Constructing the Lantern of Soul
The Annual Meeting of the “Study Retreat Associates of Rolling Ridge” (our official name) is a gathering of the residential community, the Board, our Partner Groups, and friends. It occurred on Saturday, five days after the election. I wrote a piece for the opening of the gathering. It was meant to be both a report about life and activities at Rolling Ridge and a reflection. What follows is an abbreviated version.
...Hope, for me, means a ….sense of uncertainty, of coming to terms with the fact that we don’t know what will happen, and that there’s maybe room for us to intervene…. Rebecca Solnit (from an interview with Krista Tippett on “On Being”)
On any given day at the Rolling Ridge Study Retreat Community, one might see Kate or Josh planting or harvesting in the garden, or teaching the girls to count and read; one could catch a glimpse of Keith as he strides past with baby Abe strapped in front, off to a long walk in the woods; Katie could be found hanging laundry, tending to Abe, chopping wood; Scot is feeding sheep and repairing broken things; Linda might be walking the land with a naturalist studying how to preserve these wild acres; Billy and Luke likely are cutting wood; Joy is nurturing the interior landscape, teaching children, and tending the gorgeous new website; and Lindsay, well, I am happily observing it all from my perch on the top of the rise at Pinestone. I see children skipping past, folks bringing mail or the latest harvest of berries to each other’s houses, people on their way to supper together. We have an abundant garden, sheep, a wild forest garden, chickens, a new baby, wood for the winter, sturdy and beautiful homes and retreat house, and a resilient inter-generational community. We have a strong circle of Partner Groups and friends who help nurture and sustain us and this place, and who have joined in much good work. The hum and bustle of this life as we now say “on the threshold of community, nature, and soul”, is sometimes hard, but it always makes a joyful and grateful noise.
The warp and weft of community life weaves a beautiful container in which our Partner Groups, guests, and retreatants may find hospitality and deepening connections with one another, their faith and spiritual journeys, and the wild and breathing Earth all around. As if that weren’t enough, we hosted and led a small cascade of thoughtful, engaging, provoking, and hopeful retreats and events, all seeking in some way to connect people more deeply with what is true for them about identity, meaning, faith, and their place as Mary Oliver says, “in the family of things.”
So we move along through the year, offering ourselves wherever we are, as members of churches, house churches, families, ministries; all of us coming to Rolling Ridge for times of quiet and reflection and to wake up to the world around and to possibility. But in midst of all these good things, and surrounded as we are by this wild and beautiful land, the reality is that we live in difficult, dark, and uncertain times. After this year and this week, who can doubt that? It can be tempting to believe that all our creative efforts: our daily work, building community, opening our hearts to one another and this wild Earth—all that illumination and imagination and creativity—threatens to come to naught, or at least is miniscule against the vast and storm-black ocean of recent events.
Last December, Scot and Linda hosted a festive community supper during which the residential community feasted, acted out a wacky version of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and listened entranced while Linda told the tale of Louhi, the mischievous witch of North Farm. The story elucidated the interplay of light and dark, and the curious truth that one cannot exist without the other. At Christmas there was a brilliant full moon, shining in an indigo sky and bathing the sheep field in crystalline light. Then at New Year’s we gathered as is our custom in the Meditation Shelter, lit by fire and candlelight, to acknowledge that alchemy of light and shadow, its strange beauty and ever-dancing hope. For the truth is, as Rebecca Solnit points out, that we must all come to terms with the fact that we don’t know what will happen, when a dark arrow will pierce the fabric of all that we thought we knew or understood. But neither do we know when or how the light might penetrate through the very shreds of our broken hearts. We dwell in uncertainty, which means we dwell in possibility and hope.
As we gathered at the Meditation Shelter in that dark night at the beginning of the year, in that tiny domed chamber flooded with firelight under a starry sky, we read these words from Clarissa Pinkola Estes:
My friends, do not lose heart...For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement…To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these—to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity…Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.
And so we go on, all of us together in our little boat upon the stormy sea, doing our good work, living and coming here to our small mountain. Even as we hold onto one another, we begin patiently constructing again the lantern of soul, day by day and night by night.
Our community supper held two days after the election was one of our bi-weekly “heart conversations”, when we set aside business and attend to other things. This one was excruciatingly well-timed. We cried. We lamented. Emotions were raw. Our talk had rough edges. I’m certain that each one here has had similar conversations since Tuesday within our churches, communities, work places, families. It was not an easy evening, but in the midst of it, we wondered about the open door of uncertainty, that possibility of intervention. Will Rolling Ridge and our Partner Groups and friends strengthen into becoming even deeper places of safety and sanctuary, perhaps literally, and figuratively as well; places where there is firmer resolve to live and learn and act across all that divides us? What new visions, places of action, connections, plans might arise? What new possibilities might there be for people to take interest in permaculture, for example, with its commitment to systemic change on all levels, including spiritual and social? What renewed impetus might carry us further toward what the Christian imagination calls The Beloved Community?
My friends, do not lose heart…for years we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement…..
We are constructing the lantern of soul.