from our September 2019 newsletter
I really do feel that it was the gentle voice of God that guided me to St. Francis Farm.
When I arrived, I found space. Space to breathe in the open air. Space to exist in one place with nowhere else to be. Space to work with and get to know others who speak honestly, directly, and from the heart — with no agendas or fake pretensions. There was none of the unspoken pressure to “be” a certain way to “fit in” that is often found in tight-knit groups.
Going to St. Francis Farm is not a vacation. It’s hard work, not a relaxing time or a nice retreat. It’s remote. If you go there, you will pull weeds for hours, get tangled up in prickers while you pick berries, try to ignore the biting flies while you milk goats, and — if you have the unfortunate tendency to mess up or forget things as much as I do — get reprimanded and scolded some too (always with loving honesty).
I went to bed tired, and woke up feeling awake. My usual three cups of coffee a day was reduced to one in the morning — and my body felt no need to complain.
In the mornings everyone goes to the upstairs chapel and prays in silence. We just sit there. No goal, or purpose. Just sitting, listening. Most of the time I sat there completely distracted, my mind turning over this or that. My distracted morning prayers became my favorite time of the day.
We ate every meal together. We had break times scheduled into the day to spend time with others or go off by ourselves. In the evenings, sometimes all of us would go for a walk around the trails through the fields and the woods. Sometimes I would retreat to my room or pull one of the many books from the shelves in the chapel.
I spent hours sitting on the steps to my room and playing a mandolin that was handmade by Zachary. I couldn’t remember a time since I was a teenager first learning guitar that I had felt such a simple joy playing an instrument — playing it badly at that!
Surrounded by spaciousness, there was nothing left for my anxious mind to latch onto. My biggest challenge on the farm turned out not to be milking goats (although that WAS a challenge), but grappling with the negative sides of my own mind laid bare for me to confront. Feelings of anxiety, insecurity, and worry feed off of the distractions and competitiveness of consumer society. Often I’m able to suppress these feelings with busy-ness, or project them onto other people, things or circumstances. Doing that proved impossible on the farm, and I had to face what I felt. Thank God I was around understanding people during those moments, who listened with patience, heart, and clarity!
Playing that mandolin, pulling weeds, getting pricked in the berry bushes, I was able to look at these anxieties and tensions I carried and see them as exactly what they are: illusions, lies, and mental habits run amok, pulling me away from my true identity as a child of God.
How many people in our world are walking around in a state of tension, inner conflict, anxiety, dissatisfaction, and fear? How many people have so deeply internalized these illusions as being an essential part of their selves? How many people self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, television, or workaholism? How many people honestly think: “I am an anxious person,” or “I am a nervous person,” and truly believe that this is who they are?
I had spent my first years out of college living a mostly unspiritual life, focused on myself, on politics, on studying, on activism, on travel, and doing “interesting things.” A lot of people told me I was doing things right. But at the end of the day when nothing was left to distract me, I sat in my room by myself, and I felt empty and anxious. I had forgotten God.
How had I forgotten that I’m really a child of God? That every single person I meet is too? How could I have forgotten that this inner child — no matter how much I bury it and forget it underneath the layers of ego — is the source of everything good, all life itself? One day I’ll look back on this period of my life as the time that I remembered God and began to pay attention to the gentle voice that spoke me into existence. That voice still calls me from within to be who I was created to be.
St. Francis Farm for me, was the place that I needed to be to listen to that voice more clearly, and it was clearly that voice — soft and true — that led me there. Thank you, Lorraine, Joanna, Zachary, and Fr. Tom, and God bless St. Francis Farm!