It is 100 degrees outside. My garden is sweltering and wilting in the fiery onslaught. My soul is sulking, sleeping with one eye closed while I type. Was it only a few months ago that I thought the ground would be permanently frozen? How does nature negotiate this remarkable change? In the never-ending winter of this year, I dreamed of summer, of gloriously hot days where my spirit would flit like a butterfly from sunrise to sunset. Frankly, I am finding this season a lot more complicated than I dreamed.
As a gardener I now find myself spending hours at a time holding a water hose. How tiresome. There is nothing else you can effectively do when you are watering, because as any gardener will tell you, to wrestle with a water-hose demands your entire concentration. Not paying attention leads to death by negligence – plants forgotten or crushed, hoses curling around your feet waiting for that perfectly timed moment to catch you unawares. After only one brief thunderstorm in the last 7 weeks, my mind-numbing, daily watering routine feels almost senseless – especially when I read the news of the terrible famine from the drought in NE Africa. When pictures of children with bloated bellies loom – it is easy to question the value of keeping my garden green. Our well pumped dry last weekend, xeriscape landscaping appears the only rational way to go. Spring fevered anticipation of giant tropical leaves and an English country garden can quickly shrivel in the heat of summer.
Summer appears to be a season of ‘too much’. I used to think of this season’s abundance as something entirely wonderful – a harvest of colorful blessing that rises from the cold depths of winter. This year, if I am not watchful, all I see is the hulking shadows of summer parading just beyond the air-conditioner. Weeds grow rampantly without rain. Tornadoes, floods, then drought, march through the land in quick succession. The heat saps the urge to work, or even move outdoors. At high noon, a chilled glass of wine whispers seductively from the refrigerator calling for siesta-time. The cute fawn that last year was gamboling along my front walk has become a voracious tomato thief – nipping off each fruit just as it forms and lunches in the wee hours of the morning on tasty greens and my favorite hosta flowers. Is it worth it – this painstaking, energy-demanding work of gardening? For whatever reason, life at 100 degrees has considerably less resilience than my life force in a snow storm. Maybe that’s because I am still a Canadian on the inside.
As I write, I am reminded of Rumi’s – the Guest House:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Guests come in every shape and form into our life here at Stonehaven – inside and out. … I am reminded how the hospitality of the garden seems to magically draw guests in. Despite the overwhelming “crowd of sorrows” I recall today, we have also been blessed with remarkable guests this season.
Last weekend because Uli is the board chair of the Dialogue Institute, we had the privilege of hosting 18 University students from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon for an all-American BBQ. How delightful to watch a young woman flying high on the swing under the oak tree – her pink hijab floating in the breeze. Another young man from Egypt spent much of the evening playing with his friends on the hammock – he reported later that evening around the campfire that for years it has been his dream – just to be in a hammock! In another corner, a group of students, staff and board members engaged in a galvanizing discussion about Palestine, until they were called away to make their own ice-cream sundaes.
The Dialogue Institute, together with the International Center for Contemporary Education, has been selected by the U.S. State Department to conduct five-week programs on Religious Pluralism in America for undergraduate student leaders. This program offers students of diverse cultural backgrounds, from the Middle East and Indonesia, an introduction to the principles and practices of American democracy through the lens of a particular topic, in this case, religious diversity. On the afternoon we met, the group had just returned from Lancaster County where they had been part of a conservative Mennonite Congregation Sunday service and an Amish farm visit – the young people still were talking about the wonder of all they are learning, but most of all how significant it is to have this dedicated time to be together and learn from one another in community. This is what Stonehaven’s mission is all about – offering hospitality to groups and individuals in their search for the deepest and most meaningful conversations about life, and how to bring about change on our increasingly complex globe.
At another Stonehaven garden party in June, we had an inter-faith feast. Jewish, Bahai, Muslim, and Christians of many ilks and denominations, joined together just for fun – to celebrate summer. We sat around the circle and talked about childhood summer memories and what this season means for us now. What reward to have someone, when thanking us for the hard work of planning this event, say with a catch in their throat, “I need this inter-faith community dialogue. I don’t find it anywhere else.”
It’s become even hotter outside, but I realize that as I write, these guests now stand alongside my earlier paragraphs of frustration, uncertainty and disparagement. I think of the Congolese government officials who are coming to lunch next week to talk about renewed peace processes using dialogue practice in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or of the email I received today about the beleaguered Kurdish mayors who will be in town in September to learn to tell their stories of genocide. What a humbling privilege to welcome all these holy visitations of suffering and hope.
I am reminded that it takes lot of work to keep this property alive and vibrant so that it can appropriately host each honored guest. But the Land itself also somehow does the sustaining work of repair and restoration. As humans we do not work alone. From experience, I know I can trust the seasons to bring my soul whatever I need, whenever I need it. As humans we are being called into many fresh conversations of hope and enlightenment with all the Others in our lives – all those ‘inner’ selves that arise in fear and disillusionment and all those ‘outer’ neighbors and surprise visitors who wait on the doorstep of summer to be welcomed as teachers and friends. May we as privileged people find the grace to host each and every one of our summer guests with the priceless gift of compassionate and loving attention.
July 14, 2011