Last Saturday I attended the Grow to Live Workshop at the Soil for Life Resource Centre in Constantia. The workshop bio says: “Directly, or indirectly, all food comes from the soil. Today soils are tired, overworked, depleted, sick and poisoned by synthetic chemicals. The quality of our food has suffered and so has our health. All life will be healthy or unhealthy according to the fertility of the soil. Since soil is the basis for all human life, our only hope for a healthy world rests on re-establishing the harmony in the soil.”
Soil for Life is a public benefit organisation that teaches people how to grow their own food, improve their health and well-being, and nurture and protect the environment.
Soil for Life believes that “EVERYONE has the potential to grow nutritious food with whatever resources they have available. Since we started in 2002 we have helped thousands of people in resource-poor communities to develop productive and sustainable home food gardens”.
I can testify that just being in the abundantly luscious garden made me feel more alive. The connection with everything living was obvious. I think I even heard the food growing.
There was so much to learn and now so much to practice. There was a time when everyone grew their own food. The awareness of feeling more alive made me realise just how detached I am from what gives me life. Why was I not taught this at school when I was growing up? Seems crazy that it wasn’t on the syllabus year in and year out!
Please consider supporting this LIFE-GIVING work. I hope you will visit Soil for Life especially if you have not done so already. You can buy your vegetables from them and support their valuable training programmes.
PS: For Zoom link for Sunday’s service please email firstname.lastname@example.org
To change, takes time. It is seldom, if ever, instant. This goes for individuals and society alike. Sure, we may be enlightened by something new in a split second, but we often miss the myriads of change receptors / ingredients that come before to make the change possible. Furthermore, authentic change demands a lengthy period of unlearning that requires grace and guilt and grace and truth and grace and work and grace and time and grace… This is not always communicated by motivational speakers or preachers. Sports coaches are probably more honest about the time and training that change demands!
Saul’s light blinding fall to the ground, voice-hearing, Damascus Road experience (Acts 9) is often falsely interpreted as “change in an instant”, but a closer reading reveals that it too took grace and time and … One prior change receptor / ingredient may have been Saul witnessing the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8). It also took a few days for Saul’s eyes to be opened and what is more, according to scholars, he spent a number of years living in communities like Antioch (Acts 11) before he started “being the change” and teaching the change.
The narrative of instant change sets us up with false expectations and ultimately for massive disappointment. The “name it and claim it in Jesus’ name” that is touted as a sign of “real faith” is not helpful. It is not helpful because it is not true. Singing praises to Jesus does not promise a quick fix. Just take a look at Peter and the rest of the disciples for proof: Jesus had three years with them and that was still not enough! Peter was still racist until Acts 10.
When we can embrace this truth about change and let go of the illusion of instant change / salvation then we may be able to be more truthfully present with who we are and simply with what is. The truthful acceptance of what is (free of denial, blame, wishes and should be’s) paradoxically unhooks us from what is and creating space for change.
Free from the quick fix illusion we may embrace a daily practice of acceptance rather than achievement. To give ourselves humbly to a practice (prayer, meditation, contemplation, art, walking …) that encourages us to be truthfully attentive to our lives and living and world.
The following poem describes the shift from a false to a truthful understanding of change:
You keep waiting for something to happen,
the thing that lifts you out of yourself,
catapults you into doing all the things you’ve put off
the great things you’re meant to do in your life,
but somehow never quite get to.
You keep waiting for the planets to shift
the new moon to bring news,
the universe to align, something to give.
Meanwhile, the pile of papers, the laundry, the dishes the job —
it all stacks up while you keep hoping
for some miracle to blast down upon you,
scattering the piles to the winds.
Sometimes you lie in bed, terrified of your life.
Sometimes you laugh at the privilege of waking.
But all the while, life goes on in its messy way.
And then you turn forty. Or fifty. Or sixty…
and some part of you realizes you are not alone
and you find signs of this in the animal kingdom —
when a snake sheds its skin its eyes glaze over,
it slinks under a rock, not wanting to be touched,
and when caterpillar turns to butterfly
if the pupa is brushed, it will die —
and when the bird taps its beak hungrily against the egg
it’s because the thing is too small, too small,
and it needs to break out.
And midlife walks you into that wisdom
that this is what transformation looks like —
the mess of it, the tapping at the walls of your life,
the yearning and writhing and pushing,
until one day, one day
you emerge from the wreck
embracing both the immense dawn
and the dusk of the body,
just as you are.
~ Leza Lowitz
While on leave I exchanged the tools of my trade. My office was now a garden. Not quite swords into ploughshares, but pen and white paper were traded in for a spade and wet muddy soil. Office lace-ups into gum boots that rejoiced every outing into the wet muddy soil. Digging, planting, clearing, cutting, trimming and watering replaced reading and writing. Weeding (endless weeding) substituted spellchecking. Raking became my new practice of meditation. (Oh the complete satisfaction to rake.) At the beginning and end of each day I would do a wandering inspection, hoping my fragile plantings survived the wind and rain. Grieving the destroyed and celebrating the new life. Noticing the tiny daily transformations that, when added together over a few weeks, were revolutionary (see the above photos of the 4 stages of the wondrous beauty of a Protea pincushion).
My office colleagues also took on completely new identities. The two legged were replaced by the four legged, the two winged and the slithering. Snails left their bread crumbs of silk across the railroad sleeper bridge. Thick juicy earthworms squiggled annoyed at me for disturbing their underworld activities. Francolins taking advantage of the turned up soil, followed my progress Pink Panther-like, three steps forward and two steps back. Looking skyward a Kingfisher paradoxically fluttered its wings while remaining dead still in the air above its catch. A Pintail Whydah checked itself out in the car’s side mirror – repeatedly kissing itself (self-love!). Sunbirds and sugarbirds blew into their flower trumpets. A Yellow Bishop did a routine fly-by (perhaps sent by my own Bishop to keep an eye on me?). I watched helplessly as a mole claimed my freshly planted vegetable patch as its private figure-of-eight-race-track. In the dead of night I spotlighted the bulb-thief with its Mohican of quills locked and loaded in my direction, and I shouted to no effect at the day time delinquent who tipped my compost bin over. The blasé baboon did not easily scare.
I discovered at new depths how healing it is to have one’s hands in the soil. How wonderful it is to feel – actually feel – rooted and grounded. It seems that people all round the world intuitively know this to be the case. According to a recent New Yorker article “in the week before lockdown began, U.K. sales of plants, seeds and bulbs were reportedly up 35% from 2019. “Whenever there’s a crisis – be it a war, or the aftermath of war, or a natural disaster – we see this phenomenon of urgent biophilia,” British psychiatrist Sue Stuart-Smith said. “We gain sustenance from nature’s regeneration.”
In her new book, The Well-Gardened Mind, Sue Stuart-Smith says: “When the future seems either very bleak, or people are too depressed to imagine one, gardening gives you a toehold in the future.” When one feels locked into the past or stuck in the present this is such a gift of grace! Again according to the New Yorker article: “In recent years, the benefits of gardening to mental health have become widely acknowledged in Britain. Primary-care doctors increasingly give patients a “social prescription” to do something like volunteer at a local community garden, believing that such work can sometimes be as beneficial as talk therapy or antidepressants. Some hospitals have been redesigned to incorporate gardens, spurred by findings that patients recovering from catastrophic injuries can heal more quickly if they have access to outdoor spaces with plants. Stuart-Smith’s book compares the uses of gardening in historical and contemporary mental-health treatments, and reports on empirical research into gardening’s effects on mood.”
I just love the idea of a “social prescription”.
Connecting with plant life is not only healing, it is also mentoring and liberating. If we slow down long enough to pay attention, plant life will wisely guide us to an understanding of humanity that we may discover as Gospel (Good news for the poor). The mentoring power of plant life will be the theme of our Sunday Chat at 11:11 this Sunday so I will not dwell on it now.
While I have been away the lectionary readings have turned to that long walk from slavery to freedom, (from 23 August to 18 October the OT readings are from the book of Exodus). Last week’s reading came from Exodus 3 where we witness Moses overwhelmed with wonder and brought to a barefoot humility before a burning bush, (remember to take a metaphor literally is an absurdity). Literalism limits the burning bush mystical moment to a single historical event, while the wild truth is that every bush is ablaze with Divine glory when the light of the day and the openness of our soul are graced with wondrous alignment. (Look again at the photos above … burning in beauty.)
It was before a bush – plant life aflame with beauty – that Moses heard God’s pain-filled trauma of seeing a people’s misery and hearing their cries for freedom. It was in front of a bush that Moses ran out of excuses to stay clear of Pharaoh (a parasite in plant-life-terms – a ruler living off the people instead of for the people). It was before a wilderness shrub that Moses hesitantly realised it was time for him to go and face his past (remembering that Pharaoh was his adopted grandfather). We note that the political journey of liberation will always be an intensely personal one – fought in the public streets and the hidden corridors of our own hearts, because true liberation is never only from oppressive others but also from our oppressive selves.
I guess there are many en-couraging motivations to resist a parasite ruler like Pharaoh. I believe what gave Moses the courage to begin this journey of liberation was Wonder. Wonder at creation that led to praise of the Creator of creation. Praise of the Creator that led to protest Pharaoh’s parasitic rule. The burning beautiful bush is a mystical moment that moves Moses beyond himself towards solidarity with the suffering of others and at the same time towards a healing within himself. A mystical moment is one that does not fit into our day to day measurements of meaning. They refuse to be limited by the logic of the status quo. They escape categorisation. They cannot be fully calculated and they firmly resist commodification. A mystical moment is an encounter with the More of Life. Note, that an authentic mystical moment does not lead to one seeking more mystical moments. The proof of a mystical moment is that it results in the overcoming of fear by the power of love. Love that joins oneself with the suffering of the world. Love that freely gives itself for the sake of Life in all its fullness. Before Moses was moved by mystical wonder to resist the authoritarian Pharaoh there was a pair of midwives who disobeyed Pharaoh’s deathly command to kill all Hebrew boys at birth. They had more wonder for God than Pharaoh and why wouldn’t they? They experienced over and over again the mystical wonder of new birth. Mystical wonder that almost every parent knows and who in that moment is overwhelmed with a love so great that they will not hesitate to give their own life to save the life they now cradle. Mystical wonder is nothing short of the death defeating power of love. Mystical wonder opens one’s eyes to see Pharaoh’s power as phony and a sham. I mean how can fireworks truly compare to the stars? How can flags waving compare to the wind that waves them? How can military parades compare to a flock of flamingos taking off from a salt lake at sunrise or a herd of elephants on a dusty African plain? How can Pharaoh’s prejudice and bigotry and genocidal commands not finally fail if faced by those who have seen a bush burning with beauty and who have entered into a life liberating partnership with the bush-burning-with-beauty’s Creator? After all, “where was Pharaoh when God laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4 adapted.)
“Lost in wonder, love and praise”, Moses returns to resist Pharaoh. (Not a bad time to sing “Love Divine, all loves excelling”.)
The world today is desperate for Moses-like and midwife-like people, (Romans 8:18-30). People rooted in mystical wonder who have been set free from fear by the power of love to enter into solidarity with the suffering of the world for the sake of Life in all its fullness. Moses was moved by a bush ablaze with non-consuming fire. The world today stubbornly refuses to be moved by the threat of every bush ablaze with a consuming fire as we get closer to the point of no-turn from complete Climate Breakdown. I think one of the reasons we are not moved to change is because we are no longer in meaningful relationship with plant life. And as a result we no longer carry the appreciative knowledge of our complete dependence on soil and tree. We have fallen out of love with plant life and therefore we fail to see any reason to give our life (change our way of life) to save our Mother earth. This refusal to love for Life’s sake will be humanity’s undoing.
Get out into the garden. Walk out in the veld. Stand shoeless beneath a tree. Kneel before a blade of grass. Pray that you fall in love again with the earth that sustains you. Marvel at the mystery that our lives cannot exist without the tiniest earthworm far beneath the soil and the forests of trees above. Maybe, just maybe, if we do this we will hear God’s trauma and respond with courage in the power of wonder.
I leave you with three short extracts from Martin Luther King Jr’s. speech at Riverside Church, exactly one year before his assassination on the 4th April 1967.
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late.
If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.
Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter — but beautiful — struggle for a new world.”
In 2020 we are faced with the fierce urgency of now more than ever.
Thursday, 31 October is World Cities Day. By 2050, cities will be the ‘natural habitat’ for most of humanity, so how we build sustainable and inclusive places is important.
In SA, and particularly Cape Town, we have a dual challenge: not only do we need to plan innovatively for a better life for future generations of city-dwellers, we also need to redress the legacy of Apartheid cemented into our urban fabric.
Affordable housing in well-located areas is regarded as one of the keys to begin to undo this problem. However, cries for affordable housing close to the city is often met with the excuse that “there is no available land”. Yet on a little reflection it is easy to see that this is not true…
A report from the civil society organisation Ndifuna Ukwazi “City Leases” shows the lack of change is not for a lack of available land but rather that there is no political will to allocate public land for public good:
“We see golf courses on some of the best public land serving a few residents; parking lots that sit empty for sixteen hours of the day; bowling greens used once a week; and empty uncared for sports fields.
The City of Cape Town continues to lease well-located public land for next to nothing to private companies and associations. How is this use of land more important than a home? How is it prioritised over the rights of thousands of residents living in backyards and informal settlements? How can it stand in the way of bringing working-class people back into the areas from which they were violently evicted?
And yet, hundreds of leases of public land are renewed every year. These skewed priorities are being implemented, without thought, by city administrators and politicians.”
Golf courses must be the worst utilisation of inner-city land. Large, environmentally costly spaces reserved for use by a privileged few.
Similarly, inner city parking not only prioritises space for cars over people, but future generations will be aghast that we persisted for so long to let a major contributor to emissions dictate the shape of our city.
Even more distressing is the Philippi Horticultural Area, which provides up to 30% of Capetonians’ fresh vegetable and fruit, as well as livelihoods for many, is under threat to be rezoned for “development”. This is currently being challenged in the High Court.
Faced with the choice between recreation for a few vs. water and housing; carbon-dioxide-spewing cars vs. space for people; “development” vs. food and jobs, what would Jesus want?
As the prophets said: “They say that what is right is wrong and what is wrong is right; that black is white and white is black; bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.” Isaiah 5:20.
To mark World Cities Day, and in recognition for the struggle for housing, land and environmental justice in our country, we hoist another Yellow Banner on the CMM Steeple on Thursday at 13h00.
See you then,
Prime Minister of New Zealand:
Photograph: Kirk Hargreaves, Christchurch City Council
Grace and peace to you
As we reflected last Sunday, after calling Herod a fox, Jesus cried: “Jerusalem Jerusalem … how often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…” (Luke 13)
Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern has lived this text into being this past week. In so doing she has shown the world what healthy, wise and strong leadership looks like. Ardern is not reading from a prepared script. She is simply honouring her heart and head – a heart that feels deeply and a head that is deeply thoughtful. Her own grief has set the tone for her nation’s grief. She articulates both her anger at the cause of grief and expresses her gentleness for the grieving. She rightly chooses to keep the spotlight on the loved ones of the deceased rather than the killer.
Ardern’s repeated words to the grieving: “You are us.”, are the most healing words she could possibly say. Spoken with the authority of a surgeon, she sews together with her words the truth that the killer attempted to shatter with his bullets. We are all one. These words at the same time expose the killer’s blindness and the blindness of Islamaphobia as well as all other forms of discrimination.
Without hesitation she has named the instrument (actually it’s an idol) – the gun – that when mixed with fear and hate, causes death on a massive scale. Simply put: she cares more about saving lives than a tiny group of people’s desire to own a firearm.
Prime Minister Ardern is a challenging sign of hope to us all.
A story by Steve Mellon: “A woman approached the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh mostly unnoticed and carefully placed a bouquet of yellow flowers among the branches of a bush near the center’s concrete steps. She then crossed Bigelow Boulevard and sat on a stone retaining wall and wept.
The flowers and her quiet, anony- mous presence were gestures of solidarity with the Muslim community, she said. When a man at the mosque learned of the woman’s presence, he briefly held his hand to his heart, then crossed the street to chat with her.
Moments later, he guided her back across Bigelow Boulevard, up the concrete steps, and into the center’s lobby. The man offered the woman a chair and introduced her to others then gathering for traditional Friday prayers.
In the sunlit room, people of different faiths gathered in a small circle and shared stories of pain and sadness and strength and hope.”
Grace to you
Today we are going to reflect on Psalm 1. It is therefore as good a time as any to make a commitment to read the whole Psalter – starting today with one psalm a day for the next 150 days.
To accompany us on the journey I can’t recommend highly enough Nan C. Merrill’s book: Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness. She has translated all 150 psalms with poetic and theological brilliance. She helps us see the word through her feminist and non-violent lens. Here is the preface to her book:
“Who among us has not yearned TO KNOW the Unknowable? For most, these moments are fleeting glimpses that may last a lifetime; in some, a Fire is kindled and life becomes a quest to live in Holy Surrender; and though fewer in number, saints dwell among us who know the Beloved, who aspire simply to co-create in harmony with the One, who is Love and Light and Power. To cherish the Beloved as you are cherished is to live in a mutual bonding that calls for action.
The Psalms have ever been a response to these deep yearnings: cries of the soul … songs of surrender … paeans of praise. The Psalms of the Hebrew Scripture often reflect a patriarchal society based on fear and guilt that projects evil and sin onto outer enemies. Psalms for Praying reflects the reciprocity of Divine Love that opens the heart to forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing. Affirming the life-giving |fruits of love and acknowledging the isolation and loneliness of those separated from Love, may serve to awaken the heart to move toward wholeness and holiness.
Aspiring to live in a spirit of cooperation, co-creation, and companionship with the Beloved, rather than invoking a spirit of competition with God, other individuals and nations – so much a part of the Hebrew Scripture Psalms – seems clearly a more loving movement toward engendering peace, harmony, and healing in our wounded world.
Yet, let it be understood that Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness is in no way meant to replace the well-loved, still meaningful, and historically important Psalms of the Hebrew Scripture. May it stand as a companion, a dialogue, if you will, of one age speaking with a later age. May it serve as an invitation to listen to the Voice of Silence that speaks within your own soul.”
Blessed are those
who walk hand in hand
who stand beside virtue,
who sit in the seat of truth;
For their delight is in the Spirit of Love
,and in Love’s heart they dwell
day and night.
They are like trees planted by
streams of water,
that yield fruit in due season,
and their leaves flourish;
And in all that they do, they give life.
The unloving are not so;
they are like dandelions which
the wind blows away.
Turning from the Heart of Love
they will know suffering and pain.
They will be isolated from wisdom;
for Love knows the way of truth,
the way of ignorance will perish
as Love’s penetrating Light
breaks through hearts
filled with illusions:
forgiveness is the way.
Grace to you
Two weeks back I recommended some Advent-time reading. During Advent-time our imaginations are stretched to include the possibilities of a world where the poor are prioritised and not persecuted and suggested that Tomatoes and Taxi Ranks will help us in this reorientation of our priorities. Advent-time is also most beautifully and powerfully honoured by those who dare to “prefigure” a hoped-for-future in the present. This is wonder-fully captured by a war photojournalist by the name of Lalage Snow in her book: War Gardens – A journey through conflict in search of calm.
Snow honours Advent-time by refusing to deny the horrors of war while at the same time exposing people’s stubbornness against despair as expressed through their daring and caring acts of garden planting.
While interviewing one restorer of gardens in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, Snow got the sense that they “were effectively tidying up after two decades of chaos, the conflict erupting around them and all the trappings which skip alongside war were merely an annoyance rather than an existential threat. The restoration almost belittles the war. It says, ‘OK, you guys carry on fighting, we’ve got more important things to sort out.’ If war is anxious, uncertain and terrifying, gardens are the antithesis. They are solid worlds of hope and life, and their gardeners work at a cognitive distance from violence.”
In another interview, Mohammed Kabir is introduced as a gardener for the Kabul municipality. His garden is mostly for subsistence living – beans, potatoes, okra. Snow writes: “’But what about the flowers?’ I point at the messy square of colour in the middle of the courtyard. ‘Well’, Kabir says, ‘I just decided to bring some seeds from my home and plant them in the courtyard. The soldiers helped me to dig and water. I am an old man,’ he reminds me. I ask him why he would make a garden in the ruins of a forgotten palace where only the military and the ghosts will see it. He looks at me as if I’ve asked him to count up to three. ‘Everyone needs a garden. This is our soil. When you work with it, things grow. It’s nature, life. I am a poor man, sometimes my family and I only eat once a day, but I can live without food; I couldn’t live without seeing green leaves and flowers. They come from heaven. Each one,’ he insists ‘is a symbol of paradise. I have a flower in my garden at home and have counted seventy colours in its petals; tell me that it doesn’t come from heaven!’ he exclaims… ‘Since starting this garden I feel I am getting younger. Every tree, every plant, every flower gives me energy.’
Alexi lives in Donetsk in the Ukraine and declares: ‘Tonight I will sleep in the shelter in the ground like my plants.’ While Hamidullah in Parwan, Afghanistan explains: ‘I had a friend in the army, an officer. He was like a brother to me. He was killed, fighting, about a year and a half ago. I was so sad. I … I couldn’t sleep for grief. I tried to garden to forget him but in the end, I planted to remember him and when one grew, it was like I had a new friend.’
Advent-time is planting a garden when others are planting bombs.