Waiting, Walking, Working Revisited

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Hmmm. My last post was not my most articulate ever. That is okay. There is a lot of newness here. New places, faces and ideas. Hear this though; I love new things (at home I was dubbed the ‘Novelty Queen’ by my mum). They are interesting and engaging, stretching you in all sorts of ways and presenting lots of possibilities. However, there does come a point when the layers of newness begin to accumulate, weighing me down, wearing the edges. Finding new places to buy toilet paper, ‘happy’ meat and gluten flour, joining new banks, phone companies and theological colleges will do that.

We began this week, having spent last week ‘orienting’ ourselves well. Greek, Hebrew, New Testament and Christian Thought and Culture (when I know, I’ll tell you!). More new. More ideas. More Bible. More creative, justice-seeking ways to live it out. More people to share it with. All while the creation-care-come-environmental echoes of the Boat course grow steadily stronger in my mind and the Syrian tragedy bewilders my breaking heart. The accumulated cacophony means I am wondering again about working. And walking. And waiting.

This is a season of ‘knowing’ for me, there is a marked change of landscape to attend to, but, regardless, but there are still lots of books here. Where the focus once was honeybees and sustainability, waste and want, celebration and cake, now N. T. Wright and other New Testament Scholars join me in (trying) to speak Greek at the table. The boat course taught me that knowledge is important. Without genuine knowledge, we live in the dark, unenlightened, wisdom eluding us. Without knowledge, there can be no love or care. But on the other hand we have the 1 Corinthians 8:1 reminder that knowledge for knowledge’s sake ‘puffs up’, it is love that builds up. I want to be with the first group. I want to know more so I can love more. Knowledge of another (or even just other), can humble, can bring godly wisdom. This vision seems important to grasp now.

I have always been an ‘applied’ kind of girl, loving working with my hands, loving ‘doing’ things. As a Technology teacher, I worked in the TAS department, the Technology and Applied Sciences department. Someone said at orientation this week that all Theology is Applied Theology – I love that, but I know that I am going to have to, Jacob-style, wrestle with it before I can settle down, at peace with it (for now, for this season). On one hand I am delighted that God wants my ‘knowing’ to be applied, that He is interested in my everyday-walking-around-life. I love ‘stuff’ (especially food, fibre, fabric, flower type ’stuff’), I love ‘doing’ and making things. I am so glad He is keen on His physical world and for me to live physically in it with all the rest of actual-physical creation. I am so glad He is interested in my walking and my working. But the question rings out again; ‘how shall we now then live?’. The process of wrestling (maybe I should add it to my other three ‘w’ words!), of ‘working out our salvation with fear and trembling’ (Philippians 2:12) so that we know the ‘good work He has planned for us to walk in’ (Ephesians 2:10) seems to torment me at times! But perhaps the clue is in the fact that I jumped books in that sentence. The end of Philippians 2:12 does not have us working, Ephesian style. It actually has God working; ‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling [Paul says] … for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure’. Waiting on Him, being still, knowing and (far more importantly) being known by Him comes to the forefront again. He’s going to work in me, in you, for His good pleasure.

Do I work? Does God? Yes and yes. The tension will remain. Everyday I will get up in this eco-physical-spiritual world and I will try and apply my theology. I will try and walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8), rather than running ahead, full of anxious energy. I will try and wait, to live in the season that is happening, aware of my dependence on Him (and the rest of His good, but, in places, very tired creation) held daily before my eyes, thankful not resentful. I will try to do the rather-clear-and-non-negotiable good works He sets before me (instead of getting stressed about which ones are mine to do specially). I will try to love, ‘because He first loved me’ (1 John 4:10), sending His Son to save and show me. I will try and care for the ‘orphans and the widows’ (James 1:27). I will try to a live a quiet [but not a small] life, and ‘work with my hands’ (1 Thessalonians 4:11). I’ll study, I’ll do food shopping. I’ll make dinner and share it. Some days I will reach out and others, bunker down, trying to learn apt stillness. Maybe I’ll even make something beautiful every now and then, a bit like Him. Mostly I want to learn to do it with joy and gratitude* because its gift, and offered back to the Giver, it seems right worship. More about Him, less about me. I am a slow learner. Maybe that is why I am still studying.

The garden continues to grow. He tends the tiny seedlings, patiently watering and pruning as needs arise. Progress is slow but steady.

* (not fear, because fear has to do with punishment (1 John 4:18), and there is now no condemnation (Romans 8:1))

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Transition

It has been a slow few months of blogging. A long anticipated season of transition, the last six months have, at times, surprised us. We have both worked far more than we thought we would be able to (and we are very grateful for that!). We have lived with more people than we ever have before, testing out the joys and challenges of ‘living-in-community’. Old friendships have blessed us, and unexpected ones have blossomed. Family, near and far, have been faithful in loving us.

For me, my 3/4 load of Masters of Arts (Food Studies) subjects has given me more to think about; from how to write well (about food) to urban food production, Alice Waters to vegan ideology. With the people, the projects and the day-to-day-doing there has not been much space for processing and posting. It took a while, but as I adjusted to the increased white-noise levels of life, I have (very, very gradually) quietened. It is a trajectory that needs to continue into our new season. Learning to be okay with stillness remains a personal challenge.

Heading to Canada, just the two of us, we imagine life will be quieter. There will be a new course of information to digest, to imbibe and to learn to embody. I hope to keep cooking and making as we go, and perhaps to share something of what I learn. For now, after handing in my final assignment, there is (just a little) space to revisit some thoughts I have had and things I have cooked this semester. Stay tuned!

Celebrating Seasons

I’m currently studying a subject for my food and anthropology focused Masters course on the way that people celebrate with food. I wanted to share a little of the readings that were for this week in a few blog posts because the information they covered were really fascinating. What follows is a series of quotes and my reflections on the connections between Native American Indian religious beliefs and their environmental landscape. The exerpts are from Linda Murray Berzok’s book American Indian Food, 2005.

“Land, religion and life were one; agriculture was sacred and hunting holy” (p143)
“Agriculture became a holy labour, capable of bringing the people into profound contact with the powers of life” (p144)
“The act of gathering plants and roots was considered a sacred ritual and celebrated with ceremonies, both when the women first set out … and when they returned to prepare their gleanings” (p151)
As a Christian who believes in a God who made a land for His people to enjoy, tend to and be blessed by, I wonder if recognition of the holiness the land and obtaining nourishment from it would change our gratitude for life and food in important ways.

“Sustenance crops, particularly maize, beans and squash, were considered gifts from sacred beings” (p144)
With amazing and hugely advanced technology it is easy for our food to be something we produced, we become ‘self made’ people and loose our gratitude. We quickly forget the miracle of species, seeds, shoots and seasons that really we only have a small amount of control over …

“sought the blessings of the spirits for this endeavour, oversaw planting at the right time, recited prayers when planting seeds, conducted ceremonies that linked the life cycle of maize and sacrificed sacred foods at the beginning of each year’s harvest.” (p144)
They also had deep convictions about cycles of time; that if they did not uphold “rituals [that] revolved around the cyclical processes that sustained life – hunting, gathering, fishing, planting, growing and harvesting” (p147), “the world would die” (p147).
In our efforts to feed more, grow more and earn more, we have lost our sence of seasonality, the blessing of the (perhaps somewhat inefficient, thankyou Kirk Patston) cycles built into our world that provide for us.

“‘For a people so intensely agrarian for so many centuries of their existence, all of life does result from happenings within the earth, from the union of earth, water and sun.'” (p144)
In many ways this remains true today. Our actions indicate that we, perhaps, just don’t believe it!

They have a “belief that we are what we eat” (p150) which expressed itself a little differently to our understanding of this concept, they thought those eating meat of an animal took on qualities of the animal whose meat was consumed. However, this did engender a respect for the environment and for life given for life that we would do well to better emulate!

Feasting and celebration marked both events in the human life cycle and events in the yearly agricultural cycle; “observing the appearance of the first fruits in the season” (p152). “The … Iquoquois Confederacy – Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca – held five feasts in a year; at the time of making maple syrup after planting when they gave thanks for the season and learned from the chiefs how to ensure a good harvest, the Green Corn Feast, the harvest thanksgiving, and at year’s end at the time of the Old Moon around the end of January” (p154).
This made me wonder how and what we celebrate … life in all its stages or only the attractive parts? The birth of babies and 18th Birthdays, engagement and anniversaries but do we really celebrate growing older? Lost of fertility? In some societies these occasions are marked! And then, do we even bother to think beyond occasions that pertain to us and our lives and on to the (now unseen) events that bring us food and sustenance – the beginning of the strawberry harvest? The bringing in of the wheat? These matter to our lives but we live as though they don’t because of our wealth and the increasing distance between the modern western life and the land that sustains it. Those new, autumn mandarins in my fridge definitely deserve celebration I think!

When first food ceremonies were held, these were “ritual preparation for the [harvest] … The food’s spiritual and physical necessity was acknowledged, and forgiveness asked from the spirits assuring them that the food had not been taken wantonly” (p154).
And what if we were constantly aware of not taking food wantonly … would our shopping lists grow shorter? Or involve different shops (perhaps independent stores and local green grocers) or products (perhaps fairtrade or sustainably and compassionately farmed items)? Would we grow more ourselves so we realised just how much work was involved? I don’t have all the answers but I think that they deserve pondering!

Interestingly the author, Linda Murray suggested that the Native American Indian “spiritual beliefs evolved from the need to ensure the food supply” (p143). As a Christian, I see the world a little differently. I see a God who has lovingly created a good, fertile world that was the perfect environment for human flourishing. A place where people ruled under Him, trying to bless the environment He had made for them – to follow Him was not to coerce food from Him but to live full lives as people part of His story.

“He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate– bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts.” Psalm 104: 14-15

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Regular Onions

This was a piece of textile art I began in 2012. I attended a natural dyeing workshop with Kristen Ingemar through an organisation called The Australian Forum for Textile Arts and dyed a piece of silk with onion skins and cotton (a couple of pegs were the resist that made the lighter coloured square shapes). We were given a chance to sit quietly with one of our pieces and make something more of it. I was given the word ‘regular’. Onions are quite regular. They are used in nearly every cuisine in the world today. They are bulbs that grow up from the ground and nourish and bless our plates with flavour.

At the time I had also been reading a book called The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon, an Episcopalian Priest who loves both food and it’s Giver deeply. He writes a poem in Chapter 5 ‘Wave Breast and Heave Shoulder’ that takes the reader on a journey through creation … mineral, vegetable and animal, seeking to point out that sacrifice of life begets new life. This is a truth deeply embedded in the Christian understanding of the human condition and most fully exemplified in Jesus’ life. Capon insists that somehow, Jesus is both Lion and Lamb, priest and victim … and that is how life is to be lived. Taking in creation that it might be offered back to God and others in sacrifice.

It is a wonderful poem but now back to my onion. I had been asked to reflect on the word ‘regular’ and had this onion-skin dyed cloth and so, I reflected on the very ‘regular’, very ordinary nature of soil sustaining plants, which sustain human bodies, physiological beings with spiritual life intimately connected to our physical well-being. The words ‘tov, tov, tov’ are also a quote from Capon, the Hebrew declaration of the goodness of God’s created world that is both deeply physical and deeply spiritual all at once (this time from a different book, The Third Peacock.

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Home life

Learning to be someone responsible for a home is a new experience for me. Opening boxes, organising, finding furniture, putting things ‘just so’ can be very exciting and creative, whilst also quite messy and stressful at times. I have found it really helpful that as I began this adventure I was reading a book by Thomas Howard called Hallowed be this House (also printed as Splendour in the Ordinary). He raises the vision of home making and ordinary life, encouraging us to see our homes as little ‘shrines’, a place set aside for living that is shaped by God’s truth. Each area or room in the house is explored to see how we can be taught deep and wonderful mysteries about how the world is and should be as we ‘live’ in each.

In our houses, he says, we “come into the place where it is said to us, … see to it that what goes on here is a small picture of what ought to go on everywhere. It doesn’t go on everywhere, but your task is to see that it does here. This is the spot allotted to your priesthood. Be faithful” p20.

He really wants people to see that everything in our world is made by God and is therefore holy – when it is treated as such and offered back to God willingly by His people. It may seem that our lives are not at all filled with holy or special things, but he offers that actually it is the “ordinary things … like eating and drinking and working and playing and bread and wine …. [that, when] lifted up [are] the holy” p21. And these ‘holy things’, or “ordinary things perceived in their true light [teach us about] divine mysteries and glories” p21, for instance; cooking a meal or washing up for your family gives us a tiny glimpse into what true, deep, unconditional sacrificial love might look like (perhaps something like God’s love for us).

Howard finishes chapter two saying that as we offer our daily living to God, doing it for Him and by His strength we make them holy or “hallow them to the service for which they were given to us” p21, we actually begin to know the freedom that comes when we live in God’s story. We are “set free to live in the splendour where eating and drinking and working and playing are known for what they really are, forms of perpetual workshop and therefore bliss” p21.

It all sounds kind of similar to what Paul charges us with in Romans 12 – to offer our lives (our ordinary, everyday lives) to God as a sacrifice, an offering, a gift – and then, perhaps, the ordinary becomes less ordinary and our lives are infused with true beauty and grace. Its something I’m learning. That God is good with the ordinary, or with what seems to be ordinary, when He gets a look in. And then, suddenly, my ordinary life is not so ordinary, it is shot through with the deepest glory in the universe. This is definitely a divine mystery when you think about all the suds and mops and boxes and chux wipes that are involved.

Again, its something that I’m really only beginning to understand practically, but I want to keep learning (oh, and I would very much recommend the book!).

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life-your sleeping, eating, going-to-work and walking-around life-and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him.”  (Romans 12:1-2 MSG)