It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.”
― Mary Oliver, Thirst
Spirituality has always tugged at me, in a way that’s hard to define. Because I grew up in a wonderful church community, that feeling of re-creating that, or finding it, has never left. There’s a Silicon Valley episode called “TechEvangelist” that points out how difficult it can be to publicly admit your faith in God, particularly in a tech-focused atmosphere that celebrates the infinite power of the individual to rise up above all that’s here and create incessantly, hoping we’ll all be better off with the consequences. There’s a sermon from my old church this past Sunday that explored some of these ideas, with lots of food for thought. For a few years in Athens, I kept my faith a secret, because it didn’t seem like it would be accepted in the smaller, more liberal communities. As I’ve started telling people that I love the church I grew up in, and miss my community in Philadelphia, others are opening up about their journey, and their lack of atheism. Not everyone of course! There’s tons of people that don’t like church. But it’s interesting that when you make a secret a non-secret, other people feel free to open up as well.
As I’ve roved through different churches in Athens, and swam through phases filled with tons of prayer, also phases completely absent of it, this tugging from an outside force has never left. Not for a second. My friend and I took our kids on the river the other day at Broad River Outpost, and as as we dragged the canoes into the water, listening to the low grumble of our daughters, I remember that this is what has been alive in me always — a love for nature, the land, the soil. In some way, this will always be connected to church and community. At church camps in the summer we slept under the stars in rock caverns, sang old hymns around fires at night, went into villages to build roofs and play soccer, swam in green bog-like lakes, and slept in cabins in the woods.
For some reason, I love to watch movies and read books about faith communities gone awry, most recently The Endless, Martha Marcy MaeMarlene, Saved, and Wicker Man. While witnessing the horrors that can happen with any deranged leader, there’s also a part of me that sees the good in the collective spirit, and the odd focus on nature that faith communities possess — holding hands in a circle, playing God-focused music, sharing meals in a larger group.
As more people open up to me about churches they left, and even about traumatic experiences they have had, a common thread comes out — that they still miss certain aspects of the community, even though it was terrible. Once someone leaves a community, it’s hard to get in good soil again, and also, there’s completely new problems that can arise without it. This does not mean at all that someone who left a toxic situation should return — just that the emotions surrounding it can be complicated. It’s all very confusing.
A little over a year ago, my friend introduced me to an interesting practice that definitely has community and a strong mission, but is open to basically all faiths: yoga. With yoga we can calm our minds down and breathe; we exercise our bodies; during practice we are freed mentally to think about everything that we love and let all the hard things flow through our pores. I love yoga. It’s a really safe space where people of all ages, from all walks of life can come together, breathe and exercise (and disagree!) This particular photo shoot was really fun because it felt like an odd combination of my Christian faith and new yoga practice, because we got to do poses in the woods and hear stomping hikers all around us. Being outside is the best way for me to appreciate the environment and care for it; doing yoga outside is a magical way to understand composting too! Everything in the forest grows, decays, composts, and comes back to life. You can get back to that basic understanding every time you step on a trail. We have a responsibility to the soil, and I feel like that’s what Let Us Compost is all about! Enjoy the photos and check out all the amazing yoga studios in Athens!
Photo credit: Brittany Barnes, Casey Morrison