Soil Sacrament and Harvest

Abundant tomatoes for BLTs and salads

Abundant tomatoes for BLTs and salads

It is harvest season. I am frantically drying, preserving and freezing the abundance of apples from our trees, making green smoothies from the delicious salad greens and indulging in wonderful tomato salads and sandwiches.  It seems fitting that I am in the midst of reading Fred Bahnson’s delightful memoir Soil and SacramentI was particularly struck this morning my his comment:

Our ecological problems are a result of having forgotten who we are – soil people, inspired by the breath of God… in St Augustine’s phrase, terra animata – animated earth.

Drying apples

Drying apples

So as we contemplate this day and this season may we indeed remember who we are and who God has made us to be. Last year I wrote this liturgy for the harvest season. I decided I could not improve on it this year so add it again here as a way to draw all of us into the blessings of this season.

God we thank you for a harvest of plenty,

Small seeds that multiply to feed many,

Trees that blossom and produce abundant fruit,

Tomatoes that ripen on the vine with sweet flavour.

God we thank you for abundance overflowing,

Enough for our own needs and an abundance to share,

Enough to feed the hungry and provide for the destitute,

Enough to reach out with generosity and care. 

God we thank you for seeds you have planted in our hearts,

Seeds of righteousness yielding goodness and mercy,

Seeds of love yielding justice and peace,

Seeds of compassion yielding healing and renewal.

God we thank you for the bread of heaven,

Christ our saviour planted in our lives,

Christ our redeemer growing in our hearts,

Christ your Son making us one with you.

God we thank you for the gift of life,

Like water poured out on thirsty ground,

Spring and autumn rains that revive and bring life,

A river that flows from your heart and out into the world you love.


Preserving the harvest - Canning Tomatoes

Preserving the harvest – Canning Tomatoes

For other posts on harvest season you like might to see:

2011 I wrote this reflection: The Harvest is Plentiful But the Labourers are Few;

2010 I posted this: Praying for an Abundant Harvest

2009 I wrote this litany: God of the Bountiful – A Harvest Prayer

And my first post on this theme in 2008: The Generosity of God – Fish and Loaves for all



Its All A Matter of Perspective – Lessons from Parker Palmer

Ready for spring planting

Ready for spring planting

Like most of us keen gardeners here in the Northern Hemisphere, I am starting to think about planting the spring garden. Next week I will get early greens and peas into my seed starter kits, shortly after I will get the broccoli, cauliflower and cabbages going and then the tomatoes. From my perspective spring is the planting season. Imagine my surprise as I read Parker Palmer’s wonderful book A Hidden Wholeness a couple of weeks ago (more about that in a later post). He talks about autumn as the season of planting – the season when nature begins her work again by dropping and scattering seed. This is also the season when trees set buds which contain the leaves and flowers for next year’s growth. Winter then is a season of dormancy, a time of hibernation when growth has gone underground, and even what is above the surface is pruned and cut back in preparation for a new spurt of growth.

As I thought about this I realized the power of this perspective, a perspective that is distorted by our man-made cultivator’s view of seasons. Palmer talks then about spring as a season of surprise – when winter’s deaths give rise to new life. It reminded me of how much I love to go out in the garden to see what has sprouted without my help. These are often the strongest seeds in my garden, the ones that give rise to the best and hardiest crops.

This view is similar to the Jewish view of the day which begins at sunset with us going to sleep and God at work inviting us each morning to join the work God has already begun. Part of the strength of this perspective is the understanding that all of us have hidden untapped potential planted deep within our souls, just waiting for the warmth of spring to allow it to emerge. It also reminds us to be patient when we have planted and not seen the growth we had hoped for. Remembering God is at work and invites us to join the work already begun is a heart warming and faith building concept.

You might, as you prepare for spring this year, like to ask the questions Palmer suggests: What seeds were planted when you arrived on earth with your identity intact? How can we recall and reclaim those birthright gifts and potentials?

God Bless the Animals.

Blessing the animals

Blessing the animals

October 4th is the Feast of St Francis St. Francis who founded the Franciscan Order. He is the patron saint for animals, the environment and Italy. Many churches around the world are getting ready to bless the animals either on that day or on the following Sunday. It is a fun experience. At our church last year our dog Bonnie was just one of the dogs and cats gathered around the labyrinth to be blessed.

This celebration is increasing in popularity as people reconnect to the earth and the animals it nourishes. This year the Diocese of Olympia will bless the animals at Woodland Park Zoo here in Seattle, as part of an emerging mission of “outdoor church” in the Diocese of Olympia which conducts ritual gatherings in public places. St. Andrew and St. Margaret of Scotland Church in Alexandria Virginia holds their blessing in conjunction with a petting zoo and opportunity for participants to adopt animals.

The blessing of the animals does far more then acknowledge that we are the stewards of creation, a viewpoint that can still consciously or unconsciously make us feel that we have control and power over the rest of God’s creation. Blessing of the animals reminds us that God created all life and infuses all life with a part of the divine essence. That doesn’t mean that all animals are made in the image of God – that language is reserved for humans. But think about it. Whenever you make something, part of your personality, your creativity, your passion goes into that creation. I am sure that is true for God’s creativity too. Anyone who has a dog and experiences their unconditional love will affirm this.

Last year I wrote this post about animal blessing, highlighting the work of Episcopal Relief and Development and their free resource from which the liturgy I posted was drawn. This morning I was thinking about the many other organizations I know that work to provide families with animals that sustain them and help to draw them out of poverty. Others work to preserve the world’s wild animals. Still others rescue animals that are abused and mistreated or abandoned. Still others train service dogs to work with the disabled. Here are a few that you might want to highlight in your prayers:

Christian Veterinary Mission

The Heifer Project

World Wildlife Fund

The Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Assistance Dogs Australia

American Service Animal Society



The Art of Leading Spiritually – Discerning a Shared Rhythm of Life Together

Supper at Emmaus - Roy de Maistre

Discern together - Supper at Emmaus by Roy de Maistre

The following post is part of a series on Leading Spiritually, which at the rate I am going is likely to become a book before I am finished. Thanks for those who have commented and encouraged the continuation of this series.

Check out the other posts:

The Art of Leading Spiritually – An Invitation to a Journey

The Art of Leading Spiritually – Why Are We Leading?

The Art of Leading Spiritually – Where Are We Heading?

The Art of Leading Spiritually – How Do We Do It?

The Art of Leading Spiritually – Discerning Together

The Art of Leading Spiritually – Discerning on Your Own

Discerning a Shared Rhythm of Life Together

Rules and rhythms of life have become very fashionable in the last few years. They are being adopted both by individuals wanting a more intentional structure for their faith practices and by churches and communities encouraging their leadership and staff to deeper levels of shared commitment.

Most of us however, still tend to associate a rule of life with monastic or neo-monastic communities that are on the fringes of church and society. We don’t really understand what value a commitment to a common rhythm or rule could possibly have especially in the context of leadership.  Some of us think it sounds a bit legalistic. I find however that a rule of life is very freeing. It reminds us of who we are, what God has called us to do and how God has called us to live. It can provide wonderful guidelines for enabling us to come together and stay together in unity.

What is a Rule of Life?

A rule of life is a set of practices we commit to that enable us to continue growing closer to God, to each other and to the mission God calls us to. In the words of St Benedict it is:  ‘simply a handbook to make the radical demands of the gospel a practical reality in daily life‘”

Celtic monasteries centred around the formation of communities in which members followed a certain lifestyle and maintained a regular discipline of prayer and worship.  Monks mixed manual, intellectual and spiritual labour, maintaining a balance between engagement in the world and withdrawal from it.  These communities provided a focus for the life of the surrounding non monastic community whose members made different forms of commitment and adhered to a variety of rules that acknowledged and affirmed their gifts and ministry.

A number of contemporary churches and organizations have rediscovered the value of a rhythm of life.  Ian Mobsby in his book The Becoming of G_d explains:  “As people encounter Christians living out profound expressions of the faith through God’s love, they encounter the depth of a loving Christian community and experience God as their ‘ground of being’ through worship, mission and community… It is in these participative and loving Christian communities that people can encounter the reality of the Christian story of the Holy Trinity not as a hypothetical truth but as a profound reality clueing us in to how we should live.”

A Rule of Life for Mustard Seed Associates

In Mustard Seed Associates we see a need to foster a sense of shared spirituality and commitment to accomplish what God has called us to be and do. Our times of discernment helped us established the shared values we want to undergird our practices. This in turn encouraged us to establish and adhere to practices that enable us to live into God’s new world of wholeness and abundance as a leadership community.  Out of this process came not only or rhythm of life, but also our first MSA publication Light for the Journey: Morning and Evening Prayers for Living Into God’s World.

We want to encourage ourselves and others to develop a rhythm of life in which prayer intertwines through every aspect of life so that we can keep God and God’s purposes at the centre of all we are and do.

As a result we want to encourage followers of Jesus to live into:

  1. A redeemed (restored) relationship to God, seeking intimacy with God through:
    1. Regular individual prayer & scripture study
    2. Regular corporate worship balanced with times of listening in solitude – (meditative and contemplative prayer)
    3. Repentance and confession of sins both personal and societal
    4. Commitment to personal healing of wounds from the past that create barriers between us and God
    5. Development of disciplines that encourage a balance between spiritual and secular, community and solitude, work and rest.  “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace” (Matt 11:28 The Message)
  1. A redeemed (restored) relationship to God’s worldwide community through
    1. Intentionally sharing life with others – recognizing that God comes to us in community and that community is essential for Christian faith, actively seeking support and accountability.
    2. Hospitality and celebration – “let everyone be received as Christ” celebrating the in-breaking of God’s resurrection world with others,
    3. Simple living – uncluttering our lives to focus on participating in God’s resurrection life in both local and global community – give me neither poverty nor riches (Prov 30)
    4. Solidarity with the marginalized – “act justly, love mercy” (Micah 6:8)
    5. Recognizing all we have belongs to God becoming whole life stewards who practice generosity that encourages mutual care – “where your treasure is there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:24)
    6. Humbly examining the ways culture and history have shaped our values discarding those that are counter to God’s kingdom values and embracing and celebrating those that reflect God’s kingdom values
    7. Service in the broader community – not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others (Phil 2:4)
  1. A redeemed relationship with God’s creation through
    1. Responsible ecological stewardship – responding to the fact that “the earth is the Lord’s & the fullness there of” (Ps 24:1)
    2. Connection to the God revealed through creation
    3. Enjoyment of God’s creation and creatures

Welcoming the New Year – What Do We Expect?

Moon setting over Olympic mountains

Moon setting over Olympic mountains

A new year has come, for many with the hope of new and promising possibilities for others with the expectation of continued uncertainty and turmoil. How we approach this year and what we get out of it will to a large extent be shaped by our attitudes and expectations.

Tom and I have just returned from an end of year retreat. As many of you know this is something we do three or four times a year, though this final one for the year tends to be the most renewing one for us. These last few days have been no exception. Both of us have returned home with a renewed commitment to take time to listen to God and walk in God’s path.

For me it has also been a good reminder of the balance I need in my life and of how easily I get out of balance. This is a theme that I cover in detail in my book Godspace: Finding Peace in the Rhythms of Life but I have also explored it in several previous blog posts and wanted to challenge you all to consider seriously your own need for a balanced rhythm to life. I suggest we need a balance between secular and sacred activities, work and rest, community and solitude, feasting and fasting.

I think the beginning of the year is a great time to consider what our lives should look like and explore how to find the rhythms and balance we need and then institute regular practices that accomplish this. For Tom and I our regular retreats are the key to maintaining this type of balance. Sabbath keeping is the essential weekly practice that keeps me on track.

There is much evidence that suggests we do not function well when we are over tired, lacking in exercise, or drained spiritually and emotionally. In fact I suspect that if we are not leading a well balanced life decreases rather than increases our productivity. We are more likely to distract ourselves with busy unproductive activities. So take some time 0 reread these posts and prayerfully consider your own regular commitments an how you can align them more consistently with the rhythm of life God intends for all of us.

Tools for Prayer – Moving Beyond Chronic Randomness to Intentionality

Have You Taken A Spiritual Audit Lately

Did Jesus Lead a Balanced Life?

The Spirituality of Rhythm

Followers of the Way – Lenten Reflection by John Mitchell

Today’s reflection comes from John Mitchell who is on staff with Youth With A Mission.  He and his wife have just spent 2 years in Nicaragua and are heading to New Zealand to join the YWAM team there.


Today we live in a culture that is obsessed with leadership. From the bestseller list to politics to parishes “leadership” has become the buzzword of our generation. Spiritual leadership, servant leadership, courageous leadership, leadership laws; we even have a magazine solely devoted to leadership! The problem is, in our self-absorbed quest for leadership, we’ve forgotten what it means to follow. We read from the scriptures that Paul identifies himself and other early saints as “followers of the Way”. The term “Christian” was seldom used in the New Testament and was bestowed by others, not by the church. Meaning adherent or slave of Christ, “Christian” was an accurate title but the early church looked upon themselves as willful followers. They used terms like “brethren”, “believers”, “the saints” and “servants of God” to reflect the communal gathering and following of Jesus.

Why was all this emphasis placed on following Jesus and not on a status of “being a Christian”? We find that some of the most audacious words in the Bible are spoken when Jesus commands people, “follow me”.

To Peter and Andrew in the boat, “Come, follow me”,

To Matthew sitting by the tax booth, “follow me

To the rich young ruler, “sell your possessions and give to the poor… then come, follow me.”

To the man with the dying father, “follow me and let the dead bury their own dead”

To the disciples and crowds gathered to listen, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Implicit in these invitations was a profound promise: that Jesus believed these people could live up to His name. Wrapped in the whole Rabbinic culture of first century Israel was an idea that the followers of the rabbi could be like their rabbi and in extending the command to follow Him, Jesus says, “You can be like me.” But there are no qualifiers in these statements. Jesus doesn’t beg, He doesn’t explain, He doesn’t wait, He doesn’t ask permission. He demands a reaction, right now, choose today: Obedience or disobedience. He is the God of the universe and you are either with Him or not.

What has following Jesus meant to me? It has meant reorienting my life to reflect the fact that I am not in control, I am not in the lead and I am not the center of this story. I am supposed to listen and obey. I’m supposed to go where I’m sent and do what I see Him doing. If I suffer or perish then I have entered into the same fate as my Lord, who boldly faced the cross for the joy set before him. Following Jesus means the same thing that it has meant for two millennia: determined, persistent, willful obedience with the promise of the only reward that ever mattered: fellowship with Him.

A friend of mine, during university, found little reaction to a proposal for a Christian gathering on campus, people hardly noticed, but when they placed signs for a gathering of followers of Jesus, people reacted adversely. Those worldly students understood the latent power just as well as the Roman Empire did. Those who lead are often misguided but those who follow Jesus will change the world.

Celebrating Life in the Midst of Death

Monday was my fifty-ninth birthday.  I not it is not really kosher to admit to such things but I am rather proud of it.  After all I have put a lot of time and effort into getting here.

It was however a bitter sweet day that Tom and I celebrated in the midst of our grief for those suffering in Haiti and in the presence of friends at a memorial service for a good friend who died last week.  I was reminded that life and death are often intertwined in inexplicable ways.  In times of suffering we need joy and celebration more than ever.

After the funeral we went out for a wonderful celebrative birthday meal.  Then I returned home to find this spectacular arrangement of flowers from a good friend waiting for me.  And on facebook dozens if not hundreds of birthday greetings, lots of e-cards and the following day a few more sent snail mail.   I felt loved and affirmed, and my spirit was renewed by the celebration.

I was thinking about this today as I read through my Lenten guide and reflected on the upcoming season.  The fasting and deprivations of Lent are only entered into six days of the week.  Sunday is  always a celebration of the resurrection and the inbreaking of God’s kingdom.

As I move into my sixtieth year I have also been doing a lot of reflecting on my life.  I feel I have led such a privileged life.  Born into an upper middle class family in one of the wealthiest nations of the world,  provided with a good education, enjoying good health most of my life – what more can one ask for.  But there is much more. I have had the privilege of directing the development of Mercy Ships healthcare ministry, a ministry that continues to impact the lives of thousands around the world.   And through Mustard Seed Associates and my writing of books and liturgical prayers I still enjoy the incredible privilege of touching the lives of people around the world.

Life has not been without its challenges.  I was born 2 months premature and spent the first month of my life in hospital.  I grew up in a home in which there was a great deal of physical violence.  Both of these things shaped my adult life and required a great deal of healing work, but by the grace of God they also led me to faith.  Becoming a Christian as a teenager poured the love of God into my life and began a journey for me that has not only been incredibly fulfilling but has also led me towards freedom and wholeness in ways that I could never have imagined.

So this year I am planning to celebrate the goodness of God in my life in special ways as I move towards my 60th birthday.  I would appreciate your prayers too as I reflect on how to use the rest of my life in ways that are honouring to God and to God’s call on my life.

Did Jesus Lead A balanced Life?

Yesterday some of my twitter friends had a discussion on whether or not Jesus led a balanced life.  Now I was not really part of the discussion so I cannot comment on what was said but it seemed to me that they came to the conclusion that Jesus did not lead a balanced life and that really concerns me.  It reminds me of that bumper sticker that was popular a few years back “Jesus Is Coming Back Look Busy”.

I suspect that many of us make excuses for our own busy lives by making the excuse that Jesus was busy too.  But was he as busy as we seem to be?  When I developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome sixteen years ago – partly as a result of overwork, I spent almost a year in bed with plenty of time to reflect on what I had done wrong and what I could have done differently.  I spent a lot of time reading through the gospels specifically asking myself the question How did Jesus spend his time on earth? It was an enlightening study as I started to realize that Jesus really did have a very balanced life.  There were times when he was really busy but those were usually balanced with more relaxed times when he walked and talked with his friends or withdrew into the hills to pray.

I identified 3 basic rhythms – the balance between spiritual and secular, work and rest and comunity and solitude.  To that I would now add the balance between fasting and feasting.  I explore these rhythms in detail in my book GodSpace: Finding Peace in the Rhythms of Life but here is the short version.

Jesus never made a decision without spending at least a night in prayer.  How many less mistakes would we make and how much more relaxed a lifestyle would we lead if we had even a fraction of that commitment?

Jesus spent more time forming community than he  did working.  Community slows us down, encourages us when we are stressed, helps us to discern what we should and should not be doing.

Jesus work was focused on the in breaking of God’s kingdom not on putting bread on the table each day – that he encouraged his followers to trust God for.  How much of our busyness and dysfunctional rhythms are because we are caught up in the consumer culture that focuses on the making and spending of money on ourselves?

Everywhere that Jesus went there was a party.  Jesus was constantly celebrating life with enthusiasm from the time that he performed his first miracle at a wedding he was constantly encouraging people to enjoy life with enthusiasm.  One of my favourite bible stories is that of Jesus making breakfast for his friends after he rose from the dead.

I think that the rhythm of the early monastic communities flowed out of their knowledge of how Jesus spent his time.  They knew that he practiced the Jewish ritual of prayer several times a day and the daily offices were designed to do the same. To be honest I think that for busy people spending a few minutes in prayer several times a day is probably healthier than spending a big chunk once each morning.  It helps us to refocus our lives at regular intervals on God and God’s purposes.  They also had a good rhythm of work and relaxation (though actually their rest times were usually dedicated to prayer and to study).  However I wonder how much better we would be if we interspersed our times of study and book work with good physical exercise – not going to the gym which is so artificial but maybe some good manual labour – walking to the shops & lugging our groceries home rather than driving might be a good idea.

We have so divorced our spiritual rhythms from everyday life that we don’t even know how to develop a life of Godly balance any more.  And believe it or not as I have metnined before people who take a siesta in the afternoons are actually so much more productive afterwards that there is no way that those who have not had a siesta can equal their production.

So to all my British friends who are struggling with snow and worried that they cannot get into work – relax and enjoy it – you will probably accomplish more this week than ever because of it and maybe in the process discover something of the rhythms and the wonder of a God who created every snowflake to be different.

Discerning the Winter Blues

Greenlake in winter

Greenlake in winter

Yesterday we held another of our Mustard Seed team discernment sessions.  Last week we got rather bogged down as we tried to define more clearly what we wanted to accomplish this next year so I was not really looking forward to this session.  Just to jog your memory we have been using the Quaker group discernment process which begins with a time of silence and centering and then a time of personal sharing about what we are looking forward to in the week ahead and what we are not looking forward to.  Then we look back and share the high and low points of our previous week,  That is followed by another time of silence to discern what God is saying.


Seattle skyine in winter

As we reflected on what each person had shared we realized that last week the grey skies of Seattle were getting to all of us.  To some extent all of us were struggling with the winter blues and it had obviously effected dramatically the way we interacted last week – I am not going to call this Seasonal Affective Disorder because I do think that to a certain extent what we were all struggling with is the natural rhythm of our bodies telling us that it is time to slow down and take a rest.  We live in a world in which we no longer take notice of the shortening days except to complain about our growing electric bills.  We simply turn on the lights and stay up as late as we do in the summer.

As we talked we realized that maybe God was saying something to us here – not just as individuals but as an organization.  Maybe, we reflected, we need to take notice of our bodies and build a slow down time into our winter schedules.  In nature the winter is a time when on the surface there seems to be no activity, but beneath the ground roots are growing deep and strong.  In fact shrubs planted in the Fall send down deeper roots than those planted in the spring and so are more resistant to drought.  Maybe we too are more resistant to spiritual droughts if we take time to slow down and reflect over the winter, allowing our roots to go down deep.  One thing we talked about was planning a team retreat during this season so that we can reflect in a more relaxed atmosphere on what God is saying to us.

I was reminded that I once read that the tradition of Advent wreaths actually began because farmers took the wheels of their wagons during the wet winter months and this became the framework for the Advent wreath.  Now I am not sure that any of us would consider taking the wheels off our cars over the winter but I do think that we need to build times of rest, reflection and renewal into our schedules.  Maybe we should stop driving our cars at least for a few days so that we can relax and refresh.  We are not meant to continually live in harvest season.  We are not meant to be continually producing fruit or even be continually blossoming.  In fact plants that are forced into bloom at the wrong season by florists never recover their natural rhythm.  Most of them will never blossom again.

What do you think.  Are there ways in which we need to take more notice of our bodies?  Are there ways that we should be more in synch with God’s natural rhythms not jsut in our personal lives but in our work lives as well?

Slow Down and Breathe

This morning I was wondering how on earth I could juggle the busy elements of my life – conference preparation, garden planning, preparation for February speaking my current writing project and preparation for the MSA Board, with a balanced spiritual life, time for hospitality, community, friends and most importantly my husband. Doing the balancing act is never easy and the busier we are the more difficult it becomes. But I think I am learning that when I am too busy the solution is not to ratchet up my speed but actually to slow down – preferably with a cup of tea, take a deep breathe and prioritize my tasks, then and probably most important I need to commit everything into God’s hands. Sometimes i scares me to see how quickly everything seems to get done when I do this. Life is so busy that we cannot live it without God.

It seemed a very appropriate time to think about this because this is Adbusters slow down week