by Christine Sine
January is always a time to dream and scheme, to look back and evaluate the past and look forward and plan for the future. Most of us are a little nervous about making plans this year. After all, our well laid plans for a “back to normal” 2021 were sadly misplaced.
At the beginning of last year I wrote: As I look at all the dreams in my heart for this year, I know that I need to hold these loosely, allowing God to redirect and reshape me so that the divine presence rather than my Type A personality drives what I journey towards.” My biggest lesson from last year was that the future is always unpredictable and hope lies not in what we plan to accomplish but in the strength of the community we bind ourselves to.
Surprisingly 2021 was a year of unexpected accomplishments. The growing partnership between Lilly Lewin and myself and the expansion of the Godspace community fill me with delight. Neither of them were on my screen at the beginning of the year. However, as for most of us, in the background have been a series of personal challenges and losses that left me depleted and unsure of how much energy I have to move forward.
What does it mean to dig deeper in this kind of environment.? How do we plan for the year ahead without feeling overwhelmed by the challenges we still face.
In the garden the idea of digging deeper is almost an anathema these days. Where once we double dug a new bed to 2 feet down, now we build it up with compost and mulch. Double digging we now know destroyed the mycelium filament network that thrives below the soil surface. We don’t even weed as much as we once did. Some of those “weeds” we pulled out are both nutritious and beneficial. The emphasis is on looking, watching and learning, allowing the garden itself to speak and direct our planning. We plant companion plants that are mutually beneficial. We move plants that are in the wrong environment and we make sure that everything has adequate compost and water.
Even some of my houseplants thrive on neglect. I noticed recently that one of my totally neglected jade plants, hidden in a place I rarely looked at, was covered in beautiful small flowers. Obviously the fact that I forgot to water it didn’t seem to matter.
What were the productive plants in your garden this year? What companion plants nourished them? What “weeds” helped them grow?
I think this is not a year to strive to expand ministry but to solidify it, building up the soil (community) around what has flourished. Perhaps digging deeper this year is about changing perspectives, strengthening our communities, rather than planning new projects. Maybe it’s about processing our grief and allowing the healing balm of God’s presence to wash over us rather than striving to get back to “normal”. And there are a lot of things to grieve – there are the personal griefs of lost friends and family, lost adventures, and lost ministry. There is also the grief of loss within our religious communities as many re-evaluate what it means to be a person of faith and what our ongoing commitment, not to God but to the churches they have belonged to for years looks like.
My initial reading matter for 2022 is The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief by Francis Weller. His opening words are so appropriate for the times in which we live:
Bringing grief and death out of the shadow is our spiritual responsibility, our sacred duty. By so doing, we may be able to feel our desire for life once again and remember who we are, where we belong. and what is sacred.
He goes on to say:
We are remade in times of grief, broken apart and reassembled. It is hard, painful and unbidden work. No one goes in search of loss; rather it finds us and reminds us of the temporary gift we have been given, these few sweet breaths we call life.
I still plan to do some dreaming for 2022 and encourage you to do the same. I will pull out my doodling tools and my finger labyrinth, both tools that inspire creativity and mental resilience and encourage me to view life as a journey rather than a destination. Alternatively consider Lilly Lewin’s wonderful suggestions, using different coloured post-it notes to remind her of the high points and low points of the year. I am also planning a few rituals to welcoming in the new year. The season of Epiphany is particularly appropriate for this. I love the Epiphany practices of Chalking the Door and Blessing the House as well as that of sharing Star Words as a focus for contemplation. This year Elaine Breckenridge shared another practice that I am also tempted to try – opening the back door, taking a broom, and sweeping out the old year then opening the front door and welcoming the new. These kinds of rituals root our faith more deeply in the principles we need to carry us forward.
To help draw all of this together, Tom and I will also go on retreat for a few days, and then I will put together a new contemplative garden, other essential elements of discernment, the importance of which I cannot emphasize enough.
Where does your hope lie as you look forward to 2022? Who are the companions that will stand with you in community? Where does the the processing of grief and the solidifying of foundations from 2021 fit into that? If we find hope in the strength and resilience that grieving provides for us I think that 2022 could be a very exciting though challenging year.
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