Touching Earth

Someone accused me recently of  “withdrawing from the world.”  I didn’t get to ask what the young man meant.  If he meant that I’m not running around helping to soothe the troubles of other people, the only difference is that these days I’m not making house calls.  People find their way here. 

And if he meant that my world is smaller than it once was, that, too, is an illusion. People’s troubles  are shocking, incredible  – in its original meaning – and universal.   

Conventual life creates an atmosphere of continual attention.  I’m not glossing over things as I did when I was so stressed (and salaried).   Having listened more deeply I take those troubles brought to me and I sit with them, especially while I’m working outside in the soil.   

Have these sisters withdrawn from the world? Three of the sisters here do the heavy garden work by hand, assisted by Bill.  The other sister processes the food, standing in the kitchen all day washing, chopping, parboiling, canning, drying, freezing, flaking.  (I have desk work but I’m also responsible for the kitchen garden in front of St. Cuthberts, and the cottage garden in front of St. Aidan’s plus a number of other chores.)  All of us are covered with bug bites.  Two of us (including me) are being treated for acute Lyme disease.  In addition to our constant tick bites we have our scars, rashes, swollen flesh, broken bones, skin infections, strained backs. The Medical Center’s physical therapy staff knows each of us intimately.  

I once wore beautiful clothes to work.  My hair looked nice.  Now I wear a succession of tee shirts which get muddy by mid-day.  My hair is bundled up in a baseball cap.  My face is slathered with suncream.   I’m lucky my husband happens to like this “look” better than dresses and gorgeous scarves.  But does wearing work clothes for physical labor indicate a withdrawal from the world?

I notice that finding myself attuned to the hidden struggle of young plants drowning in these weeks of  pelting rain, distressed for want of sunlight, is not unlike the intuition I feel just before a young person tells me her tragedy.  When a predator killed the mother and baby robins in the low nest in the cross garden, I thought vividly of predators upon human children in refugee camps before I realized how I myself would miss watching the little birds in chapel. 

The Glory of Peas, Bluestone Farm, photo by Erin Martineau

The Glory of Peas, Bluestone Farm, photo by Erin Martineau

As compensation for the pain of digging, the earth offers its healing scent at the touch of my hand.  Woodland birdsong accompanies the crouching ache of the battle stance against slugs and weeds.  The sweet taste of sun’s own energy embedded in a ripe strawberry makes you forget the pain in your back for a moment . 

Never popular in ancient or modern times, the prophetic life invites envy, criticism, skepticism, or ridicule.  We’ve all exchanged more comfortable jobs to re-learn human skills in order to help others learn these skills  for times to come. 

As I take my anti-biotic pill for Lyme, I regard my flithy fingernails.  I suppose I should have asked the young man what he meant by “withdrawing from the world.”

2 Responses to “Touching Earth”

  1. Gary B Manning Says:

    I live on a well-manicured corner in a meticulously maintained suburban neighborhood where the goal appears to be recreating a TV set for the long-awaited revival of “Leave it to Beaver”. Everyone here texts, twitters, chats and e-mails with rapidity and ease. We are all “connected”. But I’m not sure how (or even if) that evokes community. I’m wondering if, in all our busyness and distraction, we’re actually the ones who have “withdrawn from the world”.

  2. Mary and Paul Kernodle Says:

    You have not withdrawn from the world, you are in the world; you are available to the world; you make a difference in the world.

    Your having acute Lyme’s disease is a shocker; also, having ticks.

    Now to the internet to get information.

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