Recently, I was asked, along with a couple community activists, to speak at the annual gathering for Progressive Christians Uniting (PCU) about how my work is informed from the viewpoint of the Spirit, what my spiritual and theological “drivers” are, and how do these perspectives ground me in my work. As we close the Lenten season this weekend, I share my reflections on these questions remembering that they are closely connected to the ongoing dialogue between Lent, Holy Week and Easter…
2-18-13 PCU’s Creatively Maladjusted Event:
“It is hard for me to believe that it has been almost seven years since the South Central Farm near downtown Los Angeles was bulldozed…and actually…more than a decade since the struggle to save that piece of land began. Although I was raised as a young girl to have great faith, it was not until my experience during and since the whole South Central Farm struggle that I truly began to understand deep spirituality.
Many of you have probably heard the story of the South Central Farmers and were a part of it in some way. If you are not familiar with the struggle to save the South Central Farm, I encourage you to learn more about it and suggest watching the 2008 Academy nominated documentary about the farmers called, The Garden. There is a scene in the documentary where one of the urban farmers is in the office of the at the time Deputy Mayor Larry Frank. The farmer is there with a large number of protestors…fighting for the preservation of this 14 acre urban farm, which his father was a part of starting back in 1994. At some point in the conversation he begins to share the gravity of what the destruction of this farm would mean to the community. This is a paraphrase but the farmer says to the Deputy Mayor something like, “I think sometimes in these kinds of struggles we lose a little bit of focus.” Referring to the South Central Farm he goes on saying… “It is as if I went to your community and I took down your temple, I took down your church. These are sacred things. You are taking away our way of life.”
“These are sacred things…” As I reflect on this statement and ponder the whole journey of the farmers and their struggle to maintain food sovereignty and their way of life, I am welcomed into a narrative where everyday acts of resistance (such as growing your own food) are also acts of stewardship…it is a stewardship of the sacred…it is a way of life…and it is from this place that I have begun to see my own spirituality finding its roots.
I often find myself pausing to reflect on what it means to be a steward of the sacred, especially when much of the work I do feels so mundane. Indeed…there is a limit to the amount of mysticism you can experience doing office work and delivering vegetable boxes. However, I wonder…if at the end of the day…it is the mundane that is at the heart of the spiritual life. It is the waking up before dawn to drive two hours to Bakersfield to plant and harvest your traditions that you will eventually sell as Good Food to Angelinos. It is staying up until 1am cleaning onions and washing produce. It is taking out the trash and cleaning the bathrooms… These are the grounding practices of my spiritual guides.
When I was in undergrad, I was taught the importance of going out into the world to help other humans…yet, it wasn’t until my time experiencing community in Los Angeles, and with many of the farmers, that I was taught how to be human myself.
In 2009, with the support of some of my LA farm friends and a partnership with Episcopal Priest Julie Morris and her family, we started the Abundant Table Farm Project (ATFP). The ATFP initially grew out of the local campus ministry and started as a one year residential internship program for young adults interested in exploring their spirituality and vocation through farming. Since 2009 it has expanded to include a four to five acre farm, Farm to School education, a small house church, and a large community of people working toward holistic justice with the land and their neighbors. Because this is a faith based organization/program the spiritual underpinnings are not hard to imagine. However, I believe that the greatest spiritual lessons learned by our staff and interns have a lot less to do with prayers and meditation and more to do with that mysterious act of stewarding the sacred. Many of our interns come to us having just finished a liberal arts undergraduate education. They quickly learn though, that the training their degree provided does not necessarily translate into farming skills. And not only that…but our staff, some of whom were previously farm workers in the celery fields, carry a knowledge and skill that no college education can provide. There is a re-ordering of the world that happens here…and this, I also believe, is a part of being stewards of the sacred. Realizing that deep spirituality is not only what you think, say and believe…but what you do, how you live, and who you live with.
It is no secret that there is great suffering in the world, and that this suffering is often caused by oppressive systems which many of us in some way participate. During this season of Lent as we become more in tune with our own suffering and the suffering around us…it is also a time for the Christian community to be reminded of the journey of Jesus Christ within a suffering world. In the Episcopal Church and other liturgical communities this past Sunday’s gospel was the Lukan narrative of the tempting of Jesus in the wilderness. In this story we see Jesus reject the temptation to save the world through domination or the temptation to escape it by resting in the arms of angels. Jesus is pointing to another way, which we begin to see emerge through the remaining Sunday lectionary readings in Lent (and really…the rest of the year).
Rather than opposing the systems of violence and oppression through domination or escape…Jesus continually finds the cracks in the system and invites his followers to create alternative spaces within these cracks. It is not just what one thinks about the systems that oppress or the systems that give life, but what you do with them that points to not only a deep spirituality but a creatively bold spirituality, as well. It is a spirituality that is not dependent on everyone being the same but rather dependent on everyone being with one another through all the joys and sorrows of life…walking together and creating together a world that honors the dignity of every human and sacredness of all creation.
For people like myself, who often find themselves on the side of dominate society (or rather dominating society) we are given a challenge to move beyond those initial acts of solidarity into relationships of friendship and kinship. To spend more time showing up and less time showing how.
A stewardship of the sacred, for me, calls for a spirituality of presence; to be present with myself, with my community, with the earth and with the Divine…in order that I might know each more deeply. I believe that every person is a steward of the sacred, and that we must be stewards together. Spirituality in my experience has not been something that is maintained solely in my inner world. While that is one part of what it means to be whole…wholeness requires the world outside of us as well. The moments of deep joy that ground and nourish me are often communal, and maybe it is my feeble attempts at developing some inner life that allow me the gift to see and be fed by the sacredness of the external world.
One of my favorite Abundant Table stories about encountering the unexpected sacredness in our world happened last December in the midst of all the holiday craziness. One of our staff members, Reyna, was hosting a Posada at the home where our interns live. She had brought her family. Our interns, staff, and some friends were there, as well, but the effort to invite anyone else outside of our small little circle was swallowed up by a fundraiser we did the days preceding the Posada.
The tradition of the Posada remembers the journey of Mary and Joseph seeking lodging on their journey to Bethlehem. Every community does it a little differently, but at the end, when the Holy Family is finally welcomed in…the whole community re-enacting the posada celebrates with food, piñatas and gifts for the children. So…here we are, our small little group preparing for the Posada with tons of food and gifts. Reyna makes it clear that we need more people (especially kids) to join us, because she had brought so much to share. And…in an act of creatively bold spirituality Reyna, with our intern Aminah, walk around the neighborhood. The neighborhood where our interns live is filled primarily with farm workers and low wage workers, many of whom are quite familiar with Posadas. Reyna and Aminah invite anyone who is at their home to join in on the festivities. Slowly people begin showing up on the front lawn, and the end of the night the yard was full of neighbors dancing, eating and being with one another in a moment of unexpected sacredness…and it is these moments that ground and guide me.
A few years ago a dear friend and colleague Cristy Rose Smith, shared with me the chorus to Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem. I was reminded of these lyrics recently and in closing tonight, want to share them with you…
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
“These are sacred things”…they are not perfect…and they are full of cracks…but maybe just maybe, it is in these places, the cracks in the system…the places of both the creative and the mundane resistance that the sacred resides and our deep spirituality can be found.