Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Yurt Adventure II

The First Night
Coming back to a place you have been before is always different than coming the first time and this was no exception. It was dark as I arrived, despite the relatively early hour, but harvest was still going on. Lights were bouncing through the fields and trucks were leaving dust clouds all up and down the gravel roads leading to Earthrise. This time I was expected. I was recognized, greeted warmly, and invited to share dinner of roasted veggies (all grown here) and pork (I didn’t ask), followed by “Graham Cracker Cake” made for them by their 92 year old mother’s 88-year old caregiver for mom’s birthday the day before. We talked a while and then I came down to the yurt to settle in. It welcomed me as an old friend. Cozy, bright, warm. One of the cats invited herself in for the night and I welcomed her. I put my things in their already accustomed places, noticed that we have had a yurt-improvement in the addition of a ceiling fan to circulate the warm air from the heaters.

I spent some time reading a sweet little book the sisters loaned me called Praying with Katie. The author was an unemployed, (and very anxious) former Presbyterian minister who was adopted by a stray cat and learned from her some new things about his relationship with God. I especially liked the chapter on self-improvement and perfectionism. (Imagine that!) He points out that even though Katie the cat is not perfectly obedient, he loves her, and that part of his love for her is that she behaves in ways that are her nature, which means she does not always obey his wishes. “Her very disobedience is part of the perfection of her felinity. She is perfectly catlike, and being catlike includes indifference to our desires.” He goes on to wonder about God and us. “Might not God feel the same way about me? I have been told that the Lord accepts me as I am. Might it be more than mere acceptance? What if God enjoys me the way I am? … If God enjoys me being who I am, as we enjoy Katie being what she is, then praying for help to be better is a mistake. It is unfeline for Katie; it is inhuman for me. God is happy with me the way I am. Why should I try to improve? If God is happy why should I be discontent? When I think of how much of my prayer has been devoted to begging God for assistance in self-improvement, I am both appalled and amused.” (Pp. 40-43) I don’t know. I have trouble believing I should just settle in and be fine with my status quo (or that God would think that was a good plan either)…. I think the expectations might be a bit higher for humans, but on the other hand, the idea that God might enjoy us being human, as we were created, totally NOT perfect, is pretty liberating. And a nice start for a weekend in which the aim is to try to rest rather then improve myself. And that is the next item on the agenda. A futon with flannel sheets and a big comforter is luring me irresistibly, the cat is purring. It’s time for bed.

The Second Day-Morning
Despite my intentions to sleep in, I woke at 5 a.m. This being a farm, there was already activity. The harvesters were at it. The dogs were barking. And I kept hearing…. gunshots. It’s the opening of some bird season or another, I recall hearing on the radio. Oh, good. And me with no blaze orange. Hopefully they will all get their limits early and go home before my walk later, or since it’s birds, they will be aiming up!

I have had some of the really good fair trade coffee the sisters provide. I’m thinking of the preacher party and wish I could share. Toasted a bagel, put the cat out at her request, read a bit and did some writing. At five the view through the skylight was a thousand stars, now at 7:30 it is gray sky. The prediction for the day is 50/50 for showers. I told the sisters when they need rain they should have me up, I seem to bring it.

I am feeling the anxiety of an unscheduled day. It is hard to go from 60 to full stop. I expect at some point today this anxiety will become unpleasant as all the “musts and shoulds and yet-to-be-dones” are sung at me in discordant a capella chorus by the well-meaning but still annoying voices of reproach who see no point in wasting a perfectly good weekend just sitting around when I could be Getting Things Done.

The day is moving by in a gentle rhythm. Prayer, yoga, a walk with the camera. The cats are keeping me good company. Sophia, the overnight cat came back for lunch and stayed on. She appreciated the remains of the three-egg omelet I made with the most gorgeous fresh brown eggs the sisters brought by. On my afternoon walk I made sure to thank the chickens.

Child’s pose brought tears as it sometimes does. I can allow that here. I have no place else to be, there is no hurry. The feelings can have their way with me, pass through. I have no need to judge them or even really to analyze them today. Observing and being with myself is enough.

I’ve been listening to a podcast of a Speaking of Faith interview with Sharon Brous, a young rabbi talking about the “Days of Awe,” the Jewish High Holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Tandaina wrote about her a while back and I told myself this was something I needed to listen to as soon as I had time. It fits well with my “theme” for the weekend, as I am reflecting on repentance and conversion and she has some very profound things to say about that. I’ve also been reading Countryman’s Forgiving and Forgiven. It was nice enough to sit outside and read after lunch for a while, and then it clouded over. Now the sun is out again and it seems to be time for another walk to see what the light has to teach me.

Now as we come to the setting of the sun and our eyes behold the vesper light, we sing your praises O God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. BCP p.139

The light is fading; Sophia has gone off on her cat errands. I have been immersed in Countryman again since my walk. I have been suspecting for some time that there is a link between my struggle with the critical voices and a certain lack of self-forgiveness on my part. This book has freed me of any lingering doubts on that score. His premise is that forgiveness, whether of self or others, is not a step by step process but rather one of personal transformation, or, as he says, “to give these concepts their more traditional names, repentance and conversion.” He goes on to quote William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury during WWI, “’Repentance does not merely mean to give up a bad habit. What it is concerned with is the mind: To get a new mind. What mind?…To repent is to adopt God’s viewpoint in place of your own. There need not be any sorrow about it. In itself, it is far from sorrowful, it is the most joyful thing in the world because when you have done it you have adopted the viewpoint of truth itself, and you are in fellowship with God.” (William Temple, Christian Faith and Life, 67) (p.2).

Countryman says that if we participate in this repentance and conversion we will be putting on the mind of God, who has of course already forgiven us. He says that God does this because God loves us of course and wants to allow us room to grow and make mistakes, but also because God wishes to save us from our own self-righteousness! He says, “Forgiveness then gives us the space to love and learn, and frees us from the temptation to credit our own goodness for too much. God forgives us because that was the most liberating thing God could do for us. It is the starting place for everything else. “(P 18)
According to Countryman, if we refuse to forgive ourselves we are, in essence, not taking God seriously, not allowing ourselves to be converted. He says that embracing forgiveness is an act of repentance because it involves our giving up our way of seeing the world and beginning to see in God’s more generous way. (p. 24). He also talks about perfectionism in ways that reminded me a bit of what I read in the book last night. He echoes the idea that God created us to be human and the nature of that is to be in process, to learn by trial and error, and that by nature we will make mistakes and missteps that will require forgiveness. He says: “The wonderful thing is that through forgiveness, God is able to take even our failures and turn them into raw materials for future growth. Think of it as a kind of spiritual recycling. Nothing gets lost ultimately. Through the miracle of forgiveness, even our failures become the means of our spiritual maturation and the foundation of a priestly ministry to one another. They give us the understanding of one another’s sufferings and uncertainties. They enable us to stand alongside one another in the presence of God.” (p. 31)
He is not saying anything really radical or earthshaking. But he is saying what I need to hear in a way that it is sliding past my barriers. Maybe it’s his words. Or my readiness. Or simply grace. But I am feeling hopeful that a shift may be coming as I sink into the silence and night begins to fall on Earthrise Farm.

I am reminded that the emotional life is not always predictable. Duh. It’s been quiet inside. There has been none of the expected anxiety. The day has been peaceful and sweet. I am aware with a kind of wry compassion for myself just how many rules I have for myself. Even about my own retreat! For example, I took some time tonight to do some reading for school. In the larger scheme of things this was a sane and good thing. It makes me feel less pressured as I go back into the week, I even kind of enjoyed reading about Francis Galton and his ideas about creating a better world through eugenics. Ah yes, just another way we think we can “out-God” God. Silly, striving humans. Behaving, however, just as we were created. Does God smile on this? I am beginning to think so. But even with the bit of reflection it gave me, there was some niggling guilt that this was not what I was “supposed” to be doing on retreat. Same thing with the music I brought to listen to. There is this little stern voice that keeps saying “Silence is the point!” Well, it’s not like I am listening to hip-hop and rap. It’s Taize and J. Donald Walter’s Life is the Quest for Joy (which I highly recommend to anyone who hasn’t heard it). To go from the pace of my life to utter silence isn’t necessarily realistic, and music has always been an important part of my spiritual life. But why on earth do I feel like I have to defend this to myself! It’s not like the retreat master is going to come and confiscate my CDs! The “point” of this, if there is one, I guess is whatever it needs to be. Rest, solitude, time that is not the usual. And now, as the rain beats a gentle rhythm on the yurt, to sleep.

The Third Day
I slept in! Much to my surprise it was 8:20 when I finally, reluctantly came fully awake. Had there not been pressing needs I think I could have slept longer, but once up, even here, I get busy about the tasks at hand. Here they are simple. Brew the coffee, say the prayers, do the yoga. I have slowed down. I feel it in my body, in my soul. I feel more in sync with myself somehow. My dreams have been vivid and interesting in the few moments I still have them to remember on awakening before they evaporate into the day. K has stopped by to ask about a time for the Eucharist I will be sharing with the small community here. It feels like a gift and privilege to be able to share this with these people who have offered me this refuge. She tells me we will then share a meal (another of the chickens sacrificed for us I fear). It is rainy and gray, cool but not unpleasant. It’s very cozy in the yurt. But now it is time to get myself ready for church.

We had a beautiful Eucharist, three of the religious sisters who form the nucleus of this community, the 92 year-old mother of the two bio-sisters and a cousin and niece of theirs who happened to stop by. Their mom is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s with all that entails. They were not sure how she would “be” for the service, but she was able, it seemed to be present. The words of the Creed flowed from her, as did the Lord’s Prayer. She was quiet through the rest but seemed to know that it was in some way “church” by a few comments she made here and there. Their dad, also in his nineties, suffering from even more advanced dementia and deafness joined us for dinner. I am struck by the complexity of the life these women live, the basic raw commitment it requires all day every day to be present for it. Running an organic farm, trying to start an educational center and caregiving for parents with high needs while managing their own commitment to community and spiritual life is no small task. It’s a good reminder as I start turning my mind once again to life outside this little cocoon. Because it is almost that time. Time to shift the focus again back to the bigger, faster and noisier world that is the rest of my life. I slowed down a little easier this time, and expected less of myself in terms of “perfect retreating.” That makes going home easier somehow. My first stop will be yoga class. That seems like a good transition. Then some time to catch up on home news, e-mails and blogs before moving into the week. I questioned on Friday if this was a good use of a weekend and told a friend I thought I’d rather be heading off to fancy hotel with a spa than a yurt with a biffy. But I was, in the end, as I usually am, if I go where I am led, exactly where I needed to be.


"PS" said...

Wonderful post...I need to go back and read...very savor and to let your story sink in. Thank you for a wonderful post.

more cows than people said...

beautiful, deeply thoughtful reflections on a weekend that seems to have been a needed gift, on many levels. Alleluia! And thank you.

Jan said...

What a blessed time you had. Thank you for sharing. I am overwhelmed and have only read half. Like PS, I'll come back later to savor. I was struck by this: “Her very disobedience is part of the perfection of her felinity. She is perfectly catlike, and being catlike includes indifference to our desires.”

Oh, to have that much acceptance of myself and to realize God's, too.

Tandaina said...

Oh what an adorable kitten face. :)

I am so, so glad to read about your yurt experience. You sounded like you needed it hun and like you got exactly what you needed out of it.

A good reminder for all of us to slow down, relax our expectations of ourselves, and let the Holy Spirit show us what we need.

Katherine E. said...

I love it that you share your yurt experiences with us, Kate. Thanks!

Diane said...

i'm coming back again tomorrow to read again, but thanks for these wonderful entries!

Gannet Girl said...

Oh, goodness, too much richness in one entry! I will come back later for the second half. But I do want to comment on the God's POV part -- I have found it wonderful to realize that God's POV is entirely different from my own. Endless space for contemplation there.