The Garden

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."
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Hermit
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Re: The Garden

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I was born in 1971 in Regina. I come from a small family, one brother, and my mother and father. I initially was raised in Regina, but my family moved to a small town in the Qu’Appelle valley as part of a business plan my father and maternal grandmother hatched to start a greenhouse business. My father is an alcoholic, so my years in Fort Qu’Appelle are bitter sweet. Although there are many, many memories of a painful nature I still feel like the valley is my home and I’m drawn to it. My father commuted to work and spent most of the week in Regina. My mother did her best to raise my brother and I, but found it challenging. Before we had moved out to the Fort, I had been a pretty vibrant and happy kid. I had lots of friends in school in Regina, but after moving found it difficult to acclimatize. I had a month in school before the summer break, was going to start grade 2 not knowing anyone or having any friends, and felt like my mom was my only friend.

My father started taking me to church on Sundays when I was in grade 2 or 3. What I remember more than anything was stopping at a convenience store to buy cough drops to eat during the service. It wasn’t until later I realized he was doing this to cover the smell of alcohol on his breath. The words of the services never stuck with me until later and even then didn’t seem significant or meaningful. What was meaningful however was the stained glass window on the west wall, a scene of the Annunciation.

In the afternoons I’d play in the piles of dirt behind the green houses and would play with a wooden statue of Our Lady of Mercy. I didn’t know that’s who She was at the time, only that my mother called her the Madonna. I wasn’t sure what that meant. She was my playmate for many summers. I held onto that statue for along time but lost it in the frequent moves my family made.

My life was punctuated by dramas that any young man would experience, except I began to realize as I hit puberty that my longing to hold and be cuddled by men was turning into a more sexualized fantasy that I was unable to articulate fully or understand completely. My parents were either unable or unwilling to have the conversation about sex with me and I was left to my own devices. But rather than experiment, I entered into a longing to find a way to reconcile my needs to have religious faith and practice with my sexuality, which the church I was raised in was mute about (although society in the early 80’s was still fairly anti-gay, but the beginning of the turn around was starting to happen). I began to dabble in occult studies sparked by my obsession with fantasy role play, specifically Dungeons and Dragons. I liked to think that I had the brain to be able to understand what I was reading, but the reality was the books I was taking out of the library were years over my intellectual ability. I doubt there are very many 16 year olds who have any comprehension, or interest, in theosophy. My choices then were to move to what, I at least perceived, were to be faith decisions that were easier for me to comprehend. I switched to Zen Buddhism right around the time I started going to Al-Anon and went through rehab for codependency. Again, the practice was difficult. A 18-19 year old cannot, I think, sit in meditation for more than 10-15 minutes without going stir crazy. Especially one like myself who had difficulty focusing. My brain was not trained, or conditioned, except by teachers who tried and parents who simply didn’t know how. About 20 I met a guy in a 12 step program, Trevor, and fell in love. I fought it. I wasn’t able to reconcile my feelings as “good” or “natural”. I knew that I wanted him passionately, desperately, that my heart and soul were his, but could not risk telling him in the event that he would reject me and I would loose my only real friend.

Around this time I experimented with First Nations traditions. My beginnings were very rocky. Very rocky. I bought everything I needed and went out into the south-Saskatchewan badlands thinking that I would simply walk out and commune. The reality was I was shaken, woken up, and touched by spirit in a good way. I’m not sure who, or what, was behind those experiences but they lead me into a healing circle, introduced me to a teacher who was I think very impatient of my questions and ramblings, and elders who were for the most part good teachers and mentors. I participated in ceremony. The items I had purchased I gave away, learning that in the tradition these things are to be earned rather than taken. I was given a piece of pipe stone and wood, and made a pipe. Drums came to me, as well as knowledge from many different people. More than anything, there was an intense fellowship among us. Over the three years I was a part of the core group, the leader/my teacher moved on, getting locked into gambling and giving up much of what he had earned. I was given the leadership role of the healing circle and kept it going until I was the only member left. After that, I slowly stopped practicing. I still have everything I used, but it doesn’t have the same meaning or significance it once did.

About 3/4 of the way through the healing circle cycle, I started working for a janitorial company run by a husband and wife, Bob and Pam. They seemed different in some way; something about them seemed grounded, or more solid than other people I’d encountered in the past. Bob meant to talk to me but died from a heart attack before I had the chance. Pam and I started talking and she eventually became my mentor and friend. She helped me over a very long period of time to realize that I had been making choices for the wrong reasons, and that the repercussions from those very choices were actually getting me to make even more bad choices. The closest analogy that I can come up with is the notion of having an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, and both whispering into my ear trying to get me to do things.

This wasn’t an easy concept for me to understand, and I had a very difficult time getting with it. I got involved with the pride committee in Regina, made a lot of contacts, got really involved in the community, started experimenting sexually, dated, flowed into that queer part of myself. All the while, I kept praying at nights, kept trying to believe, or rationalize, that religious belief could in fact be in agreement with a queer lifestyle. This has been a constant struggle most of my life.

Add to this now the struggle between the way I wanted to live my life up against the way I knew I should be living my life. I eventually came to a place where I realized that I had to take a serious look at myself, evaluate my beliefs and actions, and decide if I wanted to continue to move forward in my life the way I had been. I decided to change my life around. Instead of the indian prayer I was saying at night, I went back to my roots and began saying the Lord’s Prayer before bed. And I’ve been doing it now almost 20 years.

I have repeatedly felt a call that comes and goes to become a member of the Roman Catholic church. I have always been drawn to ritual, to communion, to a closer connection with God. What I realized having been through my past spiritual experiences is that most of the time people expect it to be a monumental experience, something shocking, or shaking, or earth shattering. With some of my experiences, things were like that. I remember a spirit-eagle that came into a sweat lodge, fanned itself clockwise in a circle once, then came around a second time and touched my forehead with it’s wings. I felt the feathers. I knew that eagle was there. I knew that eagle wasn’t 3 dimensional but somehow crossed over from one level of existence into another one. Certain cultural expressions of faith and practice provide this kind of connection. Even in the Christian tradition. What I’m feeling now is that in understanding faith, faith in God, faith in Jesus Christ, that kind of immediate presence is not always know as vibrantly and as immediately. It is a more subtle, discrete, quiet presence. I’ve tried to practice as a Catholic outside of the church setting because I know that although I will be welcomed into the church, there will be people who will view the component of my sexuality as something that is defective.

I find it strange that the catechism talks about not knowing the origins of same sex attraction but in the next breath says that it is an unnatural behaviour or condition. Perhaps it is not that those of us who are gay are taking part in behaviour that is unnatural but rather we are susceptible to passions that can lead to sin in a different way, in the same way that a diabetic is prone to problems with eating sugar. It’s not that the sin is who is one’s partner, but rather the intent behind that act and union that seems to me to be the root of what is sinful. I’ve attempted to live as a celibate simply because I cannot in good conscience continue to participate in a community which glorifies the casualness of the sexual act. It is about procreation for heterosexual couples, it is about union and love with gay couples. The act in both cases is about consummating love. The fruits of that love are different dependent upon the nature of the couple engaged in those acts, but those fruits are not any greater or lesser. They simply emanate in different ways. Both are expressions of God’s love.

I find myself drawn to the priesthood even while at the same time repulsed by the human condition. I truly do believe in Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of the Father. I also believe in evil. I know that Satan and his minions do work in this world in opposition to the work of the Father. I have felt his presence in my life, I have felt the demonic near me, at work around me. I do not choose to believe in it but have entered into periods of great weakness and grief.

I suffer from a mild clinical depression, self diagnosed. A few years ago I was literally on the verge of collapse. I was so depressed that I would spontaneously break into horribly fits of crying and desperation. My job suffered, my relationships with my friends and family suffered. The worst part about it was that I had come to a place in my life where, even though I was considering suicide, I knew that could never be something that I would ever do…and not having that as a way out made me even more depressed. One night I was having trouble getting to sleep so I thought that I’d print off something from the internet to read to put me to sleep. I made the mistake (I say this in jest!) of printing off Dr. Steven Law’s “Evil God Challenge” paper. I read the paper, understood the thesis to be that if the likelihood of an omniscient, omnipresent, all powerful God who was absolutely evil existing was ridiculously low, why then would the chances of the God that we understand to exist be any less low? Since the chances equalize for both evil and good deities existing, the likelihood of God existing at all were slim to none. I knew in my heart this was wrong, but I could not reconcile the argument which seemed to be solid. I didn’t sleep at all that night. I got out of bed the next day feeling so completely changed, so completely challenged. I dug myself into philosophy trying to find an answer to this challenge. I put myself back into university to take classes to try and strengthen and arm myself with philosophical weapons; instead of the 50’s and 60’s I got when I was in my early twenties, this time I scored 91% on my first paper, and high 80’s and one 70 in the three classes that I took. By the time I wrote my last paper, one that addressed the challenge itself, I realized that the importance of proving the challenge one way or the other wasn’t as important as what the occupation of my brain with the challenge had done. I was touched by God, discretely, and rescued from my depression.

I’ve since developed a love of philosophy. I’m a member of both the Oxford Philosophical Society and the Society of Christian Philosophers, although I’m letting my membership in the Oxford group go because I find their views far to modernistic and exclusive to any kind of theistic thought.

To me, at this stage of my life, participation in a religious community is something that I am craving because I miss the human contact of other people who have similar beliefs. But more importantly, I’m finding myself drawn once again to question the need to enter holy orders. Within the Roman Catholic church this would certainly be difficult not only because of my age, but because I am and have been openly gay for some time. Would I give up my sex life for a celibate community? I would…but I’m not so sure the Church would be as accepting to me unless the circumstances were extreme. This is why I’ve considered a hermit lifestyle.

My prayer life isn’t grounded anymore on trying to change who I am, but rather to conform what I am to God’s will and to seek out God’s will for me at every opportunity. I don’t always excel at this because I have fear of what may come, fear of my own failing and frailty. But I also know that having followed His will in my own back yard, in something as simple as creating a garden for prayer and meditation, His presence comes to me and stays with me. Before I lift a hand to work, I pray the last lines of St. Thomas’ prayer before study: Order the beginning, direct the progress, and perfect the achievement of my work. As a result my back yard has become my sanctuary, my place of prayer and contemplation, my hermitage. I’m not sure if I will ever enter the order of priesthood. Perhaps my need is simply to be confirmed as a Catholic who is gay, and who views this as a sacred gift of God.

When I was at a writer’s colony at St. Michael’s Retreat in Lumsden, one of the fathers had a very complex telescope set up out back. Father Luke was, among other things, an accomplished astronomer. I would go out and hope that Father was there, spend time with him looking into the stars and planets. What I could not, and do not understand is how a God, a God so absolutely majestic enough to create a universe so vast, so complex, so beyond any border of my understanding could not know what He was doing when He created me as a gay man. To me, those who would condemn my sexuality as a sin are unable to see the vastness and the fullness of creation and are at a loss for seeing all of His majesty and beauty.

As a philosopher, as a gardener, as a writer and poet, as a janitor, as a gay man, and as a Christian seeking, although poorly, greater communion with my Lord and Saviour, I offer this imperfect description of my life.
Ingressum instruas, progressum dirigas, egressum compleas.

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Phil
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Re: The Garden

Post by Phil »

I enjoyed it, thanks. You're a good writer, and it was nice to get such an open insight of who you are. Glad to have "met" you my friend, and also to have shared this little of piece of our reality.
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Re: The Garden

Post by Hermit »

Image





So thrilled. I've met the artist who painted the icon of Sts. Bacchus and Sergius I've used here at the forum for my personal icon, and he's going to paint me a copy of the icon! Really cute Italian artist living in London. Had to share!
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Contemplating

Post by Hermit »

I've watched the forum for a few months now; I know that many of us regard this as a safe, sharing place where we can interact by sharing and learning, sometimes just ranting. It's like a blog for us all, a gestalt. Dare I say...a matrix.... :shock:

Sharing my experience as a catechumen, especially here, sometimes feels risky because I know how bad a reputation conventional Christianity has had in the communities we've all been members of in one form or another. Heck my own trip has lead me in a spiral back to my traditional roots even though the way I see those traditions is through a different lens.

My garden is filling out, growing, becoming green. Last week I sat back in my chair, taking a moment from working to simply "be". I started centering prayer, very similar to zazen but with a twist. In centering prayer, one finds a sacred word, sits quietly, and repeats the word until the mind stills. If one finds the mind wandering (hello monkey mind!), one repeats the word again as a grounding. The first difficulty for me is the monkey mind, the wandering, the questioning, the helpful contributions (it's ok if you switch to mental prayer!) which are actually distractions. The trick, the difficulty, and the beauty is that point when you're able to simply let go, be, and allow the Spirit to speak. When I was walking the Red Road, and would go out on the land to fast, there was a term my teacher used to use to describe this as an act of feeding the soul, the spirit, which must take a back seat the rest of the year to allow the body to eat.

While I sat, while I prayed, I realized that a presence, a peaceful warm presence, was with me. It didn't last for long, but it was noticeable, pleasant, warm, affirming. It was a time where I allowed my soul to feast, to commune with Spirit. At that moment, I was just another part of the garden.

I truly believe that gardening is a doorway, when done properly, to the Sacred. Every action is, when done prayerfully, an act of communion, penitence, joy, sharing, an act of loosing and finding the self in what is done, what is created, which is simply an extension of the Spirit.

I'm meeting this week with my spiritual director. We're going to be talking about vocations. I know that I will enter the church, I'm just not sure if I'm going to be simply a member (which is not anything simply!), or taking first profession as a Franciscan, or entering seminary. I know the kind of person I am, that I want to continue to be; if anything, this is the kind of person I want to bring into my religious life. My people are Celtic, Germanic, Picts. There is a strong connection between the love of nature and the love of God in these ancient traditions, a love that I want to carry forward into my life more fully. My garden is medicinal, it is meditative, contemplative. I want to be more like my garden, take my garden with me into my heart.

As St. Francis of Assisi said, "Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary, use words."
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Re: The Garden

Post by Hermit »

Short note to let everyone know. Had a very productive, pleasant conversation with my archbishop today. I believe I am officially on the road to becoming a Franciscan and a priest.
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Re: The Garden

Post by Eelco »

I'm sure you'll be good at it.
May the 4th be with you...

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Re: The Garden

Post by Phil »

Who'da thunk it?? Congratulations, good luck....God bless.
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There is a Season

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https://hermitgardener.com/2016/06/11/t ... -a-season/

I started in the garden late this year; it wasn’t because I was up to my eyeballs in other things. I was feeling depressed about things, feeling stuck with no way out. I was contending with fears that had a grip on me that were at one and the same time absolutely illusionary. It’s so strange how we can come up with ideas in our own minds about things that have almost no grounding in reality, yet form concepts that stop us from doing what’s good for us. And the insane part of it all was that once I was able to overcome that fear and get back into working the soil, that grip the illusionary fear had on me all but vanished.

As you can tell, I’ve put in a few more beds and changed the concept of what the back yard garden is supposed to be. When I started last year, I had this idea in my head of a kind of cloister of green and purple and pink and yellow and red and blue. This initial idea hasn’t changed really, but the concept has shifted a little bit. That lawn I initially worked hard to airate and fertilize is very slowly disappearing in exchange for perennial beds. The lawn is now pathway. The rest of the garden instead functional on three levels: the first, production of vegetables and fruits to both eat and give away; the second to provide a place to entertain, to be out of solitude. The current vegetable patch will at the end of this season be transformed into a brick and moss patio space with a fireplace at it’s centre. If I can arrange the bricks into a labyrinth even better. The perennial beds that surround the vegetable garden will act as a border between the contemplative space and the social space, as well as a break between that contemplative space and my work space and potting table. Right now, I’ve got some pressure treated wood (thanks for the donation, Dave!) that I will be drilling and fixing into the ground to create a new vegetable patch just behind the tall perennial bed. Once that’s done, the sod that I moved last year which is now turned over and dead will go back into the space to become the vegetable garden in the back…this year, seeded with some wheat from Dave’s family farm going back God only knows how long. If it grows, there will be seed for the birds to eat and a good amount of straw that can go into compost. If it doesn’t, I’m sure the birds will love it.

Speaking of birds! There’s a cheeky little chickadee who doesn’t seem to be too afraid of me. A few times I’ve gone to the pond to get water to take to the beds or the garden, and I’ve interrupted his bath. He just flies around a few feet from me, lands on the trellis where I have the sweet peas growing, eyeballs me, and chirps. I bet if I got bird seed and held it out in my hand he’d land on it and eat. The robin rules the roost, splashing in the pond like a crazy man with a bad hat, sparrows having to wait their turn as they go. Found a dead song bird out front again…time to get a water gun for the cats. Yellow canaries come, land on the lantern, bathe, drink, sing in the trees. And today there were cedar waxwings. I haven’t seen cedar waxwings since I was a kid! I need to get a bird feeder and put it over the compost pile. Bird poop is good for compost.

Corn is growing rampantly, the day lilies I transported over from the house last year are filling in and showing signs of budding. The asiatics are almost 4 1/2 feet tall…clover growing with wild flowers I’ve let take space in the garden for the bees. The mint has filled up big swaths of space in between the perennials, I dug some up and moved it over to the north side of the vegetable garden. Once the patio goes in it’ll be a lovely fresh border of blue flowers and fresh smelling foliage.

The front yard is greening up, but nothing much I can do there until the construction and renovation is finished. That space too can be utilized and should be for purposes other than just grass. It can and will grow food, flowers, fruit. The work isn’t nearly as difficult as getting to the point of actually doing it. The imagining is simply part of the enmeshment that you feel when you let yourself become part of the garden space, let the garden space change you. It feels very much a co-operative process, one in which you read the land your working in and let the land tell you what to do.
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Re: The Garden

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An Update:

I am now a Postulant of the Order of the Franciscans of the Annunciation. Which means I'm taking the first steps towards realizing a calling I've had for 40 years.

Or alternatively I am about to enter the new world order through an Illuminati back door. You can decide. ;O)
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Re: The Garden

Post by Eelco »

I sincerely hope you find what you expect to find.

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