Ora et Labora: The Justice of Being

Echinacea, a flower of strength and immunity
And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8
     Given the many recent tragic events all over the world, I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘justice’. The framework of my thoughts are in situ of my life’s context right now, which is that of legal study. From my almost 4 months in law school, I’ve been entrenched in the many forms ‘justice’ can take on, as well as the diversity of methods in achieving those results within our democratic system.
     The many checks between branches of government, the power and authority of each, and the umbrella of protection, precedent, and power that is the Constitution, make up a complex yet somewhat navigable framework for our own lives as citizens of the United States. But, there is so much that we do not know, see, or hear by virtue of position and circumstance, and even more that we can never know, see, or hear because of positions and circumstances outside of our realm of control – things beyond the control of any one human, nor any collective, nor any branch, document, or court ruling.
     So, what is ‘justice’? I offer that at the root of this question, at its foundation, is another fundamental question – what is ‘being’?
     The dictionary defines ‘justice’ as “just behavior or treatment; the quality of being fair and reasonable; the administration of law or authority in maintaining this.” Who measures how we should behave? How we should be treated? What is fair? What is reasonable? And how can you possibly begin to ‘justly’ enforce these measures?
     The other night I was watching Chef’s Table, an excellent Netflix documentary series of some of the world’s most renowned chefs. Francis Mallman, a spectacular Patagonian chef with an affinity for food, fire, and the freedom of the wild, went into his vocation “by the theater of it – the flowers, the table, the music, the decor, the happiness.” He was inspired by feeding the “way people were made to feel.” How are we made to feel? What is it that makes us alive? What is it that makes us move to act – in ways good or bad?
     Our feelings are contingent on a multitude of factors that dance with the movement of the clock and the change in seasons. The way we feel is based on a mixture of elements – the current stage of our lives, the condition of our heart, worries of the day, memories and experiences of the past, and hopes for the future – all contained within the constraints of our physical being.
     This friction between the finite physical being and the ever expansive emotional, intellectual, and spiritual being is both the framework and substance of our behavior. It dictates how we treat others, and how we process the ways others treat us. It decides what is fair and what is reasonable, and it is also always in flux. Constantly moving, constantly changing. The only constant is change, and that is the nature of our being. So, I wonder how can we know what is ‘just’ in this world?
     Does one cause over another deserve justice? Does one incident over another deserve support? Does one person over another deserve retribution? Does one being over another deserve life? The finite physical answer is no. But the solution is emotional. It’s intellectual. It’s spiritual. We must strive to connect, empathize, and act in support of and love for all – within the limits and bounds of our physical capabilities. No more good can be done, if the doer can no longer do good for self.
     So, ‘justice’, I think has been overdue for its own just treatment. It is not merely a means for triumph, nor retribution, nor sanctioning just deserts. Justice challenges humanity to take a deeper more harsh look at the state of our being – the way we feel, the way we perceive those feelings, and what we do with them going forward for the benefit of the collective being.
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” – William B. Yeats 
     Like all things, the closer you look, things fall apart. But, I think within the rubble there is the potential to rebuild our perceptions of the most fundamental governing principles of our existence so that we may act justly, love mercifully, and walk humbly.
     Prayers for peace and love for all people in all places, because truly, we are in it together.

Ora et Labora: Protesting & Purpose


This weekend I participated in my first protest. Spurred on by the recent controversy over Exxon Mobil’s “sustained deception campaign” aiming to conceal the truth about climate change, 350 Vermont organized a mass action on the State House lawn in Montpelier. More than a hundred people gathered together to march through the downtown streets in protest of the fossil fuel industry. There were signs, chants, a very diversified marching percussion band, and a whole lot of spirit and soul. My friend and I were right up front with “Clean Water” signs, and followed along in the chants of, “clean water, fresh air, no new fracking anywhere” and “whose side are you, whose side are you on?” IMG_2818

The energy was palpable, and the protest was definitely very “Vermont”. A police car led the way, there were meditation cushions and blankets set aside for those who wished to protest quietly, and a cider press and chili waiting for everyone back at the wooden “frack tower”. It was very civil, and the sense of community was evident.

In thinking about the reasons why I was drawn to this event, I realized how important systems thinking is in bridging gaps. The majority of my attention, studies, and work is focused on food and agriculture, and my knowledge about fracking and fossil fuels comes from basic geological studies in undergrad, and from major events in the news. Though I didn’t know the exact details about the pipeline proposal that would run from Canada through Vermont (other than it would be transporting frack gas), I still felt like I had every right to chant and march along with those directly impacted by fracking fields, fossil fuel extraction, corporate abuse of power, and the like. Any why do I feel I have this right? Because we all do. We are all impacted. IMG_2826

These are issues that touch all of our lives, no matter our occupation, faith, experience, or knowledge. Energy is part of the system. Food is part of the system. Community action is part of the system. We are a part of the system – the way we eat, travel, work, study, and live impacts each other and our shared global ecosystem. And thinking in this way, can lead to not only more comprehensive action bringing a diversified group to the table and letting as many voices be heard, but also enables those voices who think they are unrelated or distant from the cause to feel included. Openness, inclusion, acceptance, action, and support. Participatory justice. Now, that’s a working system.

“We should treat our minds, that is, ourselves, as innocent and ingenuous children, whose guardians we are, and be careful what objects and what subjects we thrust on their attention. Read not the Times. Read the Eternities.. Knowledge does not come to us by details, but in flashes of light from heaven.” – Thoreau

After the march, we gathered around the wooden “frack tower” as an eulogy was shared of a woman who lived a life inspired and led by the fight for justice and the right to civil disobedience. While listening to the elders share beautiful testimonies to her life and to the causes of our days, I felt the air thin. This space we had carved out for ourselves in the middle of the street, obstructing traffic but supporting justice, had become sacred. It was a space to freely express, share, laugh, cry, and hope for a better tomorrow. While thinking about all these things, I turned my head towards the sun.

IMG_2848As I looked back down, I saw in front of me some beautiful dread-locked hair and the profile of a kind and familiar face. I called out her name, and tears began to form in my eyes as she turned around and I was met with my old roommate from a high school I had left years ago. Our embrace said all that needed to be said, and we smiled and held hands briefly before returning to the sacred spaces of life that we had carved out for ourselves.

“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” Job 42:2

I am (often) guilty of questioning my purpose and path in life, but moments of happenstance, powerful fellowship, and a lasting feeling of the spirit demonstrate that His purpose reigns true and supreme. We can only hope for precious glimpses and signs of where our paths will lead, while faithfully following all along the way.



Ora et Labora: The Beauty of the Seed

IMG_2367 (1)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 –

In seeds

Lie possibilities

And certainties at once,

Genetic maps of trees,

Small promissory notes of

A magnificence

That’s yet to come

Their outward

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.