For a seminary-trained, (former…at least for now) pastor, my spiritual life probably isn’t what some people would expect. I don’t have daily prayer or devotional time; I’m an incredibly sporadic journaler, at best; I don’t read theology for fun. Sometimes, I feel guilty about this. In fact, when I was working as a pastor, there were moments when I felt like a fraud, wondering when one of my congregants would find out about how much of a spiritual-disciplines-slacker I am. But at other times, I’m able to claim it, knowing that there are disciplines woven into my life that are completely spiritual, even if they’re not usually named as such.
My mom has long helped with this. She’s a regular runner, and as we were growing up I was very aware that, for her, running was and is a spiritual practice; a way to pray. I seem to have inherited from her both a love of running and an almost instinctual sense that running can be a way to practice spirituality and experience the Spirit’s presence. The spiritual director I saw when we lived in Pennsylvania also really helped me to claim my own, everyday forms of spirituality. In the months after giving birth to Anabel, I remember feeling guilty for not making intentional time for solitude or journaling or other explicit ways to connect with God and my own spirit. My spiritual director, however, helped me to think differently about my current phase of life. He framed parenting of young children as a really unique way of experiencing and practicing spirituality: in the ways that babies and young children demand that we be present to and with them; the ways that they go about life at their own pace and according to their own needs, not caring what other people or what the broader culture expects of them; the ways that they help/force us to get in touch with the widest range of emotions–from deep love, to ambivalent exhaustion, to intense anger and frustration. Babies and young children may not be conducive to morning meditation, but they are very conducive to stopping and paying attention to the the world and the people that surround us; to our own sense of vulnerable humanity and to the Mystery that undergirds that humanity.
I sort of feel like I’m back in that newborn baby phase as we’re ‘birthing’ our new home and homestead. Especially as we try to make the barn livable and get our market garden business off the ground, I just don’t have time/mental space for many intentional spiritual disciplines. That lack of time/mental space is probably not sustainable or healthy over the long haul. And yet, even in the busyness and long days of work that currently define our lives, I have moments of being in touch with a beautiful form of spirituality that’s taking root in this place and this way of life.
I’ve wanted this blog to be a place where I can reflect occasionally on that spirituality. Not because I need anyone else to experience God or faith or spirituality in the same way that I do. But because, for me, choosing this life is tied to my sense of a divine ‘nudging,’ and choosing this life is also a claiming of the things that nourish and feed my own spirit. I also want to include these reflections because I’m guessing that if I doubt my own everyday, embodied spiritual practices, then there are lots of other folks who have to question whether they are praying and practicing spirituality “correctly,” or if they even have a sense of spirituality at all.
So what exactly do I mean when I title a blog post “a homestead spirituality?” Well, I’m still discovering that definition, and I’m guessing whatever it means will constantly be in flux. But here are a few things I would currently name as homestead spiritual practices.
- Interdependence with our local landscapes…which goes beyond being a good steward of the earth, or spending time outdoors in nature (important as these are). There’s a lot of emphasis on both of the latter these days, which is a great thing. And yet, it’s my sense that many folks still struggle to cultivate a meaningful connection to their landscapes, and a true sense of interdependency with them. There’s nothing like farming and homesteading to foster/force that sense of connection and interdependency. When diseased tomatoes or poorly germinated beans mean we don’t get to eat as many delicious veggies that year; when the viability of a young tree depends on my watchful eye and consistent feeding; when I hold a chicken both as a baby chick and and then again at the moment of its death–in all of these and so many more moments, there is at least a degree of awareness that I am indebted to each life form that helps to nourish and enrich my own body; and that I have an immense responsibility to take care of the life and the soil and the land that I have received from. As an Anabaptist-Mennonite Christian, paying attention to this connection and nurturing a humble sense of interdependence is a way to live out my faith; to respond to the God who knit all creation together and the Jesus who calls us to participate in its restoration.
- Playing in the dirt…okay, so there’s all that weighty interdependence stuff, and then there’s just plain ol’, soul-nourishing digging in the dirt. When we were in the midst of our crazy, back-and-forth transition from PA to VA last summer, the thing that kept me sane was going to the garden to weed or thin carrots or do whatever immediate task needed doing. I may not have scientific evidence to back it up, but I have no doubt that digging in the dirt is good for spiritual and mental health–at least for mine!
- Kitchen/garden/homestead mindfulness. Brother Lawrence was a medieval monastic who worked in his monastery’s kitchen. He came to embrace his kitchen labors as forms of prayer. Washing pots and pans and frying things on the stove were, for him, expressions of his love for God. I remember being so excited to learn about Brother Lawrence, because the mindfulness and prayerfulness he discovered in daily, mundane tasks was one I so resonated with. Kneading bread, chopping veggies for supper, hanging out cloth diapers to line-dry, the steady rhythm of a cultivating hoe. These daily hands/body tasks inexplicably quiet and renew my spirit. And when I enter them intentionally, they offer me an avenue of spiritual activism. So as I hang out diapers, I have both the chance to mindfully experience the sun and the breeze and the whisper of God’s Spirit, and I have the chance to put flesh to the ethic of simplicity and responsible living that I feel called to. In our culture of convenience and ever-changing technology, I’m aware of the gift that these simple labors and rhythms truly are.
- Regular reminders of my own limitations, and my own power. There’s a potent mixture of both on a homestead. Long days of work and trying new physical tasks easily put me in touch with the limits of my body; unpredictable weather patterns remind me of the limits of my human control; the plethora of homestead tasks I have yet to learn (soap making, herbal remedies, successful bee-keeping) remind me of the limits of my knowledge. At the same time, there are so many reminders of the power that I have in both my body and mind to get things done and to make a change in my immediate environment. I think if we all worked to cultivate a healthy awareness of limitations and power, we’d be a lot better off, and so I’m grateful for the lessons a homestead affords me in this, and am working to translate it into other contexts.
- Eating good food, raised by your own hands: it’s a spiritual thing.
Okay, I could go on, but your own soul might be growing weary, and there will be future spaces for this. Just to be clear–I am NOT trying to paint a picture of Saint Krista walking around her beatific farm in a constant state of prayer and meditation. Most of the time, I’m not very attuned to these homestead opportunities for mindfulness and deepened spirituality. But I believe very strongly that the opportunities are there, and I hope to continue claiming them and experiencing them as we grow our lives in this place.
So now, before signing off and leaving these musings for another day, I’ll just leave you with the words of Mary Oliver, a poet who certainly knows what it is to attune her spirit to the everyday.
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
-Mary Oliver, Thirst