Sustainable Spirituality

Perpetual Growth – 20″ x 24″, magazine pages, glue, on board. Ordinary Time, 2011.

Ordinary Time stretches from Pentecost in June to the beginning of Advent at the end of November.  This is the season when there is nothing special going on liturgically; the coziness of Christmas is behind us, the darkness of Lent, the emotional high points of Easter and Pentecost are behind us, and we are just immersed in the day-to-day.  Our individual lives have a similar rhythm; sometimes there are high points and low points, and then there’s a whole bunch of just-plain-ordinariness.

As a gardener, I’m familiar with the idea of sustainable ways to grow food, and it occurs to me that what we need in these times is a sustainable spirituality.  But what would that look like?  Here’s a piece of art you might enjoy, and some thoughts about how sustainable practices might translate into developing a spiritual life that can weather not only the monsoons and droughts of our lives, but also carry us through the very ordinary times.

~ The key to growing things in a sustainable manner is understanding the nature of the plants, and the environment and even micro-climate in which they are growing.  This seems elementary, but it’s not as obvious as it seems like it would be.  For instance, trying to grow green grass that needs a lot of water in a desert, or plants that need sunshine in the shade, will not be very successful.  So, for a spiritual practice to be sustainable, it needs to take into consideration the reality of our individual personality and circumstance.  For instance, if my friend with four little children were to decide to try and meditate for two hours a day like another friend of ours, well, I imagine it just wouldn’t work.

~  The other correlation I thought of was this; one of the principles of sustainable growing is understanding what each kind of plant puts into the soil and takes out of the soil, and rotating or combining crops so that resources don’t get exhausted.  For instance, corn takes a lot of nitrogen out of the soil, whereas beans and legumes put nitrogen back in.  So growing only corn is very unhealthy for the soil, but rotating between corn and beans, or even the ancient strategy of growing them at the same time, can work very well.  So how does this translate into spiritual practice?  One way would be having a variety of spiritual activities that provide a balance. This might look different for each person; introverts and extroverts will find their energy is replenished by different things.  For me, it is a matter of finding a combination of outward-focused service and inward-focused contemplative practice.  And I find a combination of the two in the spiritual practice of making art.

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