Entering the Upper Room

Whenever I encounter the Scriptures telling of Jesus and His disciples together in the Upper Room, my heart and mind automatically travel to the O’Connor Room at Nazareth Farm.  Wood grain walls, sunlight streaming in through the windows along with a gentle breeze, and a not-so-subtle reminder that we are truly on Holy Ground. I wonder if this is what the Upper Room was like.

For many of us, the O’Connor Room is a sacred space. The Holy Spirit is so present at the Farm, but especially in the OCR. Times of prayer and tranquility can quickly transition to spirited singing, laughter, and group games. We share prayer together and share our hearts and minds in conversation. There is a palpable warmth up in the O’Connor Room (and not just on humid summer nights!)

The disciples probably weren’t sure what to expect when they gathered with Jesus in the Upper Room, a feeling that is often echoed on the first night of volunteer weeks. But they trusted Him and were willing to be a part of His journey. They were transformed by Jesus, and so are we if we let Him be an active part of our lives. 

At the Last Supper, Jesus transformed the very basic elements of bread and wine into His Most Precious Body and Blood. During our visits to Nazareth Farm, we too are transformed. Our selfish and wasteful habits give way to focusing on community and conservation. Service becomes less of something to do and more a part of who we are. We make time for prayer and let our work for others become an offering of ourselves. Seeds are planted, vocations are sparked, friendships are formed, and our God is a part of it all. 

When we are open to the Holy Spirit in our lives, great things can happen. We can be transformed into people who consistently and joyfully live out Catholic Social Justice Teachings no matter where we are.

During the Holy Thursday Liturgy, we celebrate both the institution of the Eucharist and the washing of the Disciples’ feet, strong reminders that our God is a God of sacrifice and service.  How can we incorporate these elements into our lives? As we journey through Holy Week and into the Easter season, let’s be mindful of the times and places where God wants to transform us into his modern-day disciples. May our lives always be a reflection of the love of our Savior. 

Wishing you and those you hold most dear a faithful Holy Week and a blessed Easter! 

– Catherine Werner, board member and volunteer

Starting the Journey

Today, Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, marks the beginning of Holy Week, as we journey with Jesus through Jerusalem, to Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and ultimately to the joy-filled Easter Sunday. While there are so many layers and key moments found within today’s Gospel, I am continually brought back to one theme: love. The Gospel may evoke some of us to question the presence of love amidst the suffering, pain, and agony that Jesus endured, and for me, it is in that endurance through faith and love, that I see God’s love in abundance, leading to the glorious resurrection.

Every year for the past five years, our school would travel with a delegation of our high school students from San Jose, California to Doddridge County, West Virginia. Early that Monday morning right after Easter Sunday, we would hop on a plane, pick up our two rental vans and make our way to the Farm. And as soon as I pulled up closer to the red barn, I already knew that I was home. For that next week, we would be surrounded by love all around – in and out of inspiring conversations with strangers turned friends, and opportunities to engage in activities to learn more about community, service, prayer, and simplicity, while experiencing it with joy and laughter all at the same time! 

While Jesus’ Way of the Cross was an incredibly painful, lonely, journey, we rejoice with his resurrection and with the Easter season. For me, coming to Naz Farm for a week after Easter Sunday was indeed the best way that I could imagine to celebrate light, renewal, and authentic joy. God was always present! Love is palpable at Naz Farm when working on home repairs, when playing games, when enjoying dinner together outside, and I believe that my Easter celebrations have been that much better because of the opportunities we’ve had to be in community with our friends at Nazareth Farm.

May you and your friends and family be blessed this Holy Week, and together, we await the coming of Easter!

– Crystal Catalan, volunteer

“I am troubled now.” You and Me Both, Jesus.

Every time I read Jesus’s prediction of his impending death, I am troubled and confused. What does he mean when he says his death will glorify God’s name? How am I supposed to “lose my life?” Now more than ever, I feel like I have already sacrificed so much due to a global pandemic. Where is the good news in any of this Gospel?

I think the latest Pixar movie, Soul, can provide some insight into what Jesus is saying to us. The movie follows Joe, a middle school band teacher, who has great ambitions to play music outside of a classroom. Just as he catches his big break to perform jazz music in concert, he finds himself in the Great Beyond. Unwilling to accept that he might die, Joe makes his way to the Great Before and is forced to team up with 22, a sassy and stubborn “soul,” who does not want to live on Earth. In their search for 22’s spark or talent, they find something much more significant. 

22 asks, “Is all this living really worth dying for?” For her, to live meant to give up the comfort of her life in the Great Before and to take on a body in the world. She had to risk being rejected or failing at whatever her spark might be in order to really experience all that life has to offer. In doing so, she finds joy in the ordinary things of the world. Much like 22, we are forced to live an embodied experience of the world. We cannot escape the earthly suffering of the world – poverty, illness, shame, mental illness, and so much more. Nonetheless, we are called to live into that reality and we have the freedom to enter into the messiness of it all.

In the end, what is essential for Joe and 22 is their soul – what I might like to call their belovedness. Our belovedness is imprinted on our souls, reminding us of who created us and for what purpose. We are born of Love and for love. It can be difficult to uncover that belovedness, but it is there for each and every one of us. It is in the giving of our soul – our belovedness – to another that we find purpose, community, and joy. It may be through the hands-on work of building a ramp for a neighbor or sitting on the porch swing in company with a new friend or hearing the stories of resilience told by community members.

Starting from a place of being beloved allows us to enter into the darkness of the world, risking vulnerability for the sake of connection. In losing our lives, we give up earthly things and we make room for what matters and feeds our soul. Because as Jesus reminds us, in doing so, “it produces much fruit.” In spaces of “death,” we can find life, find joy, find solidarity with each other. What remains is God’s imprint of our belovedness, which gives us the ability to live in freedom, not for the sake of self-righteousness, but for the glory of God.

It troubles me; yet, it is well with my soul.

-Justin Hoch, volunteer

Nurture Your Faith

This week, the Gospel tells us that everyone who believes in Jesus will have eternal life, and whoever lives by the truth will come into the light, and Jesus will be watching. Sounds pretty straightforward enough, right? Not really.

I believe that if I plant seeds and water them, a flower will grow. The reason I believe this is because I have done it. It is a tangible activity. The flower is my proof. It is easier to believe in things you can see. Can you see God’s promise in the Gospel?

Unfortunately, the only way you will know if your belief in Jesus rewards you with eternal life is to die. Frankly, I’m not ready to participate in that experiment just yet!

Luckily for me I already believe in the Gospel readings because I have faith.

Faith is not tangible, yet some days it feels so real that I can almost touch it. Other days, I have a hard time conjuring it up. And, if I am not careful, it can become fluid and come and go at will. For me, faith is like the flower that needs watering; it needs to be tended to daily.

Thanks to COVID-19 (always finding the silver lining), our parish has been live-streaming daily and Sunday Masses. I have committed to viewing daily Mass as part of my Lenten journey. It is helping me nurture my faith. Are you doing anything different to nurture your faith this Lenten season?

In addition to watching daily Mass, I am actively seeking opportunities for acts of random kindness. I get such pleasure in doing them.

I was in heavy traffic the other day, and a woman was trying to pull out of a gas station. No one was letting her in. I stopped my car and waved her in front of me. I could see the absolute look of relief on her face. She was obviously stressing and probably running late for something. Such an easy gesture that made us both happy.

I am a big fan of paying for the car behind me when at a drive-thru restaurant. That always makes someone’s day!

These small acts of kindness reinforce my faith. Leading with kindness and love is suggested many times throughout the Gospel. These acts take the focus off me since I am seeking opportunities to help others. What acts of kindness have you performed lately?

This week’s reading also says, “Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

I choose to live in the light, and I am grateful God is watching what I am doing. I know He is putting opportunities on my path, and it is up to me to recognize them and take advantage of them.

One of the best opportunities God provided for me was time at Nazareth Farm. I had the good fortune to participate in an adult week there a few months back. It definitely reinforced my faith in God, Jesus’s teachings, and eternal life.

No, I didn’t see an apparition at the Farm. What I did see was a group of young adults performing acts of kindness in their community by way of much-needed home repairs. I also witnessed great respect for the environment in the limiting of water and electricity usage. They ate food they harvested from their own gardens.

Community members shared in all the chores. Communal praying and reflection time was a daily occurrence. I witnessed the beauty of God’s creation in the stunning landscape of the mountains and sky. There were dogs and cats to love and colorful birds feasting at feeders. Surely, God was present!

My faith is a continuous work in progress. I need to participate in Mass and dissect the readings so I stay connected to my beliefs. When I am consistent, I am calmer, more understanding of others, and simply more content with myself.

The challenges of everyday life become easier for me when my faith is strong. I know that no matter how difficult things may become with God at my side, I will be just fine. He helped me get through cancer, Sepsis, job loss, and financial stress.

He’ll help you too if you live in the light and seize the opportunities He presents to you. 

Why don’t you ask Him to join you on your Lenten journey this year? Who knows what He has in store for you? 

  • Loretta Rederscheid, volunteer and Erin’s mom

Darkness

“Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings while the dawn is still dark.”- Rabindranath Tagore

I have never liked the dark. During the camping trips my family took when I was a child, as night came, I felt safe so long as I had the nearby hand or presence of one of my parents. A campfire helped. Alone, though? Forget it. I was sure to be eaten by a bear. 

During my time on staff if I happened to be alone for the nightly walk to the house, once I got beyond the lights of the parking lot and my feet hit Little Battle, it was a dead sprint, all the way, every single time. To be honest, I still haven’t made much progress. If the compost or trash need to be taken out at night, my husband does it. He knows how I am, and thankfully loves me anyway.

Darkness in the literal sense is disorienting and a little scary. It is also humbling to be tripping and fumbling about as we try to make our way and worry what else is there in the shadows. In the spiritual and emotional sense, it can feel like waves of confusion, anger, isolation, and despair. I don’t know many people comfortable with darkness. 

In either sense, my own experiences with darkness progress through these fairly predictable stages: a good bit of stumbling and denying that I’m anything less than fine; muttering through clenched teeth and wondering what on Earth just happened; varying degrees of crying; and finally accepting that it’s probably best to just stop moving, and breathe, and reorient myself. 

There are two particular lines of a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke that inevitably return to me in these moments. In this poem, Rilke speaks of what God says to us on our journey through life:

“Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me.” 

I’m reminded by these words that the vacillations of the human experience will persist so long as breath is in me. This, too, shall pass, and that goes for both the moments of heart-bursting sweetness and soul-gripping anguish. This truth helps me to cherish the former and to not be so consumed with anxiety by the latter. 

What Rilke’s words also echo is God’s promise to not abandon us, though we are free to stray as we may choose. Even so, we are never far away. In fact, we are carved in the palm of the Beloved’s hand. This can, in our human folly, be easy to forget. The Faithful Companion’s presence in our lives is perhaps most perceptible once we have finally surrendered to the dark. 

Lent provides us a perfect opportunity to evaluate our spiritual life with a few questions similar to what we may consider when we find ourselves there: 

  1. To what end have I oriented my life? 
  2. On what, or on whom, am I relying? 
  3. Of what am I afraid? 
  4. What am I doing to nurture my faith?

I invite you in the coming week to ask yourselves these questions. Though we can be fairly certain that the darkness will come, we have full assurance that it will not prevail. The Passion of Christ is a part of the Easter story, but it is not the end. I pray that when you find yourselves weighted down with a cross, confused, and lost in the dark, remember to pause, breathe, feel the warmth of the Light beside you, and when you find your voice begin to sing again to the dawn. It is coming.

-Tina Nieport, former staff and board member

Kerygma

Although we are only in the second Sunday of Lent, Holy Mother Church has given us a wonderful and hopeful set of readings in this penitential season. For many of us who have done a service week at Nazareth Farm, the Gospel today will sound very familiar. The story of the Transfiguration is one that is told each Saturday morning of a group week. I often had the honor of sharing reflections on this story while on staff. The mountain top experience had by Peter, James, and John is very relatable to many volunteers as they closed out their retreat week. They encountered God through the cornerstones of prayer, community, simplicity, and service. They felt and perhaps had even seen His presence working throughout the week. Finally, they desired to “make camp” and stay “up on the mountain,” cue Steven Curtis Chapman! (Circle up, sing along dance party, am I right? WOO!) And as great as that is, and as often as I’ve heard this story, today I want to share it with you in a different light.

Before we begin, I want to introduce to 4 words that I’ll ask you to know and commit to memory this Lent. These words are: Created, Captured, Rescued, and Respond. These four words summarize the Kerygma, which is a Greek word that means Proclamation. (In our case it means Proclamation of the Gospel.) Lets begin.

Created. I think anyone who has visited Nazareth Farm knows what it is like to be immersed in the beauty and simplicity of creation. It is one of my favorite parts of being there. I have so many memories of God’s grandeur that I encountered while at Naz Farm, and I’ll share them here for you envision yourself. 

-The view from the top of the hike in the winter or spring when you can see for miles as the gentle breeze blows past your face.

-The smell of the most lovely spring air while the trees are in bloom, riding with the windows down on Route 23

-Driving to a worksite early in the morning on Route 50, seeing the sun rising over the hills and illuminating the heavy fog that still lingers in the air on a humid summer morning.

-Walking back to the staff house on a clear cold January night and stopping to look up at the millions of stars in the sky

It is in moments like this where I am reminded that God, in a plan of sheer goodness, created the world and everything in it. But do you know what God also made? He made us, human beings, in His image and likeness! Out of everything we just mentioned, all the beautiful memories I have shared, in the eyes of God WE are what is “very good” (to quote Genesis). We have an inherent dignity given to us by God because we are made in His image and likeness. Why would He do that? Because God loves us. Plain and simple, God loves you. In fact, He delights in loving you. He desires to be with us always and give us all that is good. So, what happened? Why, despite all the beauty and goodness, are things still so messed up? 

Captured. Let this word sink in. It’s not a word we would often associate with ourselves these days. The reality is, however, we were captured. Our captor is a fallen creature who rebelled against God out of hate of Him and hate for us. This creature is Satan. What is his strategy? To convince us that God is not a loving Father and that we can be happy without Him. Satan’s tactics are accusations, lies, flattery, division, temptations, and discouragement. He is real, he despises you and will do all He can to separate us from God. And because he succeeded in tricking the human race, we all became bound and chained to the powers of Sin and Death. Now, let’s pause for a moment. What I just said is not a small thing. In a modern society like ours, I think its hard for us to understand what it means to be under the rule of a suppressive power. The closest thing I can compare it to in our modern society is suffering under human trafficking, maybe there is another horrible act that resonates with you. This evil fully captures, takes us away from family, friends, and the life given to us. In this, we feel alone, helpless, and in pain. My brothers and sisters, this is humanity without the rescuing actions of Jesus Christ.

Rescued.  For Peter, James, and John, they understood the meaning of the word captured. All their lives, The Roman Empire had been ruling over Israel. There was no true freedom for them. The Romans had complete authority over their lives. One step out of line or false word against Caesar, could lead you to prison, beatings, or even crucifixion. The Jewish people were longing for a Messiah who would lead them out of bondage to Rome and restore them to freedom. But even greater than their bondage to Rome, was the human race’s bondage to the Powers of Sin and Death. And this is what Jesus came to do. He came to recuse us. By His death and resurrection, Jesus bound up the Satan who had captured us and restored our hope that had been taken away. He liberated us from bondage and brought us into the glorious light! This is the good news of the Gospel!! The gospel is not simply that Jesus what a great teacher (which he was), or that he was a miracle worker (which he did plenty of). Or even that he was simply a good and holy man. He is more than that, He is our Redeemer and Rescuer. So what Peter, James, and John were witnessing in the transfiguration was not merely a beautiful encounter with God, it was a foretaste of the glory of Jesus Christ’s victory over Sin and Death!!

Respond. So where does this leave us? What do we do now? We respond to Jesus in worship, prayer, and thanksgiving. We surrender ourselves totally to the one who has defeated sin and death, so that we might be freed from it in our daily life. We read the Word of God in the Bible and encounter Him deeply in the Sacraments. Do we then take this good news and keep it to ourselves? No! We share it with anyone and everyone we meet! Why? Let me put it this way. If you had a life changing experience, whether it was an incredible service trip to Naz Farm, just landed your dream job, or got engaged to the person of your dreams, wouldn’t you be dying to tell people about it? Of course you would, because it is good news worth sharing! Yet why are we so apprehensive to share the greatest news in human history? Are we afraid of what others may think? Do we fear rejection or the apathy of others? Possibly. Do you think that Peter, James, John, and the other disciples were afraid? I’m sure they were! But God gave them His Holy Spirit to send them out on mission to help God get his world back, and He wants to fill us in the same way! We talk so much about changing the world and fixing the problems in this world. I truly believe that this is the best way we can do that on a lasting level. 

My brothers and sisters, there is so much more that could be said here. This Lenten season I invite you to keep going. Dive deep into the Kerygma. Meditate on the 4 words we have reflected on today; Created, Captured, Rescued, Response. And actively grow in your response to what God, in His plan of sheer goodness has done for you. I hope and prayer that this begins a journey for you to bring as many home to the Kingdom of Heaven as you can. And on that day, before God in His glory, we might all be able to say together, “It is great to be here!”

-Josh LaFave, past staff member

Living a Transformative Lent

Sometimes it feels like we’ve already been in the season of Lent for a year. Throughout the pandemic, there’s no doubt that we’ve all been experiencing our own forms of the desert; so there’s something very familiar and relatable when we read that, “The Spirit drove Jesus into the desert.” I imagine that Jesus experienced the temptations with a longing similar to those that many of us have been engaged in for months, now.

Longing for the dying to stop.

Longing to be with our friends and loved ones again.

Longing for racial justice.

Longing for connection and understanding.

Longing for the restoration of creation. 

These longings aren’t bad or sinful, they’re human. And apparently they’re divine, too. Wasn’t it longing for a deep relationship with us that moved God to create the covenant after the flood, as we hear in today’s reading from Genesis? After living with these longings over the past year, I have a renewed appreciation for God’s love and longing. As we long to see our friends and family, we sometimes forget the opportunity to rest in the One that longs and has always longed for us. 

Note also that today’s gospel does not end in the desert. From there, Jesus goes to Galilee to begin his public ministry, proclaiming that “this is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.” The time in the desert was not some endurance test for its own sake – it was a period of preparation in which Jesus connected deeply with his core identity as God’s beloved Son. In Matthew’s version of this gospel reading, Jesus rebukes the devil by quoting scripture, saying: “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” In the midst of his physical hunger, Jesus connected with an even deeper longing for communion with God. His mission became crystal clear, propelling him to proclaim the Good News.

As we enter into this season of Lent (and continue the sojourn through the COVID desert), how can this become a time of preparation? How will our longing for transformation, justice, and deeper communion guide us to a more authentic expression of discipleship? How might we live out the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving with the understanding that we are loved and longed for by God? 

-Carla and Ryan Lents, former staff member and current Farm donors

Be Generous With Your Love

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season, and with it, a call to live a life of love and sacrifice like Jesus. But what does it mean to live like Jesus?

Ever since I began as a staff member at the Farm in September of 2019, to live as Jesus lived has taken on many different meanings. Jesus met everyone He encountered with compassion. He lived a life of sacrifice and selflessness. He was always willing to listen, always attempting to understand. He lived a life of simplicity and care for the world given to us. He was humble, prone to forgiveness, a teacher. And the Savior.

Of all the different facets of his life, one thing remains constant. Emulating Jesus is a hard thing to do. Jesus taught us how to love. At face value, being kind to people seems like a pretty easy ask. It doesn’t take into account that some people won’t accept your kindness, and even still others may give you none in return. It doesn’t take into account the frustrations you feel when people ignore your voice, or defend things that you find cruel. It doesn’t take into account annoying siblings, bad moods, all the things that make it difficult to love sometimes.

And yet we are called to be generous with our love nonetheless. To sacrifice our own ideas about how our actions should be met and make every one of our actions an action of love – both our conscious actions and our unconscious ones. Jesus didn’t just sacrifice for forty days in the desert, He lived sacrificially. When He came to dwell among us, He didn’t spend His time telling others what to believe. He didn’t spend his time determining who was worthy of His teachings, who was right, and who was wrong. He spent His time listening, hearing the words of those around Him, breaking bread with people of all faiths, backgrounds, upbringings. 

If Nazareth Farm has brought anything to my attention, it is that my life is riddled with privileges. Some I couldn’t help but be aware of, others are more subtle, but all of them prevent me from fully understanding those around me. All of them prevent me from successfully imitating Jesus. For love is born from understanding. This Lenten season I plan on attacking those privileges. Sacrificing the comforts that I can and learning the injustices born from the ones I cannot. My goal is to have my sacrifice endure past the Lenten season. To use what I learn about myself to better learn from others. And I have no doubt that I will fail along the way and will continue to discover ways in which I could be kinder, more humble, more selfless, more forgiving, more understanding. Because it’s hard. Because Jesus is a tough act to follow. Though, if you ask me, that just makes Him all the more worth following.

-Adam Drill, current staff member

Living the Transfiguration

On this Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, my soul is filled with so many memories of how my spiritual life has transformed over the past decade. I have memories of going to church as a child with my family. I know I went to CCD classes for confirmation prep, but truthfully most things went in one ear and out another. I remember feeling like my faith was at my peak in high school, but college hit, and everything fell apart. I have gone through many ebbs and flows of faith, but isn’t that the beauty of it? It never is stagnant, and I am reminded of that especially today.

As most of you know the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus is a huge part of our mission and identity at the Farm;  we read it every Saturday to our groups as part of closing prayer. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up the mountain to show them His true divine self in the flesh. He is clothed in white and glistens in the sun as God identifies him as the Son of God. I think of this image a lot as I can only imagine what Peter, James, and John felt in that moment. They were probably terrified at the sight of Jesus’s true self. As I am terrified at the sight of society’s true self in the present day. 

When describing my faith journey, I usually use vocabulary like holy highs and lost lows. I remember the first time being at the Farm as a high school student I definitely experienced that holy high of never wanting to come down the mountain. It felt almost impossible to experience that high again, and as I left down the mountain, I just accepted that I was not going to feel it again. But, as time passed, I understood why it was so important, why I had to, just like Peter, James, and John, come down the mountain and live my life with my miracle. 

It is so easy to want to hide on top of the mountain and pitch a tent just as Peter recalls in his Gospel, especially today. During our current health and human rights crisis, I only want to hide up on the mountain with Jesus more, but that is not what He calls us to do. The miracle of the Transfiguration, although did not provide much material significance, has taught us arguably one of our most important lessons as Catholics. While there will be many moments of joy and holy highs, there will also be times in life of lost lows when we must weather the storm with Christ. Moments when we will have to bear our cross and our neighbors cross, patiently waiting for our miracle of coming face to face with the Divine Jesus Christ.

God gave us the beautiful gift of the miracle of Jesus’ Transfiguration to show us what is yet to come, only after going through this difficult life. So today, on the Feast of the Transfiguration, I hope you are reminded of your times up on the mountain where you were able to experience your miracle, and be reminded that something even greater is yet to come. 

Listen to Jesus and follow him. That’s the message of the Transfiguration” ~ Pope Francis

-by Erin Rederscheid, current staff member

The Monotony of Chopping Almonds: A Sojourner’s Guide to Falling in Love with Intentionality

It’s easy to make granola. A few cups of rolled oats, seeds, some cinnamon-honey syrup for the glaze that makes those of us who are allergic to nuts weigh out the cost of a forbidden taste against the epinephrine shot into our thigh. The Farm recipe calls for walnuts, almonds, and pecans, and the simple instructions to combine when finely chopped.

You can use a food processor to do it, but Diana, the house manager at the time, tells me she likes using a cutting board instead, that the food processor cuts them too fine if you leave them in for too long. So we sat down, Diana with the walnuts and pecans, and I with the almonds that I wasn’t allergic to, and we chopped.

Yes, it took us a long time to do it. Yes, it would’ve been a fraction of the time to put each half-cup in the “use me for nuts!” food processor, and no, it wouldn’t have been too hard to make sure the almonds weren’t left in for too long. And it would’ve been okay. The granola wouldn’t have tasted significantly different. It would’ve taken less time, baked sooner, and been ready to go within the afternoon.

But, we didn’t need any of that to happen. We didn’t need to go fast. We didn’t need to avoid the cutting board conversation and rush to the next chore. We had time, and we took it.

A lot of the time, I think, we don’t realize how beautiful it can be to do things intentionally, rather than easily. My sojourn this summer helped me see this more clearly in everything I did, in every moment I had.

It’s easy to kill weeds with herbicide. It’s harder to sit in the dirt, among the worms, bury under your nails mud that’ll stain your fingers for the next week, while straining your back and knees to find a comfortable spot between the rows, only to have to move over another foot in 5 minutes anyway. But despite that, we still weed by hand.

It’s easy to throw food scraps right into the trash. It’s harder to make stir-fry with leftover beans, broccoli stems, onion, whatever the tupperware labeled ‘deconstructed breakfast potatoes’ dated from a week ago is, and laugh as the staff tries to guess all the ingredients we ended up dousing in soy sauce and ginger. But we can use the leftovers, and we can build community anyway.

It’s easy to shower every single day. If you’ve been to the Farm, you know you get messy enough to bathe three times a day and still find dirt behind your ears and sawdust in the pits of your elbows. It’s harder to sit with it, the sawdust and stickiness of the summer day, knowing we have water to wash it off. But we know why we choose to limit ourselves despite the resources, and so we sit with it anyway.

It’s easy to say you’re tired and go back to sleep after an early 10:10 alarm wakes you up on your Saturday off. It’s harder to grab your headlamp, a tarp, and a fluffy dog to hike the buggy uphill battle to the Rock, just to see the sunrise before the rest of the holler with people you’ll quickly promote from ‘someone I volunteer with’ to ‘friend’ in the correspondences with family back home. We can step out of our comfort zones and watch the stars dissolve into a blue sky with people we love anyway.

It’s easy to throw your clothes in the dryer and forget about them until someone mentions how long it’s been since they’ve done their own laundry. It’s harder to scoop up the handful of damp work pants and t-shirts, tiptoe into the yard, and discover the stains that didn’t come out in the wash. Find the woodshop projects that signed their name on your overalls, the worksite that painted your headband more than you painted its wall, whatever food managed to smear across your hip while cleaning up after dinner, the sock that got balled up after doing lawns and trapped the cut grass in the toe far from the reach of water and homemade detergent. We can get rid of these messy clothes and easily get new, or we can wear our stains like badges of honor, brag about them at breakfast, and air-dry them, imperfect and memorable, anyway.

There are ways to live life easily. But sometimes, I think, it’s worth it to fall in love with the simplicity of a knife and a cutting board, and the monotony of chopping almonds.

-Ashley Bound, Summer Sojourner 2019 & 2020