared holy. The Sabbath, then, becomes a “palace in time,” into which we are invited. The invitation, writes Heschel, is to come away from the “tyranny of things of space” to “share what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation.”

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Blessed Stillness

credit:  Brooke McAllister

I woke this morning with my “to do” list playing a loop track in my brain. It’s longer than usual and my insides felt tight as a result. But remembering the words of my gurus (Martin Luther: “I find I have so much to do that I must spend two hours a day in prayer;” and the equally sage Anne Lamott: “Keep moving or you die.”), I pushed myself outside for a quick walk before tackling the tasks of the day.

I strolled off our property and into the adjacent woods. The first thing that struck me, besides the tangle of green that has burst into being in the last few weeks, was birdsong -- so clear and bright and immediate it seemed each bird had an amplifier on his little scissor mouth. The woods were full of throaty exuberance. “Listen to me! I’m a bird!” each one seemed to be trumpeting.

Then it was off the woodland trail and down to the Little Campbell River to a bench my farmmates have dubbed “the Listening Bench” where I go to, well, listen. My practice is to sit quietly and practice the presence of God through contemplative prayer – be present to the Presence that finds me there. I hadn’t been sitting for more than three minutes when he came. In the river’s current, brown from the recent rains, a bigger brown – a square face, flat ears, sturdy body and wide flat tail, like a flipped rudder. A beaver. Four seconds and he was gone – carried swiftly downstream and out of view.

The whole incident -- the temptation to tackle “to do's”, the invitation to stillness, the blessings of the birds and beaver -- put in mind of a Mary Oliver poem:

It Was Early
(from Evidence)

It was early,
 which has always been my hour
  to begin looking
   at the world

and of course,
 even in the darkness,
  to begin
   listening into it,

especially
 under the pines
  where the owl lives
    and sometimes calls out

as I walk by,
 as he did
  on this morning.
   So many gifts!

What do they mean?
 In the marshes
  where the pink light
   was just arriving

the mink
 with his bristle tail
  was stalking
   the soft-eared mice,

and in the pines
 the cones were heavy,
  each one
   ordained to open.

Sometimes I need
 only to stand
  wherever I am
   to be blessed.

Little mink, let me watch you.
  Little mice, run and run.
   Dear pine cone, let me hold you
    as you open.

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Practicing Gratitude

credit:  Brooke McAllister



The hallmark of a truly “simple” life is gratitude. “Gratitude is the heart of faith,” writes Mary Jo Leddy, author of Radical Gratitude. In this vein, she relates a lovely prayer of gratitude the Jewish people pray every Passover as they celebrate the deliverance of the Hebrew people from Egypt. The prayer centres around the Hebrew word Dayenu, which in English means, It would have been enough.

– If you had only led us to the edge of the Red Sea but not taken us through the waters, it would have been enough.

– If you had only taken us through the Red Sea but not led us through the desert, it would have been enough.

– If you had only led us through the desert but not taken us to Sinai, it would have been enough. 

Leddy suggests using this template as a helpful spiritual exercise in reflecting on one’s own life. For example: If I had only been born but not had a twin sister, it would have been enough. If I had only had a twin sister but hadn’t visited Orcas Island, it would have been enough. If I had only seen the sun set off Otter’s Point, but hadn’t experienced a snowfall in the Rockies, it would have been enough.

When we are satisfied with our lives as being enough, we are able to resist the whispers of consumerism that tell us we don’t have enough or we are not enough. When our sense of satisfaction is rooted in an amazement at the givenness of every gift—from friends to home to our very own lives—then we are grounded in the firm grace of abundance.

Gratitude’s starting point is wonder. I love what the Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel says about true spiritual living: “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement.” He encouraged his students to take nothing for granted. “Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” The amazement comes as we realise everything we have and every gift we experience is pure grace. To be born would have been enough, but then I’m given a loving family. Wow! To be raised in a loving family would have been enough, but then I am surrounded by caring mentors. Amazing! We are invited not only to consider the big gifts, but the little gifts as well—the light slanting through the fir trees on a fall afternoon or the caress of a small child’s hand on our arm. It’s all grace. It’s all amazing. It all warrants our gratitude.

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Pride Cometh Before the Fall


credit:  Brooke McAllister
What I’m striving for in my own daily life is true simplicity, characterized not by deprivation, but by honest, joyful living. Out of this place of joy and material simplicity one is able to question both consumer trends and one’s own desires. One is freed to look more honestly at the roots of one's dissatisfaction and cravings.

If we live in this sort of freedom, we are also released from making simplicity a goal in of itself. Let’s face it, living lightly as an all consuming goal is so tempting because the mileposts can be so clear. Reduce garbage from three bags per week to one. Check. Buy birthday gifts at Fairtrade market instead of mall. Check.  The danger, of course, is that with each category checked off, the sense of moral righteousness inflates with it, until we’ve lost the wonder of gratitude and the joy of simple living and are instead focused on our own accomplishments. But pride always cometh before the fall! Allow me to illustrate.

Being leaders of a national Christian conservation organization, Markku and I occasionally get to play host to leaders of other national Christian conservation organizations. It’s a pretty small fraternity and while there are no secret handshakes to signify one’s membership in this elite club, there are plenty of other signifiers. Like, for instance, turning one’s living room into a laundromat.

“Ah, I see you’re using a laundry line,” Mr. Environmental CEO observes as I show him and his wife into our home.

“Why, yes,” I say, practically pawing the ground with my toe.

“In your living room no less!” remarks the wife, with obvious approval.

“The environment’s more important than aesthetics,” I chirp.

“Indeed,” everyone harmonizes in sympathetic agreement.

We weave through our 800 square-foot dwelling to the kitchen, and I can tell they are taking mental stock of our possessions and lack thereof. Feeling very chuffed about our obviously moderate ecological footprint, I brew up some Fairtrade, organic loose-leaf tea, and we start in on the favorite topic of all Environmental CEOs everywhere—the evils of a consumer society. We bash all the hedonists we can think of for their private jets, mega mansions and fleets of Hummers.

Conversely, what enlightened souls this guy and his wife are! So perceptive when it comes to society’s ills. So bang on. They are truly so very likeable. I start to wonder if we can set up some sort of arranged marriage between our children so that we can spend all our future Christmases together.

In the middle of my reverie, Mr. Environmental CEO shifts the conversation. To dishwashers. Not the billionaires’ uber-delux dishwashers, but the average citizen’s plain old dishwashers. Such energy hogs, he says. And, whatever happened to the good ole days of hand washing dishes? And, how about redirecting the money people spend on electricity to feeding the poor? The litany goes on and on, and I begin to feel more and more like a kid caught with her hand in the proverbial cookie jar; for, all the while this guy is musing, I am trying to magically inflate myself like a puffer fish so as to conceal what I am standing right in front of—our brand new Bosch ultra-quiet dishwasher, which I love to pieces.

P.s.  I know, I know, the image above is of an antique stove and not an ultra quiet Bosch dishwasher.  Please allow a bit of artistic licence in the name of aesthetics. It is, after all, still a kitchen appliance!
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Embracing the Journey of Simplicity

credit:  Brooke McAllister


Embarking on a journey toward simple living is to travel into uncertain terrain, especially when one is navigating only by the lay of one’s own land. It’s easy to feel you’ve taken the high moral road when comparing the ecological footprint of your family car (ours is a fifteen-foot long, fifty-three horse power Honda Civic) to David Geffen’s 453-foot, 50,000 horse power mega-yacht, but all self-righteousness is shattered to smithereens when comparing the self-same Civic to the family rickshaw in India. And, yes, my home might be modest in square footage by North American standards, but compared to an African mud hut, it is palatial.

Simplicity can be a bit of a tightrope walk with pitfalls of self-righteousness on one side and crippling guilt on the other. We can so easily end up like the friend of author Alan Durning, who aptly quipped, “I used to go on shopping trips, now I just go on guilt trips.” But despite the hazards, the journey of simplicity is worth taking if we are serious about making the connection between our everyday lives and the everyday lives of everyone and everything else in the world. In many ways, living more simply is the easiest and most practical thing the average North American can do to care for creation and their less fortunate planet-mates. Not many of us can trek to the Outer Hebrides to ring Storm Petrels or set up an orphanage in famine-ravaged Ethiopia, but all of us can shop a little less!
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