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s Nature’s calling the Grace of Place


s Nature’s calling the Grace of Place

gail collins-ravadive 1

Homebound Publications

Ensuring that the mainstream isn’t the only stream.


Homebound Publications Postal Box 1442, Pawcatuck, Connecticut 06379-1442 Copyright © 2016 by Gail Collins-Ranadive All Rights Reserved Printed in the United States of America, United Kingdom, and Australia. First Edition Trade Paperback, 2016 Paperback ISBN 978-1-938846-48-9 Front Cover Image © John Hoffman | Shutterstock.com Cover and Interior Designed by Leslie M. Browning Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Collins-Ranadive, Gail, 1944- author. Title: Nature’s calling / Gail Collins-Ranadive. Description: 1 [edition]. | Stonington : Homebound Publications, 2016. Identifiers: LCCN 2015051186 | ISBN 9781938846489 (pbk.) Subjects: LCSH: Collins-Ranadive, Gail, 1944- | Interim clergy–United States--Biography. | Nature–Religious aspects. | Unitarian Universalist churches–United States–Clergy–Biography. Classification: LCC BL73.C6475 A3 2016 | DDC 204.092–dc23

www.homeboundpublications.com 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Homebound Publications greatly values the natural environment and invests in environmental conservation. Our books are printed on paper with chain of custody certification from the Forest Stewardship Council, Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. In addition, each year Homebound Publications donates 1% of our net profit to a humanitarian or ecological charity.


Also by the author If You’d Been Born in India Hopi Birth Morning Finding the Voice Inside: Writing as a Spiritual Quest for Women Light Year: A Seasonal Primer for Spiritual Focus Chewing Sand Inner Canyon: Where Deep Time Meets Sacred Space


contents 1 • Prologue 9 • Simplify, Simplify 21 • Sun Mountain Sensitivity 35 • Saving the Peaks 45 • Sea Turtle Time 57 • Should, Could, Would Be 69 • Epilogue 79 • Reader Guide


Y For the late Bob Lomadapki, a cherished Hopi congregant who created and crafted a silver pendent that so beautifully reflected my interim ministry migrations. Blessed Be.


If you agree with me I may yet be wrong, but if the elm tree says the same thing, I know I am right. –Ralph Waldo Emerson We no longer hear the voice of the rivers, the mountains, or the sea. The trees and meadows are no longer intimate modes of spirit presence. The world about us has become an “it” rather than a “thou”…a collection of objects rather than a communion of subjects. We need to re-sanctify our relationship with the natural world if the planet as we know it is to survive. –Father Thomas Berry


prologue

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can hardly hear him! We are all seated around a conference table and I am right beside him, yet I can barely make out what he is saying. His North Carolina accent seems to swallow up words so that they come through in a mumble. Who is this soft-spoken monk who’ll occupy the straw-bale hermitage built especially for him at this retreat center? A seminarian from across the bay in Berkeley, I escape to this special space as often as I can afford it, for a change of pace and the chance to think. Is it just a coincidence that this particular weekend has a scheduled program, and that this is the sole presenter? Clearly he’s a revered elder among the sisters here at Santa Sabrina. I only know him as a name evoked by my spiritual director, herself a former nun. I listen harder, glad to have his book to refer to later tonight. Damaged and discounted (which suited my budget), it was the last copy available in the bookstore before the event. By morning I might be ‘on the same page’ as the rest of the participants, all hanging onto his every word in rapt attention. 1


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Then Father Thomas Berry utters something I not only hear clearly but deeply connect with: “We need to put the Bible on the shelf and study Nature!” What is this blasphemy coming from a Catholic priest?! That’s my tradition’s Transcendentalism! This could be Ralph Waldo Emerson delivering his lecture on Nature. And he simply carried on the insights that came down through our Rational Spiritual forebears in the Radical Reformation for whom nature was the primary text. The natural world has long been the main source of grounding and guidance for me. And I was experiencing seminary itself as its root word, seminarium, not just as a place for training priests, rabbis, and ministers, but as a seed-plot, garden, or nursery where one grows into ministry from inside-out rather than top-down, i.e. organically. Naturally. Thus, all through seminary, I felt called to a ministry of leading retreats where people could safely do inner work. For point of fact, I was propelled into seminary after publishing a book of writing exercises for women that I created as my internship project while working on my MFA. The depths that opened up through the writing took participants to places that none of us knew 2


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how to deal with. Seminary, I hoped, would give me the tools to help people walk their natural paths. Now I felt I was being given my marching orders. Facilitating retreats in set-aside natural places seemed the most likely way to study Nature’s Script. But in my tradition, most ministry is parish based, and so, after ordination, I took on a small church part time, with another part of my time to be spent at a district retreat center, ready to work with whomever came on my days there. No one came. So I created something I called seminarium as an evening workshop held at my church. This went well enough, but the small congregation was a limited ‘gene pool’ that was soon exhausted. Also exhausted were the funds to pay my part time salary, and so I felt I had to move on. An interim ministry year would be my transition into whatever I was to do next. Interim ministers serve congregations in transition between settled ministers. The loss of its minister to death, retirement, relocation, or resignation leaves a congregation at loose ends. The impulse is to replace the minister as soon as possible and get back to normal, whatever that means to a particular congregation. An interim minister steps in to do the preaching and pastoral care and other expected functions like 3


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fundraising. But an interim is also tasked with holding open the space for grieving the loss and then looking at the overall congregational dynamic, which can reflect any disconnect between what the congregants say they want their church to be and what they can and will do to make that happen. My initial ambivalence about embarking on such a challenging career path became obvious during my first relocation. The series of misadventures became almost comical, though not until after each was all over: My prim and proper mother holding onto my ankles as I dumpster dove behind her condo to retrieve cardboard boxes; the yellow jackets infesting the car cover over my patio furniture that swarmed when I went out to retrieve it, sending me scurrying backwards into the apartment, pulling my shirt off over my head as I slammed the door shut in so as to be bitten only a half dozen times; the rash on my arms that I thought was poison ivy that sent me to the doctor for consultation and relief, as I had never had this before, but that could have been caused by the lady slippers I’d picked up from the ground in the woods, after they’d been knocked off their stems probably by bicyclists; keys dropped into the dumpster on one of the endless sorting and throwing trips, then fished out with a broom found in the common rooms 4


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and washed under running water that then disrupted my car’s alarm system; the phone service cut off three days early when I still needed the email connection to the new congregation and with the phone company on strike and it being a weekend; my mother’s being hospitalized overnight barely in time for me to make a quick trip the fifty miles home; a suspicious mammogram that the surgical consultant wanted to do a biopsy on immediately but couldn’t in good conscience then let me get into my car and drive across the country wrapped in bandages that needed monitoring and changing; the missed opportunity for an alternative biopsy that could only be scheduled the day the movers were coming; the packing itself after hanging out behind liquor stores gathering boxes just the right size for my (too) many books; the beloved friends who took me out for a farewell dinner and then came home with me to help pack up the things that needed more than two hands; the very last morning of sealing the final boxes that raised a huge bruised swelling on my wrist in the process—luckily, I still had a half gallon container of ice cream in the freezer that made a comforting cold compress as I awaited the movers to arrive in the raw, cold rain. I heard the truck before I saw it. Coming into the apartment complex, it was so huge I’m certain I’d never 5


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seen anything like it in my life. My five thousand pounds of household goods fit into the front third of this massive container that would eventually pick up two more loads and still have room inside of it for a car! As it ambled off away from the door of the apartment building I’d called home for three years, I wept. Not from the grief of leaving, but out of gratitude for the profound sense that somehow my life seemed, strangely, on its right track. As an intuitive introvert who always seems to see the bigger picture and then orient and organize around it, I found that I was particularly suited to interim work. Plus, this work would take me to a different landscape each year to see what it had to teach my spirit. Then I would be able to share its ‘natural’ wisdom through sermons and “seminarium” sessions set in a specific place! For an interim minister brings fresh eyes not only to the congregation, but to its surrounding space. The ludicrousness of spending my initiating interim year in Las Vegas was soon offset by the beauty of the landscape: coyote and creosote, rattlesnake and rabbit bush, wild mustangs and burrows, tortoises and Joshua Trees all called me to an altogether different appreciation of the natural world, one in which I experienced a ‘desert flowering,’ both inside and out. 6


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But I also began to glimpse a curious paradox: the very gifts of clarity and expansiveness offered to the human spirit where the Basin and Range intersected with the Mojave Desert were being undermined by our human presence. The aquifer was all but drained, the air was increasingly polluted, and the native inhabitants from indigenous peoples to desert tortoises were being crowded out in what Edward Abbey had called “the Californication of Southern Nevada.” One day I would return to go deeper into the paradox of this place, and even write a book about it, but for now it was time to move on. It was summer again, the dormant time in the desert, when plants and animals and people strive to protect themselves from the relentless light and heat of the sun. Autumn would bring a second blooming to the bushes lining the arroyo and canyon floors….and I would be long gone. I was already missing the glory of the sunsets in the tree-free sky, with the spectacular colors that always sent me walking into the walls of my apartment with the sheer wonder of it all. My heart hurt, but for now I was heading for my next interim placement, in Norwich, VT. And as the creosote and prickly pear framed by my rear view mirror dropped away, I headed up into the Virgin River Gorge that I’d come down through in stunned wonder less than a year earlier. 7


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Ahead lay the matchless natural wonders preserved as National Parks from Zion to Bryce to Capitol Reef to Arches, all stretching like a priceless string of pearls I’d follow eastward across the southwest. Knowing the moving company would take about a week to truck my household goods back across the continent, I treated myself to the gift of time and took the back roads through southern Utah. Having already explored Zion National Park, I drove right on through it and headed for Bryce Canyon. Standing on its rim of luminous slickrock and witnessed by a congregation of sandstone hoodoos, I committed myself to following this natural path for as long as I felt called to do so. I would listen to whatever each new landscape had to reveal to and through the human spirit. And then I would share it. Sealing that promise with a thin band of white and yellow gold for the ring finger of my writing hand, I headed east.

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Simplify, Simplify If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours … In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. –Henry David Thoreau

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or my second interim experience I deliberately chose a congregation in Vermont that claimed to be environmentally aware. I too wanted to learn to live as simply and as sustainably as possible. “Simplify,” Thoreau had urged a century and a half ago; okay, I’d try. Moving back East, I was determined to take the desert’s lessons with me and live them. The dictum “take only pictures, leave only footprints” had become etched in my mind when I realized how disturbing a single rock on an arid landscape could disrupt the fragile ecosystem there for years.

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Now I wanted to create as small a footprint as possible. So I rented what I called my little Thoreau House in the rural village of Lyme, New Hampshire, twelve miles north and across the Connecticut River from the church’s office. It didn’t take long to realize how complicated the simplified life can be. I’d come to expect and always taken for granted such things as running water, electricity, indoor plumbing, and instant heat, none of which Thoreau had, of course. While this was about as simplified as I could or cared to get, living in rural New England proved to be a learning curve. The two-story house sat on a tiny lane outside the village. Water came from a deep well. I held my breath it wouldn’t run dry in the drought, as had wells of some of the congregants, several of whom didn’t even have water to bring for the annual in-gathering church ceremony. I became acutely mindful of every drop that I used. What marvelous stuff! How amazing to have it come right into the house at my command! The plumbing facilities centered on a septic system. When it went out at the end of my first month (for a 24 hour period) I ran across the lane to use a neighbor’s bathroom and shower. From then on, I gave thanks for each day the plumbing worked. 10


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Lyme’s village green/town square area consisted of the white clapboard Congregational Church at one end and a small branch of a bank at the other. In between was the over-priced grocery store where few people shopped. Instead of shopping there, I’d drive down to the Dartmouth Co-op and if I forgot something I learned to do without, rather than driving the twenty miles round trip to fetch what ever it was. Rarely did anyone break down and run into the Country Store, where a single banana cost $1.29. Also on the village green was the Hardware Store. This was the neighborhood hangout, the place you’d meet up with everyone sooner or later, and no wonder. Not only was there a grill at the front of the store cooking up and serving greasy breakfasts and lunches, (the smell alone compelled you to stop and appease your stomach’s growling), the post office was located in the rear of the store. Most folks had P.O. Boxes there, and even those of us with mail boxes on the street had to come here to retrieve our mail when the snow banks iced solid and the mail lady couldn’t get her car close enough to put mail into our mailboxes. It was the hardware store that carried all the essentials for living the rural life, including the blaze

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orange vest strongly suggested for hiking safely during hunting season. The owner even spent a block of time advising me on the proper running of a wood stove: how to burn it hot enough to prevent creosote buildup and then check the chimney with a hand mirror (I used the one left to me by my maternal grandmother!) to make sure it was clean and therefore safe. And then there was the matter of the town dump just beyond the village green. Trash pick up was nonexistent. The good news is there was no beeping truck breaking the early morning silence; the not so great news was that you had to haul all your own stuff to the ‘transfer station.’ And it was only open one morning a week, from 8:30 through 11a.m.. In Lyme that turned out to be on Sundays. While this would work out just fine were you en route to services at the nearby Congregational Church, the church I was serving was a twenty minute drive down the other side of the river. And so there I sat, in the growing line in front of the dump by 8:20 every Sunday morning, waiting for the truck to arrive. Only then would the gait be opened. The truck was for receiving the ‘wet’ stuff: garbage, mainly. Everything else was to be placed in separate bins:

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clear glass, green glass, newspapers, colored newsprint, cardboard, white paper, glossy printed paper (junk mail!), clear plastic, white plastic, aluminum cans, and oversized things that might be swapped or left for reuse, the ultimate recycling. Tromping around through the dirt become snow become mud in my church lady shoes each Sunday, greeting the more appropriately dressed townsfolk (sweats and flannel shirts, down parkas and boots) became the adventure of the week, though I grew increasingly cross at receiving unsolicited mail that I would have to sort and store for a week and then lug to the dump in one of the several bags of stuff to be emptied out and then put their appropriate containers. I was increasingly appalled at how much stuff I accumulated and then discarded each week: no wonder Al Gore could claim in his book/tape Earth in the Balance that our throw away society was in danger of suffocating us in our own waste! I learned to keep the week’s worth of garbage in the bottom of the refrigerator so it wouldn’t smell up the house, and/or attract critters. For living out in the country meant interfacing with a variety of animals, from ants to mice to skunks to bears.

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The first time I looked up and saw a sign posted on a tree beside the trail to Pout Pond, I thought I was seeing things: “Warning: Collared bears in Area. Please do not harm them; they are part of a National Geographic study.” Apparently, a long time resident of the village had begun raising orphaned black bear cubs in the area, then returning them to the wild, and their presence had become a way of life here, though through hikers on the Appalachian Trail were occasionally surprised when they were relieved of their back packs by Ben’s curious bears. Being there made me aware of how humans drawing back their presence empowered other species to revive and thrive. Hardwood trees were reclaiming the cleared farmlands that had been deserted during the migration West once the flatter and more fertile Ohio River Valley became accessible by train. One could still come across crumbling stone walls on a hike out into what otherwise appeared to be nowhere in particular. The church year had barely begun when terrorists took down the Twin Towers in New York and plowed into a wing of the Pentagon and crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, and the whole country went into a state of shock.

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As satellite TV beamed us news from New York, rather than from closer and more locally relevant Boston, we were overly exposed to the fear that was fast becoming the defining theme and focus of the newly installed administration. So as rural New England went on with life in its piece of peace filled beauty, there was a sense of guilt that the national suffering wasn’t touching us as deeply as somehow it should. We somehow felt out of the loop. And a real disconnect came when the president announced that the solution for dealing with the national crisis was something he was calling “acquisition therapy.” For people trying to live simply and sustainably, this just didn’t compute. But it was “unpatriotic” to question the government’s policies or to examine the nuances of our relationship with other nations, and so the conversations were never engaged in openly and/or collectively. Rather, we were all supposed to run out and buy something in order to stimulate the economy and thus show the terrorists they hadn’t changed our way of life. But some of us simply didn’t. Thank you, Henry David Thoreau, for giving permission through your

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writing and by your living to be disobedient to civil authority and/or collective expectations. In fact, many of us quite deliberately didn’t buy anything anywhere on the day after Thanksgiving, purported and promoted to be the singular most important shopping day of each retail year. We hiked in the woods, instead. Through sermons and in seminarium sessions I even gave congregants permission to turn off their TVs and stop listening to the horror that was supposed to stir us to act...(i.e. shop). As small an act as that sounds, tuning out commercial TV can be empowering…subversive! In fact, rural life itself subverted the ‘mainstream’ cultural norms! We were listening to Nature instead. Living in rural New Hampshire was a blessing. What we gave up in conveniences (such as getting NBC on our televisions; its omission by the satellite company caused a run on rabbit ears at the hardware store when it was time for the Winter Olympics) was well compensated by a sense of being in tune with the seasons. For instance, in the autumn, canoeing across a pond, then hiking to another pond’s marshy area to gather cranberries amid the fresh bear scat, being mindful to

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leave what we won’t use so the bears can continue to bulk up for the winter, I felt the sunshine on my shoulders and knew that it was stored up for my metabolism in the very cranberries I’d carry home and make into sauce to take to the family Thanksgiving Dinner. Another for instance: You could hear the bears hooting in the woods when you went out to check the spigots on the maple trees in the spring, and know it was time to take down the bird feeders so the bears coming out of hibernation wouldn’t make a nuisance of themselves rather than forage. Besides the glory of the maple leaves in autumn and the running of the sap in the spring, there was skating on the town pond in winter and swimming in it in summer, the local turkey farm that became eerily silent just before Thanksgiving, a nearby Christmas tree farm where I bought a tiny tree rather than buying and planting a live tree for the season as I had always done…but was redundant here. Even with a short growing season here there were wonderful fresh veggies…fruit that could be eaten right off the trees because they had not been sprayed with pesticides, wild blueberries and raspberries to be gathered during each day’s hike for the next morning’s

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cereal…I carried along a little container that would hold just enough. And at the end of the summer, small boxes of cherry tomatoes were set out on tables at the end of one driveway just for the taking…free! When my small granddaughters came for a week, we found a field of four-leaf clovers near the playground we frequented, and brought one home each day for our “saying thank you” ceremony at bedtime. By then I had integrated the wisdom of the most frequently seen bumper sticker: Embrace Nature. And I felt deeply embraced BY nature. But I‘d also found that the closer you live to nature, the more you realize the damage being done through human mindlessness. For instance, the glory of New England is its fall colors, yet the maples are dying from acid rain carried on the wind from coal burning power plants in Ohio. And the earlier springs from global warming are disrupting the sugaring cycle that needs cold nights to draw the sap back down into the roots at the end of each warm spring day. Everything was clearly interconnected in large and small ways: it was utterly overwhelming to be so intensely aware of ones every action, so that even opening a packet of peanut butter crackers became a wanton act of wasting packaging. 18


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It signals a mental shift from consuming to communing: from using nature as commodity to celebrating it as kin. It means discerning the difference between wants and needs, and committing to live within sustainable limits. The archetypal Yankee poet Robert Frost called this the difference between making new and making do‌. and rural New Englanders have always seemed to know in their bones how to make do out here where the true national flag is blue tarp. This was not a bad ethic to carry forward into my next interim! And I knew it was time to leave when I finally saw a young moose standing out in a meadow towards the end of spring; the one on my conservation license plate come alive!

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about the author For Gail Collins-Ranadive, writing has always been the best way to stay centered and make sense of life’s experiences: from being a nurse to earning a private pilot’s license; from visiting with in-laws in India to spending time with a friend living in Nicaragua before and after the revolution there; from earning a degree in Peace Studies as a military spouse to lobbying for federal funding of the U.S. Institute of Peace; from creating a women’s writing workshop as part of an M.F.A. in Creative Writing to winning a grant to publish it in book form; from earning an M.Div. to doing ordained interim ministries all across the continent; from growing up the oldest of eight to mothering two daughters to becoming a grandmother of four granddaughters and one grandson. An Easterner by birth, she currently spends winters at her home in Las Vegas, summers in her partner’s home in Denver….always writing, writing, writing.


homebound publications

Ensuring the mainstream isn’t the only stream.

At Homebound Publications, we publish books written by independent voices for independent minds. Our titles focus on a return to simplicity and balance, connection to the earth and each other, and the search for meaning and authenticity. As an independent publisher we strive to ensure, “That the mainstream is not the only stream.� It is our intention at Homebound Publications to preserve contemplative storytelling. We publish fulllength introspective works of creative non-fiction, fiction and poetry. In all our titles, our intention is to introduce new perspectives that will directly aid humankind in the trials we face at present as a global village. So often in this age of commerce, entertainment supersedes growth; books of lesser integrity, but higher marketability are chosen over those with much-needed truth but smaller audience. Here at Homebound Publications, we focus on the quality of the truth and insight present within a project before any other considerations. www.homeboundpublications.com


Nature's Calling by Gail Collins-Ranadive  

Steeped in the faith tradition of the American Transcendentalists (the majority of whom, like Emerson, were Unitarian ministers) the author’...

Nature's Calling by Gail Collins-Ranadive  

Steeped in the faith tradition of the American Transcendentalists (the majority of whom, like Emerson, were Unitarian ministers) the author’...

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