This past weekend I was in beautiful Hanmer Springs with an excellent group of people exploring together the possibilities for many different ways to embody and live the journey of life with faith, hope and love. There were many wise insights offered from what had been learned so far and many wonderful stories told for encouraging and inspiring us as we continue. At our final session, which was a bit rushed, we were invited to reflect on our own lives and the life of our community – in this case the PCANZ – as an ecosystem.
This is a helpful framework to begin with, because those of us formed by Western culture are so accustomed to think of ourselves as individual atoms, rattling along in our solo trajectory across the time span allotted to us. We think we are alone, isolated, separate and self contained. For some, many perhaps, this is what it means to be an adult – to need no one; to manage alone; to help others from my excess.
If I picture my life as a flower in a garden, the ecosystem approach means I must acknowledge I need some things that I have no control over (sun, rain). I need the soil of my life to be rich in minerals and have a balance of materials that allow for movement of air, water and space for deepening roots. I need protection from harsh elements, but I also need enough manageable challenges so that I learn to develop flexibility and resilience. And I need pollinators and other flowers to bring me the richness of diversity and difference so that the seeds and fruits of the garden are more fully creative and innovative.
So as we seasonally turn the corner into autumn here in the southern hemisphere and I am thinking about getting out into my actual garden to dig in some (wormy) fertiliser, tidy up and plan for winter vegetable planting, I thought it would be good to take the time I didn’t get at the weekend to explore the ecosystem of our lives, to take stock of what is newly in awareness and where we may want to make some additions, tidy up, leave fallow, do some digging.
I love metaphors. They are so helpful.
Here is a copy of the picture we were given to play with. If you’d like a pdf version so you can print it out and colour it in/work with it then just email me and I’ll send you one. Or you can draw your own version – this is not requiring much artistic ability.
There were also questions to go with this image: What rocks do you have in your soil? How is your general soil condition? Good sunlight? Water? Roots deep or shallow? What else do you notice?
It might be helpful to consider what sunlight is for you? What is rain for you? What are the roots that are growing and where? And then you can reflect on the quality of these in your life right now.
Once you have done this for yourself and identified a few rocks, which could be anything from anxiety to an excess of zeal, take some time to consider what practices and structures would support you as you begin to partner with God in the work of grace to shift those identified barriers to deepening growth.
How might you embed those practices into your life? What obstacles are there to committing to a practice? What might need to happen to tip you into committing and what might help you stay with it?
As you reflect on the ecosystem of your life, see if you can also identify something (or some ones) that are missing. We are often drawn to those like us, those who share a similar level of education, those who look like us, those who share our values or world view, those who confirm for us that we have a place and we belong. This is a kind of cheap and shallow belonging, though, and it is a closed monoculture that lacks the richness of difference and the depth of diversity.
How did the rose ever open its heart and give to this world all its Beauty? It felt the encouragement Light against its Being. Otherwise we all remain too frightened. Hafiz
This poem has been set to music, so you can listen here (click the green button with the arrow under the audio heading) and how about going to a florist, choosing a single rose and then sit and contemplate the poem and the metaphor as audio and visio divina all at once.
Take a fast
There’s a spiritual and emotional learning that can happen when we allow ourselves to experience emptiness on a physical level. First of all, that the cravings and habitual patterns of the body can be gently and tenderly denied for a period without risk of doing any real damage.
Choosing not to eat when you are hungry – choosing with awareness to delay a felt need offers:
- the opportunity to recognise at a deep level that lack can teach us, open us, humble us
- the means to stimulate our gratitude now and our generosity later
- a space when we are not preparing or eating food to pray
- a practice that alerts us to the ways we are food and satisfaction centric
- a way to refocus us on the felt experience of this moment landing us back in NOW and invites us to be more fully present to the feeling of need without feeling anxiety.
- a reminder that we don’t have to get what we want all the time
- a workout for our trust muscles.
There are lots of ways to fast. Choose what will work for you – something that will stretch you beyond your comfort and challenge you, but not something that will push you into the red zone of fatigue or hyper control. You could choose to fast from something that consumes your time and attention that isn’t food – like the news, or checking your phone, or gaming, or talking…
Take out something that will help you to see what rocks are in your soil, what is sunshine for you, what kind of soil structure you have or where your cross pollination is currently coming from…
Pause and dwell with the selections from this passage in John’s account of the gospel. Savour the imagery and see what catches your attention as you sit with it and ponder the ecosystem implicit in the vine/branch/fruit/pruning/gardener relationships.
“I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love." John 15:1-2; 4; 9