“The higher goal of spiritual living,” writes Rabbi Abraham Heschel,” is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments.”
Our study, our practice, our rituals, our beliefs–all of little ultimate value if the knowing and doing is not enfleshed in our being, creatively luring and aligning the structure of our days with the sacred architectures of slowness, breath, and depth connection.
In our last Moment for Common Nourishment, Holden Cession avowed how our wellness and futures depend upon slowing down and moving beyond words with our people. Slowing down opens spacetime for ritual, breath, togetherness in the depths–sacred technologies for dreaming possible worlds and inhabiting livable lives.
I entered this last Lent with my hands in the dirt, repotting the plants with whom I have shared breath and space and aliveness during the pandemic, and Iowa’s long, cold winter. I felt such tenderness toward the exposed roots, the slow and unpredictable pace of growing and blooming and dying, the deep vulnerabilities of being mortal. These plants invited me into a Lenten practice of tender tending of my own exposed roots. Uprooting shame, confronting and unlearning my tendency to be harsh with myself, to inflict expectations of pace and scale that stifle my aliveness, and inhibit my ability to face, savor, and participate in sacred moments, and encounters.
Resurrection, I am learning, is simple. But far from easy.
And by resurrection I mean life. New life. Shared life, sharing life. Awakening to sacred moments. Learning how to tune into and nurture Lifeforce. Unlearning the exhausting patterns of empire and dominance that glorify faster and more and bigger all for the sake of me, and mine.
“The antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily [or solely] rest,” Brother David Steindle-Rast reminds David Whyte. “The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.”
I spent Lent slowly reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s Love Letter to the Earth, and writing my own love letters–spells, prayers, psalms, hymns–to the earthly aliveness making wholehearted aliveness possible.
Recently, my students and I went for a walk, a mindfulness walk, where we resisted small talk and shared in sensory awe. I read bits from the beloved Zen master’s love letters: “I make the deep vow today, with gratitude and love in my heart, to cherish and protect [the Earth’s] beauty, and to embody [the Earth’s] wondrous consciousness…to follow the footsteps of those who have gone before me, to live with awakening and compassion, and so to be worthy of calling myself [the Earth’s] child…I promise to do my part, contributing my own energy of joy and harmony to the glorious symphony of life.”
We made our vows, and practiced wholehearted presence with each other and the earth. Greeting the tender allium scapes emerging from underground garlic bulbs. Touching the rhubarb leaves, beginning to unfurl. Plucking a few overwintered sage leaves, and feeling how they inhabit an ephemeral space between dead and alive, some soft and supple, some crisp and crumbling between our fingers. Rubbing lavender between our palms and inhaling deeply. We wandered through a field behind a park and knelt down for a closer look at purple crocus and starflowers, and remembered Alice Walker’s holy admonition about noticing the color purple in a field and remembering how it pleases God when we receive and savor the pleasures of beauty and vibrancy offered so lovingly by the earth.
Suddenly a shout interrupted us: “This is private property!” yelled a woman from behind her fenced yard. I waved a greeting, wondering if joining us rather than scolding us wouldn’t bring her more pleasure, too, and we turned back to the flowers growing wholeheartedly, and saw a hawk swoop from their bare branch perch, and heard an owl call, and noticed a squirrel noticing us, and found patterns reminiscent of fossils and sea coral in tree bark, and wondered together about how a walnut shell becomes at all…Intricate beauty and wild aliveness, unconstrained and spilling over. Convivial intimacy and sacred wonder, impermeable to fearful claims of ownership and control.
Every sacred moment, we can choose to breathe deep, slow down, be present, feel the sacred connections weaving together each and every life in interdependent, interconnected, interbeing.
Simple things that are far from easy: wholehearted living. Loving the world, loving ourselves, loving each other, with our whole hearts.
Anna Blaedel (they/them) is cofounder and theologian-in-residence at enfleshed, where they tend to the theopoetic intersections of spiritual, academic, and activist engagement. Anna chaplains University of Iowa students, and is a doctoral candidate in Theological and Philosophical Studies at Drew University’s Graduate Division on Religion. Waking before dawn, lingering in poetry, being an aunt, retreating to the woods or their basement woodshop, tending the garden, sharing silence, and feeding people delicious food are some of Anna’s favorite things.