More than you can imagine.

 Ro in the garden harvesting miraculous fruit that came from tiny seeds.

Ro in the garden harvesting miraculous fruit that came from tiny seeds.

We had a Devotion Circle on Monday about the kingdom of God. The realm of God, the reality of God. This shining thing that is just behind our eyes, that we sometimes can’t see in the trudge and dirt of everyday existence: the annoying interactions, the misunderstandings, the thousands of bridges we have to build to get to one another. 

We looked at three verses from Matthew 13, about the treasure hidden in a field, the mustard seed, and the yeast exploding in a whole lot of flour. 

As we went around the circle discussing each verse, here are the insights that emerged:

The examples Jesus used are hidden, tiny, not immediately apparent. They involve waiting or time, they are organic, beautiful. They need the right conditions (the seed needs soil, the yeast needs flour), but then they grow without effort. In the case of the seed and the yeast, they are alive and reproduce, they rise. They are common, ordinary examples, or dreamy ones, in the case of the treasure (who doesn’t want to find a treasure?). Each can become more than what it is, effortlessly. 

Dallas Willard says that Jesus was looking at a “God-bathed and God-permated world… in which God is continually at play and over which he continually rejoices.” (The Divine Conspiracy)

The kingdom is always right there, at hand, and we have the chance to step in, to engage in this reality where the tiniest of things burst into God-breathed life. Where small works or moments become much more than they could be, if God’s spirit was not breathing and moving and working around and behind them.

Watering the garden. Cooking meals. Offering money to someone in need. Inviting someone over. I don’t know that I could spend my life on all the little things that take up my time if I didn’t believe that each one is a tiny keyhole into something that God will breathe on and cause to live. Teaching kids. Making tea. A kiss on the forehead. Washing hair. Reading aloud for hours, and hours and hours.

Welcome to the reality of God, Jesus says. It’s right here, but you have to look for it. You have to remember that it is here before you. It isn’t transactional; you don’t get exactly what you put in. It is a whole plant sprouting out of the tiniest of seeds. It is so much more than you can even imagine.

(A post by Rae)

A Little Breath

smaller teepee.jpg

Here at Shekina Garden we are taking a little breath.

For two weeks we are halting most of our regular rhythms at the Garden. It is school holidays for the kids. One family is away for a holiday with visiting parents. Jazzy and his Dad Joshua need to go to Laos for a visa run. And we are preparing a Gathering for theRIVER - a whole bunch of communities like ours, coming together in Chiang Mai in a few weeks time. There will be folks coming from all over the world to think about community and faith and travel and Jesus. Just the best sort of gathering!

Soon the season here will start to ramp up, as the rains stop and the weather cools down. Already, friends are starting to return for the part of the year that they live here. We have joyous reunions with friends we see each year. And I realise the sweetness in both the seasonal friendships - where we are apart for half the year and get to catch up on each other’s very different lives; and also the friendships that go all through the year - the ones we cough with during the dry burning season, and sweat with during green season.

We all do different things when we take a seasonal break like this. Some folks like to give their homes a big spring clean (autumn/fall clean?). The kids don’t have school so there are more fun holiday-type adventures to be had. There is a little bit more time for other projects or study, creating or reading. We get together with friends for bible reading circles, or coffee, or board games.

Our regular work is so good. We love it so much! Our meditations, gardening days, meals together, devotion circles. Beautiful practices that require our full selves. But if we keep doing them all year without any break, it can feel like we are on a wheel that never stops, as Rae says. And that isn’t such a nice feeling. So before High Season is upon us, with all its energy and visitors and events, we make an opportunity to take a breath. To look around at all that has been going on. To thank God for what has been happening around us and in us. It is good to stop, and to breathe long and deep.

  (A post by Ro)

(A post by Ro)

Announcement: Our podcast is on its way into your earspace!

30631276290_6b54c75d99_o.jpg

Oh, hello! This is Rachel, stumbling out of the jungle of life to say HELLO and tell you about exciting things in our future. After years of dreaming about it, we are starting a meditation podcast, featuring guided meditation recorded specifically for the podcast or live from our morning meditation sessions at Shekina Garden.  

If all goes well and the creek don’t rise (quite literally, the Pai river is full to the brim) we will be sending Episode 1 of the Shekina Meditation Podcast into your airwave space (I don’t exactly understand how that works) on Friday! Yes, on Friday, this coming Friday. We will be posting weekly! All our podcasts will be totally free, but we do have a Patreon account set up if you want to support our communities through this venture, as well as get extra audio each month.

We hope that these recordings will be a resource for those who are interested in having Christ-centered meditation in their lives, either for personal practice or in small groups. And we’re so happy to share what we have learned about meditation in the presence of God. 

Floods

"Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me." -Psalm 42:7

 

On Saturday morning, after a night of apparently light rain, the Pai River was unsatisfied to stay within its banks. It broke free, rising a meter and a half, rolling over fields and grassland, huts and motorbikes. The pretty green lady river became a raging, muddy monster, freaking many people out of their wits. It didn't take any lives.

The water flowed into Shekina Garden, and, stronger than we could have imagined, picked up big things and small things, carrying them from one side of the garden to the other, or taking them away completely. It knocked our fence down and plucked out our flowers. It pulled our garden beds apart and ripped up the seeds I had just planted. It destroyed our beans and some of our trees. It brought us many chili plants from another place. It displaced angry fire ants, now looking for revenge. 

The flood also came into Brendan and Leaf's house, creeping up the walls of their downstairs room, destroying precious things. It swept their neighbor's bamboo house away, and covered their motorbikes. It swept the little fish that Isaac named Steven (?) out of his bowl and into a big, wide world. (Leaf says that Steven swam all the way back to the pet store and she and her little daughter Ruby are going to go and pick him up there.) 

When the water went down, everyone could see the feet and feet of fine mud everywhere. The garden is no longer the rich green of this season, instead it is brown, brown, river mud brown. 

I was away when the flood happened, and I didn't get back until a few days ago. Today I went to the garden for the first time, and I saw a changed place. I was in Chiang Mai on a work retreat, trying to get World Whisperer 2 ready for publication and World Whisperer 3 written, and decided to stay rather than turning around and coming back home. I'm not sure it was actually such a good idea, in hindsight. I drove around and cried. I walked around and cried. And perhaps being away made it more sad, because I was alone and anxious. When I went to the garden today, all I could see was what it didn't take.

Here's what the water didn't take: our carefully made earth walls. Josh's precious comfrey plant. The songbooks I made by hand. Or really, the garden itself. Because Shekina Garden is the physical representation of an idea: that we can live as a group of Christ followers in the world and in living out our faith, form a loving community of people in different points in their path toward God, existing in the circle of Jesus's love. It didn't take Brendan and Leaf's hospitality when it hurt their home, it didn't take Rowan's playfulness or Neil's mad scientist obsession with fixing electronic equipment, even when it has been submerged in water.

I look around and see pictures of the love, the play. Josh digging trenches, Chinua throwing people in the mud, Heather upending a bucket of mud over his head, Naomi watching our kids so he could help while I was away (crying and trying to work). It reminds me that community is always better. That adversity can't hurt community. People have rushed to help, cooking and digging through the piles of stinking mud to cart debris away. 

We are warmed, we are loved, we are resilient. Pray with us as we look for ways to help others affected by the flooding.  And thank God that the flowers will grow again. They can't help it, in soil this fertile with love.  

"By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life." -Psalm 42:8

Neither of these images are mine, and this post is cross-posted at journeymama.com

A Thin Layer

The evenings have been otherworldly, lately. A drape of thin cloud hangs over the valley, and as the sun goes down, the clouds pull the light into them, refracting a golden glow onto everything you can see. An extra bit of brilliance just before the light disappears, like a thousand invisible lamps being turned on at once. We were sitting in the sala at Shekina Garden yesterday, finishing up with meditation, bamboo leaves rustling in a strong breeze. Brendan began riding Nay’s bicycle in circles around the garden, testing it or something, I never did find out.  “It’s like the Wizard of Oz,” our friend Beau said. “And look, he’s riding a bicycle out there.” Brendan did make quite a sight, green and golden in the weird light, cycling on the grass. 

We were drinking kombucha and I felt the kind of happy settledness that meditation brings me. We lingered, the light keeping us there, our little conversations blinking on and off. We talked about light therapy and skateboarding, and then I told some stories about the Catholic shrines in Goa, out of nowhere, related to nothing. Snippets of memories. Leaf and I walked back over the bridge together, then lingered longer beside the river, talking. We meant to head in different directions, but we were caught there, talking by the river, as the light got dimmer and dimmer and finally it was gone before I even pulled away, my headlights guiding me along the narrow street. 

Earlier in the day we had looked at land, dreaming of a future with a bigger retreat center in it. Chinua is recording everything lately, every moment, so I drove while he held the video camera and we followed Brendan and Leaf on their red motorbikes, which are forty years old and aptly named Big Red and Little Red. It was all ridiculously photogenic—Brendan with his waist-length dreadlocks and Leaf with her brilliant hair on these old, beautiful bikes. They drove side by side and chatted. Chinua filmed it all. (Filmed? Is there a different word for that these days?) 

I left quickly when I realized I was late for my afternoon tea with my friend Rowan Tree. Ro and I ate cake. We ate too much cake, the pieces were twice as big as we thought they would be. I offered Chinua some when he wandered into the café later and groaned that he couldn’t go anywhere anymore without bumping into us. He looked at me suspiciously. We are competing to reach our weight goals, (people still ask me if I’m pregnant, nearly every day) and we have been known to offer each other food as a weapon because we both want to win. But I really just wanted him to enjoy the cake with me and eat it because it was too much. He took a bite and disappeared. Ro and I talked about learning Thai and how it can be an obsession, words tumbling over each other in your brain until you think you will go crazy. I was nervous about guiding meditation because I’ve been using up a lot of my courage lately and it seems to be finite, though rechargeable. I’m not usually anxious about guiding meditation but this time I was and Rowan Tree set me at ease as she clutched her stomach and groaned “I ate too many snacks…” 

We went to my house and I finished making dinner so it would be ready while I was away and Josh was watching the kids. Once the salsa was made and the lettuce was cut, we rode off to sweep the floor of the meditation space and put the mats out. Our friends began pulling up one by one on their scooters and the sunlight slipped further along the red floor as we settled in a circle and began. 

God is our refuge and strength.

Sometimes there is difficult work to do in community. I think this particular group of friends has fooled me away from my firm belief that community is a kind of suffering. I start thinking it is all fun and games and playing in the mud and get careless. But in talking about what really matters to us and digging to find each other and dream together, a wild fear of being seen or unseen, changing beyond recognition or being misunderstood can rear its head. 

A very present help in trouble.

Past days, memories and fears and stumbling, clumsy love can make me retreat into myself, can tempt me to isolate myself. Maybe you are the same. But as soon as we try to run from the knife of suffering, the iron of community, we give up on the depth and truth of love. It is the same in marriage, in parenting. We flinch away from pain, but suffering guides us to new depths of understanding. We learn more of what God is doing as he writes his story among us. 

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God…

We sat in the circle together, our minds close and far away, and birds sang above us, and one shrieking cicada tried for all our attention. 

God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved.

The evenings have been otherworldly, lately. A drape of thin cloud hangs over the valley, and as the sun goes down, the clouds pull the light into them, refracting a golden glow onto everything you can see. 

*From Psalm 46

This post was cross-posted at Rae's blog: Journey Mama.

No cause for stumbling.

Every time we have a meditation circle, different thoughts and images come up, and I often write my experiences out. I'll take time to share some here, as we continue in meditation--both my experiences and the thoughts of others. The meditation I want to share about today was guided last month by Chinua at our space in Pai. It was a Lectio Divina meditation from 1 John 2: 8-11.

At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because he darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

While in silence, I had a very clear picture of walking in darkness. It was from 2006, when I was at the National Rainbow Gathering in Colorado, walking through the pitch black woods with a flashlight. I had a flashlight! But it was only a maglite and the little beam of light it produced wasn’t enough to distinguish a path from a non path in the woods. I very badly wanted to get to the Pop-Corner kitchen to eat lemon flavored popcorn but eventually I had to admit defeat and simply turn around to go back to my camp. I couldn’t get through the woods in the dark. The next morning, the path I had been seeking was perfectly easy to find. The sunlight made the forest a perfect place to be, I saw the way I needed to walk and I also saw the beauty of the Colorado aspens.


In meditation it became so clear to me, through this picture, that hatred blinds us. In hatred, perhaps of a difficult person, we cannot see the way forward, we can’t help but be lost. The love of God alone allows our path with a person to be illuminated, to truly know the way to walk, to walk in the light and not stumble around blindly in the wrong section of the forest entirely. Have you ever viewed someone with bitterness and found that every single thing that they do is distorted to be the worst possible thing with the worst possible motive? Likewise, the same actions viewed with love receive the benefit of the doubt, the person is seen clearly as a child who is loved and needs love, no matter how broken or misguided their actions may be. This verse is not about punishment, but about what hatred versus love does to the human soul. God sees in perfect love and wants us to see the same way.

The Meditation of Loneliness

Week in the Life- Day Two-21

Loneliness is suffering, and it can be crippling. We all have periods of loneliness in our lives, and in many ways it can be out of our control. However, I believe that loneliness can lead us to a place of understanding and peace, if we allow it.

Why am I writing about loneliness when this blog is about community? I could write a thousand posts about community--maybe at some point I will. My husband and I have lived in communities all our adult lives, including for the entire time we've been married. For me it's been since I was eighteen years old--that's fourteen years now! Chinua and I have lived in tiny bedrooms in large houses filled with people, we've lived in tents with other people around us, we've traveled on an RV with so many people that some of us had to sleep on the floor on under the RV or between the front seats. In more recent years our house has been next door to others in our community. We eat together, meditate together, walk to the beach together.

Intentional Community is our normal. We don't know any other way of life, and I could talk for hours about my love of community, my failures in being a loving part of a community, my successes... but right now, I'm actually feeling kind of lonely.

Chinua and I are beginning a new moment in the life of our larger community. We've moved to Thailand in order to begin a meditation practice and community here, which is exciting and interesting and full of possibility. But we're on our own right now (as "on our own" as any six person family can be) and loneliness is a new and unsubtle part of our lives. As I'm working through the loneliness I'm encountering in my own life, I thought I'd share a little of what I've discovered about loneliness over the years.

One, loneliness is inevitable. There isn't any way to escape loneliness because if you go deeply to the very center of who you are, in your inner being, you will find that you are there... alone. This will always be true, whether you are single or married, living alone or in community, in a big family or in a small family. Look deep inside and there you are, face to face with God, by yourself. This solitude doesn't necessarily need to be lonely, it won't be, if you have a full understanding of God in your life, touching your deepest heart, but few of us will be driven to this understanding without loneliness.

This deep reality of your solitude, if anything, becomes more clear in community. Community living forces us to come to terms with your aloneness. Maybe you've always thought-- What I really need is a group of like-minded people to live with, that's what will make me accepted, finally. You look for a group of fellow Christians, or vegans, or woodcarvers. But the deepest things are the hardest things to share and it doesn't take a long time of living with others to realize that you are clumsy in love, misunderstood, not comprehending. You open your mouth to explain your great idea for a new water system and someone shoots it down, and there you are! Alone! Or you've waited a long time to get married, but when you do, you see that you sit side by side, but you cannot climb all the way into your spouse's head, neither would you want to. You are one, but you are alone.

Two, loneliness reveals the gift of togetherness. Now that I am temporarily living outside of community, I treasure my loneliness because it reveals to me what a gift I've had, all these years, with all these shining souls in and out of my life, slamming doors and cooking and taking care of kids. I hold these memories like baby birds, the broken memories and the whole, shining ones, both. I remember coming home on the day that my daughter was born, sitting on the couch in one of the rooms of our flat, and how everyone sat around us in awe, touching her tiny face and hands. I remember how loved I felt. I remember all the times I felt like I belonged to something bigger than myself, the times I saw Jesus clearly radiating in a close friend giving something of his or hers away to someone who lived on the street and in those moments how in awe I felt of this wonder we have, this love. I also remember all the times I was selfish, the times I chose anger over forgiveness, being offended rather than understanding--it's easy to think, ah, this is too much trouble. But love is what God is made of, it is the gift he gives to us, it is miraculous that we reach each other. Loneliness helps us understand this miracle more clearly.

Three, feeling lonely leads to deeper understanding of our own true solitude. Right now, feeling lonely, I'm driven back to myself. If I'm truly aware of it and accepting, I begin to realize how much I normally cling to others in my identity. Who am I? I'm this person in the community, this cog in the machine. I'm this one. The nice one, the mean one, the emotional one, the artistic one. Whatever I identify myself as, it's coming from the larger picture of the group of people around me. There's nothing wrong with this -- it's part of the joy of community-- the day to day life, the love and kindness, the respect and fun involved in community living. But the discovery of my own solitude, of the fact that I don't know how to be alone, how to be who I am when I'm solitary, tells me that I have more learning to do.

I come around again and again, reaching out for something to orient myself by, and meet only myself, no other person to help me measure myself in terms of goodness or greatness or unworthiness in a human being. No words to tell me who I am, other than the true words from the heart of God, if I can bring myself to hear them. And this is the ultimate gift of loneliness. There is silence, when I quiet the wild and anxious thoughts that fly around, insisting that there should be others here, and in the silence I hear Jesus, I see God undoing another of the patches I have carefully laid over my heart.

Henri Nouwen puts it this way:

... by first embracing solitude in God's presence, you can pay attention to your inner, clamoring self before looking to others for community and accountability.*

And King David this way:

... I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me. **

At the center, alone, I simply am. I am not a role, a title, a job, a product or a producer. I am, and I am in the presence of the Great I Am, and this brings me closer to being like him, without all the rippling and striving among the litter of the day-to-day things of my life.

Four, loneliness gives understanding of the suffering of others. I don't think of loneliness as a true and good state of being. I think we are naturally alone in our inner solitude, but loneliness is a type of suffering, able (as any suffering is, if we allow it) to draw us to new truth about God and our way of relating to him, but something to alleviate if we can. As we grow closer to God and to the miracle of love that he gives so freely to us, we work with Him to alleviate suffering in the world. Part of that suffering is the deep, soul-crushing loneliness that pursues so many in our culture of isolation.

Understanding what it means to feel lonely lends new strength to our desire to welcome people, to help them belong. Helping others to come inside our circle comes at a cost, we know it's worth it because the loneliness we've experienced has been allieviated by Jesus in us. Our understanding of suffering gives us grace in our hospitality, patience in listening, fullness of heart in being present.

Taking action is always a way to work against suffering. Next time you feel lonely, don't let it drive you towards the TV or the large bag of doritos or the mall. Let it bring you nearer to your solitude, to the overwhelming love that is waiting for you in God's presence. And then let it inspire you to call someone you know is lonely, to invite an acquaintance over, to send a letter to someone who needs the surprise of mail that is not a bill or a flyer.

*From Spiritual Direction, by Henri Nouwen
**Psalm 131:2