My friend Frances wrote to me about her first experience planting a vegetable garden in her backyard:
I noticed that I have to simplify all the abundance in my life – all the opportunities, the seemingly endless possibilities.
My garden gave me a perfect example of this. We have an abundance of vegetables growing in a small parcel of earth we prepared, removing stones and weeds, adding compost, mulch, fertilizer. Then, in this rich, good soil, we planted turnips, carrots, daikon radishes, lettuce, herbs, tomatillos, eggplant. They all started growing riotously – I couldn’t believe how you could plant seeds and then all this stuff would just come up with abandon. I knew I needed to thin those turnips and carrots – but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I thought maybe they would grow anyway – all of them. I couldn’t bear to take any out, I refused to intentionally rip out a single living thing. After all, isn’t that what seeds are for? I had worked so hard to ready the earth, plant and water the seeds – why should I start tearing things out by the roots? Why should I leave big patches of bare ground? I wanted to give everything in the garden – everything I planted – a chance to grow. Read more
In the high desert, the myriad threads of summer spun from the most essential of elements – air and fire, water and earth – begin gathering and interweaving throughout the day, morning, noon, mid-afternoon, a complex ancient familiar yet freshly new dance across time. Small white puff flakes gather behind mountains, clouds purely white grow, rise, slowly, then more quickly, suddenly shades of grays and deep blue blacks winds pick up trees sway leaves flail thunderheads able to release some deluge or a dry, dusty, broken promise of rain teasing darkness. The size and scale of such moments are beyond imagining, even as cacophonies of cloud and thunder shake the earth and saturate the sky.
Have you ever seen the whole sky, really, and all at once? No. It is too vast. Only a few hundred miles here or there. Never the whole thing, perhaps from space, but then it is flattened by distance, or perspective. This sky defies perspective. It is palpable, you touch it, smell it, feel the weight of it upon you, in all its luminous enormity.
Innovations in medical science provide technologies that digest and analyze astonishing amounts of medical information. Treatments and techniques, elegant in detail, are put to use immediately, seemingly increasing our healing capacities at an unstoppable pace.
And yet, the speed of the human heart remains constant. No matter how small the incision, or how benign the chemotherapy, the human soul will forever ache for time – time to find its way, to step carefully through the garden of impossible choices, to seek the reassuring nourishment of good, honest company.
“If money goes, money comes.
If money stays, death comes.”
– Muslim (Urdu) Proverb
In 1989 Roger Montoya left a successful career as a professional dancer in New York City. At the age of twenty-nine, after studying, performing and touring with celebrated dance companies – Alvin Ailey, Parsons, Paul Taylor – Roger returned to his childhood home in Velarde, New Mexico.
Growing up in a rural village in northern New Mexico, Roger was loved and nourished by his parents, Jose Amado and Dorotea Montoya; nurtured by excellent teachers; and blessed with opportunities rarely available in such remote, financially distressed areas. Roger showed extraordinary promise. As a teenager he earned a; place on the team representing the US and Canada, traveling to Romania, France and Denmark. At 20, he received a merit scholarship to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center in New York City, which led to an astonishing life as a professional dancer, performing all around the world.
When we started Bread for the Journey in 1987, I was barely two years out of the seminary.
I graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 1985, and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. I was blessed to find a spiritual home in a newly formed, passionate church community, started by an inspired – and inspiring – group of people. Most were deeply engaged in serving the complex needs of the multi-cultural community of Santa Fe. I was soon called to serve as their part-time pastor and spiritual director, to walk beside them, to help deepen their mission and work.
It’s an unremarkable day, a Sunday, and I pick up the San Francisco Chronicle to read while eating lunch. I find myself engaged with a story of a 12 yr. old girl sold into sex slavery by her auntie. I’m reading it and the sorrow in this story feels like it takes a bite out of my heart. Immediate pain. I don’t even know this young child or her auntie, but I don’t need to. At that moment, I feel her pain, her family’s pain, and I understand how deeply connected I am with everyone, no matter where they are, or who they are. It’s a profound moment and I use it. I make a conscious decision to stay with what I’m feeling and not distract myself, which is to say I do not to abandon myself.
I decide to gather some flowers from the garden and make a little altar for her. Staying with my feelings doesn’t mean I have to make it harder than it already is. I can bring flowers into the room.
I cannot tell you how often I type the word “Live” when I want to sign off my emails with “Love,” as in Love, Marianna. The I and O are next to each other on the cell phone keyboard, and my chubby thumb is clumsy. Maybe if I lost an extra 10 pounds, I would say what I mean.
Or maybe what I actually mean to say is Live.
As in be alive. Now.
If you find yourself going mad, go to lunch and keep driving till you get to the beach or mountain or field of wildflowers that brings you home to yourself.
If someone you love has gone away, or never came, grieve till you get to the bottom of it.
If singing is your thing, do it once every day. More if you’re brave enough to keep feeling alive.
If you have finally figured out & named that little, unique thing you love about someone, tell them.
I had an accident a week ago at my health club (Laugh. It’s okay. I get the irony.) I, unknowingly, stepped onto a treadmill that was on and moving at a fast clip. Someone had walked away without turning it off. What???
I was suddenly in a free fall tumble trying to grab something, anything, to regain some control of my body. No such luck. When I landed on the floor, one leg was twisted between two treadmills, my head hit the floor and I felt jangled. Everyone jumped off of their machines and a crowd formed with people asking a lot of questions to determine how badly I was hurt. I couldn’t really move for several minutes, but not because anything was broken. Read more
My friend Teresiana once said, “I have a deep and abiding faith that comes and goes.”
People always laugh when they hear it because everyone can relate. We know faith and we know wavering faith. It seems like a contradiction to have faith come and go. Especially a deep and abiding faith. Right? So we conclude we actually don’t have any, or that it’s weak.
Last year I had to foreclose on a piece of income property that, after the mortgage crisis of 2008, was valued at less than fifty percent of what I owed. For several years the income kept dwindling as the expenses were growing and the difference was draining me of everything I’d saved. The creditors were no help at all and I blamed myself for not being smarter about money. I was so filled with shame that I didn’t talk with anyone about it.
Several years ago I moved into a sweet house with a verdant yard that calls me outdoors. I named it Cielo en Tierra – Heaven on Earth. For weeks I was graced with the unmistakable warmth of gratitude each day and especially when I looked out the bay window at the 120 year old oak tree in my back yard.
This tree was the thing that made me say yes to the house. Ten steps past the front door, a bay window framed this force of nature and I was drawn like a Yo Yo to the hand of someone playing with me. The window, the tree, the blue sky, my breath. All of it a bit overwhelming. She was beautiful. I turned and said, “I’d like to rent this house.” That was four years ago.
At the same time I was struggling with a certain inner tension. Let me explain. At Bread for the Journey, our vision is To Nurture the Seed of Generosity in Every Human Heart. As Executive Director, I had been practicing generosity by nudging the limits of my giving, noticing the places where generosity is easy and where it’s not. Following in the footsteps of new friends who were immersed in the “gift economy” movement, I wanted to provide my grief support services as a gift to anyone who needed them, but was afraid. I worried that giving away my services would reduce the value of my work; worried there would be too many takers and it would interfere with my job at Bread for the Journey; worried that it was an unwise move for a woman who did not have much financial security. And yet I deeply wanted to do it.