Celtic Retreat This Weekend

Celtic cross retreat 2011

Celtic cross decorating altar retreat 2011

Our 21st Annual Celtic retreat is only a few day away. There is still time to sign up and the weather promises to be perfect. Our theme this year is thanksgiving and gratitude. Join us for a time of prayer and worship with Celtic musician Jeff Johnson, for times of meditation and contemplation. Join our rich fellowship together as we share pot luck meals. Join with us in dedicating the beginning of the first building of the Mustard Seed Village. Join us in creating a prayer wall and prayer flags. Walk the prayer trails and soak in the beauty of God’s creation. This will be an awesome weekend and we would love to celebrate it with you.

An outdoor cathedral amongst the trees

An outdoor cathedral amongst the trees

As a sneak preview here is what I wrote for the introduction to our weekend.

Giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honours me. If you keep to my path, I will reveal to you the salvation of God. (Psalm 50: 23)

Giving thanks, living in gratitude for the rich and abundant blessings of God, being content to sit, enjoy and absorb what God has provided now, in this moment, this is indeed the pathway to God. This is where we often see the salvation of God revealed. One of the hallmarks of our faith is contentment in all circumstances even in the midst of pain, suffering and struggle. This only comes when we take time to pause, reflect, recognize the gifts of God in our lives and be grateful. To grow in intimacy with God and move deeper into that loving union we all so desperately crave we must learn to live in gratitude for what each moment holds.

This kind of faith does not come easily to us. It must be learned through discipline and commitment. Discontent is built into our society. Our consumer culture encourages and manipulates us to be envious and discontented. No matter what we have, enough always seems just beyond the horizon. So how can we learn to say with Paul:

I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength. (Phil 4:11-13 NLT)

After hearing a discourse on gratitude, my friend Sue and her husband Chuck decided to begin each day by naming ten things they felt truly grateful for. “The discipline worked a new muscle, but over time, it became a natural part of our day. We found ourselves not only “naming” thankfulness in the morning, but looking for things to add to our list all during the day. Our hearts smiled. We grew expectant.”

More recently after meditating on Philippians 4:6, Sue developed a new discipline every time she asked God for something, prayed for a person, or expressed fear and anxiety. She forced herself to stop and be present in the moment. Then, she named something related to her request that she was truly grateful for – before asking anything. A sense of peace and calm followed. Now, the prayer often seems secondary, the need less urgent and the sense of God whispering, “I’ve got it covered” more clear.

At the end of this retreat we will share the Eucharist together, a very appropriate part of the thanksgiving celebration. The word Eucharist comes from the Greek word eukaristos meaning “to give thanks” and it is often referred to as “The Great Thanksgiving.” As we come to the communion table we remember and we give thanks for all that Jesus has done for us through his life, death and resurrection. We give thanks for all the things he has done that reveal the love of God to us, all the things that made him a leader worth following. At the same time we should remember and give thanks for the many blessings we still experience every day as we share our lives with him and with all God’s creatures.

However in the midst of taking communion we are reminded that we cannot fully enter into the great thanksgiving of God when so many people in our world are without a place to live, nourishing food to eat, and adequate health care. In the midst of our own thanksgiving we should be doing all that we can to make sure that no one in our society or indeed in our world is hungry, cold or sick. We will only be able to fully celebrate with thanksgiving when all the world’s people are able to share in the bounty of God’s world together not just for a day but for the rest of eternity.

So let us give thanks today for all that God has lavished on us in anticipation of the day when we will join together with all God’s people in the great thanksgiving feast of the kingdom.



Jeff Johnson Joining Us For Celtic Retreat & Selah Service

As many of you know, in a couple of weeks we will celebrate our 21st annual Celtic retreat on Camano Island. There is still  time to sign up. This year we have a special treat as Jeff Johnson, internationally known Celtic musician will provide music and a special service in the evening. I have used Jeff’s music for years as background for my Advent devotional videos. He is one of my favourite contemplative musicians. Here is a little more information:


Jeff Johnson

Jeff Johnson

Since 1977 Jeff Johnson has produced and recorded a body of work reflecting his journey of faith and creative musings. His many solo projects segue rich instrumental passages with songs that feature Jeff ‘s uniquely interpretive vocals producing soundscapes full of wonder and beauty.

Much of his current solo work is derived from his experience with leading the Selah service, which combines simple Taizé chant and other original choruses, hymns, as well as instrumental passages with Biblical based readings and silent prayer in the church’s rich tradition of contemplative worship.

Johnson is perhaps best known for his collaboration with Irish flutist, Brian Dunning. Their CDs have often been inspired by the evocative stories of best-selling novelist, Stephen Lawhead including the acclaimed Byzantium, which includes a track featured in the Martin Scorsese film, Gangs of New York.  In addition, many of their songs have been included on some of the most popular compilations of the Contemporary Celtic genre including those released by Windham Hill and Hearts of Space.

Jeff has recently been collaborating with world renowned guitarist, Phil Keaggy, on the critically acclaimed instrumental CD,  Frio Suite and the soon to be released, WaterSky.

Jeff lives on Camano Island, Washington with his wife, Susie. For more information, please visit:  www.arkmusic.com

Christ Has Walked This Path music video link:


Unexpected Blessings

Beautiful Butterfly on blackberries

Beautiful Butterfly on blackberries – The unexpected blessing of God

Yesterday we went up to Camano Island to the site of the Mustard Seed Village. We staked out the site for the first building, met with contractors and cleared prayer trails from the upcoming Celtic retreat. It was in many ways a momentous visit. But in the midst I started to feel discouraged. The dirt bike riders have been back again, dumping rubbish, destroying our altar and ramming into and damaging the porta potty.


Mustard Seed Village - broken altar

Mustard Seed Village – broken altar

As I watched the beautiful butterfly above drinking from the blackberry flowers I realized how easily I look at the down side of life and miss the unexpected blessings of God. Our theme for this year’s retreat is thankfulness and gratitude and I realize that this is the place in which I need to be living. As I looked around me I saw how much we have to be grateful for. The beauty of this land always takes my breath away and I love to walk the trails just drinking in the wonder of God’s love poured out in creation. Our team of work party volunteers, headed by Doug Woods who has helped set up retreats over the last 10 years is another amazing blessing. Even the dirt bikers have helped. Because they have been driving up the trails we had a lot less clearing to do.


Checking Out Plans for the Mustard Seed Village

Checking Out Plans for the Mustard Seed Village with Dennis Todd

Watching as Dennis Todd, our architect David Vandervort and other potential workers discussed the plans for the building and then staked out its exact positioning was probably the greatest blessing of all. Tom and I have waited 20 years to see this happen, and to think I could have missed the wonder of the moment if I had kept my eyes on the rubbish and not on the blessings.

Discernment at the Mustard Seed Village

Gathering at Romana Lee Cafe in Stanwood

Gathering at Romana Lee Cafe in Stanwood

Yesterday our Celtic Visioning Team met on Camano Island to discern together the way forward for the Cascadia program and the Mustard Seed Village development. This is the first time that we have gathered as a team that includes not only our long term commitment community: Tom and myself, David Vandervort, Doug Woods, Cindy Todd and Forrest Inslee, but also our new members Jessica and Ryan Weemhoff who will be aour programme directors for the Cascadia/CCSP programme. We started with a check in time that allowed all of us to express our joys and our struggles especially as they relate to the development of this project. Some of this I expressed in my previous post MSA Imaginings.

Then we drove out to the land. We drove through the narrow tunnel of trees to the existing clearing. Its beauty was breathtaking. It welcomed us with a sense of belonging, a feeling that this is home for us. Being on the land was so important for us and being together with this core community which longs to bring God’s vision into being was very special.

Gathering at the Mustard Seed Village site

Gathering at the Mustard Seed Village site

Taking time to listen to God in the place where we are planting, and with the people we are planting with is essential whatever our vision might be.

Some of what we felt God saying was unexpected. The dirt bike riders have been back driving round the clearing and through the trails. Others have dumped rubbish in the clearing again. One of our team commented – We have always seen this negatively but maybe we need to welcome them. Their presence has helped keep the trails open, and maybe in the process they can somehow meet with God. Some of what we heard was a reassurance of God’s presence with us. The sense of hospitality we felt as we arrived. The welcome of this beautiful part of God’s creation where all of us feel alive and renewed. Some is still just glimmers of vision on the horizon. How to finance not just the building but the development of the programmes as well is an ever present challenge.

Interestingly the scripture for the day was Mark 4:30-32, which includes the parable of the mustard seed

He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

It was a wonderful reminder that God is the one who does the growing for us. The trouble is that we are tired of planting seeds and we want to see that growth take place. We appreciate your prayers and supportiveness as we move forward… and if you have any words of wisdom for us we want to hear from you.

Our next gathering on Camano will be for the Celtic prayer retreat August 17 – 19th. We hope that some of you can join us.

Connecting People Who Care With Causes That Matter

Ron Sims Speaks at Camano/Stanwood Philanthropist breakfast

Ron Sims Speaks at Camano/Stanwood Philanthropist breakfast

Last Friday Tom and I had the privilege of attending the Stanwood-Camano Area Foundation Philanthropist Awards breakfast. It was a very moving experience. I was amazed at the mustard seeds that are already being planted in this community in which the Mustard Seed Village will be established, and felt proud to be a part of it even if only on the margins. This is obviously a community in which people care for each other and for the sustainability of their community.

This year there were four nominees for philanthropist of the year all of whom demonstrate how mustard seeds can make a difference in any community. The judges found it impossible to choose one recipient for the award and presented it to all four nominees instead. As you read about the nominees you will see why.

Don Hernan started a firewood ministry on his own – just to make a difference in the lives of single women families for the community who couldn’t afford to keep their homes heated. He spearheaded a community campaign to ensure local families received firewood to heat their homes and began leading teams to cut stack and distribute wood to needy families. The fire ministry now has nine distribution centers located throughout Skagit, Snohomish and Island counties. Last year his teams made over 400 deliveries of free wood.

Vivian Henderson has championed the cause of farming and farmers in the area for many years. is the co-founder of Harvest Jubilee and on the steering committees of Slow Food Port Susan and Port Susan Food and Farming Center. She is also working closely with Bastyr University to develop medicinal gardens.

Camano Island Builders Association is a dedicated group of individuals who donate time, talents and treasures to the community. They have built an adventure playground and renovated a dilapidated building that has become a vibrant center that provides clothes, toys and much needed items to families and individuals in need. it is a wonderful example of giving what you can and inspiring neighbours to do the same.

Dr James Grierson, inspired by the vision of establishing a free medical walk-in clinic in Stanwood, organized a dedicated group of local leaders who worked to establish the Safe Harbour Free Clinic. The clinic has provided comprehensive health care services to nearly 2,000 underinsured and uninsured patients since opening its doors in June 2009.

Lots Happening with the Mustard Seed Village

I have just come out of our weekly MSA staff meeting which we always end by talking about what we feel God is doing in our midst.  This week the prevailing feeling was that we are gathering momentum and there is indeed much that is exciting happening.  I am particularly excited with the developments for the Mustard Seed Village and wanted to make sure that I kept all of you up to date on these as well

As many of you already know, this year we will hold our 20th annual Celtic Prayer retreat and we want to make sure that you have plenty of time to get ready for the this landmark event August 12 – 14th.  We already have one participant planning to join us from England and hope that some of you can join us as well.  Our theme for this year is Jubilee and New Beginnings – Launching the Mustard Seed Village.  

Last month I shared about our partnership with Creation Care Study Program (CCSP) and our plan to launch a semester away program at the Mustard Seed Village in January 2012. This launch has been rescheduled for September 2012, a much better season to enjoy the beauty of the Pacific NW.   The program will not only enable students to learn about environmental issues, it will also challenge them to create new models for sustainable life and faith for the future.

Pole barn MSV
Pole barn design

Our architect, David Vandervort has completed the initial drawings for the pole barn which will provide a classroom facility for students.  We are inspired and excited by his creativity which has produced a unique design for this iconic structure highlighting many of the sustainable, eco-friendly building techniques that we intend to be a part of all that we do on this property.

Cindy Todd, our Strategic Development Coordinator, is working diligently on identifying and applying for grants in order to fund the beginning infrastructure and subsequent programmatic costs for Mustard Seed Village. She will be taking the MSV story” on the road” in the fall exhibiting at several conferences, like CCDA. throughout the US.  If you’re attending, please plan on finding her and saying hello.

God continues to add members to our curriculum development team which is designing what we think will be an exciting opportunity for students to learn and practice sustainable faith and life.  We hope to enable students to create and, possibly even launch new ways to be a difference and make a difference in God’s world.

We are also making a start on the Mustard Seed Village garden.  Our farmer enthusiasts Robert Watton and Levi Dillard visited the land this last Saturday and marked out the plot for our beginning garden.  There will not be much to see until next year but this is an exciting beginning.

Diamonds Are Seen At the Open Gate Farm by Jon Stevens

The following posts is contributed by Jon Stevens at the Open Gate Farm on Camano Island.

Feeding chickens at the Open Gate Farm

This morning the sun was shining and drops of water were hanging on the tall grass like diamonds twisting and sparkling in the light.  We were reminded of that classic 1880’s book, “Acre of Diamonds”.  Here we have our acre, here we have our diamonds.  The thousands of lights on the lawn are only a drop in the bucket of all we have here. We have relationships, joys, resources and shining lights aplenty right here at home.
Over the years, our time on the road created an appreciation and love for seeing new sights, new ways of doing things, new ways of living.  Other cultures are fascinating, that’s for sure.  When we traveled, we lived simply with minimal effort.  One really does not need more than a small suitcase.  And people were always glad to see us, or at least our money.
Traveling is fun.  And it’s a great relief from the pressures of the present which push us around when we’re home.  It’s a big world out there, with much to see and do.
But there is also much here on our little island on the side of the Salish Sea which is not to be missed either.  We can talk about the glowing diamonds in the grass, the boisterous banter of the ducks, the joyful crow of our roosters, of the happy dog chasing away eagles and ravens and barking with all 25 pounds of his busy body.  We can talk about the soil that is year by year turning into a paradise for wiggling earthworms and tender roots of happy plants.  We can talk about the shining eyes of delight as a neighbor pauses up on the road to survey this bit of flowering paradise, then with a nod of approval goes on their way.
We can talk about all of that, but what is really important is the simplicity of it all.  When the eyes get blinded to beauty, when the heart is hardened against pain until separation from others seems the only option, when the losses pile up higher than the resources to meet them, it is easy to lose sight of what is really the answer.  When those things happen, perhaps we need to focus on simplifying life.
When we Americans look at a garden, we are drawn to and draw energy from lines.  An orchard is a powerful statement of organization.  A place for every thing and every thing in it’s place.  The straight rows of corn, leading the eye to the woodlot.  The family garden, a brown patch cut square in a green lawn with perhaps a tight fence around it. Most folks we meet seem to find more pleasure in a garden with clear lines than in the “English Country Garden” where flowers flop all over each other and each is arguing for more space. We like the linear.  Yet all these speak of simplicity too.
It may be that when the clouds of disaster let loose their rain of pain in our lives, we might consider meeting the deluge with simplicity.  We might stop filling our lives with energy draining activities like watching the news.  Turn off the TV at 9 and go to bed. You’ll feel better in the morning than if you stay up to catch the latest breathless reporting of someone else’s disaster at 10.  Not that much will really change overnight and you can catch up on it later.
What would happen if you played farmer for a couple days?  Stay outside until dark, working around the place.  Would that help clear the eyes and let you see the diamonds you have?  Would that leave you feeling better about yourself and your life than going in to watch overpaid people play games where someone always has to lose to make it good?
Pick out your favorite 7 shirts and give the rest away.  Maybe the same with pants. Then you will wash just once a week and life will be easier.  And that radio in the car? Turn it off and think.  Your farmer remembers how it was several years after leaving home as a young man when his mother got her first car that had a radio.  She was floored at how it interrupted her thinking.  What would you do if you had no radio in your car?  Now there’s a great topic for tonight’s dinner table!  Your farmer learned a lot of songs, singing with Mom as they drove down the road of life together sans radio. What songs are you teaching your kids?
Try some of these things, these simplifyings of life.  You may discover the crushing loads of our current economic crash less flattening.  You may discover that a simpler life, a life with less not more, is actually a richer life.  You may, as so many of us have, discover the diamonds that are laying all around you, waiting until you see their light.
Happy Hoeing,
Jon and Elaine, the diamond farmers, Snickers the diamond hunting dog, Mystery, the stone inspecting cat, Harley and his flock of shining chickens, and the Parson Dudley Brown and his flock of brilliant ducks all of whom live joyfully at
The Open Gate Farm
269 Russell Road,
Camano Island, WA 98282

Re-Rooting Ourselves in the Only One Who Counts – Lenten Reflection by Jon Stevens

open gate farm

Today’s post is the second submitted by Jon Stevens who farms on Camano Island at the Open Gate Farm
Farmers around the world are a different group.  They are not like the business people who shuttle into the canyons of commerce to wrestle with the bears and bulls that hide behind the rocks.  No, farmers seem to be a more placid, gentle, peaceful people.  They are a people who can look through you without doing much damage.  In fact, sometimes it’s even a healing gaze you get.
This is because of what they do.  They bump up against the realities of this world, the hope in the seeds, the doubt in the weather, the hope in the growing plants, the doubt in the weather, the hope in the harvest, the doubt in the weather, the peace of full larders and cheer filled Christmases, the doubt in the weather…it never ends.
It is that contact with the never ending which leaves the lines in their souls.  It is that daily contact with the doubts and the hopes, it is that living in the tension of wondering will God actually provide? which forms and shapes them into who they are.  It is that contact with the hope of birth, the finality of death, the eating of what they have had to kill, whether it be beast or plant, which gives them contact with God in ways the rest of the world has forgotten.
It’s not that God isn’t in those canyons of commerce.  It’s just that He is a bit harder to find.  So if you are looking for someone to follow, say for example Jesus, it might be easier to do so as a farmer.  You might discover your gift is not just raising lettuce or beets or beans.  It might be your gift is finding the only one worth following…and the path to Him.  That’s how it’s been for many of us who have left the cities to re-root ourselves in the only life that counts, a life with Him.  It’s o.k. to leave where you are.  He’s waiting for you just over the hill!
Happy Hoeing,

Report from the Celtic Retreat

Our annual Celtic retreat is over and I have finished with the clean up.  It is a lot of work to set up tents, clear prayer trails, bring in water & food as well as prepare a programme.  However it is all worth it and this year for me it seemed more worth it than ever.  The weather was perfect and being about to share our vision for the future an exciting addition to the programme.  (More about that later in the week)

As usual we were a very eclectic group – young and old from many different denominations and church backgrounds, and this year even 5 dogs to enliven our day.  We camped together, worked together, prayed together and just generally enjoyed fun and fellowship together.  Friday is a setup workday for those of us on the MSA team but we turned it into a celebration for Andy Wade, our MSA’s Seed Sampler coordinator who was celebrating his 49th birthday.

Our children’s programme was the best ever, with the adults joining the kids in the afternoon in making finger labyrinths which can act as a template for meditation and refreshment.

The real labyrinth made by Eliacin from branches gathered on the land was also very popular.

Tara Ward and Ryan Marsh from Church of the Beloved led us in worship and helped us focus as we read responsive prayers, meditated on scripture and shared our insights.

In the afternoon Eucharistic service we also completed a Celtic cross from materials on the land and placed rocks around its base as a remembrance of all that has gone before and as a promise of our hopes for the future.

For me the highlight of this weekend is not the retreat day on Saturday but the early morning times spent sitting quietly to pray, walking the prayer trails and drinking in the beauty of God’s creation.  Since we started this retreat almost 20 years ago the land has changed.  The trees have grown more majestic each year. But as well as that I have learned to identify and appreciate the small and often hidden plants that are there in abundance and often essential to the maintenance of a healthy ecosystem.

Our theme this year was building community and the scriptures revolved particularly around the need for strong and deep foundations.  And the bigger the structure we plan to build the deeper and more extensive the foundations need to be.  This kind of foundation take a long time to build.  We feel that these last 20 years have been times for digging deep to build the foundations – first in our own lives, second in us as a core community and third in MSA itself.  And my prayer is that the foundations we have built will enable us to build something that will be strong and resilient into the future.

Sharing the vision

More photos of the retreat here

Wild Camano Forest Tour

Tom & I have just returned from Camano Island where we participated in a botanical tour on the land where we hope to create a monastic eco village.  The tour was conducted by Bob Dietal rector at St Aidan’s Episcopal church in Stanwood.  Bob used to be a botanist and was amazingly knowledgeable about all the plants and animals on the land.  It was a wonderful opportunity to learn about the glory of God’s creation.


Cedars and Douglas firs are the most impressive of course but it is easy for us to miss the other small gems nestled in nooks and crannies near them (most of whose names I can’t remember unfortunately)


I was fascinated by the medicinal qualities of many of the plants we looked at too.  Bark, berries, roots and leaves have all been used by Native Americans to relieve pain and cure disease.


What dismayed me however was how much of what we saw had been introduced either intentionally or unintentionally by human intervention.  English ivy, buttercups, and holly are all rapidly taking over from the native species.  Even the native Northwest Banana slugs are being replaced by California invaders.


Now maybe slugs aren’t your favourite creatures and you don’t particularly care what happens to them but who knows what unique and important species are likely to be lost as a result of our thoughtless intervention.

After all did you know that one of the most important creatures in the soil is the termite?  And they are at the top of our list of creatures we want to eradicate.  Yet they aerate the soil, recycle nutrients and decompose wood and plant debris.

Termite mounds in Africa have been an inspiration for humans who want to mimic their fantastic ventilation system. Hot air rises through tubes in the above ground mounds while winds from outside send air currents down into the subterranean chambers so temperature is regulated no matter the weather outside.

Amazingly  termites often dig up to two hundred feet deep in search of water. The soil is brought up to ground level and added to the structure of the mound. Gold prospectors are known to inspect termite mounds and in fact, the largest diamond mine in the world, in Botswana, was discovered by examining a termite mound.

So imagine what other secrets the small creatures in our forests could unveil.  Perhaps they hold the keys to our survival in the future.  God really does use the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.  What do you think?