Honors Guild at Victory Acres

An old, weather-beaten farmhouse defies the wind’s frenzied rush over the fields to the west of Upland. Situated on a westward facing hill, this small, community-supported farm and ministry center seeks to heal the land and people by modeling sustainable agricultural practices and ministering to those who are hurting. The honors program spent a Saturday morning at this farm, known as Victory Acres, in the spirit of sustainability and service learning. During this time we helped to erect a new hothouse, worked in the current greenhouse, readied seedlings to be planted, made preparations for a barn raising, and ate fruit smoothies and eggs.

Spending the morning outdoors at the farm was invigorating and very enjoyable despite the bitterly cold weather. There is something special about working with the earth that calms one’s spirit and compels a change in perspective. It is so easy to become disconnected in our modern environment from the things of the earth that were essential to the survival of our ancestors only a short time ago. Our climate-controlled rooms and highly developed systems for supplying every need or want cause us to forget how wild and complex and wonderful the world really is. Even a morning at a farm was enough to remind us of the more fundamental aspects of our collective existence – like our dependence on the food that the earth yields and vulnerability to the elemental forces of nature.

The opportunity to implement what we have been learning through service was a welcome opportunity. Going to the farm helped us to overcome a second disconnect between knowing and doing. Living sustainability means ordering one’s life a certain way, taking action to implement what you know. In the absence of action, one must question whether the lesson has been learned after all.

The trip was also a great opportunity to spend time with people away from the distractions of our contemporary existence. Our shared task gave us an element of commonality that allowed us to bond through the activity. If C.S. Lewis’ comparison of friendship to two people walking side by side toward the same goal is accurate, it seems like such a setting is bound to strengthen friendship’s ties. In this sense the work we did at Victory Acres helped us to overcome the things that divide us as people in day-to-day life.

The theme should be obvious by now. Working at Victory Acres gave us the opportunity to surmount the barriers between modern man and nature, learning and doing, and one another. The entire experience, from the farm fresh breakfast to the activities, was wholesome in every sense of the word. This kind of endeavor is also the most sustainable since tension results when we live apart from God’s earth, people, and action motivated by what we know. The trip to Victory Acres was a good reminder of these things and an equally important exercise in their practice.

The Sound of Silence

Jessica Baide (Class of 2016) describes her experience with silence at a monastery in Kentucky:

This retreat could not have come at a more perfect time. The semester was raging on and was beginning to get the better of me. While I consider myself a very busy college student, I usually observe the Sabbath to some degree and set-aside time to ensure that my spiritual life doesn’t suffer at the hands of my stress. However, I was beginning to slip. I had neglected the opportunity to rest and rejuvenate over spring break; instead choosing to fill it with all that I could to “make the most” of my time home. I rushed back to school, with literally not a minute to spare. And now the chaos was beginning to creep in. School began to feel over-whelming, I was skipping small group and compromising on my Sundays. I was even too stressed to take the time out for a much needed and wanted retreat. But once we headed out, I tried to set all of this aside to remember the importance of silence and rest and to observe the lifestyle of a monk.

Jessica Baide

            College does not hold a reputation as an arena for silence. Even as I write on this very “quiet” morning I hear my upstairs neighbor romping around, a door slam and I glance over at my roommates schedule to see when I will forfeit the solitude of the room. As usual I ignore all of this, but the truly nagging screaming “noise” comes from my planner. If I were to set aside this homework for a moment to think I’m sure it would taunt me saying “you won’t have time for lunch,” “only three hours until you leave for class,” “don’t forget to stop by Ayers and the Union.” Even when I do manage to find a quiet place on campus I find there is no silence.

Escaping to Kentucky required a four-hour car ride, a meditation, and some sleep for these thoughts to play themselves out and exhaust themselves in my head. Then slowly but surely something new crept in. A stranger began to ring in my head. At 5:30 on Saturday morning sitting in a cold van only that voice of silence touched my thoughts. Weird. The ever-present scrolling to do list was finally gone. Not that I really noticed at the time. For once I wasn’t thinking about what I was thinking about. Instead I simply sat there embracing the cold.

Now wouldn’t that be nice to simply be laying here on my couch and let my mind be still. Hold on let me give that a try. Hmm… Not quite. Even as I tried to ignore the obnoxious ongoing clicking of my heater, I hear the dull ringing of the bell tower chiming noon in the background and my mind quickly calculates how much time I have left. As wonderful as it was to get away and finally be silent physically and mentally, that is a practice that is going to take some work. I’d like to be able to get back to that without the prerequisite 4 hour car ride to restore my state of mind. Perhaps someday with some practice a walk to the prayer chapel could suffice. I wonder how long it took the monks to “settle in.” To quit thinking of the enormity of their decision, any loose ends they had left, the consequences of their actions. Surely they don’t change over night. I don’t expect to either.

This retreat showed me a glimpse of that peace that comes from silence and rest. I’ve been chasing that all year. I’ve been trying to read my way through The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan about the practice of Sabbath keeping. But rather ironically I’ve chosen to read it one chapter at a time when I can squeeze it in between my other “restful” practices on Sunday. Somehow I don’t imagine that is how the author wanted his book read. The book is full of great ideas and ways to apply them but I hadn’t really experienced much true rest from reading it. However, this weekend showed me what this book has been trying to get at. I felt God’s rest and peace as I sat in the Monastery.

Simplicity and sustainability have felt like noble concepts, but not very helpful or relevant for me. Yet when I think of the restful days in the Bahamas or the quiet time at Gethsemane I begin to see their value. This theme transcends recycling and really hits me as I look at it as a practice for restoring peace to my daily life. These two escapes have given me opportunities to see what a sustainable pace of life feels like. After the taste of calm this past weekend, I hope to finish this semester peacefully by instilling simplicity and sustainability into my daily life embracing one quiet moment at a time.

 

Honors Conference Reflections– On “Feasting and Fasting,” by Diana Meakem

Junior Diana Meakem provides us a fascinating reflection on one of the breakout sessions in the Fall 2012 Honors Guild Conference. Reagan Sutterfield, an agrarian and a writer from Englewood Community Church in Indianapolis, delivered a talk titled “Feasting and Fasting” during the conference. Here are Diana’s thoughts:

Reflection On “Feasting and Fasting” by Ragan Sutterfield

     “When we eat a meal, we’re participating in a concert.” I have always felt this way about meals, but have never been able to articulate it. I appreciated the many facets to Ragan’s talk, the way he intertwined literature, theology, and agriculture. It was particularly apropos because he talked a lot about how God made everything to be connected, even though we often pervert that. 

            Ragan talked about soil, how we were made from it, how we return to it, and how we as humans are dependent upon the soil. I’ve done a little gardening growing up (I love growing basil and making pesto from it), but I had never thought about how special, complicated and life-giving soil is. The soil affects what we eat.

            After that, Ragan talked about how we eat, and spent a lot of time talking about fasting in particular. Fasting has always been a tricky topic for me. I know Christians have done it for centuries, but have struggled to understand why or how fasting should be done. Ragan spoke of fasting as “a kind of mourning,” as a holding out for something better, anticipation. He addressed, too, that fasting is not about manipulating God, which has been an underlying theme behind most of what I grew up hearing about fasting. I like the idea of fasting as waiting for something better. As Christians, that is a huge part of how we are called to live—on the earth, but not of it, waiting eagerly for the redemption of the world (Romans 8).  

            In fact, Christianity is a religion based on waiting. The Jews waited thousands of years for the Messiah, and now we wait for His return. We’re called to wait in other areas of our life, too: we’re called to wait on the Lord, called to wait until marriage for the consummation of sex. Fasting, a discipline of waiting, can teach us about delayed gratification in other areas of our lives. Most things worth doing can’t be done by clicking a button, and it would be good to have a discipline to remind us of that.

            Ragan talked about the historical rhythm of the church fasting on Fridays, always remembering the death of Lord. Then Sunday is always a feast day, remembering his resurrection. In between feasting and fasting is ferial eating, a more normal eating. Observing these disciplines, or a version of them that I could maintain (like eating only fruits and vegetables Friday for breakfast and lunch) might be a lovely way to embrace a historical, sacred rhythm in my busy life.