Learning to Change My Ways

I recently committed to a three-week experiment in following a vegan diet—a way of eating I had long regarded as extreme. No cheese? No eggs? No milk? Along with no meat? It seemed a lot like no food.

But I was intrigued when my brother, whose favorite meals include Wendy’s double cheeseburgers, said he was trying it. And less than a week later when he said he felt more energetic than in a long while, I ordered the book he had been reading. By the time I had read most of 21-Day Weight Loss Kick Start: Boost Metabolism, Lower Cholesterol, and Dramatically Improve Your Health, by Neal D. Barnard, MD, I decided to give it a try.

To take on that kind of change, even for just three weeks, is a major undertaking. It means learning to cook with strange ingredients from unfamiliar grocery store aisles. It means bringing new lenses to reading a restaurant menu. If nothing else, it’s gratifying to now know I can take on something new and make it work. But more importantly, I feel better for the changes I’ve made.

Given what I had read and heard, I wasn’t entirely surprised by that. The unexpected part of the experience has been the help I received from friends, which was an unanticipated pleasure.

As I first considered this three-week trial, I mentioned to a few people what I was thinking about. Not only were they supportive and interested in how things were going, those with more experience in this way of eating have shared books, recipes, tips, ideas for menus, and a great deal of encouragement. A dear friend even walked with me through the Good Foods Co-op, pointing out some of the items that would help me prepare satisfying meals.

I could not have anticipated the warmth, encouragement, and practical help offered by many different people in my life. Some I knew well, some were acquaintances. But all were eager to talk about the positive results of switching to a plant-based diet. I came home from a conversation at my hairdresser’s with a recipe carefully written by someone glad to offer help in learning a new way to eat. Even the owner of our favorite Chinese restaurant noticed the change when my family ordered all tofu dishes. He was happy to hear about the diet we were trying and urged us to stick with the vegetarian way.

I’m struck by the generosity and goodwill of those who have helped me learn a better way to nourish the body. All the people who care enough to offer their experience and knowledge have made this challenge so much easier. In their help and support for what they have found to be a better way of life, they have offered a kind of hospitality that reminds me of what churches try to cultivate. Change is hard and we all need help when it’s time to make a transformation in our lives, no matter what kind it may be.

This experience will certainly shape the way I eat from now on. It also has me considering how communities naturally arise when people find something so good that it’s worth sharing, and want to help others along the way.

Is there a community that helps you through the transformations that life asks you to make?

 

Green and Growing Faith

The power of ceremony and ritual was evident in the British royal wedding this weekend. It offered a wealth of archetypal images—of union and strength, new beginnings and promise, grandeur and reverence. Many of its elements seemed straight out of a fairy tale. But what I keep remembering is the sight of English Field Maples lining the aisle inside Westminster Abbey.

It was lovely to see life that was fresh, green, and growing inside a sacred space a thousand years old. We have a need for the sturdy structures of the church and its traditions. They can help us contain and interpret the most important moments of our lives. Ideally, religious rituals and teachings help lift our joys to the light and bear us up under the weight of our sorrows. But to fulfill their role to the fullest those practices must meet our lives, and the culture and climate in which we live them, in a meaningful way.

For this to happen we must take responsibility for engaging with the traditions and leaders of the church. We need the courage to express our genuine questions, needs, longings, and aspirations. And at the same time, the church needs to respond with openness, granting a blessing upon our willingness to wrestle with angels in the dark. Where this is possible, the church will be a shelter for green and growing faith that transforms the world. But where we just go through the motions, all that remains is ritual drained of life.

The church helps us live into the truth that our lives are part of something greater than ourselves. But the trees in the abbey speak a message as well: the church is charged with fostering something more important than its traditions; its role is to foster life.

What can we do to live a green and growing faith, and to help build a church that fosters it?

 

 

The Upheaval of Early Spring

It’s been a volatile early Spring this year. Every time I relax into believing the growing warmth has arrived for good, chill winds argue otherwise. It’s a changeable, unsettling season. Daffodils wilt in the cold, pansies wither in the heat, followed by days of cold rain and dreariness. Meanwhile, storms are tearing across the country—150 tornadoes just in the past three days. The transition from Winter toward Summer is wrenching, unpredictable, as transitions can often be.

Spring brings more than a season’s worth of change, it seems. A couple of calendars I’ve come across lay out the year in six seasons, rather than four, which makes a lot of sense to me.

J.R.R. Tolkien gave the elves in his Lord of the Rings trilogy six seasons. He added a season called Ending of Summer, and one in early Spring called Stirring, which I think is a perfect name.

Naturalists studying the Melbourne, Australia area propose six or even seven seasons. They’re represented here on a beautifully drawn wheel. Some divide what we call Spring into Pre-spring or Early Spring and True Spring, and divide Summer into High Summer and Late Summer. Others retain Summer and divide winter into Early Winter and Deep Winter.

The Hindu calendar also includes six seasons—Monsoon comes after Summer, and Prewinter follows Autumn.

Dividing the year into sixths feels quite different from our usual division into quarters. Four is solid and stable—the four sides of a square, four points of a compass, four legs of a table. It feels complete and unmoving.

Representations of six have a different sense—a pie cut in six wedges, a six-pointed star, a wheel with six spokes. These are images that suggest motion. The eye continually travels around them, which is appropriate for representing the cyclical nature of the earth and the seasons.

The continuing cycle represents our own growth as we persevere through our lives, gathering energy for many buds and blooms, yielding multiple harvests, and accepting the end of countless growing seasons.

As regular as the seasons are, they are ever fluid, moving toward the next thing. They never rest in the sense of having arrived. What appears to us as the fullness of any season is simply the momentary place that the continual motion has brought about.

Early Spring is a reminder of this. There is always this much going on; upheaval is always happening. This time of year it’s just easier to see.

What kind of transition is Spring bringing for you this year?

Breakfast Stirrings

Most mornings this winter I’ve enjoyed oatmeal for breakfast. The kind that cooks on the stove is worth the effort for me, even though it means an extra pot to wash. Served warm with dried cranberries and a little brown sugar, a few chopped walnuts stirred in, it’s a healthy and comforting brace against a cold morning.

But with the welcome respite we’re having from winter in Central Kentucky right now, I can hardly bear the thought of another bowl of oatmeal. All winter I’ve loved it; now I’m sick of it. Maybe it’s really cold weather I’m weary of, but the guilt by association persists.

Poor oatmeal. A steady companion all these bleak months and now I don’t want it in my sight. Don’t need that remnant of the winter doldrums. It’s hardly fair. I just opened a tall new cylindrical box and it may be next winter before I finish it.

Fresh fruit! Whole wheat toast! Even cold cereal sounds better. Yogurt! Or smoothies! So many possibilities on a sunny spring-like morning. It’s spring fever at the breakfast table.

If the pangs over ignoring my faithful oats grow unbearable, I’ll make them into cookies.

What kind of change are you looking for?

Stretching Gently

You probably know how it feels to wake up with a crick in your neck. That happened to me a few mornings ago, a ghost of which remains when I turn my head to the left. I wonder how it’s possible to be in a position that does me harm and yet sleep through it. I could have avoided pain if my body had recognized the strain and awakened me with a complaint. But apparently I was too tired to notice, and remained in a contorted position until the damage was done.

This makes me keenly aware that discomfort helps keep us from harm. Restlessness is a message that we’ve held the same posture for too long. When visited by dissatisfaction and an urge to try something new, we’re goaded into making the changes we need.

These stirrings, even if unwelcome, are the energy of the soul pushing us forward. They are the whispers of God beckoning us toward the life we’re called to live, or at least to a healthier place. But exhaustion can block the message, and fear can convince us to ignore it. They tell us it’s not the right time to make a change, and sometimes they have legitimate reasons.

But we have to sort through the reflexive warnings and determine how we can stretch. And when they’ve outlived their usefulness and we’re fed up with being depleted or afraid, restlessness can overpower even those elemental emotions. The need to grow is as legitimate as the need for shelter and rest.

Though I wasn’t conscious of it, I got myself into the predicament of developing this crick. I have a new appreciation of how the neck operates, how often it’s called into use, how easily and naturally it turns and bends. And now I’m trying to guard its health. I turn my head gently and stretch the neck carefully, even though it hurts. I need to use those muscles, but carefully. Every time I stretch it gets a little easier. I expect that in a few days I’ll be able to enjoy the freedom of movement I took for granted just a few days ago.

Is there something your body is telling you?