One beautiful morning at Rolling Ridge a few days ago, the sun-kissed air was serenely cool and fresh. The tall and slender trees in the luminous forest arched overhead like a cathedral ceiling. Even the call of the jay was music while the mist curled in graceful mystery through the branches and the sun gleamed just beyond, turning the edges of the green oaks and maples to gold. I couldn't help but know myself blessed and lucky, to be dwelling here, not just among the trees, but with a small and valiant community of people who are constructing a life together as much as we can in connection with the earth and this place, and in our best moments humbly willing to be taught and to learn together.
In March, Krista Tippett interviewed Nathan Schneider, a writer, journalist and particularly thoughtful and brilliant member of the millennials (he was born in 1984). (We know millennials are a thoughtful and brilliant bunch, since we live among them now at Rolling Ridge.) Nathan Schneider is known for his reflections about the Occupy movement, and about what gives life meaning. His books include: Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse and God in Proof: the Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet.
There is nothing new under the sun, and thank goodness for that. It means that each generation is taking the questions deeper, in new directions. Nathan is wrestling with the same angels that gripped us at Sojourners three decades earlier, and that loomed by the trees at Walden Pond or hovered over the tents by Chautauqua Lake. I'm talking not just of questions about God but ones like this, as Nathan put it: "We grow up being told that we live in a democracy, and yet, over and over, experiencing, in small interactions, in the grand politics, constant messages that we really have no agency, that we have no control over our futures, that we can't change--we can't stop our society from destroying the planet, for instance. Why is that? What kind of society is one that can't stop itself from destroying the planet?"
Luminescent mornings dawn, but the sun rises on a mottled and muddled world, riddled with real threats to wellbeing and survival up and down the spectrum. As I was walking in the misty forest, Scot got a call from Jay, who was staring down a rattlesnake on his front porch, the first of likely many that we will catch and release far from here all through the summer. Our nation is embroiled in a political and social brawl in which angry and frustrated people hurl chairs and epithets at one another in the desperate belief that fighting over the steering wheel on the bridge of the Titanic will somehow turn the ship.
If I had any remotely rational reason for moving to Rolling Ridge those many years ago, it was this: that I was aligning myself in some small way with the gestures, the energies, the movements, the stories of those who were and are listening for a different way of being and living; who were, however imperfectly, heeding Gandhi's simple call to be the change we want to see in the world.
Here is what I have learned: when we do this, grace happens. We discover ancient streams of wisdom we never knew were there. Creativity blossoms. Forgiveness buds. New and very old stories actually do emerge and are told around bonfires and kitchen tables. Not only that. Our small gesture here at Rolling Ridge, I am convinced, is one of hundreds, thousands all over this nation, this continent, this planet. Tiny permaculture ventures, transition towns, cooperatives, co-housing villages, tribal councils; each and every one of them trying to claim and hold onto and grow something precious, saving a scroll or a treasure.
When moving here, I often thought of Thomas Cahill's book How the Irish Saved Civilization which told of the monks in the monasteries of Ireland after the collapse of the Roman Empire and how they carefully hid and preserved the wisdom of the ancients as the invading Visigoths and other tribes pillaged and burned everything in sight; then the monks emerged to quietly rebuild their country and its society in the ruins.
So I was pleased when near the end of the interview, Nathan turned the conversation to how those human communities might happen for his generation, the millennials, who are children of the digital age. Then he told this story:
"I was just at a place in Southern Italy where activists, hackers, mainly from around Europe, technology activists, have been gathering and actually adopting and playing with, hacking so to speak, the rule of St. Benedict, the rule that's the basis of Western Christian monasticism, looking at it as a kind of protocol, as a kind of basis for building sustainable, sustaining communities. They look at the way in which monasteries carried civilization through the Dark Ages. Preserving the art of writing. They're looking to this religious legacy as a means for starting from scratch. And thinking about what kinds of reorientations they could make in their relationships with the technology that they're using, and how they could build livelihoods for themselves in a way analogous to monks."
It seems that another kind of world wide web is spinning itself into existence under a 21st century sun, a quiet and persistent network of fragile hope that spans generations. I am grateful to be caught up in it, in the strand that twines itself strongly around this mountain and its wild ones, our several homes, community, organic garden, forest restoration projects, retreats, permaculture workshops, those who come here for revisioning and renewal, all of it.
Just as wonderful are the other gifts that come with the dawn of summer sun: the glimpse of a thrasher in the grass: slender, chestnut brown; a whiff of honeysuckle while planting sweet potatoes in the garden; the birth of a child; ripening strawberries; the song of the night insects; the sweetly rustling breeze; the dappled light.