The hard-Working Beauty of Sunflowers

Beans climbing on sunflowers

Beans climbing on sunflowers

Like most of my garden friends I love sunflowers, but I must confess I usually only plant them so that the beans have something to climb on when they grow beyond their bamboo teepees and the squirrels have something to eat at the end of summer. We love to watch them scampering up the tall stalks to hang upside down on the huge flower heads.

I found this article in the Hard Working Beauty of Sunflowers recently that I thought was well worth a read.

The statement: “They’re a really iconic way to make people notice that you’re trying to make a change in the community,” really caught my imagination. I also found it very interesting that sunflowers are probably the second-oldest domesticated seed crop in eastern North America. (squash is the oldest). Evidently they originated in Mexico at least as far back as 2600 BC.

Another interesting fact I came across is that sunflower oil became popular in Europe in the 18th century, particularly with members of the Russian Orthodox Church, because sunflower oil was one of the few oils that was not prohibited during Lent.

I was also impressed to hear that recent research suggests sunflowers can pull heavy metal contaminants from polluted soil. They were used after the Chernobyl disaster, and more recently in response to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Koyu Abe, chief monk at the Buddhist Joenji temple has planted 200,000 flowers at the temple and distributed many more seeds. Read the story here

Then I came across this beautiful poem

Aztec Flower Song (anonymous, pre-Columbian)

Be indomitable, Oh my heart!
Love only the sunflower;
It is the flower of the Giver-of-Life!
What can my heart do?
Have we come, have we sojourned here on earth in vain?
As the flowers wither, I shall go.
Will there be nothing of my glory ever?
Will there be nothing of my fame on earth?
At most songs, at most flowers,
What can my heart do?
Have we come, have we sojourned on earth in vain?

So next time you see a sunflower in a bouquet of flowers or smiling over your neighbour’s fence remember that this is one of God’s long beloved flower and offer a prayer of thanks.


Whole Tree Architecture

Whole tree architecture - photo by Paul Kelley for New York Times

Whole tree architecture – photo by Paul Kelley for New York Times

I just could not resist posting this intriguing idea which I connected to at Inhabitat (not inhabit).

According to the Forest Products Laboratory, a whole, unmilled tree can support 50 percent more weight than the largest piece of lumber milled from the same tree. Putting this principle into practice, Whole Tree Architecture is dedicated to building with materials that lumber companies consider scrap – weed trees, also know as ‘managed forest thinnings.’ The resulting projects are beautiful displays of locally sourced and sustainably managed materials.

Not to be confused with a traditional log cabin, building with whole trees is a sustainable, affordable building philosophy Roald Gundersun has been refining for the past 16 years. As much a forest management process as it is a building technique, Gundersun uses only local, small diameter — 10-inches or less — trees culled from the client’s site, and larger trees already downed by disease or wind. Trees are selected based on forest stand density and invasive species management as well as structural integrity and aesthetics. There is no milling, transportation, or bulk curing.

The benefits are economic as well as ecological. According to WTA, “…whole tree construction invests a greater proportion of its costs into local jobs and materials than conventional construction and also promotes healthy forest management for local timber resources.” Gunderson’s philosophy is holistic; every aspect of a project — design, engineering, construction and craftsmanship — is considered in light of the local ecology and economy.

While Whole Tree Architecture is obviously not feasible for everyone, it is certainly a brilliantly forward-thinking solution for the small farming community in Wisconsin where WTA is based. In our opinion, their use of local labor and local, renewable, and sustainably-managed materials offers a prescient vision of a vibrant, green future.

This is taken from an article first published in the New York Times. You can find the original article here

How To Build A Rain Garden

I have been intrigued by the concept of rain gardens for quite a while and was delighted to see this article from my friends at Soulsby Farm – A Very Small Farm. It is the best article on rain gardens that I have come across.

How to Build a Rain Garden

Got rain on the brain?

It hasn’t been very rainy yet, but it sure will be again soon. Have you thought about where all thatrain water is going to go? Rain gardens will capture the rain water and get into the ground where it belongs!

Every time it rains, we generate a ton of water.  Every drop collected with all of our neighbors, every parking lot, every business, every hard surface, generates rain water.  When we collect all that rain water together, it is usually too much for our local streams, creeks, and lakes to handle. When we pipe all that water to our local waterways, we create a lot of harm – we increase erosion and flooding, reduce native plant populations, and can even increase the spread ofinvasive species.

Rain gardens were developed as a way for a homeowner to do their part and beautify their property, while also trying to manage rain water at home and get it into the ground where it belongs.

What is a Rain Garden? Rain gardens are shallow depressions, usually six inches deep, that are hand-dug and planted with deep rooted, water-loving nativeplants.  Essentially our rain water is directed from our roofs to a sited rain garden where water can be captured and temporarily stored it for one to three days in duration.  Once there the plants, soil and microbes in the soil work together to clean the water, while the deep rooted native plants create capillaries that help it to soak into the ground .

When these gardens are not soaking up rain water, they are looking great and enhancing our landscapes.   Native plants have great leaf textures, a variety of flower colors and heights to create interesting and unique gardens for our homes.

How to Build a Rain Garden:
For more “how-to” information on rain gardens, please visit our resource page at:

Rain Garden Plant Lists for sunny & shady sites available on our website at:

This article was written by Soulsby Farm’s good friend John Gishnock of Formecology. John is the foremost authority in Rain Gardens in the Midwest and gives lectures throughout the US on subjects that include rain gardens, natural stone hardscape features, native landscape design, and sustainable landscape features. For information about John and his company please visit his website or click on the links above.

Making Peace with the Land

Making Peace with the Land

Making Peace with the Land

I have just started reading Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to reconcile with creation by agriculturalist Fred Bahnson and theologian Norman Wirzba. This is the seventh book in the resources for Reconciliation series.

All I can say at this point is that this is a very profound book, one that I think is essential for all who are interested in a holistic view of faith. Even reading the prologue has turned some of my thinking on its head. And what time to do this than after Pentecost as we enter the season of Ordinary time or as some prefer to call it Kingdom time. Listen to this provokative beginning talking about the first couple of chapters of Genesis.

We are right to believe that God loves you and me. But in these earliest pages of Scripture, we discover that God’s first love is the soil. This is how it has to be, because without healthy soil and the fertility and food it makes possible, there would be not terrestrial life of any kind. God’s love for us- described definitively in John 3:16 as God’s giving of his Son to us- only makes sense in terms of God’s love for the earth that sustains us. God daily cares for us by providing the nurture of food, as well as the the gifts of fiber and timber and energy, all of which find their origin in soil…. Genesis 2:15 is an invitation to know and share in God’s love for the whole creation. (pp16,18).

Over the next week or so I plan to post several articles about how we can steward God’s good earth in creative ways. If you know of examples of creative approaches to stewardship that you think need to be shared I would love to hear from you.

A Breath Prayer for Pentecost

I posted this on facebook this morning and meant to post it to the blog as well – enjoy

Tomorrow is Pentecost – this prayer was written as I contemplated the Holy Spirit breathed into us by Jesus (Jn 20:22)
Spirit of God may we breathe in and hold your love within us
May we breathe out and share it with the world
Spirit of God may we breathe in and hold your peace within us
May we breathe out and share it with the world
Spirit of God may we breathe in and hold your life within us
May we breathe out and share it with the world.

Faith Transforms the Earth into A Paradise – Wisdom from Jean Pierre de Caussade

Art at Overseas Ministries Study Centre

Art at Overseas Ministries Study Centre

Last week my good friend Tom Balke sent me this quote from 18th century French Mystic Jean Pierre De Caussade. (1675 – 1751).

“God instructs the heart, not by ideas but by pains and contradictions.”

His classic writings in Abandonment to Divine Providence express the belief that his belief that the present moment is a sacrament from God and that self-abandonment to it and its needs is a holy state. – right up my alley.

I must confess that I was not familiar with his work. But the quote made me hungry for more. So an internet search later I came up with some beautiful quotes and much more wisdom from this great man. Here are my favourites which I gleaned here that I thought you might enjoy.

Come, then, my beloved souls, let us fly to that love which calls us.
Why are we waiting?
Let us set out at once,
Let us lose ourselves in the very heart of God and become intoxicated with His love.
Let us snatch from His heart the key to all the treasures of the world and start out right away on the road to heaven.

There is no need to fear that any lock will hold us back.
Our key will open every door.

There is no room we cannot enter.
We can make ourselves free of the garden, the cellar, and the vineyard as well.
If we want to explore the countryside, no one will hinder us.
We can come and go;
We can enter and leave any place we wish,
Because we have the key of David, the key of knowledge, and the key of the abyss that holds the hidden treasures of divine wisdom.
It is this key that opens the doors of mystical death and its sacred darkness.
By it we can enter the deepest dungeons and emerge safe and sound.
It gives us entrance into that blessed spot where the light of knowledge shines and the Bridegroom takes His noonday rest.

There we quickly learn how to win His kiss and ascend with surety the steps of the nuptial couch.
And there we learn the secrets of love-
Divine secrets that cannot be revealed and which no human tongue can ever describe.

Form Beevers, Jon, trans. Abandonment to Divine Providence, NY Doubleday, 1975, pp 25,37, 40, 73, 81-82

Faith transforms the earth into a paradise.

By it our hearts are raised with the joy of our nearness to heaven.

Every moment reveals God to us.

Faith is our light in this life.

By it we know the truth without seeing it, we are put in touch with what we cannot feel, recognize what we cannot see, and view the world stripped of all its outer shell.

Faith unlocks God’s treasury.

It is the key to all the vastness of His wisdom.

The emptiness of all created things is disclosed by faith, and it is by faith that God reveals Himself …

With faith,

All that is dark becomes light, and what is bitter becomes sweet.

Faith transforms ugliness into beauty, and malice into kindness.

Faith is the mother of tenderness, trust, and joy …

There is nothing faith cannot overcome;

It passes beyond all shadows and through the darkest clouds to reach the truth, which it embraces and can never be parted from.

Ramiere, Rev. H., trans. Abandonment. New York: Benziger Brothers, 1887, pp. 112

The Overflow Project by Brian Wolters

Water is life

Water is life

This morning’s post comes from Brian “Wolt” Wolters. Wolt is the executive director of the Overflow Project . The issue of access to fresh water is one that I am particularly concerned about and I think that The Overflow Project is a very creative response to this issue.

I remember a report in my church’s bulletin the week after Easter titled “Easter by the numbers” sharing the number of Easter volunteers, attendees, services, and flowers. In general, churches promote and plan well in advance for Easter by decorating sanctuaries, orientating volunteers, and expanding parking lots. This year a church even rented out the Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle for its Easter gathering. Clearly, a phenomenon exists where people attend a church service on Easter more than any other day of the year, and churches make a big deal about it.

I am fascinated with Jesus, the very one people celebrate coming back to life on Easter Sunday. Joyfully and ironically, Jesus doesn’t disappear after Easter Sunday. In fact, Jesus lives on earth after his death before he ascends. The Holy Spirit then arrives on Pentecost. Easter is a season that spans 50 days.

Why do people – including churches- typically stop celebrating the day after Easter?

An alternative exists: living a life similar to Jesus as he actually teaches by being light in this world where there is so much darkness, caring for the poor and broken, and celebrating the hope and new life of Christ that he offers to all. Enough is enough. You have all that you need in Christ. Jesus ushers a new way of living in the world post-death as a testimony to us.

What does Easter and the significance of how Christ lives after his death mean to you? What would it look like to form new habits of faith and live intentionally? Could you go beyond writing checks and instead live and give generously out of the overflow in your life?

This year a small team and I launched a new endeavor called The Overflow Project to invite individuals and communities all around the world to participate in a new kind of living. During the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost we developed resources for groups and churches to celebrate and live simply to break down the barrier that divides rich and poor and to free us from ignorance about poverty.

Providing water brings life

Providing water brings life

Currently about 1 billion people in the world live without access to clean safe drinking water –a basic human right and a fundamental need for empowerment and economic development.

On Pentecost Sunday we will receive participant’s collective contributions to support sustainable clean water projects in Uganda. This effort changes our lives by opening our eyes to a different kind of life and changes Uganda through investing in clean water solutions and hygiene training.

The Overflow Project’s 50-Day Challenge is still happening right now. Anybody can join, even for the few days that remain.

We have so much to celebrate today! Christ has risen. Remember Easter for what it is, even today, nearly 50 days later.

Brian “Wolt” Wolters

What on Earth is a Finger Labyrinth?

finger labyrinth

finger labyrinth

Last year for my sixtieth birthday someone gave me a finger labyrinth. I put it in my draw and promptly forgot about it. However, as I started to research various methods of prayer to incorporate in my new book Return to Our Senses: Reimagining How We Pray I pulled it out again. To be honest this seemed a very strange way to prayer especially when most of the articles I read suggested that the best way to trace out a finger labyrinth is with a finger from your non-dominant hand. Evidently research suggests that our non-dominant hand has better access to our intuition.

Much to my surprise, when I experimented with my finger labyrinth, I found that it really did help me focus and often brought intuitive inspiration when I was grappling with challenging issues. This morning it inspired this prayer:

Walk with us Lord through all the twists and turns of life,
Walk with us when the clouds obscure the way,
when what seemed close is now so far away.
Walk with us Lord until we trust in you,
Lead us to the centre of your love.

Interestingly, some of the earliest labyrinths found in Christian churches are finger labyrinths, their circuits well worn over the centuries by the passage of innumerable fingers “walking” to the center and then out again.

In view of that you may like to try your own finger labyrinth experiment. Try this exercise from United Christ Church Ministries

Before you start any finger labyrinth “walk,” take time to breathe and relax. If you keep a journal, have it ready for recording any insights after your walk. Set an intention or question for the walk. Without an intention a finger labyrinth walk can become an exercise in hastily and mindlessly moving your finger along the circuits and wondering why at the end of the walk you even bothered. Say a prayer, if you like, for support, healing, and guidance.

Place a finger from your non-dominant hand at the entrance to the labyrinth. (Research shows that often our non-dominant hand has easier access to our intuition.) As you trace the circuit, stay open to whatever presents itself: feelings, sensations, memories, images, or just “knowings.” Pause at any time to breathe, be with a memory, work with an image, or simply relax into the labyrinth. At the center of the labyrinth, feel its connection to your own center. The center is a wonderful place to relax, pray, or sing. When you are ready, trace your way out, staying open to whatever comes up for you. When your walk is done, place both hands on the labyrinth and give thanks for whatever you learned and experienced.

Experiment and play with your labyrinth. Try using a favorite word or phrase that evokes the sacred for you. Repeat the mantra slowly in your heart as you “walk.” You may also walk with questions such as, “In what way do I most need to grow spiritually right now?” or “What most blocks me from fully receiving and living God’s love?” You can also walk the labyrinth in intercessory prayer for someone else, sending them the fruits of your walk.

If you are experiencing a difficult feeling-anger, grief, bitterness-have as your intention its healing and release (knowing, of course, that many deeper feelings may take more time than a walk).

If you are struggling with a problem, ask for insight and guidance: What must I release in order to allow healing? What am I not feeling or acknowledging that I must let into my conscious awareness to allow healing? Whom do I most need to forgive, and for what?

If you are working with an illness, either serious or insignificant, you may walk into the labyrinth simply asking to return to balance with yourself and life, no matter what the circumstances of your illness. You can also walk with the question: What part of my life (or me) am I neglecting that needs attention?

Illness may also be a teacher or an ally. If you are interested in exploring your illness as a teacher, you may walk asking, “How may I open to my illness as a teacher and ally?” or “What does my illness have to teach me at this point in my life?”

Resources for Pentecost 2012

He Qi pentecost

Pentecost by Chinese artist He Qi

Sunday May 27th is Pentecost. This is the day when we celebrate:.

  1. The coming of the Holy Spirit and the infilling of Jesus’ disciples with the power to go out and change the world
  2. The great multi cultural gathering that we catch a glimpse of as we watch the spirit fall and suddenly everyone is able to understand each other – not all speaking the same language but able to understand each other in their own languages.  Acts 2:11.
  3. Pentecost is traditionally the time that many churches pray for the peace of our world in which at times there seems to be so little cross cultural understanding.

Each year I like to add to my resource list from the previous years so that this becomes a rich array of helpful suggests for everyone. So what kinds of resources do we need?  First I think we need to provide our congregations with resources that help them to see Jesus from other cultural perspectives.  In a visual society like ours art is one very powerful way to do this.  Liturgy is another powerful tool because as we read the words aloud they resonate deep within our souls and take root.

Matt Stone at Glocal Christianity still has the best collection of art from different cultural contexts – not just European, Asian, African, South American, Middle Eastern, Australian and Celtic but also other more unusual perspectives – goth, alien, feminist and tattoo.  We may not agree with all these perspectives – after all how many of us can relate to Jesus as a Cyclon – but it important for us to see the different ways that people perceive if we want to “understand them in their own language”.

The Text This Week has one of the best online collections of links to Christian art I have come across – all indexed according to Biblical/liturgical subjects.  They also provide an interesting list of movie clips that correspond to biblically related themes as well as a rich array of other resources on Pentecost

Another great collection of pentecost art is available at Biblical Art on the WWW

In terms of Pentecost liturgies there are endless possibilities out there so please don’t expect this to be a comprehensive list.  My own liturgies from past years are

A Prayer for Pentecost

A Liturgy for Pentecost

Others that I have enjoyed browsing this year are:

The Worship Well with great resources mainly from Australia & New Zealand always provides wonderful liturgical resources for the seasons including these excellent Pentecost resources

re:Worship has a very rich array of resources available – make sure you take time to follow the links provided to songs, liturgies and videos.

If you are looking for alternative approaches to worship  for this season I would heartily recommend Jonny Baker’s worship tricks

Steve Taylor a – sustain:if:able kiwi is another very creative worship leader.  I love his Ascension Day suggestion – the footprints of Jesus


Celtic Retreat Is Coming – Early Bird Special Now Available

This year’s theme is “Gratitude and Thanksgiving.” 

Special Saturday evening Selah service by Celtic musician Jeff Johnson

learn more 15% discount included until July 13th!

Celtic Retreat Communion Table

August 17-19

This year we celebrate our 21st Celtic retreat and the launch of the Mustard Seed Village.  The Israelites were constantly reminded to thank God for past acts of faithful provision. Gratitude and thanksgiving give hope and promise for the future.

  • Join with us in gratitude for what God has done in all our lives and communities over this last year.
  • Join us in a time of refreshment and renewal as we seek to restore God’s rhythm in our lives, rebuild our souls and renew our call out into God’s world.
  • Join with us as we dedicate the first Mustard Seed Village building.
  • Join with us as we look to the future and celebrate the new promises still emerging in our lives and communities.

Pray with us as we work to launch CCSP Cascadia

Meditation and prayerWe will set aside the busy clutter in our lives and create a quiet space for prayer and renewal as we worship God in a beautiful outdoor cathedral surrounded by maple and cedar trees. Following the Celtic Christian tradition, this retreat will incorporate the rhythms of work and rest, community and solitude, prayer and biblical study.

Camping at the Celtic Retreat

For those of you camping with us over the weekend, please note that this is “rustic” camping on mostly undeveloped land.
(We do have nice, clean, “HoneyBuckets” for bathrooms)

Schedule of Events:

Friday: (optional) We are working on some new and exciting possibilities for Friday evening – stay tuned for our amended schedule.

Saturday: All Day Retreat beginning at 10 a.m.and ending with a potluck BBQ dinner at 5 pm and a special Selah service with Eucharist/ Communion celebration provided by Celtic musician Jeff Johnson  at 7 pm.

Sunday: (optional) A time of quiet worship and prayer to prepare us for our return to the busy world in which we live.

Saturday we will meditate on Scripture and listen for the movement of the Spirit on forested prayer trails and in the Celtic Retreat Labyrinthwood-rimmed labyrinth. We will work together, worship and eat together as we enjoy a potluck lunch and BBQ dinner, and fellowship around the fire pit. Those that camp with us for the weekend will participate in morning and evening prayers and enjoy extended opportunities for fellowship and meditation. Truly, this will be a spiritual retreat to restore rhythm in our lives, rebuild our souls and renew our call to go out into the world.

Christine Sine will direct the liturgical program and meditation times.
Finger Labyrinth  
There will also be a separate children’s program for kids 5 to 10 years old during some of the morning and afternoon sessions, but we will all preparing the altar and take communion together. Apart from stinging nettles, the land is a very safe environment for kids.

Note: Registration fees do not cover the full cost of this event. Please consider an additional donation to enable us to cover our costs. If you would like to help us provide scholarships and student discounts, please follow the link below.

If these fees are beyond your budget please contact us. We do have some partial scholarships available.

What to bring for Saturday:

    1. Bible and journal

Worship gathering time

  1. Camp chair or blanket for worship times
  2. Shoes for hiking
  3. Recyclable or reusable eating utensils
  4. Dessert, salad or pasta dish for the potluck lunch
  5. Something to grill for dinner
  6. Extra water
  7. Rain jacket, just in case
  8. Work gloves

If you come for the whole weekend, keep in mind that the land is completely undeveloped. Bring:

  1. Tent
  2. Sleeping bag
  3. Plenty of water
  4. Food for Friday evening and Saturday and Sunday mornings

Start praying now for good weather!

learn more
 15% discount included until July 13th!