Yesterday was laundry day around here. My brother and his partner had left, the weather forecast calls for lots of rain starting this evening. Our cottage has a great washing machine but no dryer so after each of the three loads of clothes I washed, I walked down to the umbrella clothes drying contraption and used old-fashioned clothes pins to hang clothes. I could get high smelling the clothes after the fresh breezes of the day had dried them and I took them off the line, still warmed by the sunshine.
We walk or ride bicycles everywhere we go. I have found out that Swedes are fastidious in their recycling. There are 9 separate bins at the recycle center where we take the garbage we don’t compost. There are fewer appliances, spaces more compact–my ecological footprint is so much smaller here.
I find relief and a sense of ‘rightness’ in all this. I’ve said elsewhere that these past few years have been a lot about learning to live in my body. It seems inevitable that being more aware of incarnation requires a different relationship to the Earth. The air is so clean here, there is no litter along the sides of the road, much less noise (though admittedly, we are out in a rural area so that is only normal). I sleep with my window and curtains open so when I wake up at about 4 each morning, I watch the sunlight slowly extend further and further down the trees outside my window as the sun rises. Connection to the rhythms around me is so obvious here.
There is also a growing tension in md that has become more explicit in this space. Having a smaller footprint on this fragile and distressed planet requires time. I was surprised by how long it took to hang clothes (not something I have done a whole lot of in my lifetime!). To get to the nearest shop to buy milk takes 20 minutes each way. Even something as simple as cleaning up and throwing away garbage in the process of preparing a meal takes mindfulness and care to make sure I put recyclables in their proper places so when I get to the recycle center I don’t have to spend a bunch of time sorting through the things I have brought.
I don’t mind that everything takes more time. In fact, it’s the opposite. I find deep satisfaction–something very close to life as prayer is possible here. The tension I am struggling with is this: the work I have been doing at least for the past 6 years is in direct contradiction to these rhythms of life. I discover a new grant our ministry might be eligible for and it happens to have a deadline coming up quickly? I am on it like white on rice–I try but don’t always succeed in holding on to my walking at night (all the time, though, I know it is crazy to cut back on something so essential to my wellbeing). I let the housework go, I cut corners on the cooking, I race through everything else I have to do. I am driven and disconnected and, quite frankly, not a very nice person to be around.
There is, of course, a sense of accomplishment when I meet a deadline. All the hours I spent preparing the United Way grant bought us some more time and ability to build the programs we’ve all dreamed of in the ministry I am a part of. But there is also what I can only describe as a sense of emptiness that follows each deadline. Even worse is the time I spend on efforts that are truly ridiculous. A fridge needs repair — making sure I follow the approval process for getting it repaired, finding a repair person, getting him or her to do the work right or getting another person in when the first one does a really crappy job–I do so much of this now. And the most disturbing of all–the amount of time it takes to navigate the minefields of a denominational system in crisis, where anxiety and reactiveness permeate everything, where the impulse to preserve and protect are making us more the Walking Dead than joyful, vibrant communities that don’t fear death because they live in the promise of resurrection.
My desire to have the time to leave a smaller footprint behind can become one more expression of the self-absorption of a first-world, spoiled princess–how much easier it is to wash my family’s clothes and prepare nice healthy dinners than engage the issues of justice and mercy faced by the community I serve in Ft Lauderdale. But something is not working about the way we are going about doing ministry. To find a more faithful, more meaningful way to be a priest and resident of Earth is part of the work ahead, especially now that Sherod has announced his retirement and such huge decisions lie ahead about what I will do in the 15 or so years I have left for active ministry.