Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Will the True Guide Please Stand Up?

Having just read the sweet and compassionate post by Ashley W about accepting imperfection in ministry, I want to push this conversation a bit farther and talk explicitly about the guide and ministry. 
Fear of outrunning my guide has motivated me to embrace physical work in my life as balance to a strong sense of call toward prophetic and pastoral ministry among activists and religious communities. This might seem an odd juxtaposition, but at this point in my ministry and work, the work of hands is a balm and beacon to what can feel like an overwhelming mess of desire and resistance. When I work with the earth, nurturing life from soil and seed, I find lessons of patience, persistence, and humility are right at my fingertips. 

We would do well to listen to the land in discernment around ministry. When we humans haven't completely tipped the scales, verdant eco-systems sing stories of balance and extremity in a lilt only some can hear. What have I heard, when I really try hard to listen?

I hear, sometimes, about the creep of the invader. A bed untended becomes a clutch of weeds. I think it is telling me that I need to be vigilant, that I am lazy and foolish in my growing endeavors. I think it is telling me I am bad at farming. I think it is telling me that I am mediocre in my task, that I can't possibly be doing anything right in the crazy balancing act of work, land, love. 

But then, in these thick beds late in the season, gathering last gleanings of harvest with students, we witness the giant carnivores, grown fat on my neglect. Mantis' as large as my hand, spider mama's that fascinate and terrify small children, these animals have thrived in this unkempt eco-system, have kept the squash bug away from these precious last yellow fruits. 

And then, we see the tomato hornworm, half desiccated  from the hatched eggs of a parasitic wasp, hanging loosely on a tomato plant. My students marvel that this was something alive once, this creature that destroys crops brought low by something so small, so intent upon its insides for survival. My overwhelm and needful neglect, as well as a commitment to not using chemical pesticides or herbicides, has made for a powerful teaching space and a vibrant world of life, in this late season. 

Sometimes, I try too hard. If the fat mantis, the successful wasp, can teach me anything about ministry, perhaps it is to wait, and see the fullness of life, in time. Despite a weedy bed full of our invasive friends-- thistle and hops, pigweed and stilt grass-- a deeper life grows and thrives, with its own lessons, its own fascination and value. 

And so I ask, will the True Guide please stand up? Is the guide in me, or is she the land? I temper my internal leadings with land-lessons, in hopes of moving forward with integrity and responsibility. I pray we can find our leadings both within and without, as we explore our ministries for the healing and building of justice-love for all creatures, and the glory of our shared and disparate God(ess). 



  1. What a lovely response, Victoria! Your images remind me of Mary Oliver's poetry.

    1. thanks for reading. i really think this is such a vital issue to Friends, thanks for bringing it into the blogosphere (do folks really use that word?).