In the face of pain, we are to stop and use what we can
to be a part of the healing.
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In the face of pain, we are to stop and use what we can
to be a part of the healing.
Forgiveness allows us to move forward
Healing is as intricate as tatted patterns,
as deep as the ocean floor,
and as simple as a kiss.
Snake Oil: The Art of Healing & Truth-Telling by Becca Stevens
As Robert Frost said most concisely, “Freedom lies in being bold.” In Paul’s letter to Galatians, written around 58 AD, he is writing to those who would question whether or not he is not a true disciple because he is uncircumcised and not abiding by the Jewish laws and practices. This letter is a defense in which Paul helps them see the freedom of faith that unbound us from the burden of judgment and law. This letter says specifically that your faith can set you free. Chapter 4: 7 “So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” Chapter 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” That we can be free in our faith and our beliefs is an ideal we catch glimpses of every now and again. A friend and I were walking one day in the park and it literally felt like we were walking through a sea of sunlight talking about freedom. It was so hard to pinpoint and yet, we could feel it. I told her that I had this fantasy that one day someone was going to call and ask me to do something and I was going to say “I can’t, I’m free that day.”
Years ago, St. Augustine’s and Magdalene held a joint retreat in East Tennessee. We spent the day swimming and fishing and that night had a dance in a huge tiki hut. We all gathered in the hut with our Styrofoam cups of cider as our DJ cranked up the music. It was dark and you couldn’t really see who was who, or who belonged to which community. There was beautiful crazy music and we were dancing and dancing. Suddenly I had forgotten that I was 40 years old, that I was white, that I was a mother, and that I was a pastor. I was just dancing, and I had a glimpse of that freedom. Maybe this is an image of what Paul was talking about; this radical freedom where we are not male or female, rich or poor, black or white, gay or straight, old or young, giver or receiver.
We give away our freedom faster than just about anything else in our lives. Somebody needs a little of it and we give it away as the demands of this life call us to exchange it for other commodities that we think are more important. People do sacrifice in political and judicial terms, but mostly we let it slip away. Paul speaks of freedom as an inheritance that is one of our most valuable gifts, if we are willing to surrender.
To surrender to be free means we need to quit thinking of it as waving a white flag and giving up all hope. It’s kind of the opposite. When we don’t surrender to love, we lose our freedom as we fight with our fears, anxieties, judgments, and death itself. Surrendering to love is saying, “I will let the internal fight cease and not let those things undo me. I will let everything go so I can be free.” To be sure, grief and death are formidable opponents that give us reasons to not be free and to fear. Death blurs our vision. It makes us near-sighted so we can’t see the forest for the tears we are weeping over losing a beautiful oak or a graceful tulip poplar. But love illuminates our vision so not only can we see the forest, but we can glimpse at the eternal sky above it and remember that we are so free. With that perspective we can see clearly this world has no hold on us. You and I are free. We are free from all the bounds that keep us in prison for no reason. We are free to be as bold as we want. The worries of judgment, fear, and oppression poured out by a pretty harsh world do not have to put blinders on us.
Paul and many other saints claim that when they surrender to love it bounds them to each other. Dietrich Bonheoffer, who gave up everything to be imprisoned for his faith, says that freedom is not a quality of man. It’s not a kind of being that flares up in him. “Anyone investigating man to discover freedom finds nothing of it.” Why? Why can we not find that quality in a human being? Dietrich says because “freedom is a relationship between two persons. Being free means ‘being free for the other’, because the other has bound me to him. Only in relationship with the other am I free.”
Over the years Magdalene women have told the story that day they were sent to prison was the day they were set free of all the things they had felt trapped by. Shana recently said, “Now I live because I want other women to know freedom.” She has bound herself to others still on the streets, preaching hope completely free, courageous, and bold so that others may know love. She is set free bound for others.
In Galatians 5:13 “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Freedom is the way we are bound to one another without anxiety, without fear of death, without worrying about judgment. You are free to speak your truth in love. You are free to be bold to move into the deepest axioms of creation beyond all borders that would enslave us, whatever those might be. You are not male or female in that freedom. You are not black or white in that freedom. You are not old or young in that freedom. You are the embodiment of love and no one can take that away; not prison, not sickness, not failure, and not death.
She walked all over God's green earth.
Bounded by a love that freed her to walk with a compassionate heart.
Unfettered by chains of judgment, she walked in awe
of shadowed owls, blooming hillsides, and fragile ferns.
She walked with unaffected modesty upon this earth.
She thrived on unflinching devotion that sated everyone with cups of her gratitude.
Her energy made time, like multiplying black-eyed Susans in spring, to meet the needs of others.
She walked with love upon this earth.
It fired her spirit to walk through tough days and starless night.
It grounded her idealism that walked towards a promised land in acts of unadorned kindness.
It fed her intellect that contemplated lilies in the field and universal issues of injustice.
She walked so fast upon this earth.
Ready to take flight on words that sent her spirit into passing clouds on a breeze.
With pride like a mother hen of her brood she could soar on the gift of family.
Such love never stops walking; it is still unflinching, tireless and unfettered.
It still calls us to walk with hope even as she returns to this earth she cherished.
Her walk is now felt in an owl's call in shadowed walnut leaves or in dappled resurrection moss along a stream.
We follow her now deeper into that mysterious, longing space where the temporal and eternal kiss in love's
embrace where she will not let go.
We can walk with her memory to altars in green valleys to share a cup of joy.
We can feast with her spirit in hidden woods on a bite of bread when we hunger for hope.
She walked with grace upon this earth.
We grieve her beautiful bounded body's passing.
Seen in signs and memories she helps us walk through our mourning.
She calls like a saint to keep walking,
keep loving, keep close, till we reach the other side of time on love's eternal shore.
Becca Stevens, July 2013
If you feel overwhelmed by the violence of today, disconnected from creation, and disheartened by the inequalities in society, Snake Oil will heal your heart and rebirth a much-needed hope inside. Emily Sutterfield, Englewood Book Review
For the complete review see Englewood Review of Books.
...the journey of healing is not a fairy tale but a long story of transformation that inspires us all to keep seeking healing--sometimes even in the most unexpected moments and places. Becca Steven, Snake Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling
By: Becca Stevens Early in the morning, while it was still dark in the chapel of San Eduardo, I saw an image of a stained-glass window on the wall. We have slept on this floor for 15 years every spring in this small Ecuadorian town, but I had never seen this. The image was made from light coming from ventilation cutouts in the concrete wall in the shape of a flower, casting a Rosetta image on the opposite wall. The light was haloed as it moved and faded with the coming dawn in the middle of the world. Everything feels hallowed when we have hearts wide-open in the midst of a concrete chapel off a dirt road. In moments such as these, when we remember we are on holy ground, no cathedral is more adorned. In such light, beauty rises from within as truth brushes past and carries us to hope.
I wonder if it was a vision of light on stone that carried Mary Magdalene through the Easter Morning events. The story of the Resurrection begins with the words, “while it was still dark”. The light has not yet risen on Jerusalem on the Sabbath as Mary heads out with grief as her guide to carry her to the body. And that is when light and shadow begin their dance like stained glass on concrete. A sliver of light is enough for her to see the stone rolled away and to run to Peter and John. As they run back to the tomb in a race with the murky light of dawn, they see enough to know Jesus is gone. Mary stands alone and tries to see through tears and shadows. The light is surely breaking through as she sees now angels and linen on the floor. Then, even as she cannot make out what she is seeing, she hears Jesus calling her. Then the true light of hope fills her from within, and she reaches for Jesus.
I laid my sister’s ashes inside the altar at the A-Frame Chapel as lent began. The next Wednesday night I led a Eucharist with the same words and motions I have used every week for 20 years. As I lifted the round unleavened bread, I recited the last prayer, “…And at the last day bring us with all your saints into the joy of your eternal kingdom. " As I raised the host, there was a beautiful light with depth filling the center. I almost couldn't break it; I just stood there drawn into it. It had something to do with the silver paten, the lighting in the room, the angle I was holding it and the space that grief opens in us. I wrote that night that I couldn’t make out what the light was, maybe a lion, but even though it was unclear, I longed for it. The next Sunday, without talking with one another, The Rev. Dr. Scott Owings preached to us about a vision and said, “Imagine walking into church at night. The candles are the only source of light. Rest your eyes upon the host and it begins to send out rays of light that enter you and flood your soul, cleansing you. The rays soak into your body.”
I asked him where the image came from and if he saw a shape in the light. He said he just felt it. Even murky and shadowed light like that first week of Lent carry rays of hope in grief. Those rays are enough to bring all of us to the garden while it is still dark, ready to anoint a body, but hopeful enough when we see a sliver of light on rock or bread to run to find answers.
The next weeks of Lent were busy with the group of 31 preparing for Ecuador and readying the clinic. After seeing more than 900 patients, the clinic closed, and we traveled to the 800-year-old town of Cuenca. It was Dr. Keith Hagan’s last trip where he and Carole have served faithfully building the clinic operations. Early on the Sabbath, Michael, Don, Tara and I walked with Keith on his final morning as communion was ending in the Cathedral. We approached the altar as the remaining host was being placed in a tabernacle cross. Just as we were grieving Keith’s leaving Ecuador, there it was. In the golden cross holding the host, the light I had glimpsed at the altar and which Scott envisioned was shining. It looked like a lion’s mane. That light is always there, it is just that sometimes we have to walk through Lent, death and letting go to behold it.
We have seen the light. And when we let light flood our stone hearts we can feel hope pouring into grief itself. The stone has rolled and all those we love who have died live on in love and the memory of God. All we grieve is full of light. Feel the light shining this morning as surely as it shone on Mary. Imagine as she left the tomb the morning light pouring over her and turning her tears into prisms. Let us see radiant light like angels standing with linens. Let us feel the fullness of light that danced the first morning of creation, that shines in the darkness and that will lead us home. “There is light even in death”, Easter preaches. A sliver of light can cast stained glass on poor concrete walls, turn bread into a heavenly host and cut through our darkness enough to see we are bathed in the light of love. It means that we can live in hope, dedicated to justice and truth, knowing the light will never leave us. The light is ours for the beholding and allows us to make our song even at our own Easter morning, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”
Haloed Light They danced Under a trinity of lights strung on a wire Over a courtyard made of concrete Where weeds found new life through Cracked mortar.
It wasn't the moon that cast shadows over the courtyard in this Ecuador town. It was the radiance from a single Strand hung over the heads of the Angels that paraded underneath.
They were the Angels of the 3rd grade class. Decked out in the white of innocence With paper wings. They twirled In unison as angel-parents Snapped pictures Trying to capture the eternal grace of childhood flying by them.
The dangling bulbs formed a rosetta like Stained-glass on the far wall In tatted lights and shadows.
This is hallowed ground. No cathedral is more adorned. In this light beauty rises from within and Truth brushes past On the wind of paper wings.
A trinity of lights carried us that night On the dreams of innocence to A heavenly host.
Posted: 02/19/2013 3:55 pm – Huffington Post I've got a funny feeling -- like knowing it's going to rain when the wind picks up in a certain way and shows you the backs of silver maple leaves on a spring evening. The wind is rising as new books about women in the Half the Sky movement top the best seller lists and millions of people around the world dance on Valentine's Day to protest sexual violence against women. It is rising from countless local, national and international groups founded to end human sex trafficking. It is rising with the voices of brave girls and women who have survived sexual violence and are willing and able to speak their truth. And it is a prevailing wind, calling us to respond to all victims of trafficking, prostitution and addiction whom we are now seeing less as criminals and more as victims of cultures that hold the secret of sexual violence against children more dearly than a child's safety.
It's time to read the backs of the leaves before the rain falls. Sexual violence perpetrated against children feeds addiction, impoverishment and the criminal justice system. Victimized children who end up on the street may survive into adulthood, but they do not heal without economic independence embedded in counseling, safe housing and meaningful work. While public awareness in the US about the connection between child sexual abuse, human trafficking and prostitution has increased 100-fold in the past ten years, there are far, far less than 100 programs providing free housing and support for survivors. There are even fewer social enterprises where the ongoing well-being of the workforce is the primary mission and survivors are able to earn living wages while they work to clear their records and create new families.
This year Thistle Farms, a social enterprise run by the survivors of trafficking, addiction and prostitution that manufactures natural bath and body care products, is connecting with social enterprises around the world to launch a "shared trade" alliance and provide a means for women to leave the street and close the door on prison. If you were to call Thistle Farms today, there's a good chance you would speak to Shana, who was sold into prostitution at 14 to a drug dealer. She would tell you about the past three years of her life and how it took a community of people -- at Thistle Farms, and its two-year residential program, Magdalene, at NA meetings, at Nashville's Sexual Assault Center -- to make it possible for her to get her own place, reunite with her kids, drive her own car and develop a serious set of work skills that make her proud and valuable.
Winds that are strong enough to turn the leaves, like the issues of sexual violence, are universal in nature, but are experienced uniquely on our individual bodies. The wind is loud enough now that we as a culture realize that for the majority of incarcerated women in this country, before they ever see the inside of prison walls they have already known the backside of anger, the underside of justice and the short side of what a loving community should be.
Before the rains fall, let's move the conversation forward, beyond awareness to concrete action focused on long term housing, meaningful work and love without judgment. Let's feel the wind on our cheeks and work toward the healing of women and girls who have already endured enough. Let us remember that globally, we have asked that women continue to settle for bearing the burden of poverty, even as we hold them up as survivors. We can heal villages by healing the women. We can offer a shared-trade approach that holds women's social enterprise workers higher in the value chain. We can all come together before the rain falls.
The world is old.Weary from eons of housing our hopes and raising our dreams. She has borne the scars of war And holds in her belly every person that has ever walked upon her. She sees past our greed with rose and oak colored glasses. She calls to us from her blue when we have stayed away with bird’s songs And signs she waves like banners for prodigal sons. But we don blinders to keep us moving and pay no heed. We invent new ways to frack and hack and blast and cast her As far away from our thoughts as we can. We can't name one of her children that swim in our creeks. We have forgotten the story of where her bedrock was raised. And what parts of her were made for healing. And when she begins to show signs of sickness in super-storms and tornadoes in snow, We ignore it like a raspy cough heard in the middle of the night. She speaks to us on warm January mornings in a voice we hear Above the blaring of tornado sirens, "take heed and heart".
We don’t want to lose her. God forbid, if she ever broke the news she was dying, We would start to miss her. We would scramble to her bedside shores And climb her weeping willows to be held once more in her arms. She is old, but she is wise and wondrous. She is to be revered and treated Like the Queen of Sheba, the pearl of great price, and the lover of all souls. We should pray she outlives us and comes back strong. Then she will still hold us gently when we return to her, our greatest mother.
Forgive us mother, we know what we are doing. We have taken you for granted And counted our desires above all else. We have left things undone And done things we should not have done. We are children still beloved, not because we are worthy, But because we are earth and water and spirit Mixed together in the secret of your womb. We are made from you and cannot be taken from you. We are each other’s forever. Let us sing your praises in amending our lives. In seeing the gifts and protecting your rights. Let us walk awake upon your hills and see your beauty in barren branches and wild grasses. Then let us return with grace to you.
Becca Stevens calls herself a snake oil seller. She takes natural oils, mixes them with a good story, sells them in an open market and believes they help heal the world. Becca is the founder of Thistle Farms, one of the most successful ventures in the U.S. of a social enterprise whose mission is the work force, and its residential program, Magdalene. The women of Magdalene/Thistle Farms have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction and the natural body care products they manufacture–balms, soaps, and lotions–aid in their own healing as well as offer it to those who buy them. The book weaves together the beginnings of the enterprise with individual stories from Becca's own journey as well as 20 women in the community. In Snake Oil, Becca tells how the women she began helping fifteen years ago have been the biggest source of her own healing from sexual abuse and her father’s death as a child. Wise and reflective, Snake Oil offers an empowering narrative as well as a selection of recipes for healing remedies that readers can make themselves.
January 22nd, 2013 Catherine Stevens Garrett was born on Independence Day in 1956. She took that birthday to heart and grew up with a beautifully independent spirit that always rooted for the underdog. She was a clear and willing debater for the causes of civil rights and equality for everyone. Fiercely competitive in board games and cards, she taught her four younger siblings early on that if she looked at your cards, that's not cheating, it is your fault you didn't hold the cards close to your chest. Born in Scottsville, NY, she was the oldest daughter of Joe and Anne Stevens. Our family moved to Nashville when she was 10.
I remember one day not too long after the move all of us racing through an old trolley car in Centennial Park which had an open plank with an exposed nail. Katie fell on it and badly damaged her knee which required tons of stitches, caused a pretty big scar on her knee, and required that she be interviewed by lawyers from Centennial Park. The story was that Katie had not learned to speak southern yet so when they asked her if her mom carried her to the hospital, Katie replied, "No. My mom carried me to the car, then drove me to the hospital." She was precise about language, just another sign of her intelligence and wit. She was invited to join Mensa, didn't have to go to the movies since she could read a book in about the same time, and she loved sciences. She met Andy Garrett at John Overton High School when she was 16 years old. Katie has always loved family. And Katie loved Andy devotedly and with passion. They married when she was eighteen, moved around the country while keeping a close circle of friends here in Nashville especially Danny, Elizabeth, Tom and Babs. Her crowning achievement in her life was easily the gift of her three, beautiful and smart and funny daughters--- Andrea, Kelly and Mary. They are her source of pride and joy. She was a senior chemist at Environmental Science Lab and loved her work. She loved the precision of a lab and working on environmental issues.
She had a clear voice that could cut through all the junk and speak her truth in love. Her voice was so clear that when we sat down on Sunday night to plan Katie's service, we could hear her telling us exactly what to do. It only took us about 10 minutes because as soon a topic was brought up, a daughter or Andy or one of her siblings would say, "No, she would hate that", or "Yes, Mom would want that." Once we got past the business of her funeral, the circle of love and grief moved on to topics that Katie really cared about. We were free to gush over her two new grandbabies, Rylee and Ella. Then we could listen to Regan pick up Katie's story-telling mantle and describe with humor and grace all the things she remembered about her grandma. And then we could all laugh as we listened to Ryan say "I'm just saying..." before he launched in to a story. In that circle one by one people started remembering the story, Katie's story. It's the story of the charitable sister who always helped us at Thistle Farms in a pinch, the story of the loyal friend who practiced her love in deeds. The story of the wife that even after her husband had his own close call with death last year, could never talk about her life without him. The story of a proud mom who loved watching her children grow. She was beautiful and didn't have a vain bone in her whole body. She would give you the shirt off her back without a thought. As the stories that reflected these traits circled around the room, the thing that made me so sad was how much she would have loved it. The stories woven from the pictures scattered across the table rose like hope in the room. We could all hear her voice, feel her love that could never be doused by death, no matter how quickly or hard it swept in. It was a holy communion grounded in the hope of resurrection and the truth that love never dies. You could feel Katie's spirit leading the evening.
In addition to inviting Thistle Farms, the bath and body care company run by women surviving lives of trafficking, addiction and prostitution, to her company every year for a luncheon, she helped Thistle Farms get clean water for the products, secure a donation from the lab of a dozen tables and came to teach us how to use our still to make essential oils. Watching her work in front of the machine all day was amazing. She helped me see how changing things incrementally made a big change in the quality and quantity of the essential oil. She packed about 20 pounds of rosemary into the basin and started heating the water to steam the plant. After a couple hours the 20 pounds were reduced to a couple milliliters of oil -- the best and most healing qualities of the plant. Today that image of Katie, the scientist standing before that machine, a tool of healing and justice, is my symbol of her resurrection. So much has been laid aside. So much of the burden of her life is done. So much good stuff that feels like it was new growth coming this spring has been set aside. And what is left is the essence of her that was lived out like a sweet beatitude. She believed this gospel offered for her today. She believed that when you distill it all down, we are blessed in our sorrows and in our poverty. She believed that love was the essence and she carried that out every day of her life.
To honor the life and gift that was Katie, to take meaning for how we should live in the face of her death, means we should live and hold these beatitudes close. We should, like Katie, give drink to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, food to the hungry, comfort to those in sorrow, be a champion of prisoners, a nurse to those who are sick, and to bury those we love with too much fuss and with tenderness.
This is the faith she lived and died holding close to her heart. The essence of Katie is with us in spirit and truth and love. It is what will allow us to return this beautiful child of God to the earth and make our song alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
By Becca Stevens When I was young, I learned to pray, “Jesus, Lord, my friend and guide, please be always at my side.” It was comforting to imagine Jesus holding my hand and guiding me on my way so I would never get lost. As I grew up, the road felt more precarious. I didn’t seem to be able to find a clear guide; there was not a simple fork in the road where I got to choose a sweet, snow-covered lane.
In fact, like many people in ministry, I felt compelled to forge a new path. It began in 1997, when I (and others) took the first steps to found the not-for-profit Magdalene community in Nashville, Tenn., to serve women who have survived lives of addiction, prostitution and trafficking. We opened up a single home and invited five women to come and live in community at no cost for two years. We didn’t take any public funding and avowed that we wanted to be a witness to the truth that love is the most powerful source of change in the world.
One important part of the early journey was to be clear about the mission. Our model was simple, influenced by the sixth-century Benedictine Rule, grounded in hospitality, reverence and love. As a community, we created 24 spiritual principles for living together and published them in a collaboratively written book, “Find Your Way Home.”
But though the mission felt clear, the path of leading this community felt uniquely narrow and unsure at times. There have been times I barely navigated the confusion that settled in on me like a thick mountain fog. One of the first residents, Julia, relapsed about 18 months after we opened the program. She fought against the pain and abuse she had suffered, but less than two months after her relapse, she was tortured and murdered by a john in the cab of a semi truck.
It was heartbreaking, and made me question my ability to lead this community. And it wasn’t just Julia’s story that was painful. All the women served by Magdalene had traveled down roads more perilous and broken than I could imagine. On average, the women who come to live at Magdalene were first raped between the ages of 7 and 11. They had seen the undersides of bridges, the short side of justice and the backhand of anger long before they saw the inside of prison walls.
The dedication and determination needed to travel this path meant that I had much to learn. I needed to learn to ask for financial and professional help. I needed to work on healing my own woundedness from being sexually abused as a child. I needed to commit more of my life to this calling.
About five years into the work, it was clear that it was time to create another new path. We were growing more concerned about the economic well-being of the women in Magdalene. So we began a social enterprise. Thistle Farms -- named for the tough weed with a beautiful purple flower that the women use to make paper -- produces all-natural bath and body care products to promote healing and offer steady employment.
Starting a business meant that I was on a steep learning curve again. Running a bath-and-body-care company wasn’t what I prepared for in divinity school, and I had to learn about branding, marketing, sustainability and management.
When we first began, for example, I didn’t know that having employee manuals and strict manufacturing procedures would reduce stress in the workplace. I didn’t know how to talk about love and still be seen as relevant in the marketplace.
I now have a clearer lens through which to read the Gospels -- I can read stories like the Good Samaritan and see myself as the guy in the ditch who has been rescued by many good people. The work has also helped me see that the imperative moral issue facing the church is the suffering of others. I can see the stranger as God and feel the transformational power of love.
Learning how to lead a social enterprise and a residential community has been the greatest gift I could have asked for as a pastor, and I didn’t even know I needed to ask for it. I didn’t know that without this work, I would have been lost in my vocation.
The work is not just transforming me and the women I am serving. It is also transforming the wider community. Both the products and the women who sell them are educating others on the myths of prostitution; they are teaching that women do recover, that longer prison sentences and more prisons are not the answer, and that there is a crucial need for more residential communities.
No one does this kind of work alone. To forge new paths in ministry is truly a community endeavor. Throughout the past 15 years, volunteers and staff with needed expertise have repeatedly come along -- often just in time. Right when we needed to expand our line of products, a chemist walked through the door. Just when we sought to gain access to a national chain, I ran into a friend who knew the president of the board!
Residents and graduates of Magdalene help lead the company, as well as learning skills in manufacturing, packaging, marketing, sales and administration. Thistle Farms now has products in 220 retail outlets and serves as a best-practice model in the United States, reminding ministries they can hold tightly to their core values and still be successful as businesses.
We now are hoping to share our expertise to help even more women. This year we have welcomed more than 700 people from around the world into our immersion day programs to show other communities how to replicate our model. We have formal partnerships with four other women’s social enterprises. In the past year, the women stood before audiences at more than 300 events, articulating our mission and courageously sharing their personal stories. If you visit the 11,000-square-foot manufacturing facility and studio, you will see a communal vision that is still forming. We are only partway down the path, and we pray every day together for the grace to keep walking in community.
I have never found that simple fork in the road that I imagined as a child -- thank God. It has been all the twists and turns that have helped me find the place that feels just right to me. The view from here is breathtaking and fills me with gratitude.
On behalf of Jayne, John, and all of Jeanne Bodfish’s family, thank you all for being here to celebrate her life and legacy. We all loved your mom and grandmom, and it is a testimony to her that we all felt like she was so close to us. Even though we cannot imagine what the loss of Jeanne means to you, we are here grieving with you.
Jeanne was a modest theologian with profound insight. She was able to communicate her life long journey into clear thoughts that rang deep and true. She lived the beatitudes and spoke of God’s all-inclusive love in her daily life. There is no need to preach on her behalf, she has already done it. She preached first that life is not fair, and bitterness is no traveling companion you want to embrace. She instead took a journey that led her to the 12-step tradition and into a deep and abiding faith. I remember her at Church of the Resurrection taking classes and copious notes. She would then summarize a whole class in a single sentence that would get to the heart of it. “Honey, God wants us to be well.”
She preached that God’s greatest gifts are free for the joy of giving and receiving. I have an old fossil rock she gave me to put in the driveway at our house. It was a big one from her rock collection. She said once when a tour bus she was traveling on stopped, she saw a beautiful rock by the door. “Can I have this rock?” she asked the driver. “Madam, England would be honored for you to take that rock.”
She was a natural storyteller and laughed as freely as she cried at tenderness or felt the righteous indignation rising in her at the injustice and oppression of others. But all of that is just dancing around the edges of what Jeanne preached with her life. The heart of what she preached was love. That is as plain and as simple as I can say it. She preached love like Jesus would want it preached. She preached it without guile, with unaffected modesty, and with power. I am sorry for our loss. I am sorry we will miss that preacher’s voice in our community.
There are so many preachers in town who learned from Jeanne and who knew her to be a great preacher.
The Rev. Charlie Strobel, founder of Room In the Inn, said, “When I think of Jeanne I think of someone whose embrace is bigger than her arms. She could envelop you in love long before she ever got her arms around you.”
My brother, the Rev. Dr. Gladstone Stevens, Vice Rector of St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park California and former Sunday school teacher of Jeanne’s, wrote, “When I think of Jeanne the first thing that comes to mind is the way she prayed. She was always a bit out of step with everyone else but prayed with more intensity and devotion than anyone else. My experience is that the manner of one's prayer is indicative of that person's way of life. She was perhaps one of the most spiritually developed humans I have ever met. I, too, will miss her.”
The Rev. Dr. Gordon Peerman, beloved Episcopal Priest and leader of Buddhist contemplative practices and communities, wrote, “What a sweetheart. Not only was Jeanne always there, she was the first person there when the doors opened on Sunday morning. I can just hear her gravelly voice and see that twinkle in her eye with which she always greeted me so lovingly. She was like the elder stateswoman poster child St. A's parishioner: left-leaning, all-including, loving everybody. Everybody.”
I will always see Jeanne in the pages of the Gospel. I will always hear her in the liturgy of this chapel. I will always feel her as I continue to try and live out the corporeal acts of mercy that she cherished: to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, to visit the prisoner, to comfort the sorrowful, tend the sick, and bury the dead. She was a gift. She taught me how to be a good pastor, especially how to visit people in the hospital. When I thought she was dying fifteen years ago with a broken hip, I sat by her hospital bed and cried. I couldn’t offer her communion and she comforted me and asked me to read Psalm 131. Then, the next time I visited her when I thought she might not make it about five years ago, I made it through the opening prayer with her, but when she talked about Gracey the cat I couldn’t hold it together. Again, she said she would be fine and I just needed to do the communion service.
Jeanne knows everyone here is mourning her. She would want me to quote a scripture or maybe St. Julian, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. Jeanne knows that death is hard for us all to face and spent years contemplating the meaning of life and death for her. She would want me to share with you that she was never abandoned by love and that you will never be abandoned by love. Jeanne makes it possible for me to believe that someday we may be able to return to dust and still make our song, Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
---Given November 5th, 2012
There is a 4,000-year-old tradition of making New Year’s resolutions according to history.com. The year-end is a perfect time to reflect back and set goals. I haven’t set very many New Year’s resolutions apart from my continual resolution to lose 5 and exercise more. I just wait for Ash Wednesday and make my resolutions then. Resolutions are simply decisions to either do something, or refrain from doing something. We resolve to make amends or change, not just on January 1 or on Ash Wednesday, but when we feel like we need to do something different. It isn’t hard to make them. The problem lies in keeping them. We need community to keep resolutions. For example: If you resolve to practice yoga in 2013, it helps to have a friend to sign up with, a class to go to, children who are patient when dinner is late, and a workplace that offers you time to go. Anyone seeking recovery knows they need a community to hold them up and hold them accountable. We need each other because the role the community plays in the nature and implementation of resolutions is huge.
But beyond community helping foster individual resolutions, there are communal resolutions, because as the community thrives, our individual lives of faith thrive. Common resolutions foster the common good, which affects us all. The gift we offer one another is to live out our faith together. We promise to be there for one another in good and bad times, that we will hold each other up and hold each other accountable, and that by being together the sum will be greater than its parts. Common resolutions should be at the heart of our resolutions, since they are key to living in gratitude and meaning in our lives.
St. John Chrysostom lived in the 4th century and was the archbishop of Constantinople. His preaching echoed the themes of hospitality and charity as noted in Matthew 25, “when you did this to the least of these, you did it unto me”. He spoke eloquently about the need for all Christians to work together towards the common purpose of caring for one other. "This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good ... for nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for neighbors."
The early Christian communities were rooted in a common concern for one another in worship and service. In the readings this week for the celebration of the Holy Family, the letter of Paul to the Galatians says that we are all children of God. In other words, related. We are all heirs together, bound by the wellness of the whole community. The story of the birth of Jesus as told in the Gospel is the story of a community of faith, recognizing the gift of Jesus, celebrating with the family, and ultimately helping make sure the child was safeguarded; not just for Mary and Joseph, but for the sake of the whole community. It took the shepherds, the magi, the parents, and a slew of people to get the Holy Family to Egypt and back.
Recently a new resident came to Magdalene directly from prison from another state with nothing. She came into community with common goals and purpose. She told me that when she arrived her new roommate gave her clothes, shampoo, new underwear, and towels. She said she had never been treated with such kindness. Right after she said it, I wanted to say, “Well, you know, it’s because your roommate had just received all of those things so she just gave you what was given to her.” But as soon as the thought popped into my head, I knew that is just what we all do. We think at first that we give to others as if it was ours in the first place, when truly it was given to us and we just share it - whether it is a towel, a prayer, or a common resolution to share with the world. This is the week to celebrate and make some common resolutions for 2013. My hope is that we can resolve to:
1. Celebrate each week the newest people in the circle as the honored guests of the banquet.
2. Launch the cafe and the sewing studio.
3. Hone the message of inclusion and love without judgment.
4. Open a new residence inside and outside the prison walls.
5. Cast our nets wider and speak unapologetically as a unique community without formal membership about freedom offered when we focus on right action, not right thought.
We are called to love the world, so we all have to keep changing to love it better. We need a community with a common resolve to help us live into our resolve for the sake of the world.
Peace and Love,
Time seems rigid; it marches us forward and waits for no one. It ticks away years off lives, and carves our pasts in stone. Tonight we celebrate that Christmas doesn’t adhere to the rules of time. Time turns to liquid in Christmas’ presence. It becomes merely a fluid concept through which we can travel. All at once we can be carried back two thousand years to the story of the birth of Jesus and then in the next breath we can remember a Christmas from childhood, or wonder about what tomorrow will hold. It is a powerful spirit that can break open time and offer it to us like a soothing hot tea. When we drink from it we move into the space where the temporal and eternal kiss and believe things we spend our days questioning. When we taste the Christmas spirit we can imagine a peaceable future, a reconciled past, and present filled with the gift of hope. Last week in the circle at Thistle Farms the spirit of Christmas settled into the room. We had outpaced all internet sales, had raised enough money to open the new cafe to welcome 7 new employees, had hosted under Carole’s leadership 51 events, and watched Latisha, who works in shipping, drive up in what she calls her first, “legal car”. So 50 of us gathered like we do every week and immediately the tears flowed. Time was set aside in that space to make room for a spirit that held us captive. Women, without prompting or rehearsal, recalled Christmases past spent on the streets looking for money and eating White Castles out of hotel rooms rented by the hour. Women remembered childhoods of visiting their moms in prison, or grieving having no memories of Christmas at all. Women wept as they grieved relatives and friends they had lost or who were sick this Christmas. Then a woman talked about celebrating the birth of Jesus for the first time in her life. The conversation moved freely into comments about Christmas present and the joy of being in community. In that circle we traveled through Christmas seasons with each other, not boxed in by time but moving through memory and hope.
The story of the birth of Jesus in the gospel of Luke begins this way. He sets the time and place. The emperor Cesar Augustus in 4AD called for a census. Quirinius was governor of Syria. Into that un-peaceful occupied nation burdened with the same themes of suffering and politicizing that we know, the story begins. It begins by rooting the birth in the stump of Jesse. It seems like into this space the people will need a militaristic messiah who can fight against all the injustices. But even as Joseph and Mary entered Bethlehem and had a baby, the birth broke through it all like an angel. Into that particular time and location where the violence of poverty called Mary and Joseph to birth in a barn, Love, manifested in the Christ Child burst forth and shattered time and space. Suddenly Angels sing from dark nights. When we taste the eternal present in our midst, our hearts stir and we rip open the box we have been held by. Inside is the vision of Isaiah that promises the yoke of burden and the rod of the oppressor are broken and the boots of the tramping warriors will be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has come to break through all time and space, and he is named wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace. When time is torn asunder in the presence of love all the other mythical absolutes that we are bound by are shattered. We are allowed to dream timeless dreams and speak of peace and hope. We are welcomed into a new space where “then” and “when” turn simply into “here and now”. And it will be this way forever.
So the gift is offered to you and to me this night. We are given the gift of standing together, the homeless and cosseted, the wounded and innocent, the cynical and guileless, and work towards women's freedom and healing from the oldest wounds this world has known. Accepting the gift means that the Christmas spirit lives in us and tomorrow is already here. Whether we grieve or shout for joy in this moment; whether we are run ragged by solitude or family; whether we believe it all or not; the gift is given to us.
There is nothing sweeter than seeing a dream come alive before your waking eyes. Nothing revives your spirit like the promise of a community gathered in a spirit of love. Nothing moves you to action like seeing the regeneration of a majestic chestnut or a new resident of Magdalene embrace the healing power of love. On behalf of the community of Magdalene, thank you for being the waking dream, the promise of change, and the revival of love. This summer as temperatures climbed into the 100’s, a small group drove to the sage field in Maury County. It had been our hope to grow a sage field to harvest in order to make our own healing essential oils in the Cato still. When we arrived at the field, the size and quality of the sage was a bit shocking. The plants’ leaves were turning black as if they were being scorched in the sun. I turned to one of the women farming and said, “Oh, Lord, what are we supposed to do?”
“Weed and water,” she said.
There is something beautiful about a vision of a vast and perfect field; there is something deeper and tenderer in the truth of a troubled field that will not survive without a community tending it. A vision without work fades in the morning light. A vision that can sustain a dying crop is love made manifest. There is no revival of sage or chestnut trees, no miracle for the women of Magdalene, without days and years of watering with sweat and tears.
Magdalene and Thistle Farms are beautiful, troubled fields with deep roots like the sage that doubles its yield in a single season. Magdalene and Thistle Farms have seen new shoots sprout up this year that will produce exponentially greater harvests.
1. We have welcomed 12 new residents into the work of Thistle Farms. And will welcome another 7 in January.
2. We have opened the doors to 15 new residents, and offered outreach and services to more than 100 women.
3. We have expanded our markets into 23 Whole Food stores across the southeast, are vendors in more than 200 other stores, and have attended over 400 events in the last year.
4. We are in the final stages of raising the needed capital for the Thistle Stop Café, have a design by David and Leigh from HAA, and have secured a general contractor. We will be open in the early months of 2013, hiring five women. We have been collecting old tea cups with the idea that there will be a story in every cup at the café.
5. We are still receiving letters from women in prison hoping to find their way to us. Just this week there was a letter from an Indiana prisoner talking about childhood trauma and PTSD. She said she was not looking for sympathy, but a chance. She will be with us next year.
6. The Paper studio that opened two years ago is thriving and branching out into sewing this year with a gift of 12 machines from Singer.
7. We have expanded our partnerships with women’s cooperatives throughout the world to include our newest venture in Ecuador.
8. This year we welcomed Dr. Nicholas Hitimana to Thistle Farms where he talked with grace about the work of Ikirezi in Rwanda. He said the job of our social enterprises that work with women is to increase the place of producers on the value chain.
9. Our education and outreach program has grown to welcome more than 500 individuals from more than 105 cities over the past 12 months, to learn how to replicate the best practices of this model. We have helped begin programs in St. Louis, Iowa, Nebraska, Milwaukee, as well as Eden House that recently opened in New Orleans and hired Clemmie Greenlee, a graduate of Magdalene, as their first outreach director.
We are in the midst of a love revival, no less miraculous that the American chestnut trees’ comeback that grows from a dead stump. It looks like hope itself growing. There is hope in things like thistle and chestnuts that remind us that we never have to give up on anybody.
Magdalene and Thistle Farms have never been only residential communities or a social enterprise, but a movement that calls us to go to troubled fields to use our God-given gifts to reap a harvest that can feed us all. This gathering holds the hope for all who want to believe LOVE HEALS.
There is so much work to do in our fields. Sometimes a hundred women are waiting to come in. Sometimes there is not enough work at Thistle Farms to keep us manufacturing. Sometimes it is as daunting as a wilting crop of sage, but we never waiver in vision or hope. We are developing a national model of sister communities and believe someday we will grow into a movement big enough that we will help change the world so that child sex abuse is not a secret, and young women raped feel like they will see justice, and where there is no tolerance for the buying and selling of human beings, and where women feel like they can seek help with addictions without fear, and where there are enough recovery homes offering long-term community-based healing with meaningful work.
Many of you have been a part of this for a long time. Magdalene and Thistle Farms’ work is truly as old as the fields in which we are working. We are just a drop in the bucket compared to the vast forces of injustice, poverty and addiction. I know that we may never see the fruition of our vision in our lives. But I also know such vision and hope is our greatest inheritance and that the troubled fields of this world are thirsty for our drop. We are allowed to dream big, to speak of that dream, and to work on it our whole lives. Tonight is a glimpse of how beautiful that field is when hearts gather in hope. It’s a revival of love.
I was recently with Doris, Thistle Farms packing manager and a graduate of Magdalene, on her first flight. Doris has known trauma and the horrors of the streets for years. She and I were traveling to an event called “Take Back the Night” in Pennsylvania. As the plane was ascending Doris couldn’t believe the beauty of the clouds from the top-side. She was laughing and smiling and asked me if I thought this was as close to God as she would ever be in this world. I told her, “I don’t know, but honestly, your face is the closest image to the face of God I have glimpsed.” It's time to weed and water our fields again.
--written for Magdalene's Fall Fundraiser, October 4th, 2012
With arms outstretched on the hill
An American chestnut tree stands resurrected.
In powerful silence she draws new life from an old stump.
Its blighted roots died with millions
Of her brothers and sisters
A hundred or so odd years ago.
She is a witness to the truth that love thrives,
As she casts a shadow over shallow graves lying
Stoneless and invisible in her valley.
The sunken earth is the only marker showing
Where our brothers and sisters enslaved were laid
A hundred or so years ago.
They were laid to rest in hallowed ground,
Wreathed in wildflowers, acorns and vines.
Laid among scattered paw paws and May apples.
Their graves are filled with the memory of seasons.
Beneath tulip poplars that witnessed
The solemnity of these graveside wakes.
This is the valley in the shadow of death where I am not afraid.
I want to lay down in her green pastures and weep.
This valley holds our broken history in her belly
And the hope of new life that sprouts on hilltops.
On this sacred, holy, ground you can hear
Owls flying at half mast cry out,
"We cannot kill what the creator knows is beloved."
Nothing is forsaken since love runs deeper than
Shallow graves and dead stumps.
Love seeps through roots into hearts and blesses everything.
Over the shallow graves and under the resurrected chestnut,
We remember our treasure lies in these woods
Where thieves cannot break in and steal or rust ruin.
This land is where our hearts live and
Where we weep for blights, floods, and injustices.
But even if we wanted to hang up our lyre,
The bluebirds and yellow-bellied sapsuckers, like a faithful choir,
Raise a song that makes the weary believe there will be love after death.
The woods themselves join forgotten bodies, blighted stumps, and birds
In “Alleluias” for this sacred, hallowed ground . Amen.
Written in Celebration of Warner Parks' Sunday in the Park, November 2012