by Nancy Flinchbaugh
This week, my husband and I were lovingly welcomed into Kathy and Ken’s home at Whitt’s End, in Hideaway Hills, Ohio. In their retirement home, they are honoring God’s creation in so many ways, listening to the Earth and striving to help all of us find resilience and creative ways to live into our common future.
Kathy is listening to the Earth as she learns to garden. She taught me about the Three Sisters of corn, pole beans and squash that grow well together, helping replenish the soil, a gardening practice learned from the Native Americans. I came home with seeds to plant in my garden, pink popcorn, which will provide a pole for the beans to climb while the squash will surround them as ground cover.
Kathy also listens to the needs of the wildlife that visits their retreat. She called me to the sliding doors to the deck at night to see a visiting racoon, enjoying some food she shared. When we arrived home to deer in their front yard, she went to the garage to get feed for them. She feeds the feral cats outside, as well as their 4 cats indoors. Birds delight in their generous feeders all day and night.
In the community garden, they cure horse manure to fertilize the soil. At their home, Ken mixes the horse manure with leaves, peat moss and table scraps to create rich topsoil, so needed as modern development and agricultural techniques have destroyed so much of the Earth’s topsoil.
In my morning meditation time at Ken and Kathy’s, I sat on the deck enjoying a morning sunrise symphony of chirping birds, and I began to listen to the trees. At Hideaway Hills, the trees are protected. Permission must be granted to cut down a tree. I marveled at towering pillars reaching toward the heavens. In the forest, low branches fail to serve in shaded darkness. Early branches die. Long trunks instead support an umbrella of branches at the ceiling of the woods. There long arms extend out into the blue sky, opening their leaves to the sun so that photosynthesis can offer life for the entire tree far below. I observed blankets of tiny, new spring green leaves sparkling in the heights. I watched leaves unfurling into yet another season of spring in the hills of southern Ohio. These trees teach me so much about how to live. They teach me perseverance. They teach me the importance of roots. They teach me to adapt. They teach me generosity. They teach me to honor the seasons of life.
When I began sitting and walking meditation practices over ten years ago, I finally slowed down enough to hear the Earth. In my contemplative training, we learned to apply the ancient scripture meditation practice of Lectio Divina to the Earth. Beginning with “lectio”, you “read” the Earth. You look for what shimmers or speaks to you that day. That morning on the Whitt’s End deck, it was the trees. It could be a flower, the sky, an ant, the birds, or any aspect of God’s creation. Next, you “meditatio” or reflect/meditate on the meaning for your life. For me, I reflected on the message of the trees, as they provide direction for me. Probably more than anything they teach me to keep striving to reach the places where God’s light nurtures and enables me to grow and share my gifts with the world. After that, you “oratio” or pray over whatever you’ve learned. I asked for God for wisdom and perseverance to be like the trees in the avenues of my current life, to let go of what is no longer serving and to create in the spaces of springtime. Finally, you enter a time of “contemplativo” which is to sit in silence with God. To simply breathe and be with.
When I first started listening, I knew the Earth was suffering and humans must correct the problems we’ve caused. In an eco-spirituality class, I made an Earth prayer bracelet and began to pray with it each day. When I fingered the people bead each day, I asked God what was mine to do. At first, I thought it was just too big for me, but slowly, God taught me otherwise. I learned that there are so many things I can do.
I began leading contemplative sessions with the Earth. I let the message of Earth care become central to my writing. I wrote a novel, Revelation at the Labyrinth, with a theme of how the Earth brings healing, how climate change calls us to do things differently, lifting up the words of the prophet Thomas Berry and the labyrinth, a path that connects us with the Earth. I took up a challenge from Joanna Macy in her book Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy. I began to receive “Letters from the Earth” which I shared on my website and then wrote them into a memoir of a year in my life (Letters from the Earth). In these letters, Gaia God teaches me so much about how to live and how to speak for the Earth. I wrote a contemplative primer and included a chapter on Lectio Divina with the Earth, Letters from the Earth on each of the contemplative practices, as well as introduction about how it’s so important to awaken to the Earth’s issues at this time (Awakening: A Contemplative Primer on Learning to Sit). I’m now active with Citizens’ Climate Lobby, an avid gardener and assisting in a community project to bring a demonstration organic farm to my town.
I encourage you to take time to listen to the Earth and find your unique path of discovery. I don’t know what is yours to do, but I do know that God will lead you into amazing pathways. As you connect with the Earth, God will bring you into a fullness of life in ways you cannot begin to imagine and will lead you into hope and work for our common future.
Nancy Flinchbaugh is a Christian contemplative who writes as spiritual practice and enjoys leading contemplative experiences with the Earth. She is a member of First Baptist Church, Springfield, Ohio. She invites you to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to explore ways to listen to the Earth together. You also can find out more about her work and writing on her website at spiritualseedlings.com. Her books include Revelation in the Cave, Revelation at the Labyrinth, Letters from the Earth and Awakening: A Contemplative Primer on Learning to Sit.