Friday, February 28, 2014

Prairie Management Practices and Quaker Revitalizaton: Post 3

In the middle of July last summer, on one of the hottest, most humid days, a wildlife biologist, our district wildlife and conservation specialist, and I took a hike through our prairie.  I was discouraged with the progress of the prairie.  We had planted in 2007 and it had burst forth with wildflowers.  It was beautiful.  Grasses began appearing the next year, though spotty.  We did a proscribed burn three years later – per our approved prairie management plan.  We kept down the bad plants (mostly thistles) and tried to leave the rest alone – per the plan.  But six years in to the plan, the prairie was not near the lush prairie of photographs.  There were wonderful pockets of tall grasses and wildflowers.  But there were also stretches of bad weeds and undesirable grasses.  In 2012 a friend of mine from Pheasants Forever and I spent six hours on an April Sunday afternoon and evening drilling (with a special seed drill) replanting the entire prairie with almost $1,000 worth of specialized warm grass and wildflowers seeds.

And then it didn’t rain for almost four months.  In 2013, I was bemoaning all the work and expenses and effort for so little yield.  So when the state wildlife biologist offered to come out and look over things, I readily agreed.

For two hours we walked through the prairie.  Not around it – looking at it from the outside.  But deep inside the plants over our heads – grasses and weeds.  The biologist pushed aside plants/weeds, knelt down, nodded, pointed, made short comments.  Then he’d move a few more feet and we’d look again.  “So,” he asked.  “Did you do the proscribed burns.”  “Yes,” I said, and gave him the dates.  “What mix did you plant?”  I told him. “What kind of seed drill?”  I answered.  “What are you doing to get rid of the thistles and briars?”  Each question he asked, I answered.

As we made our way out of the prairie, sweaty, weed-seed covered, I asked, “So what should I be doing?”  “Just keep on doing what you’re doing,” he said.  “There’s more going on than you see.  There’s lots of good growth going on.  It’s just down low.  It’s hungry for light.  And the weeds are choking out the light.  So, my suggestion is for you to get out your tractor, hook up your bush hog, and mow it all down to a height of 3 feet.  The heat and cutting will stress the weeks and they’ll die.  The heat and light will help the grasses and they’ll flourish.”

“But,” he said, “keep doing the things you’ve been doing.  It’s working.”
As I said in my previous post, I do believe the soil of Friendly renewal is being prepared.  Good things are happening, even if some are not visible to the larger world (Friends and the “real” world) yet.  I also believe that certain “management” practices need to be put into place.

The good news is that none of them require a proscribed burn!

Instead of saying the exact practices as a prescription, I want to offer then as queries, and invite y’all to dive deep into your spiritual wisdom and invite Christ our present teacher to teach us the “management practices” we are going to need to grow a new prairie that mirrors the life of the prairies that once covered much of the middle of our country and supported an abundance (and variety) of life.

  • Given that there is a correlation between being a loving community and the depth and quality of worship, what can be done to enhance the sense of spiritual community and love in our meetings?
  • Given that there is a correlation between vitality and deep worship, what steps should be taken to increase our meetings’ vitality?
  • Given that each meeting has its unique problems and challenges, how do meetings avoid focusing on the problems and concentrate on strengthening connectivity with God?

Again, I want to acknowledge my friend with whom I began this conversation – many of the queries were originally questions that she sent me and helped get this train of prairie thought going.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Soil and Quaker Renewal: A Prairie? Post 2

In my last post on the Quaker renewal (and by that, I mean the renewal of Quaker faith and practice, not institutions, per se), I spoke about how I feel that many of our meetings are like fallow fields -- involved in the invisible process of rest and renewal and ready to burst forth with life.  And I mentioned the questions that my friend asked me in follow-up, continuing the metaphor:

  • tilling = ?
  • planting = ?
  • seeds of life = ?
  • soil = ?
  • deep soil = ?
  • shallow soil = ?
  • plants = ?
  • fruit = ?

I am going to address a few of those in this post.  The ones about soil.  After all, in the prairie outside my window, it's the soil that is lying fallow. It's not the plants seed, and so on.  The soil has been getting ready for this coming summer since early last autumn.  The various plants -- warm season grasses (big blue stem, little blue stem, side oats gamma), forbs (black-eyed Susan, coneflowers of various shades, partridge pea, milkweed, ironweed, rattlesnake master, New England aster) -- are either dormant (the grasses) or dead.  All of the plants, dead or dormant, have been shaken by the wind and rain, releasing seeds that scatter across the land.  They've been buried in snow, borne down by the weight and pushed into contact with the soil.  They've been disintegrating.  They look ugly.  The whole prairie, but the world's standard of beauty, looks ugly.  Dead.

And yet that's exactly what's needed.  The dead plants are feeding the soil.  The rain is watering it and breaking it up so that the new seeds can find just enough depth to germinate and spread their roots.  The snow, in addition to adding moisture to the ground, insulated the dead growth from the bitter cold and sped the decomposition process.

So, back to the questions my friend asked.  In Quaker life today, what is the soil?  What is the deep soil? And what is the shallow soil?   Hmmm, her questions remind me a bit of story of Jesus from Matthew 13 --

Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.  Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.  Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

When I answered my friend (and we were having this conversation Facebook Messenger, hence short answers), I told her I thought "soil = our souls. the soul of the community/meeting."  Upon further reflection, I still think that.  The soil in which the Seed grows best is our individual souls and the soil of the meeting.  Does a meeting have "a soul."  I think it does.  I would argue that the soul of a meeting can be "felt" when we pay attention -- is it a deep, spiritual soul filled with love and life?  Or is it one of discord and disharmony?  Regardless, the Seed longs to spring forth.  But the soil must be made ready.

In the case of the prairie, natural, organic processes are at work.  The afore mentioned decomposition and watering.  But also, as the soil warms, worms and bacteria moving through, breaking it up, preparing it for growth.  Production farmers augment the processes, in their need to turn a profit, with chemical fertilizers and herbicides.  They increase the short term fertility and viability of the soil, but drain it, too.

That's why I believe that the processes for Quaker renewal have to be organic -- growing naturally from the Spirit doing spiritual work within us and the soul of the meeting.  There is no quick fertilization.  While we celebrate the past, we must allow it to die and thereby nurture new grow.  I'm not talking of people here, so much as the ancestor worship we often engage in -- remember how we worked for abolition of slavery, for women's suffrage, against the Vietnam war?  Yep we did.  But those are past.  What work is God calling us to now?  I cannot sit back and just look at photos of prairies past -- even though I have tons of pictures. They are glorious.  And each prairie in last seven years has been different.  Each one is new and unique.  Let's celebrate, let the past feed and inspire us, and move forward!

And, while we may not like to think of ourselves this way, some of us need to be worms and bacteria.  We need to be preparing the soil -- some with prophetic calls for justice as a spiritual enterprise, others by prayer and example, others by leading spiritual formation opportunities, some by...  Much of this may be "underground" and invisible to the larger field of the Society of Friends, but is happening across the US and Canada even now.  We need to do what we can to encourage this work.  And, instead of bemoaning the lack of visible "results", to keep at it.

For there is deep soil out there.  Deep soil, for me, equals souls/spirits who are hungry for God and community and real spiritual work.  Some people and meetings may not even be able to name that hunger.  But they know it when they experience it -- and find it nurtured.  We are called to move out of the shallow soil of being "cultural Quakers," of seeing the Quaker way as a system of ethics or as a "nice way of behaving" (i.e. the Testimonies divorced from their grounding spirituality).

I feel the soil preparation has been going on for a long time.  It needs to continue.  Organically, like I said -- from Friends who feel called to be at work, even behind the scenes. 
Spring is nearing, though.  Which means  is also time for some above ground work.

  • tilling = ?
  • planting = ?
  • seeds = ?


Monday, February 24, 2014

Fallowness and Quaker Renewal: A Prairie?

So a friend and I were e-chatting the other day about spiritual dryness and renewal of the Quaker movement in the US and Canada.  That’s not unusual.  I talk with my friends about that a lot.  In that conversation, I said, “I'm hoping we can till spiritual soil in ways that encourage deep sharing and drop seeds of new life in new places and in fields that have lain fallow perhaps.”

Fallow is concept that didn’t use to mean much to me.  Especially when I lived in the city.  But now that I’m on the farm and trying to get a tall grass prairie going, fallow is concept I can relate to.  All winter I’ve been looking out my office window at the prairie covered in deep snow.  Now, after our recent warm-up, the snow is gone.  I walked through it the other day.  It looks dead – grasses dry bent low, mud all around.  Then one of my cats caught a mouse there.  Hmmm, not exactly what I was hoping for, but still a sign of life.

So I’ve begun to understand the concept of fallow.  The prairie went unseeded last year.  Uncultivated.  It is land at rest.  It is waiting.  The seeds planted two year ago have been at work putting down roots.  Prairie grass is like that.  It goes deep.  Then it spreads.  The results are rarely seen above ground for two or three years.  The coming summer will be the third year since planting and cultivation.  It should be the year that the grasses really take off.  Life should abound.

As I also told my friend, it seems to me that many Quaker meetings are like a fallow prairie at rest.  Their spiritual soil is not dead.  It has just been quiescent, like a field out of production. Now it is ready to be tilled, planted, tended, and will spring forth with spiritual fruit.

Then my friend asked (she’s really good at questions), “So…
·         tilling = ?
·         planting = ?
·         seeds of life = ?
·         soil = ?
·         deep soil = ?
·         shallow soil = ?
·         plants = ?
·         fruit = ?
Indeed!  What do those things equal for Friends today -- for the Quaker way which we love and want to share?

Stay tuned…

Monday, February 03, 2014

"Inaction of Shoes"

Inaction of Shoes
Photo by Brent

There are many things to be done today
and it's a lovely day to do them in

Each thing a joy to do
and a joy to have done

I can tell because of the calm I feel
when I think about doing them

I can almost hear them say to me
Thank you for doing us

And when evening comes
I'll remove my shoes and place them on the floor

And think how good they look
sitting?... standing?... there

Not doing anything

"Inaction of Shoes" by Ron Padgett, from Collected Poems. © Coffee House Press, 2013.  (buy now)
From  "The Writer's Almanac"

"Imagine a blonde daughter with a busted car..."

by Kamilah Aisha Moon

after the news of the dead whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you 
--W. S. Merwin

A blanket of fresh snow 
makes any neighborhood idyllic. 
Dearborn Heights indistinguishable from Baldwin Hills, 
South Central even-- 
until a thawing happens and residents emerge 
into the light. But it almost never snows in L.A., 
and snows often in this part of Michigan-- 
a declining wonderland, a place not to stand out 
or be stranded like Renisha was. 

Imagine a blonde daughter with a busted car 
in a suburb where a brown homeowner 
(not taking any chances) 
blasts through a locked door first, 
checks things out after-- 
around the clock coverage and the country beside itself 
instead of the way it is now, 
so quiet like a snowy night 
and only the grief of a brown family (again) 
around the Christmas tree, recalling 
memories of Renisha playing 
on the front porch, or catching flakes 
as they fall and disappear 
on her tongue. 

They are left to imagine 
what her life might have been. 
We are left to imagine the day 
it won't require imagination 
to care about all of the others.  
Copyright © 2014 by Kamilah Aisha Moon.  
Kamilah Aisha Moon is the author of She Has a Name (Four Way Books, 2013). She lives in Brooklyn, New York.