Finding Kinship in the Ventura River Watershed

sarah and nathan
Sarah Holst (right, with hubby Nathan) just finished a split internship with Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries and the Abundant Table Farm Project. The newlyweds will be heading to Rochester, NY in January to intern with the Spiritus Christi community. Here, Sarah reflects about her process in creating the Equinox Liturgy for Farm Church in early October.
A week ago, I was washing the dishes after a shared breakfast at Ched and Elaine’s and rolling around how the Equinox Liturgy I was writing was going to take shape. In the process of this, I was also thinking about the chapter that Nathan and I had just read in Ched’s book Who Will Roll Away the Stone on Reclamation (Chapter 11). This chapter lays out the skin and bones of what has now fleshed out into Watershed Discipleship, and asks the question: How do we come to love our land (through the lenses of Christian theology) in a way that moves us to work for environmental and social justice?

In the book, Ched quotes Wendell Berry,

Make a home. Help to make a community. Be loyal to what you have made. Put the interest of your community first. Love your neighbors—not the neighbors you pick out, but the ones you have.

The idea then being that as everyone falls in love and takes care of their neighbors (whether it be the immigrant, the birds, or the water) in their own places, we will see a global shift as the land and its inhabitants are put before the needs of growing industry and economy (and the recklessness and greed inherent to that). And of course, loving one’s own community with an all-encompassing understanding of who our neighbors are within that leads to loving-solidarity with our human family all around the globe who are faced with similar struggles.

At this shift of the seasons, I wanted to call people not only to how they are tied to the land as a people of this place, but also to how their own inner landscapes echo the world that surrounds them. I have been increasingly interested in how we find kinship with the non-human persons in our environment. How do I recognize that I am connected to the Ventura River, or the cactus? I think the first step is learning to understand them. Or knowing that we do not entirely understand, but like with God, can take steps towards that infinite horizon.

How do we hold wonder that then leads us to action? My acknowledgement that I am made of the same elements as stardust and fire cannot end simply in awe and ritual, but must lead me to love and honor the wood that was burnt for that fire, and know the story of those trees, and then the peoples who were nourished by their acorns for thousands of years. It is about de-centralizing myself in the story, and at the same time saying, “Wow, I can’t believe I am a small part of this evolving plot of life on this planet,” or more specifically, “in the Ventura Watershed,” and “in Ched & Elaine’s backyard.”

I believe it is also about honoring one another as part of this interwoven miraculous story. As one eats the vegetables from the Abundant Table Farm, for example, she becomes like the soil from which the tomatoes and melons grow. He becomes like the soil; which comes down from the mountains, and is carried by the rivers. (Think then of the implications of using toxic fertilizers in this soil—both as deeply in story, and here in your own body, now.) I think an important part of working for reclamation is naming that miracle in one another. To use (but switch) the quote by Thomas Merton’s, let’s make it easy to tell people that they are all walking around shining like the sun!
A Prayer for Writing Liturgy

Dancing God of the Trinity,
Play in me while I write this liturgy.
Let me catch your sparks and ideas
And through you, form them into a
Space of depth and worship.

Let me be an open vessel for your abundant experiments with the truth.

May these words, the way they are spoken,
And the way that people are called to reflect and share,
Be filled with You.

As I breathe in your presence on this day,
In this kitchen,
May I be someone who is connected with her own history;
how I came to be human, and on my journey to become more fully so.

And may this liturgy and space
Help people connect with their own stories
And help paint a picture of how we are all
Intimately connected in love with the
Cycles of the seasons, the harvests and dyings of the fall.
And the seeds contained in all the decomposing.

May we always be mindful that we are in relationship
with the rest of your creation,
That is all part and particle of You.

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