January 2008

Last Saturday afternoon, a group of us were on a silent, meditative walk around the pond and into the pasture. We were walking slowly, noticing our footfalls, considering who has walked these pastures before us, paying attention to everything around us.

And so I heard birds that I couldn’t see. I noticed where the cattle must be sleeping at night (there are lots of cow pies and round areas where the grass is flattened.) As we moved along into the stillness, I began to feel my heart sing and I really wanted to stretch out my arms, throw my head back and twirl around a time or two.

It was a warm, sunny, clear January day. I felt happy and free.

I climbed the rise up the hill on the other side of the pond from the house and was negotiating through the waist-high dried weeds when one snagged the arm of my woolen coat. I tried to brush it off, but it clung to me. I brushed harder and it caught on my glove. When I tried to brush it off my glove, it stuck to my other glove. Then, somehow it attached itself to my coat sleeve again. This weed would not let go.

Suddenly, I felt like I was wrestling with God; that God was toying with me. I laughed right out loud. I stopped walking, smiled at the weed on my sleeve, gently picked it off and began carrying it home. It sits on my coffee table at this moment, along with a very pretty, furry piece of golden grass that got my attention because it was pretty – and didn’t cause me one moment’s stress.

Ah…there we have it: I wouldn’t have brought home the stickery weed, had it not persisted in attaching itself to me. I choose things in nature that are pretty. I didn’t pick up a cow pie. The rocks I choose to carry home usually are shaped interestingly (like a heart, for instance) or have nice coloring or a glint of mica.

Why do we only choose the things that please us? Isn’t there value in the stickery weeds?

At our last Sabbath Supper, one among us decided to do a special prayer and needed some rocks. So the youngest among us – a small boy and his sister – were sent to bring in a rock for each one of us. They brought back tiny pieces of gravel from the driveway – the most colorless, ordinary kind of rock.
As each one held their stone as if it were a diamond, we prayed.

And now that sacred piece of gravel lives on my prayer table.

30 January 2008 


Following are two poems from one of the visitors to Turtle Rock Farm, Kay N.:

Sunday, May 13, 2007
Mothers’ Day
4:15 p.m., Turtle Rock Farm Retreat 
Day One

Turn the Radio On

Hope and desire
drove me 
to this farmhouse
   an ark floating
   on a prairie ocean
   of silence
   and solitude
the southeasterly breeze
my only companion—

I enter the loneliness
accepting it
Giving myself to ordinary claims
   I wash some asparagus for supper . . .
   my right hand unthinkingly
   reaches for the radio
   then hesitates
I smile as my right hand catches on:
radio . . . .
        no button to push–
        no relief            from quiet’s demands

“Give in,” I whisper to a dishpan of soapy water

Give in  . . . .
to this envelope of emptiness and its solace
begins to be


August 3, 2007
Turtle Rock Farm Retreat
Arrival: 11:37
How do you know that you have made it
that you have arrived?
that you are “on retreat”?
that you have crossed over from ordinary time and space
into the place
where God-begins-to-be—
. . . . that moment of arrival
the heart romps joyous:
checks out Zig Zag lane (“There’s been more rain!”)?
shouts and waves, “HI COWS I’M BAAAAACK!!!”?
smiles and bows with grateful recognition
at Suzy-Q’s cake pan of clean water on the porch?

Or perhaps it begins when one begins unloading
everything from the car: food, clothes, books, notes, computer, socks, shoes, research
bringing in even the trac phone
and dialing to confirm safe arrival?

Or maybe 
during that instant of reluctant laughter
as the screen door stubbornly sticks shut
refusing to open at precisely the same spot—
Or the sight of the beautiful vase on the kitchen table filled with Ann’s fresh flowers?
Or is it while preparing the first lunch—
Or maybe with utterance of the first word of the first midday prayer this past noon—
Or the appearance of the first wasp inside the house?

Or hearing the first weather report “from the National Weather Radio Station operating from Norman, Oklahoma, ‘Here is the forecast for Ponca City and surrounding areas?’”

Surely it is the first sinkful of dishes washed
as the kettle for tea is set to boil on the Chambers.

is it that moment when
the soul
becomes restless
the very first instant since having arrived

Like a small wave of nausea,
when soul says,
“I am restless.”
and when possibilities pile up like a stack of cards in a dealer’s hands:
“I want to read.”
“I want to walk.”
“I want to say ‘Hi’ to Ann.”

When the soul
sends off the first distress signal
saying: let us do anything
but be completely quiet with God

it is in that first miserable instant
in which
resistance to God
rolls over one
like high tide

It is then
one has arrived on retreat . . . .
as soul resists
the pounding tide of ache for something (for anything)
save be with God.



The honey-colored orphan calf we’ve been with since he was discovered alone in the pasture in September died this week.

Those first few days without a mother and food were harmful and he never grew as he was supposed to. He was sick a lot. We thought he was going to die before Thanksgiving. But he responded to our treatment – either Ann’s energy medicine or Sid’s antibiotics, or both. And I want to believe he responded to our friendship and care.

The morning before he died, he couldn’t stand and only drank half a pint of milk, a couple of cubes of calf cake and a strand of hay or two. Sid asked if it was time for euthanasia. I wasn’t ready. I fed him little bits twice more during the day and evening, but he couldn’t eat. I thanked him for his life with us.

The next morning I expected to find him dead, but he wasn’t. That’s when I had wished I’d been braver about putting him out of his suffering. He had been working his legs all night, trying to move or stand: the hay underneath him was gone and the dirt was worn hard by his hooves. I regretted his suffering and went to get Sid. I told Sid I was going over to the other place to feed the animals there because I didn’t want to hear the gunshot. But the minute I got to the other place, I suddenly realized I wanted to be with Kaf at the end.

Sid had done us both a favor by the time I hurried back. Sid, Guy and I stood near him, talking about his brief life, and the hardship of it. Then Sid gently removed him and took him to the pasture, where the cycle will continue, with the coyotes.

I just finished reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. And I feel like I lived that dilemma more than usual this week. I have no easy answers. There is no solution tied up in a neat box with a pretty ribbon. We raise cattle on this farm. We raise them for human food. There are all sorts of issues around that. And exploring those issues, as Michael Pollan has done so well, is a good and, I think, necessary thing. We should be in touch with how we get our food.

What I know this week is that Kaf was a lovely creature. I know we had a friendship. It was mutual, though different. We were connected in our life together. We will never forget him. The color and softness of his coat; the deepness and liveliness of his big, dark eyes; the energy with which he sucked the bottle – and our knees, the edges of our coats; the playfulness with which he chased after us, wanting more; his loud and insistent moo to get our attention; his loneliness, which we observed when groups of calves were housed temporarily in adjoining lots and he curled up at the fence in between.

Thank you God, for Kaf. We are all richer for his time on Earth.

16 January 2008

The red-winged black birds are more noticeable in the stripped-down winter landscape. Drive along a fencerow, and they rise in great waves into the air, one mass of black after another. They turn and all but disappear; then, forming one single big flowing group, appear again. Theirs is a swelling symphony in the air.

In the winter sky at night, there is the opposite: a vast inky darkness with a milky wave of soft light and millions of points of clear light.

Both delight – and cause me to feel warm, and deeply glad. I smile, as if to God, for I feel loved.

The winter birds, the winter sky are merely doing what they do, being what they are. So if God is Creator Creating and, I believe, God is agape (unconditional love,) then the reason I feel loved when I see the symphony of red-winged black birds or the vast night sky, is because I am acknowledging a loving, creative universe – of which I am part. With great joy I am viewing outside of me something I am at the very core of my being: agape.

And so are we all.
8 January 2008