Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Pursuit of God's Splendor: the theme of my blog

I've shared how much I love following the church calendar to provide a sense of rhythm and place for our family. Each year our most special days are centered around the life of Christ as we celebrate his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. We learn and relearn how we can be like him. And as we build these traditions we look forward with anticipation to what God will do in each new season. Over the last 10 years, we have created a rhythm of our days that brings us into deeper knowledge of Christ and one another.

As we have begun to create a rhythm for our family, I find more of a desire for rhythm and place in all parts of my life. It is not enough to have created space for God on Sunday or a Feast Day--I want more. Indeed, that space isn't even possible unless all of my life is centered on Him. When I race through my week, to come to a screeching halt on Sunday, it is hard to rest, it is difficult to hear his voice. Norman Wirzba writes that

"many of us submit to daily schedules that keep us moving at a soul-blistering, exhaustion-inducing pace, and we agree to ever-lengthening to-do lists that invariably leave us stretched or stressed to the breaking point...The frantic, fragmenting, multi-tasking character of contemporary living has made it likely that many of us simply evade or fail to consider with much seriousness or depth, life's most basic and profound questions:

What is all our living finally for?
Why do we commit to so much?
Why do we devote our selves to the tasks or priorities that we do?
Will we know when we have achieved or acquired enough?
What purpose does our striving serve?

...[and] in answering them we get a clearer picture of how closely our intentions and our living line up with the purposes of God.
Do we truly believe ourselves to be children of God and members of creation, and thus able to trust in God's beneficent care and provision?" (Living the Sabbath p. 19-20)

God creates and sustains a world dependent on his goodness and we are invited to find delight in His abundance. Not forced or coerced, invited. But it is an invitation we often chose to ignore and thus miss out on much of God's care. Wendell Berry writes that

"The creation is a living work in which every creature must participate...We humans, by our particular nature, must participate for better or worse, and this is our choice to make. Will we choose to participate by working in accordance with the world's originating principles, in recognition of its inherent goodness, in gratitude for our membership in it, or will we participate by destroying it in accordance with our always tottering, never resting self-justifications and selfish desires" (Living the Sabbath preface).

Much of our failure to see the abundance of God stems from a modern life disembodied from any sort of rhythm that we find in the created world. As Wordsworth wrote 202 years ago:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

So much of our modern life separates ourselves from the natural world. Many people no longer have to experience the cold of winter and the heat of summer outside their home or place of work. Yet then one day seems so very much like the next. And we can live indifferently here or there, and move when we wish, so it matters little to us what the city or builders do to our local creeks and forests (as long as it doesn't effect our taxes!).

As our family has found rhythm and place in the Church year and looked to Sabbath as the culmination and high point of our week, we also wanted and then found more ways to participate in the times and places of creation.

Spending time in nature on walks through parks, by creeks, around our neighborhood are small ways we have found to reclaim our hearts. We see the rhythms of work and rest, birth and death all around us. And we create rhythm as we visit and revisit the same hikes through each season. We travel at a snail’s pace as we go, following or waiting for our little ones as they investigate ants, leaves, streams (have you ever tried hiking with a 2 yr old?!). But at this pace and through our repeated steps, we begin to see changes in plant and tree and flower as we go. The repetition of our steps on these trails is not really about exercise, nature study, or even really time together, although this is all accomplished; our walks have opened all our eyes to the small wonders of God's creation. In the fall, our children fell in love with the yellow poplar leaves on the ground; then this Spring they found these amazing flowers covering our trail—to their amazement these flowers were from their beloved poplars! We would miss these wonders without repetition and rhythm.

Gardening has become another way for us to create a rhythm for our days. We have participated in our "membership," as Berry puts it, with this earth as we work our little garden plots. All that goes into tending a garden forces us to be aware of the forecasts for hail or frost or heat. All that planting and weeding and watering creates a feeling of membership and place; so much so, that on our last vacation if you would ask any one of us what we missed most about home, we would have all said "our garden." And so we have found a rhythm as we follow the seasons and the needs of our garden each day. It is this work that builds in us a capacity for delight and gratitude. The time spent makes us long for the first bite of that first ripened tomato. The first leaves of spinach are eaten with wonder and gratitude. So even our cooking and eating according to what's in season has become another way we've marked the time and created a sense of place. A few weeks ago we were surrounded by empty plots of dirt and in faith planted our seeds. When we eat from our garden we know these fruits were so recently unavailable to us and in a few weeks they will be gone again.

And since we cannot grow all we need, shopping for fresh produce at our local farmer's market is another step. At first, it was hard: what do you mean tomatoes aren't in season yet, we can't eat blueberries anymore, the pears were all damaged by hail? But again the longing and desire.

I remember too that last summer I was very pregnant and it was very hot and I had 2 small children in tow and at times I wondered if it was worth it. Couldn't I get this same produce at the air-conditioned, wide-aisled, large cart supermart down the street?

And then I tasted this produce still filled with sunshine- it tasted like I remembered it as a child. Blueberries as big as eyeballs tasted like blueberries. Tomatoes like tomatoes. Fresh, not waxed or coated, not sprayed to color (ripen is hardly a word you can use to describe most of the brightly colored “produce” at the grocery store).

If I thought it was work to just buy the produce, how much more work the farmers and their children had to work that very day to bring me the food (the very people I got to meet and shake hands with, the very people who greeted my little ones with smiles and samples, who gave me advice on storing and cooking). Whether it was rainy or hot, whether I showed or not.

And I learned wonder and gratitude.

Wordsworth continues:

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.

The Sea, the winds are in tune with the moon, the hours. And we are not. It is a rare thing to find delight and wonder and gratitude with the very ordinary things of life.

I want to find splendor in dirt, seed, sun, and rain--"the ordinary stuff lifted up which is holy."

And so, my days are filled with the repetitious work of a mother and homemaker, gardener and teacher, wife and friend, and my attempts to do work that fits the world's originating purposes reveals the "inherent goodness" of creation and the glory of God. I’m more able to rest and delight in the work and in the work He has done. Living out the liturgy of the church year is just one small step. There are many more to take.


MomCO3 said...

Amy, you should send this to Kerry's To Every Meal There is a Season (a link's at for her farmer's market reporter series. Thanks for your thoughtfulness.

Amy said...

Thanks! I really recommend Living the Sabbath by Weirzba

Jessica said...

This is just a beautiful post, Amy. I've been enjoying your blog so much this past week!

Allie said...

You are such a beautiful writer Amy! I am posting you to my FB page so others can start reading. Looking forward to seeing you all in a couple of weeks!

At A Hen's Pace said...

Just reading back... I got so behind, but was very blessed tonight by your great ideas, enthusiasm and attitude of gratitude!


Amy said...

Thanks for all the encouragement! It's so nice to get feedback.


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