Mary Jane Harmony: A Testimony of The Land

Mary Jane Harmony: A Testimony of The Land

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I am Mary Jane Harmony, recently retired after spending 40 years with a Haliburton company, Hewlett Packard, and most recently a Small Business Administration lender. I was raised in the same Methodist church in Wichita Falls, Texas that my mother and grandparents attended, but left the church and church life for a significant part of my adult life. I returned in 2000 when I found a home at Hope UMC in Greenwood Village. I have been on a spiritual path literally and figuratively since then.

I was introduced to the concept of The Land several years ago when it was first being presented at Hope. From the very beginning I was excited about the possibilities that this new concept of a faith community provided, and I am still excited about it.  My spirit thrives out of doors.  When I am walking in the woods or along a stream, I feel a connection to the Holy One more deeply than anywhere else. I believe this is true of many others. Trees and birds and animals have a direct connection to nature and to God that I lose touch with in a busy life.  That is why The Land is so appealing to me – because of the direct connection to nature and to God.

There are many individuals in our community who were not raised in the church as I was and who would never consider attending a worship service.  The idea of changing the location and method of worship from being surrounded by hymns and a beautiful building to being sung to by meadow larks and gold finches is delightful to me, and I believe it would be welcoming to many who would not enter a formal church.

Looking across the raw land as it is today, it is easy to visualize the future. I can see the labyrinth, the orchard, the walkways and the outdoor amphitheater. I can imagine myself walking and praying there. I can imagine the people I will be learning to love there, and it is a rich image.

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World Food Day

World Food Day

Originally posted on The Iliff School of Theology’s Blog

“…the decision to attend to the health of one’s habitat and food chain is a spiritual choice.”
–Barbara Kingsolver, The Essential Agrarian Reader

As a person of faith, I trust in the presence of divine possibility within each collision of institutional crisis and societal need. While the decline of organized religion in the midst of an overwhelming need for global advocacy for peace and justice can easily be seen as a double negative, I chose to experience their sum as a serendipitous pre-dug hole awaiting the arrival of hands prepared to plant new seeds. If the mission of the church is some version of creating disciples for the transformation of the world then shouldn’t it be the visibility and vocalization of societal injustices that functions as the template for the shape of the church in each moment?

Rev Stephanie Price at the Land blog pic

The Land is a seed planted at the corner of “Empty Pew Place” and “Feed My Sheep Street.” The Land is not a traditional church. It’s quite literally a field covered with wildflowers and prairie grasses. You can breathe out there and if you’re not careful the sky will reach down and swallow you up while the breeze blows sharp against your skin making you feel as if you could fly. At The Land you might find yourself warmly welcomed by cows grazing or warned off by the cautioning rattle of a snake guarding her babies. No matter the temperature or the company that day, at The Land if you look with the eyes of your heart you will notice that just beneath the surface of the cracked soil are seedlings of a vision for a faith community wrestling to pop up and surprise all of us as if to say, “God is here!”

Given the spiritual location of our faith community, it’s understandable we plan to gather at the empty field we call The Land to commemorate World Food Day. World Food Day is a day of action against hunger. The Land is an invitation to plant, harvest, and share fresh, local produce at a table that welcomes all. At The Land, World Food Day serves as a strategic gathering in the barren field to amend the soil, plant the seeds, and collectively labor to understand “for what do we labor?” As Christians in particular The Land creates space to prayerfully consider how we labor not only as citizens of the world but also as Disciples of Christ.

World Food Day is a reminder of the urgency of our labor in the presence of a barren global, field. A field where there is enough food for each person in the world to have 2,700 kilo calories a day and yet 805 million people, one in nine worldwide, live with chronic hunger. This is a field in which every ten seconds a child dies because invisible borders prevent food from making it into their grasping hands. At The Land we approach the unequal access to nutritious foods not simply as a political, ecological problem but as a spiritual conversation requiring individual and communal transformation. In community, in prayer and practice, we religiously labor for a global food system that empowers local farmers and engages the environment as a limited and valuable resource.

The vision of The Land faith community is to explore what it looks like to live as a disciple in the 21st century as we connect to our Creator and all of Creation. Integrating spiritual ritual and agricultural practice, The Land is a training ground to transform the everyday rituals of growing food, sharing meals, and tending the earth into acts of worship. One day this empty field filled with prairie grass and possibility will grow an edible labyrinth, spout an outdoor amphitheater and harvest a cathedral greenhouse. The Land’s seedlings are little, sometimes hidden, and often invisible to eyes that aren’t sure what the Church looks like anymore but we gather because we believe. We believe issues of hunger are spiritual conversations and that just as this field will grow into a faith community so too can our world transform into a place where all can reach the table and be filled with abundant blessing we call enough.

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All Kinds of Hungry

All Kinds of Hungry

“When it was time, he sat down, all the apostles with him, and said, “You’ve no idea how much I have looked forward to eating this Passover meal with you before I enter my time of suffering. It’s the last one I’ll eat until we all eat it together in the kingdom of God.” Taking the cup, he blessed it, then said, “Take this and pass it among you. As for me, I’ll not drink wine again until the kingdom of God arrives.” Taking bread, he blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, given for you. Eat it in my memory.” He did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant written in my blood, blood poured out for you.”

–Luke 22: 14-16, The Message,

I grew up in an “open-the-box-insert-into-microwave” kind of house. Two parents that worked full time plus two kiddo’s that exemplified the American extracurricular nightlife meant that meal time comprised anything fast, portable, and consequently void of nutritional and spiritual sustenance. In spite of this subtle retrospective critique on the kitchen practices of my family of origin, I should share that as a teen I reveled in the lifestyle. No meal time meant I didn’t have to slow down for the inconvenience of community. A kitchen stocked with easy to grab processed foods meant Nutty Bar after school communion with neighborhood kids before heading out to the soccer field. My youth was ritualized by the fullness of high caloric food and the emptiness of an extra serving of busyness.

all kinds of hungry

In college, however, the reality of being both physically full and spiritually starving culminated into chronic depression and a search for a fullness I had yet to experience. I felt heavy, weak, and perpetually lost. For me, the journey through the emotional labyrinth called ‘college’ led me straight to seminary and a financially costly education in all things theological. It felt like I was doing everything “right” and still so much felt innately wrong. I got married, graduated seminary, had a child, and began my pastoral career and still searched for something to fill me in a way I had yet to know.

I hoped very much, as perhaps many of you have, that church would fill me up. It might just be the leadership role I have been blessed with or the reality of what church has become, but more often than not church leaves me with a Nutty Bar hangover as opposed to the fullness of the slow roast family dinner I craved as a young adult. In “To Garden with God” author Christine Sine hypothesizes that “one of the reasons people are moving away from Christianity at time-warp speed is that we have divorced our faith from the rhythms and practices of the natural world.” If it is the quiet work of the summer garden, the deep flavors of a slow roasted meal, and the rising smell of expanding bread that people are seeking, the Sunday morning worship experience can be received as a quick trip Elitches on a 100 degree day. As a pastor I see people wander in and out of the sanctuary the same way my friends wandered in and out of my kitchen when I was a teenager. They may partake in what I serve but will go home to fill their souls up. Or, like me, they will wander seeking that place others call home where their souls and bodies receive the fullness they have always hungered for.

Shouldn’t the church be that place? The place where food slowly grows in the deep, dark soil? The place where the harvest awaits a community of eager, soft hands? The place where the table is set and the chair anticipate the arrival of a perpetual One More? For eight years these questions stewed in my soul until slowly the answer began to grow within me; If feeding my body had required relearning how to cook shouldn’t feeding my soul require relearning how to worship? The Land is a vision of a faith community that attempts to do just that; relearn worship as the way in which we live our lives opposed to an obligation we fulfill once a week. This relearning to worship is not meant as invalidation of the experience of persons who are filled by traditional forms of worship services. This relearning is meant to offer an alternative; a sacred gathering place that integrates agricultural practice and spiritual ritual for those who, like me, crave the sight of the sky and the smell of the soil as the context for their spiritual growth. Although today the physical site of our Aurora faith community is 9.7 acres of overgrown weeds where cows lazily graze, eighteen short months from now it will evolve into an experimental site for spiritual growth with an edible labyrinth, a greenhouse cathedral, an outdoor amphitheater, and a long table with wooden chairs, set, ready and waiting for the emotionally heavy and the spiritually hungry.

The message of The Land is that you Beloved Child of God were created to be filled; spiritually, emotionally, physically. It is okay to listen to your soul growl and decide you need to partake in a new spiritual menu. It has taken me a long time to embrace this truth; God is calling me to participate in a new thing. I believe that similar to the ways in which we care for our bodies, feeding our souls isn’t cured by stuffing ourselves with more, but by having access to the enough of the right type of nutrition. The Land is as much about physical nutrition as it is spiritual, and if you are hungry, heavy, and lost I want you to know The Land is a safe place to graze, to wander, and to awaken the hunger within.

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