Let the Newness Emerge – MSA Imaginings January 2013

Photo by Nick Lipinski

Photo by Nick Lipinski

God as this new year dawns,

May we take time to see the newness you are giving birth to.

May we not be blinded by the darkness that consumes our world.

Or consumed by the fear that paralyzes our actions.

May we remember,

Out of winter’s darkness you bring forth light,

Out of winter’s death you give birth to new life.

From New Year’s Prayer 

This prayer reflects much of the hope and despair we felt at the end of last year. The hope and promise of Christ’s return was tainted by the horror of Sandy Hook and the uncertainty of the world economy.  As we look to the future however, we find hope and promise in the new things God is giving birth to. We look forward, not just to personal change, but to a future in which society is transformed and healing finally comes for the broken, justice for the poor, peace for the nations and restoration to creation

In a volatility and uncertainty world we too need to allow the spirit of God to stir our imaginations and encourage the newness of God to emerge. We need fresh ways to strengthen our faith and equip us to be God’s compassionate response in our communities and around the globe.

Return to Our Senses in Lent

Newness must begin with our faith Our volatile world calls for new forms of prayer and spiritual disciplines that weave intimacy with God into every aspect of life encouraging us to reach out with compassion and love. Lent which begins February 13th, is a season to reflect and refocus our faith. It is a time to ask ourselves: How do I need to change to be a more effective follower of Christ in the future? As was mentioned yesterday, this will be the focus of our Lenten disciplines this year and we hope that you will join us.

  1. We have just completed a study guide for Return to Our Senses: Reimagining How We Pray and invite you to participate in a Lenten study that will draw you closer to God and equip you to respond in compassion and love to God’s needy world. The guide can be downloaded free and Return to Our Senses will be available at a special discounted price to facilitate its use.
  2. This will also be the theme for the Godspace Lenten series. The daily reflections and activities throughout the season will complement the resources in Return to Our Senses. We hope you will accept the challenge and use them to develop new disciplines that equip you to respond to God’s needy world. Or perhaps you would like to join the Godspace writing community and contribute your own approaches to innovative, experiential prayer. Our insights can inspire each other to new levels of commitment.
  3. February 16th I will facilitate a Lenten retreat at the Mustard Seed House here in Seattle. We invite you to join us in a time of reflection and refocusing. Allow new forms of prayer to be woven into your life so that you can become all that God intends you to be.  

Igniting the Divine Spark

The second place newness needs to emerge is in the unleashing of our creativity. Our God is a god of unlimited imagination and has placed the divine spark of that creativity within each of us. To provide for ourselves and continue to be generous to those at the margins we need new economic initiatives. Cindy Todd continues to inspire us with the creative business model on which Snohomish Soap is founded. And it is not just us who are inspired. She was featured this last month in Puget Sound Co-operative’s news, and at the end of the month her model will be touted in a TED talk as one of the new and innovative business models for the future.

Throughout February and March Cindy and others will post on the MSA blog about creative business models and the ways that God ignited the divine sparks that gave rise to these. March 16th this will culminate in a workshop Cindy will facilitate at the Mustard Seed House entitled Igniting the Divine Spark. So save the date. This will be an exciting and instructive event.

Unleashing our Imaginations

It is not just in economic provision that God wants to unleash creativity. My husband Tom is busily engaged in research for a new book on creativity and imagination, exploring ways to move from Biblical vision to new design for church, ministry, housing, simplification and sustainable living. He is excited about how God is stirring the imagination and creativity of ordinary people to advance God’s purposes and engages the challenges or our turbulent world.

God is doing something new in our midst and we ask you to help us connect to those at the creative edge. If you know of imaginative business models, ministries, churches or approaches to housing please let Tom know. These will continue to fuel his weekly blog posts so check the MSA blog regularly for new insights.

Teaching in Australia

For our Australian friends who would like to explore these themes in more detail, please consider joining us in Adelaide in June. Tom and I will be teaching an intensive: Reimagining Faith for Turbulent Times at Tabor College in Adelaide Australia in June 2013. Still room & time to sign up. We would love to have some of our friends join us.

Not All That Emerges is New.

Please continue to pray for the launch of Cascadia/CCSP in September this year and let your friends know. It is time for students to sign up and we need your help in getting the word out.

Join MSA Board member Mary De Jong:

For a retreat at the Whidbey Institute in Chinook March 8-10.

For a pilgrimage to Iona off the west coast of Scotland, May 12-20.

Dates you might be interested in:

Return to Our Senses in Lent – Retreat at the Mustard Seed House February 16th

Igniting the Divine Spark – workshop with Cindy Todd at the Mustard Seed House March 16th.

We appreciate your prayers and support as we move into the newness that is emerging.


Refreshing Drinks from the Garden for the Hot Days

Chocolate mint makes great iced tea

Chocolate mint makes great iced tea

Citrus and Mint Iced Tea

I make this tea throughout the summer, though with the way the weather has been in Seattle this year I have not thought about it until this week. It is both refreshing and thirst-quenching, and uses some of the garden produce. We always have an abundance of mint as I grow apple, chocolate and spearmint. All of them work well for this recipe though the chocolate mint is stronger in flavour and so you will need less.

I am hoping that when my seaberry bushes start producing I will be able to substitute their juice for the orange juice. If you grow it in the garden substitute lemon verbena for the lemon juice.

Last year I posted an article about how our food choices are manipulated by the global mall.  I talked about Stevia:

which is 10 times sweeter than sugar, easy to grow  and with virtually no calories.  However it was banned from the American market about the same time that Monsanto introduced its artificial sweetener aspartame because an “anonymous firm” lodged a complaint with the FDA  Read more

This year I  don’t have any stevia plants because the harvest last year was so abundant.  I miss the enjoyment of getting our visitors to sample the incredibly sweet leaves.  So now I find myself needing to experiment with using it as a sweetener.  I harvest the leaves when the branches look as though they are about to flower and dry them in the microwave – it only takes a minute or two.  I usually start with 30 seconds then continue in 10 second increments until the leaves are just dry.  When they cool down they will be totally dry.

At this stage I use stevia mainly for beverages, though my friend Cheryl has found that adding 5 stevia leaves straight off the plant to a pot of pears before she cooks them is ample to sweeten home preserved fruit.

I make a Ginger Stevia syrup that I then add to different summer beverages.


  • 2 cups water
  • 1 – 2 tablespoon dried stevia, crushed – I use a mortar and pestle
  • ¾ cup ginger root, finely chopped or grated
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla
  • ¼ cup lemon juice or 1/2 cup lemon verbena leaves chopped
  • 1 cup mint leaves (optional)

Bring water to boil. Add ginger & stevia, as well as the lemon verbena and mint if you are using them.  Boil for 10 minutes, strain into a heat resistant container. Add vanilla and lemon juice. This syrup will store in the refrigerator for several weeks.

Homemade Stevia ginger ale

I first started making this recipe when I discovered that most ginger ales have no ginger in them at all and were usually full of high fructose corn syrup.

Add 1-2 oz syrup to a glass depending on how sweet you like your drinks, top with 6 oz sparkling water and ice cubes. Enjoy.

Citrus/ Mint Iced tea punch

  • 8 teaspoons Loose Leaf red or black tea Or 8-10 Teabags (I like to use fruit flavoured teas
  • l cup (or more) Fresh Mint Leaves
  • 8 cups Boiling Water
  • 1 cup Orange Juice – or seaberry juice if you have this available
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice – or use lemon verbena from the garden
  • 1 Orange, Cut Into Thin Slices
  • 1 Lemon,Cut Into Thin Slices
  • 1 Lime,Cut Into Thin Slices
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup ginger stevia syrup
  • 2 litre bottle sparkling mineral water or soda water.

This is a favourite for our summer BBQs & picnics. Put tea & mint in a heat resistant glass or ceramic pot. Pour in the boiling water & steep for 30 minutes. Strain & refrigerate. Pour into a large pitcher. Add orange juice. Add orange, lemon & lime rinds. Add ginger syrup & mineral water and serve with ice cubes.  If you prefer a more lemony flavour add 1/2 cup lemon juice or a cup of lemon verbena leaves to the tea mix.

For more stevia recipes visit sugarfreesteia.net

My Favourite Urban Farming Sites

Garden day at the Mustard Seed House

Garden day at the Mustard Seed House

This morning I posted a link to this inspiring article An Urban Farm in Portland Feeds Local Neighbourhood with Help from the Disabled It comes from one of my favourite urban farm sites City Farmer News.  That made me realize that it is a while since I have posted any urban garden resources so I thought it was time to change that.

Here is the list that I posted last year in More Resources for Creating a Faith based Community Garden

Here are some other great sites to check out:

City Farmer News. This really is a site worth spending some time on. It is based in Vancouver but shares stories from all round the world.

Growing Cities provides a great hub for the urban farming movement in the US but also includes stories from all over the world.

Eagle Street Rooftop Farm. I love this inspiring example of creativity – rooftop farming on the top of an old bagel factor in Brooklyn NY

Reading International Solidarity Centre. This site has some great information on English urban gardens – from rooftops to schools.

Urban Beekeeping for those keen to have there own honey

Vertical Veg  another great UK site for those that need to grow up rather than out.

Community Gardens At A Rocha Community gardens are growing in number and size across Canada and elsewhere. A Rocha resources help facilitate starting and maintaining a community garden. Hopefully A Rocha US will soon start a similar network in the US.

Backyard Chickens.com for those wanting to join the current craze for keeping chickens.

Obviously there are many sites out there with great resources for the urban farmer. What are your favourites?


Why Does God’s Path Always Seem So Narrow?

God's narrow pathway

God’s narrow pathway laden with abundance

Our 21st annual Celtic retreat is only three weeks away. This year our theme is gratitude and thanksgiving. In preparation, at the MSA team meeting last week, as part of our discernment process, we took time to look back with heartfelt gratitude for the many blessings of God and for the incredible and often unexpected ways that God has provided. We thanked God for the gifts of friendships woven into a community of faithfulness.

We thanked God for the amazing ways that both Andy Wade and Cindy Todd came to be a part of our team, unexpected and much appreciated blessings. We thanked God for the volunteers who expand our team – for Forrest and Ryan and Jessica working on the CCSP Cascadia project. For Hannah working in the garden and for Nick helping us in the office over the summer, for our summer intern Chris, and Jackie who gives administrative assistance. For others like Wolt and James and Jon, Ricci and Judy who assist on a regular basis. For our book keeper Nancy. For those who contribute to this and the MSA blog. For those who help us with the Celtic retreat. The list went on and on and as we talked about this gratitude, awe and expectation welled up within us.

Andy commented: God’s narrow path is a wide open way of blessing and joy. It is narrow because  it is surrounded by amazing abundance, with fruit and luxuriant growth hanging down. It is only narrow and sometimes hard to find because it is filled with so much abundance.

Hydrangeas obscure the path

Hydrangeas obscure the path

I couldn’t help but think of that as I trimmed away my sage bush on Saturday so that the mailman could get to the letter box. The fragrance of discarded branches clung to my clothes. I also thought of it as I surveyed my hydrangeas so laden with flowers that they obscure the path beside them. Those I did not touch. When I focused on the beauty of the flowers it didn’t seem to matter that the pathway had disappeared.

How often do we miss the abundance of God because we want to make the pathway wider and easier to follow I wondered? How often do we cut down the luxuriant growth and fruit that God is growing because we are obsessed with always seeing and knowing where the way leads? How often do we missed what God has blessed us with here and now in this moment because our vision is focused somewhere out ahead where the pathway is still obscured?

God may we look and see your abundance pressing in all around.

Rich fruit, luxuriant growth, laden branches hanging low.

May we remember that sometimes they obscure the path that winds so narrow out before us.

May we remember that your provision is inexhaustible, like a plate of food that will never be empty.

May we taste and see that all you give is good,

And raise our voices in praise and thanks and gratitude.

Are We Patient With Darkness and Growth

seeds sprout in darkness

seeds sprout in darkness

This morning I am struggling. So many seeds I hoped would have sprouted by now are still showing no obvious growth. And I am not just talking about garden seeds here. In MSA we are all eagerly awaiting the growth and development of the Mustard Seed Village. We are looking forward to the start of our semester away program, and we are still hoping to see all that we are doing fully funded. But at the moment the growth still seems to be underground.

As I thought about this today the words that came to me were:

Be patient with darkness and growth,

Willingly live with not knowing,

Work happily with God,

Allow the mustard seeds to sprout.

It was a good reminder to me. Most growth occurs in darkness. Most seeds sprout in darkness, and even during the high growth season most of that growth occurs at night. Evidently plants store up nutrients during the day and then put on a growth spurt at night.

Being patient is hard though. Sometimes I am tempted to dig into the soil to see if anything is happening. Having the faith that what I have planted will sprout, grow and eventually bear fruit does not come easily, that of course is why we call it faith. As hebrews reminds us:

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. (Hebrews 11:1)

May God grant us all faith today to believe in the fulfillment of the unseen things that God has placed on our hearts.

The Promise of Hope

Yesterday I was in the pits.  As many of you know I was really struggling in the morning because of our lack of finances.  Then I discovered that all my seedlings for the autumn garden have been eaten by something.  Broccoli and cauliflowers neatly cut off, lettuce just devoured completely.  Talk about devastation!!!

Garden bounty

Garden bounty - the first tomato of the season

Then the mail arrived with two small cheques for MSA – two more mustard seeds to add to the others that have been planted.  And in the afternoon I went out to harvest garden produce – spectacular runner beans, squash in abundance, small florets of broccoli, the most enormous cauliflower I have ever grown and the first real tomato of the season.  The story of God lived out in the garden.  The promise and hope of abundant provision in its season.

Suddenly I could start to count my blessings.  First thank you to all who responded to my post yesterday with prayers, comfort and encouragement.  Some shared your own stories of struggle to hold on to faith in the presence of daunting obstacles.  Others shared scriptures and prayers.  It really lifted my spirits to realize how many friends I have who care about what God is birthing through the Mustard Seed Village and pray for us regularly.

This morning I continue to thank God for all my blessings and even though the path ahead still seems full of obstacles I know now that with God’s help it is possible.  And I have so much to be grateful for.  God continues to provide for our needs day by day and is providing a growing circle of friends, and volunteers to walk alongside us.  It is amazing and awe inspiring.

Perspective changes everything.  If we focus on God life seems filled with hope and promise.  If we focus on our burdens it is full of despair and discouragement.  I have experienced the transforming power of God today and I hope that you have too.

The peace of God rest on the

The peace of Christ live in you

The peace of the Spirit flow through you

The peace of all peace be yours today and forever

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

Getting Started in the Garden

Now that the new year is underway it is time to get started in the garden. Someone asked me yesterday what we can do at this time of the year and I answered – dream and plan.

This is the time when I go through all the catalogues, check out the seeds I have left over from last year, pull out my seed starting sets and make my lists of what I need to buy before we get serious outside. Like many keen gardeners I don’t like to wait until it is possible to work outside before starting and our wonderful enclosed front porch which faces south is a great asset at this time.

This week I hope to start peas and greens inside to jump start the season. The greens will go into pots that can be set outside on warm days so that I get an early crop. I will also start some ready to go under row covers at the beginning of March – again a great way to get an early start on the season.

I am also recruiting people to help as the work in the garden seems to have grown beyond what the Mustard Seed House community can cope with (or eat). Last year we bartered help in the garden for attendance at the spirituality of gardening seminar and if there are one or two people who may be interested in that this year too, I would love to hear from you.

Helping in the garden

I must confess though that at this season my enthusiasm tends to be greater than my ability to follow through and I need to more seriously look at how our travels will impact what we can accomplish before doing much more planning. Making sure that all the produce doesn’t ripen while we are away is a challenge though if we see this as a team effort it becomes more manageable. Obviously I need to add help with preserving to the volunteer opportunities we have around the house.

How Not to Tell If Your Compost is Ready

A little light relief for friday afternoon

Strategies for Planning the Vegetable Garden


Last week I planted the first seeds of the season – peas – not outside but in seedstarters on the front porch (enclosed).  This afternoon Catie, Ricci and Gabriel helped me plant Asian greens = some of our earliest crops for the season.  Hopefully over the weekend I will get lettuce, cabbages and cauliflowers as well as the absolutely essential green onions started.  I was delighted therefore to come across this great garden guide 7 Strategies to Plan Your Vegetable Garden thought to be honest I employ a method the article does not talk about.  It is the what do I have time for at the moment approach which I have found to be the most effective method of all – and the overall effect makes me the queen of what I call the messy gardener approach.  With any luck we will finish cleaning up from last year’s garden before we start planting outside this year.

As far as I am concerned gardening is meant to be fun and if I get obssessed with what should and should not be growing then I miss the fun.  However I do love to harvest beautiful vegetables too though it took me about 10 years to build the soil up to an adequate level to produce really spectacular cauiflowers and carrots.

So what are my strategies that I would like to add to the list above

  1. Enlist help. I never enjoy gardening as  much as I do when Ricci and Gabriel and Catie are there planting seeds too.  Catie, who is six years old has her own garden journal as well as her own garden.  A couple of years ago she started us growing celery which is something I never enjoyed before.  But homegrown celery is wonderful.  this year she is starting us on radishes and we are all excited to see the seeds sprout
  2. Plant some unusual, fun varieties – like purple cauliflowers or green tomatoes.  They are great conversation starters.
  3. Share with neighbours. I always start far more tomatoes, cauliflowers and squash than I need and have found that one of the most effective ways to get to know my neighbours is to share either the seedlings or the produce with them.
  4. Don’t take yourself too seriously.  As I said I am the queen of messy gardens.  I love to sit and enjoy the flowers and the fragrances but if I worry about the fact that there are still weeds around the strawberries and snails on the lettuce then it is not nearly as enjoyable.  p1010004-1