A couple of years ago, I was grieving a series of losses:
an unwanted divorce,
my only child’s graduation from high school,
his move halfway across the country, to California;
and an appointment as a newly-commissioned elder
to a community at the opposite end of where I had been living in Oklahoma.
My first day in the new community, people from the church took me
to the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge.
It was an amazingly beautiful part of God’s good creation
and over the next months, I would go there often.
Days at the Wildlife Refuge healed me of my losses.
As I stood on a pier in the breeze out in the middle of the pristine blue waters of Lake Quannah Parker;
as I climbed over ancient, giant boulders;
as I gazed on the great bison
and captured for a moment a glimpse of the majestic elk on a far horizon;
as I smelled the spice and sweet of the woods following spring rains that ended a four-year drought;
as I explored the vast prairie and its infinite offering of wildflowers;
as I watched youth from the church sit on rocks in a stream and discover wild onions growing there;
as I saw Saturn and its moons through a telescope late at night on a mountain top,
I experienced for myself what I had been told in seminary:
God’s good creation can heal us.

I had expected to be a United Methodist pastor for the rest of my life,
but at the end of that year, I knew that something was amiss about my call.
I made a retreat with a spiritual director
and attended the Upper Room’s Soulfeast at Lake Junaluska,
spending a lot of time talking to God and listening for God’s guidance.
I knew at that point that it was time for me to leave parish ministry,
and I knew the great upheaval that decision would create for others –
and for me personally, because I didn’t know what else I was to do.
I had committed myself to a lifetime of ministry.
But now I didn’t know exactly how I was to serve.

One Sunday morning in my prayer time,
I suddenly remembered
about United Methodist deaconesses and home missioners.
 I remembered some of the historic stories I’d heard of deaconesses
who persevered in bringing compassionate solutions
to places of dire need in  our world.
I jumped up, got out the Book of Discipline and read
that deaconesses and home missioners are committed to a lifetime of ministries of love and justice in the world.
I think God must have rejoiced at that moment:
“Finally! She got it!”
I knew I’d found my fit.
And in the weeks to come, I came to know what the ministry would be:
I would help people connect again with God’s good creation
so that they could be healed
 and so that they could learn to live sustainably –
 as part of the web of life that we and all God’s good creation are.

I serve now as a spiritual director and retreat leader
in north central Oklahoma
 at Turtle Rock Farm: A Center for Spirituality, Sustainability and Healing.
Now I witness what happens when others reconnect with God in creation.
They sit under the spectacular night sky, in a place that is dark enough to see millions of stars, and meditate on the vastness that is God’s universe.
And they connect with the vastness of God inside themselves.

Perched on a hillside looking west as evening approaches,
they watch silently as Earth rolls up and the sun goes out of view
and the sky turns orange and yellow and purple –
and their own lives come into perspective one more time.

School children who come to Turtle Rock Farm to build raised beds
to install at their school and grown their own vegetables,
first cast their eyes upon a display of the wondrous diversity of vegetables that helps nourish their bodies and assure food security  –
asparagus, carrots, green beans, beets, lettuce, yellow squash, zucchini, spinach, radish –
and when they taste that first crunch of radish,
their eyes widen in surprise and they exclaim:
“It’s spicy!”
And when they bravely try the dreaded spinach leaf –
but this time, a fresh one –
they are surprised again: “Your spinach isn’t so bad!”

And children and adults alike,
when invited to spend one hour of their life walking slowly and silently through a meadow,
noticing the tiniest flower,
a rock that was formed in the mudflats of an ancient ocean,
the soft music of rustling Blue Stem,
the embracing blue sky all around them,
they experience the very peace of God inside themselves.
And they begin to heal.

For a long time, Micah 6:8 has been a beacon for me.
When I wasn’t certain about the specifics,
this passage kept the big picture in front of me:
God wants us to “do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with  God.”
And now I get to serve in a specific ministry that fulfills the big picture: walking each moment with God,
doing environmental justice
and loving the kindness of God’s healing creation.

Pat
March 2008

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