I grew up in an “open-the-box-insert-into-microwave” kind of house. Two parents that worked full time plus two kiddos that exemplified the American extracurricular nightlife meant that meal time comprised anything fast, portable, and consequently void of nutritional and spiritual sustenance. In spite of this subtle retrospective critique on the kitchen practices of my family of origin, I should share that as a teen I reveled in the lifestyle. No meal time meant I didn’t have to slow down for the inconvenience of community. A kitchen stocked with easy to grab processed foods meant Nutty Bar after school communion with neighborhood kids before heading out to the soccer field. My youth was ritualized by the fullness of high caloric food and the emptiness of an extra serving of busyness.
In college, however, the reality of being both physically full and spiritually starving culminated into chronic depression and a search for a fullness I had yet to experience. I felt heavy, weak, and perpetually lost. For me, the journey through the emotional labyrinth called ‘college’ led me straight to seminary and a financially costly education in all things theological. It felt like I was doing everything “right” and still so much felt innately wrong. I got married, graduated seminary, had a child, and began my pastoral career and still searched for something to fill me in a way I had yet to know.
I hoped very much, as perhaps many of you have, that church would fill me up. It might just be the leadership role I have been blessed with or the reality of what church has become, but more often than not church leaves me with a Nutty Bar hangover as opposed to the fullness of the slow roast family dinner I craved as a young adult. In To Garden with God, author Christine Sine hypothesizes that “one of the reasons people are moving away from Christianity at time-warp speed is that we have divorced our faith from the rhythms and practices of the natural world.” If it is the quiet work of the summer garden, the deep flavors of a slow roasted meal, and the rising smell of expanding bread that people are seeking, the Sunday morning worship experience can be received as a quick trip to Elitches on a 100 degree day. As a pastor I see people wander in and out of the sanctuary the same way my friends wandered in and out of my kitchen when I was a teenager. They may partake in what I serve but will go home to fill their souls up. Or, like me, they will wander seeking that place others call home where their souls and bodies receive the fullness they have always hungered for.
Shouldn’t the church be that place? The place where food slowly grows in the deep, dark soil? The place where the harvest awaits a community of eager, soft hands? The place where the table is set and the chair anticipate the arrival of a perpetual One More? For eight years these questions stewed in my soul until slowly the answer began to grow within me; If feeding my body had required relearning how to cook shouldn’t feeding my soul require relearning how to worship? The Land is a vision of a faith community that attempts to do just that; relearn worship as the way in which we live our lives opposed to an obligation we fulfill once a week. This relearning to worship is not meant as invalidation of the experience of persons who are filled by traditional forms of worship services. This relearning is meant to offer an alternative; a sacred gathering place that integrates agricultural practice and spiritual ritual for those who, like me, crave the sight of the sky and the smell of the soil as the context for their spiritual growth. Although today the physical site of our Aurora faith community is 9.7 acres of overgrown weeds where cows lazily graze, eighteen short months from now it will evolve into an experimental site for spiritual growth with an edible labyrinth, a greenhouse cathedral, an outdoor amphitheater, and a long table with wooden chairs, set, ready and waiting for the emotionally heavy and the spiritually hungry.
The message of The Land is that you Beloved Child of God were created to be filled; spiritually, emotionally, physically. It is okay to listen to your soul growl and decide you need to partake in a new spiritual menu. It has taken me a long time to embrace this truth; God is calling me to participate in a new thing. I believe that similar to the ways in which we care for our bodies, feeding our souls isn’t cured by stuffing ourselves with more, but by having access to the enough of the right type of nutrition. The Land is as much about physical nutrition as it is spiritual, and if you are hungry, heavy, and lost I want you to know The Land is a safe place to graze, to wander, and to awaken the hunger within.
This article was originally published on the blog Salt and Story: a kitchen journal created and maintained by Gwen Spaulding-Barclay, a writer and a home cook and a passionate reader and eater.
Thank you, Gwen, for inviting me to write this piece for your blog. – Stephanie
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