Friday, June 14, 2024

Ghost Seminary

One reason I wanted to come to this intensive is that it's the last time we'll be on this campus.  Earlier this year, the announcement came that the seminary would be moved to the Lenoir-Rhyne campus in Hickory, NC.  Frankly, as I move around campus, it feels like everybody has already moved there.

I will spend time in the library today, the library that has more books by itself than the whole of the library holdings at the Lenoir-Rhyne campus.  I fear for these books.  I know what often happens:  people will look at the last time a book was checked out and decide that no one is interested and toss the book.  The idea of that makes me sorrowful in so many ways, even as I admit that I rarely check out physical books from my own seminary campus (admittedly harder from a distance).

The dining facility has group pictures of all graduating classes, and I've had fun looking for people I know.  But along the line, I thought about the size of the classes.  We've been told that the seminary must move because there are fewer students.  But based on these pictures, the seminary has never had many students.  The largest graduating class was roughly 30 students.  Far more typical is the class of 1990:

Now, there are other good reasons for moving the seminary.  It's clear that it's been awhile since the buildings were maintained.  My small group is meeting in a building that reeks of mildew, even though the AC is running.  As I walk back to my seminary apartment that's on the far end of the complex, I can see the stucco about to break apart on the walls, and every AC unit looks like it's about to rust through completely.

Still, I hate to think of losing this campus, particularly as I take guesses at what might happen to it.  In yesterday's small group session, I talked about feeling grief about this part of the future.  I talked about how it's a shame to have all this infrastructure disappear into more urban development when so much could be done.  My friend said, "Like create an arts retreat?"

My friend and I have shared this dream, a retreat center that focuses on liturgical arts, for a long time.  I like the idea of communal living as part of it, but only if the communal living means that each person gets their own living space.  I know how quickly communal situations deteriorate when one person's cleanliness/neatness preferences don't mesh with that of others.

The small group was intrigued by the idea of changing the campus to that kind of vision, and I spent the rest of the day thinking about that possibility.  It might be easier to do such a thing at a place that already offers retreats, like Lutheridge.  It might be easier to do such a thing at a place that is also a small seminary--sigh.

I do realize that I don't have the resources of Lenoir-Rhyne, and so why should I think that I could have different outcomes.  But my mind goes back to part of our large group session yesterday, when our learning leader talked about God planting dreams in us like a farmer plants seeds.  I will continue thinking and writing and dreaming.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

We Begin with Native American Spirituality

When I read about the June 2024 onground intensive for the spiritual director's certificate program, I wanted to attend for many reasons; alumni are invited back once a year, and I've been in the past as an alum.  It's great to be reminded of best practices and to discover new techniques.

In terms of the teaching, the focus on Native American spirituality was one of the main reasons I wanted to say yes to the invitation to return.  We covered that material last night, and it did not disappoint. 

Long time readers may remember that I wrote a blog post about a similar experience in January of 2022, and in some ways, last night was similar.  We began with a smudging ceremony.  

This year, no words were spoken during the smudging, but in other ways it was similar.  The smudge stick burned and the tribal elder used the feather to wave the smoke towards us, down one side and then down on the other side, and we lifted the heel of each foot to allow smudging there, too.  When we did the ceremony in January, it was dark and cold outside; it felt a bit strange to do the ceremony in the blinding sunlight of an evening in June (we started at 6:50 p.m.).

Then we moved indoors, where a drum circle had been set up.  There was a big drum in the middle of the circle with 6 Native American women seated around it.  They drummed, and we each had a shaker.  Each shaker was different--here's the one that I chose (I asked permission to photograph it):

Much of the music was the same as the session in 2022, but it was good to revisit it.  The workshop leader told us that the music to "Poor Wayfarin' Stranger" is a Cherokee tune.  We sang the words of "Amazing Grace" to a Creek tune.  Our leader talked about Native American theology and compared it to Christian theology to show that we are worshipping the same God.

She also mentioned the new version of the Bible, the First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament.  I had seen this version while at seminary, and we have a Kindle copy.  I was glad to know that it was done by Native Americans, that it's not an appropriation.  

After the workshop and the drumming, a woman passed out prayer squares; here's the one I got:

It comes with this card attached:

I love this idea, the idea of a patch of cloth, with strings that can be knotted as one prays.  It's a variation of prayer beads which appeals to my fiber loving self.

Yesterday wasn't even a full day of the intensive, and I already feel like I've gotten more than a full return on my intensive investment.  My cup overflows.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Gardens that Enchant

As I wait for the onground intensive to start later today, let me post a few more thoughts about creating enchanting garden space.  After writing yesterday, I took a few more pictures.  

I love the idea of finding clay pieces here and there.  When I visit potters, I often think about how many mugs I already have.  I also love the idea of creating some clay pieces out of some of my sketches.  

My younger self might have worried about nailing something to a tree trunk.  

My older self thinks that the pine trees would probably be just fine with a short nail here or there.

My friend has found intriguing bird feeders to hang in the trees.  I love the idea of a bird feeder made of glass.  Of course, she lives in suburban Columbia, SC, where she doesn't have to worry about a bear breaking the bird feeder.

She also has this wicker bird shelter:

I love how she's put small statues in her garden and how they blend into the landscape:

Here's a closer look at the statue:

I love how her garden aesthetic shows a variety of influences:  medieval mazes, meditation gardens from all sorts of traditions, whimsical touches here and there, a collection of delights that people may or may not discover.  She purchased some of it, while other parts were repurposed, and she's spent the past year, getting to know the space, letting the space shape her vision of what it could be.

And this firepit shows all of those elements best.  The firepit was here, but overgrown.  She brought some of the chairs with her and rescued some that were here.  She bought a lantern or two, along with twinkle lights to string in the trees.  And as the seasons change, she adds and subtracts; the geraniums are an early summer addition.

I'm happy to have such inspirations!

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Inspirations around the Fire Pit

This morning, I'm writing in the house of a grad school friend.  Soon she will wake up, we'll eat breakfast, and I'll head off to the house of another grad school friend.  Our time together has been full of delights that I can't enjoy in my mountain house:

You might wonder why I can't have a similar fire, and if I constructed carefully, I suppose I could.  But one disadvantage with the design aesthetic of the outside my house, which I call forest floor, is that there's lots of combustible material.  It's great for wildlife, and perfect for a no-maintenance yard, but not so great for fire pits.

My friend's yard has seating areas and twinkly lights and lanterns around the perimeter of the yard.  They are solar powered and turn themselves on as darkness falls.  That experience has made me think about my yard in new ways.  She also has cool pottery pieces here and there, along with bird feeders and a path that she carved out of grape vines that had grown over a shed and the back fence line.

I remind myself that I do spend a good amount of time outside on my deck once the weather gets warmer.  It would be worth thinking about my deck view with an eye to some enchantments.  

I suddenly have a yearning to make enchantments out of clay--that yearning is partly inspired by my friend's water cups made out of clay.  

I found myself looking at the glazes and being amazed by the colors (I'll post a picture later).  I know some potters in my area . . . hmmmm.  If I could pay them for supplies, instead of buying a lot on my own . . . hmm.

Let me post these inspirations here.  If I write down my various yearnings, often I don't forget them, although it may take me years to work my way back to them.

Monday, June 10, 2024

On the Road Again, Towards the Spiritual Direction Certificate Program Reunion

Today I am in Columbia, SC, where later today I'll go to the Lutheran seminary for the onground intensive for the Spiritual Director's Certificate program.  You might say, "Wait, didn't you already do that certificate?"  Yes, I did, but alumni are invited to return once a year.  I didn't go last year for a variety of reasons.

This year I wanted to go for a variety of reasons, but the biggest one is that the seminary is moving, and this will be the last intensive at the Columbia campus.  I don't know what will happen to that property, but I'm fairly sure it will all be bulldozed and turned into something more commercial.  I have all sorts of feelings about that, but I wanted to take this last opportunity to gather on that campus.

I also wanted to go because the curriculum looks great.  Some of it I did before, like the module on Native American spirituality--it was great, and I'm looking forward to returning to the topic.  Some of the material seems new.  And the topic overall, that of how we discern the presence of God in our lives and how we help others to do so--it's a topic that remains interesting to me.

I'm also looking forward to seeing people along the way, grad school friends from long ago, retreat friends, and seminary friends from the certificate days (who are different from seminary friends from Wesley days).  

As I've been thinking about our current situation, I'm so happy to realize how wealthy we are in friends and families who are within a 3 hour radius of our house.  We had friends in South Florida, of course, but so many of them had moved away by the time we moved.  And during a week like this, when tropical flooding is expected all week long in South Florida, I'm so grateful that we figured out a way to move to a safer spot, even as I miss the people we left behind.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Letting Our Selves Go

 As we traveled great distances by car in the past week, it made me think of other trips I've taken.  In some ways, not much has changed.  There are still times of singing along with times of deep conversation.  There's boredom when the scenery is essentially the same for mile after mile.  And then, there's my internal thought process.

On road trips that I took in college, I'd gaze out the window and wonder about the people living in the houses that we zoomed by.  I would wonder if I would ever own a house.  I'd daydream about owning a house and some land and what we could do to sustain ourselves.  My fellow travelers suggested growing Christmas trees on the land.  Even then, especially then in the wake of the 1980's farm crises, we knew that family farming was too hard.

As we traveled this past week, we drove by farm after farm, some tiny and some industrial in scope.  It made me think of my earlier dreams of owning a small farm just like the ones I was seeing out of the car window.  Why is it so easy to let some of my past goals go, while others feel like defeats?

I'm thinking of various people I've known throughout my years of teaching, so many of whom have retired.  And here I am, still hoping for a dream job, even as I'm preparing for other possibilities and wondering how anyone ever decides they can afford to retire.

I'm thinking of writing hopes that still pop up, especially when I see others getting first book deals or second or third book publications.  I've long given up on the idea of novels that get bought for screenplays.  I still think about a volume of poems.  But then part of me wonders why I do.  I know all the depressing stats on who reads poems and publishers going out of business.  But the English major side of me wants that faint hope of preservation of my written work, more specifically, the poems.  

I think of this idea of letting ourselves go, our past selves that no longer fit, those past goals that no longer fit.  It's hard to know when to let go and when to push on.  I'm thinking in terms of creative work, but also in terms of paid work and also in terms of body work.  Being on the road also gave me time to think about how creaky my body has become, especially as I got out of the car and limped to the picnic area.  Is this just part of aging or should I be doing more to try to offset the ways my body wants to ache?

It's a different kind of midlife crisis than the kinds we often hear about--when to let go, when to push harder, when to change course, when to keep going.

Friday, June 7, 2024

Back Home, Safe and Tired

I am back in my own house, after a night of sleeping in my own bed, and I wish I could say that I awoke refreshed and fully rested.  No, not exactly--I had dream after dream of floods.  Happily, it wasn't my current house being flooded in my dreams.  And it doesn't take a trained psychologist to figure out my anxiety dream.  Still, I was ready to be up.

Let me record a few thoughts from my last days of travel:

--Wednesday was our very long travel day, similar to Sunday.  We left Petit Jean State Park and headed back to East Tennessee.  We traveled with my spouse's dad and step-mom that day.  We've always gotten along well, but we've never taken such a long car trip together.  I'm happy to report that it went well.  On both Sunday and Wednesday, we made sandwiches and had a nice picnic at rest areas.  Here's my Wed. Facebook post:  "I just ate a picnic lunch of homemade pimento cheese sandwiches at the Johnny Cash rest area- - and I will spend the rest of the afternoon trying to work that into a country song."

--We were at Petit Jean State Park for a wedding.  I wasn't sure what to expect, having never gone to a wedding in a state park before.  In fact, it's been a long time since I've been to a wedding in any venue.  Lots of us were traveling from far away, and the park itself felt very far away from civilization of any type.  It was a wedding, but it was also a family reunion, along with a vacation and a splash of educational opportunity.

--When I thought about this trip, I thought we might do some hiking, but it was wet and the trails looked a bit strenuous.  In fact, the signs stressed how strenuous the trails were:

--Would I have been as worried about slipping if I hadn't had a bad fall a few weeks ago?  Maybe.  Happily, we had other options, boardwalks that made for an easier walk in the woods.

--There were also areas where we could pull right up to the scenic overlooks which were a brief walk from the parking area--and see the burial site of Petit Jean, for whom the park is named:

--But the highlight of the trip was the chance to be with far flung family members, from Illinois and Indiana, from South Florida, from Mississippi, from the Appalachian mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina.  It's amazing that we could all gather in Arkansas to share good times and make good memories.

--Yesterday we took the southern route across the mountains to our house, along the Great Smoky Mountain Expressway.  We saw beautiful mountain vistas and rivers ran beside us, and there was only a brief disruption for roadwork, unlike Saturday, when we sat and sat and sat for over an hour on I 40. 

--We also got to stop at Darnell Farms, where we got a wide assortment of fruits and veggies, which we'll enjoy for the next several days.

--It is good to be home.  Here's the last Facebook post I made yesterday:  "We are home, looking out at a different set of mountains, not knowing exactly what time it is, and missing family, but enjoying a light lunch after a long road trip. Happy we were able to travel almost all the way to Oklahoma to celebrate declarations of love and trails that do not end in tears."