in the midst of life

The hymns we have been singing have grown more and more somber as Lent has worn on.  There is something about these ancient tunes that is haunting, and I find myself getting hooked on a phrase, turning it over and over again in my mind, hearing it in the background of my day to day.  "In the midst of life, we are in death . . . " is the bit that's been mesmerizing me of late, and it seems to fit this moment particularly well.

We've been busy planting and transplanting for most of Lent, and as we nurture these new little lives we are singing and meditating each day upon Jesus's death, as it comes, inevitably.  As does our own.  The immediacy of this juxtaposition is deepening the season for me, making everything bristle with meaning and energy.

As we've been bringing the baby plants down to "the barn" to get used to cooler temperatures, and more variable light and moisture conditions ("hardening off"), I've been struck by small things--the evidence of change, of life and death, even in this room itself.  

You can see in the picture that there's china stacked in cupboards, and chandeliers on the ceiling.  This was a formal dining room, a place where guests and the sisters shared meals, looking out over a great lawn, at sunset.  About ten years ago, the sisters, who had founded two primary schools and served as educators since the creation of the Community, started to perceive that they were being called to to live in greater harmony with Earth, to work directly with the soil, to learn how to live sustainably as responsible members of creation.

This room shows evidence of that transition; what was once a grand dining room is now a makeshift barn.  Moving away from formal, primary education, the sisters plunged into a different kind of education--teaching and learning about our very stuff of life, food, soil, water, sun, Earth's place in the universe...  There has been that kind of sadness that comes, when one embarks on a new direction, leaving a beloved past behind.  But there is also the joy of new discovery, the wonder of witnessing these little lives as they emerge, flourish, and, finally, nourish us.  

I have to admit that Easter is my favorite season, partly for selfish reasons I suppose.  For all those years that I avoided anything religious, I still usually ended up coming to Easter mass.  And each time, I felt deeply moved--moved enough to wonder, moved enough to dare to think: "maybe I should go back to church."  Even though I managed to push away those thoughts, in the end, year after year, I still experienced a strong resonance with the themes of rebirth and transformation of the season.  I have loved the notion of starting anew, starting afresh, remaking myself.  Easter has long been my own kind of New Year's, encouraging me to make a new start, create a new resolution.  There's something deeply compelling about the idea of getting a chance to begin again.  I've ended up doing this throughout my life--finding new groups of friends over and over again, remaking myself as an activist, an artist, an intellectual, a director, a farmer.

Strangely enough, this year, the year that I've been immersed in all things spiritual, I find that I'm no longer hoping for that clean slate, but instead trying to weave together all my previous incarnations, to take all those many lives and deaths and weave them into one coherent, battered and beautiful cloth.  I've been reaching out to old friends from high school and college, asking for understanding, and receiving so much more.  I've been "writing down the bones" of my adolescent traumas, of my spiritual stumblings, and dusting off old memories that have been shoved into the deepest recesses of my soul.  

This Eastertide, I am living the phrase "in the midst of life, we are in death".  The plants sprout up, and the dining room becomes a barn.  An identity fades away, a sense of self is mourned.  A new path is explored, new life emerges.  But none of these are truly separate from one another.  The new path only makes sense in relation to all that's come before.  The experience and memories of earlier times shape the ways we live our lives today.