A Constant Steady Force of Peace

Today’s post is by Jamie Deering

Spring offers us evocative reminders of the power and strength in rebirth. Seeds wintering below the surface of soot and soil waiting for love’s signal to sprout. Birds of the air and fish of the sea beginning their long migrations to nesting grounds across testing terrain. My own inner spirit coming out of winter’s drowse to look up and see life teeming all around.

I live on a bay in a tiny alcove of Puget Sound in the heart of the Olympic Peninsula. This area in Washington state offers one of the most diverse, sweeping, explorable landscapes within the U.S. We are known for sitting at the feet of nature rather than inside a church.

As you drive into my hometown, Port Ludlow, there’s a sign that says “A Village in the Woods by the Bay.” Here I get a daily view of nature’s rhythms. It’s a constant steady force of peace in my life that I had no idea awaited me when I moved here three years ago. Coming from the busier metropolis of Tacoma, 60 miles south, I was unaware of the pace of life offered deeper in Northwest terrain.

PL Heron.jpgFrom my dining room chair where I write, I can look up at any moment and there is a different view than the moment before. The water has shifted, the sun is a bit higher. A bird keeping watch from the porch railing, a river otter frolicking with her family, tails flipping over the water’s rim. A constant changing land and seascape that says, “come and be with me.” Calling me to practice an ever-present awareness of God’s presence and space. Big, wide-open space.

It’s not always a gentle, loving message. The sweeping call of nature evokes the vast span of the call of Presence. Sometimes it’s a missive of courage and bravery that incites my own. Watching an eagle’s driving pursuit of a heron and hearing the heron’s screaming cry called me out onto the porch a month ago. The great blue heron was in a race for its life as the eagle gained ground. With talons flaring, the eagle caught up and shackled the heron, plunging it underwater and holding it there time and again. I had never been such a close observer to a fight to the death. The heron stopped struggling, submerged completely as the eagle sat atop it.

Neah Bay 3.jpgSuddenly, two crows began to dive bomb the eagle. They weren’t big, but they were noisy and persistent. Again and again they dived down to heckle the eagle. After several attacks, the eagle released the heron and went after the crows, which were more agile in the air acrobatics. They drew the eagle across the water toward the trees. I kept watch on the water where the heron was floating. I was rooting for the heron; willing it to get up. My husband had joined me on the porch and together we wondered aloud if it were too late. Yet hope kept our eyes on the heron. We spotted tiny movement, though it was hard to discern if it were hope-worthy. Then another and another. Incredulously, after several minutes, the heron rose out of the water and flew across it within inches of its surface to the waiting marina docks. From here it left our view. While this was happening, the crows continued to draw the ire of the eagle and lure it away from the heron.

Bald eagles are coming back from the brink of extinction. If the eagle had succeeded in securing its large lunch, this would have been perhaps a more characteristic playing-out of nature’s birth and death cycle. But on this day, the crows intervened quite deliberately to save the heron’s life. I am still meditating on this. Another day has dawned and I return to gazing in awe, respect, and wonder at the incredible scenes before me of nature’s story being told in the Pacific Northwest. What a joy it will be for me to share my love for this sacred space with Shalem pilgrims this September.


Jamie DeeringJamie Deering is a graduate of Shalem’s Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Groups & Retreats Program and offers contemplative experiences throughout the Pacific Northwest. She relishes life among the salmon, eagle, bear and orca in Port Ludlow, WA, the heart of the land for Shalem’s upcoming Pilgrimage in the Pacific Northwest. A licensed massage therapist, somatic therapy coach, and soon to be spiritual director, Jamie is active in creating a thriving global community.

The Olympic Peninsula, at the northwest edge of the continental United States, offers a rare and unique experience of one of God’s cathedrals. Consider joining Shalem on Uniting with Earth’s Rhythm: A Pilgrimage in the Pacific Northwest, led by Jamie Deering and Leah Rampy, Sept 24 to Oct 1, 2016.

 

Into Spring and Beyond

Today’s post is by Bryan Berghoef

Pulling in to the monastery, the snow was piled high on the abbey grounds. The walkways were cleared, as the monks had fastidiously kept the paths open for themselves and any guests who would take advantage of their hospitality. I arrived on a chilly day that began less than 10 degrees Fahrenheit—one of several guests seeking a quiet retreat. It had been a long snowy season, and this cold morning was perhaps one last, serious squeeze from old man winter.

I checked into my dormitory-style room in the abbey guesthouse, a very spartan layout, with a simple bed, a desk, and a small rug on the wood floor. Looking out the window, I was greeted with a winter view of a large snow-covered field bordered by leafless branchy trees. A few large icicles hung from the roofline. There was a small walkout balcony accessible to my second-floor room, with an area to sit outside on warmer days.

Arriving on this cold day for a brief retreat at the Benedictine Abbey, I was struck by the ongoing rhythm of the monks who live there. They go about their regular patterns of prayer and work, regardless of the season. Whether summer, fall, winter or spring—they faithfully enter the chapel space for prayers, from early morning matins to evening compline. Joining them, and settling into the rhythm of prayer, work, silence, eating and reflection was a welcome change from my normal busy family life. Sitting in the presence of these monks as they chanted the Psalms, I could feel something inside me warming to it, as a cat stretches and curls up by the fire on a wintry day.

And, as nature would benevolently have it, that kindling of inner warmth was echoed by the March sun, which woke us beautifully the next morning. By mid-afternoon, temperatures soared above 40 degrees for perhaps the first time in 2015. By late afternoon, the large icicles that had slowly formed over the previous months came crashing down. It was even warm enough for me to pull my desk chair out onto the balcony and sit (soak!) in the sunshine. And as the snow on the roof began to melt, creating a chorus of regular drips, I was reminded that every season gives way to another, and that God is with us in each one, even if our perception, or circumstances, or heart stirrings might change.

Newly nourished by these warm moments of sunshine, I walked along the melting snow-lined path to the chapel for evening vespers. I sat down quietly in the space reserved for guests. The monks, wearing their black robes, walked in at the appointed time. I wondered briefly if they had had a chance to enjoy the first glimpse of spring as I had. Either way, they did not blink or change rhythm one bit. They chanted the same Psalms, echoed the same prayers that they had been praying all winter, and would continue well into spring and beyond.


bryan1Bryan Berghoef is a pastor and writer who helps curate Shalem’s social media content and provides technical support for Shalem’s online courses. He is the author of the book, Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation, and God, and lives with his family in Holland, Michigan. You can follow Bryan on Facebook and Twitter.

The Gradual Greening

Today’s post is by Savannah Kate Coffee

Each year I look forward to nature’s transformation in March. I imagine the earth as a reluctant lover, having been cold and withdrawn in the winter months. Now slowly, ever so slowly, she warms again to the sun’s touch, showing her pleasure in the tender shoots of daffodils and crocus, budding dogwoods, and the slightest hint of a southerly breeze.

I wonder if earth’s gradual greening might have inspired St. Hildegard, the 12th century German abbess, mystic, and healer. Hildegard was a keen observer of natural processes and she took a gardener’s approach to healing and to the body. She was primarily concerned with something she called viriditas. Viriditas literally means “greenness,” but for Hildegard it was the broader ability of plants to put forth leaves, flowers, and fruits; and by analogy, for human beings to grow, give birth, and to heal. Hildegard noticed that plants and trees grow into the fullness of their nature according to the capacity they were given. A seed grows into the only plant it can. She believed that healing is really the power of your own nature to be itself—the freedom of the true self to live in unity with the life force that has been given to it.

We might think of viriditas as the unity between the self and God, the soul’s response to the warm touch of the Beloved. Healing rises from our identity rooted in the wholeness of God and the essential oneness at the heart of reality. Shalem’s founder, Tilden Edwards, writes in Living in the Presence that we are often captive to the symptoms of our brokenness and that healing may not be what our ego self-image imagines. There is much we cannot control and sometimes our desire for a certain outcome runs amok. There are moments when I feel bound in the dark clay of my being, longing to bloom again, to know the sun’s light in my deepest parts, and yet I am unable to enact my own resurrection. This too is part of the journey: Holy Saturday’s waiting, Jonah in the great fish, Joseph in prison, Dorothy asleep among the poppies, even Robin Hood in the dungeon. The greening itself, the resurrection, the healing is God’s work, it seems. And yet I can long for it. I can anticipate the reunion with my truest nature and the bright star burning within, knowing that whatever form my healing takes will be as it should be, beautiful according to its own nature.

As we watch the slow greening of nature around us, may we allow ourselves to be touched anew and to feel the deep veriditas rising within. Our watching is not passive. No. For as we wait, we long, we anticipate, and we ask for the reconciling, greening, aliveness of God at every level of our being and in our world. May the greening of our lives be made fruitful for the peace and wholeness of all people and all creation.

“Would any seed take root if it had not believed

the promise, when God said:

‘Dears, I will rain. I will help you. I will turn into

warmth and effulgence,

I will be the Mother that I am

and let you draw from

My body

and rise, and

rise.’”

~Thomas Aquinas


Kate-CoffeySavannah Kate Coffey is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary and Shalem’s Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program for which she now serves as adjunct staff. She lives and writes in South Carolina.