This past weekend I went on retreat with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (WRJ), my new church home here in Vermont. We spent the day at Ohana Camp on Lake Fairlee. The setting could not have been more beautiful – 70 degrees and sunny, a clear view of the glistening lake, autumn leaves turning all shades of fire and fall, spacious wooden cabins, and a bounty of wildflower arrangements leftover from a wedding the day before. The aim of the retreat was to gather together to share ideas, desires, and possibilities for the year going forward, all under the theme “Imagine!”
God can do anything you know – far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. Ephesians 3:20
What was shared were open and honest desires for connection, engagement, service, and a deepening of the faith individually, as well as collectively. I suspect these are things many of us, of all different beliefs, wish for. These were wishes for more group service trips, formation and collective studies, and ways to share and learn from one another. Ecological, social, and communal concerns were also shared, giving hints of the powerful actions and meaningful work waiting to begin. One of the most powerful parts of the day for me, was the reading of Seed by Judy Sorum Brown, especially these verses –
And certainties at once,
Genetic maps of trees,
Small promissory notes of
That’s yet to come
Size and shape
Still bearing no resemblance
To the vast and branching tree
They later will become.
The poem goes on to analogize our own visions and dreams to the seed, full of promise and a potential already laid out that we will never know until it comes to fruition. Thoughts that were shared were, “a seed is beautiful, but it must rot and become ugly before fully forming”; “the seed came from a mature plant, so there is a new beginning formed from a mature foundation”; “the production of the seed hinges on the way in which it is cared for, nourished, and supported”; “there are a diversity of seeds, and though we may sow many, not all will germinate”. These powerful reflections reiterated how deeply the human existence is intertwined with creation. Our lives, visions, and desires must be cared for with great attention and love. At the same time, we must leave room for faith, for nature to run its course.
I shared some visions and ideas that I had for the community, drawing on my experience with the Sisters of St. Mary’s Convent, All Saints’ Chapel in Sewanee, and Christ Church in Raleigh, but I left with a deeper individual longing for understanding. The spaces we create in order to share these ideas and learn from one another, I think, make us acutely aware that we are at once alone but also together. We alone know the totality of our conscious experiences, but we cannot know what will happen when they converge with the experiences of others. It is this mystery that brings back visions of the seed, who not knowing its destined path, follows through nature’s course of interactions and relationships, to create something beautiful. Much like we did that Sunday on Lake Fairlee.