Into the Woods

I sit here in my home office, freshly stenciled with 18th century historically correct stencil patterns I received as a birthday present. The reds and mustards and sage green flourishes and swirls warm the cream colored walls, whispering to me of bygone era when life seemed easier.

I look down at the chipped and scratched wood that is the top of my writing desk. The deep patina of wood glows from the beeswax candle I have lit. The desk was never intended to hold the computer of a writer-turned-pastor musing about adapting to life in rural America.

Still, the table salvaged from a Vermont farmhouse does a wonderful job holding my computer, putting up with the tapping of keys when once it used to feel the rolling of a pastry pin.

I breathe in deeply and release. Peace is in this room. Peace—and a whole lot of gratitude for where God has led me and where God is still leading.

Tomorrow I will be speaking at a ceremony to dedicate the near completion of a replica of the cabin in which Henry David Thoreau made famous in his book, “Walden.”

The Merck Farm and Forest Center, just up the road from me here in Vermont, has been working on the cabin since last November.

Folks from all over, both local and as far as the “big” city of New York, have come up to learn about how to make shingles, lay floors, etc.

As I ponder what I will say at the dedication, I think about the many hands that have been a part of making this replica cabin. I think about how this project was more than just a chance to learn some carpentry skills. This project for many has been a chance to reconnect with a dream hidden deep inside their hearts for too long.

The dream to live simply.

We all have that dream to some extent. Yet, after wistfully wishing for only one peg to hang up the day’s clothes, we tend to slip back into the mad dash to work hard to acquire more. We need…we want…we must…and the little hamsters spin frantically around and around on the wheel.

Back in the 1800’s, Thoreau noticed many of his friends in Massachusetts society circles spinning like hamsters on a wheel. And it wasn’t for him. He, instead, held a treasured dream in his heart that guided how he lived his life. The dream to live authentically and to live simply. Thoreau knew there was “more” to acquire in life. There were more birds’ songs to hear, more rustling of trees to listen to, more stillness to obtain.

“I rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than to be crowded on a velvet cushion,” Thoreau wrote.

I, too, have longed for a pumpkin seat rather than a velvet cushion. And, in a way, God has heard my desires and answered them beautifully.  My Colonial stenciled home office, with windows that don’t shut properly and sloping floors bring joy to my heart.

My old wooden table in which I write at, nicked and scratched with years of use, and if you pull at the drawer, the knob is sure to always come off, is priceless treasure that might look like junk to others.

Pumpkins seats abound in my little home, and they are more attractive to me than velvet cushions.

Still I find myself falling victim to the “we must acquire more” syndrome.

Much to the chagrin of my husband, my latest acquisition of china has arrived from Ebay. I just couldn’t resist the vintage blue and white English village scenes and floral borders painted on the delicate porcelain.

“How many dishes do we need?” my husband asked, laughter heard underneath his exasperation.

He is right. We don’t need any more fine china. It’s just the two of us and often our meals are eaten out of Chinese food cartons.

Still…I needed, wanted, desired more plates and teacups.

While I know the antidote for “more syndrome” is more prayer to God who promises us our daily bread and more focus on Jesus who told us not to worry about things, I am not sure if we are ever fully cured of wanting, needing, desiring more.

Perhaps living simply is a conscious choice we need to make every day? Perhaps the cure isn’t supposed to come easy? Perhaps the struggle to have and not have is one that helps us learn more about ourselves—our weaknesses, our holes in our hearts we are trying fill with things, our priorities and how much we really do need God in our lives to lean on. For it is only God that can fill the empty storehouses of our souls.

Tomorrow I will be speaking at the dedication of the Henry David Thoreau replica cabin. I will be sharing how Thoreau has impacted my writing, my ministry and how I have sought to live.

And I will begin by echoing the words of Thoreau who once wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I will speak how I too came “into the woods” of rural ministry, stepping into the unknown, fronting the human worries of divine daily bread, wishing to live the authentic me God has made me to be, so that when my time came to die, I could say I have truly lived.

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A New Reality

The Easter claim is not about resuscitation but about a new reality in the world that is unrestrained by the force of fear.  Walter Brueggemann

A new reality.

It’s why I gave up the security of a steady paycheck and a regular preaching gig every Sunday morning down in Maryland.

It’s why I gave up the very things we are taught to make a priority in our lives and go after—income, pension, health insurance—so that we can purchase the things the world uses to define (and so often judge) us by.

I gave it all up so that I could step into a new reality in which God had been nudging me to step into for quite some time. The nudge was gentle at first, but anyone who has brushed off God’s nudge knows God is not easily brushed off. The nudge grew stronger, leading me to sleepless nights and divine dissatisfaction with a life that looked to be a blessed one on the surface.

The nudge finally became a holy kick in the #$% that set me on an uncertain future back in Vermont where the only thing I am certain of is this: God is on the brink of doing some amazing work in a place my heart embraces.

Great work in a place where I see abundance of the things that matter to God—an abundance of caring hearts, stubborn hope and a desire to live a life not defined by what the world says is life.

Rather to live a life where a good payday is one in which your ears heard the songs of the birds and your body stood still long enough to enjoy their angelic concert.

God is up to something big.

Those were the words I said to my parents the other day when I called them to say “hi” after spending a morning with a lean checkbook that once again, somehow, paid for our daily bread.

God is up to something big, a new reality that isn’t about breathing life into old ways of doing and being. God is revealing a new way to live, I said, more for my own benefit than to put at ease a parent’s worry about their daughter’s future.

Live simply. Live with love. Live in peace. Live knowing that while there are forces against you (there are always forces against us), not to be afraid. Rather, embrace it all—the good, the bad, the ugly. For God is in it all.

The thing is, new realities like this come with a lot of uncertainty, a lot of questions and a lot of opposition.

My Lenten journey this year has been an interesting one. It began with a quiet Ash Wednesday in which, sitting alone at my centuries old farm table that serves as my writing desk, I poured out the burnt palm ashes into an ice cream bowl and thoughtfully and prayerfully let my finger swirl around and around.

As I felt the grittiness of the ash against the smoothness of my skin, my thoughts went to all the foreheads I have made the sign of the cross on with the ash. Some with many wrinkles of wisdom won not so easily; while others still smooth with beautiful ignorance we call blissful at times. I thought of the sacred moment when after the cross was made, I would step back and see the person’s face fill with awe and mystery as if this smudge had somehow reached deep into their heart. And perhaps it did.

As my finger swirled, I felt an ache that this would be the first year I would not have any foreheads to smudge. I looked down at my blackened finger and gently made the sign of a cross on the top of my hand.

I whispered to my ache, “Remember from dust we come, to dust we shall return.”

In the silence of that second, my ache whispered back, “I remember.”

And so, my journey so far has been one in remembering who I am and to know that when all is said and done nothing matters in our fleeting lives except finding the courage to live into the new reality God presents. A reality that is not about resuscitation, but one that is about authentic new life.

It’s a reality, though, that is not easy.

The other day I sat down on the path I was walking on and hung my head down low. I was not physically tired, but spiritually exhausted.

Although the sun was shining, all I could feel was darkness encroaching. I touched the top of my hand where weeks ago the self-imposed gritty smudged cross stared back at me, begging me to remember.

Gingerly, I traced the lines of the now phantom symbol of hope. Over and over, I made the sign of the cross where hope first had to conquer betrayal, opposition, hurt, anger and darkness. Lots of darkness.

“A new reality unrestrained by the force of fear” is what theologian Walter Brueggemann says the Easter promise is all about.

The sad truth is, though, fear will always try to restrain the new thing God is doing. For we humans are a fearful sorry lot. We are so afraid when we cannot control our own lives, even more so when we cannot seem to control others. We are fearful when someone dares to upset the apple cart by suggesting that we do something never done before.

The other day I was talking to a friend I had reconnected with now that I had moved back home. We got to talking about God realities and the fear that thwarts them. As we talked she became quiet and thoughtful. Hesitant at first to share what had come to her, she blurted out her concern.

“Donna, your complete abandonment to follow God and blind trust you show, no matter what, well, it threatens others and will threaten any powers to be that you challenge,” she said, recognizing that often many will talk about doing something new with God, but few will see it through. She then smiled and said, “But keep on pursuing that new reality, for many have wanted to do what you are doing, but we have been afraid.”

To the world, I am example of someone who is crazy. Perhaps even a threat. After all, I am willing to enter tough places, give up all, to see something beautiful that so few go the distance to see. I live to see God redeem brokenness and create newness from rubble.

Sometimes I, myself, question my sanity especially when I get to the part of the journey I am on now. The part where dark, mean clouds of a world who opposes this reality are gathering on my path.

But then, I trace the phantom cross, the symbol of hope, that was on my hand weeks ago. I trace and I reach. I reach deep down in my soul, mustering up the courage to keep on going, for I know how gritty ash feels on the skin and I remember.

There’s a beautiful reality waiting to burst forth where God has placed me to serve.

I remember I am dust.

I remember, God is God. AR-302109909.jpg