Happy Advent! This is an excerpt from middle of the talk I gave at The Festival of Saint Lucia this year at Gustavus Adolphus College. The theme of the talk was cultivating our inner light during Advent.
In the Cloud Forest of Guatemala, There is an eco lodge run solely on hydro and solar power. They are trying to save the cloud forest by reversing the effects of deforestation. The intervention is educating and empowering girls. In the area, 75% of girls drop out of school between 6th and 7th grade to start working and raise families. CCFC, the organization there, invites these girls to do a three week course where they learn about birds, water, trees, and how to diversify their crops. They also learn about hygiene, life skills, and goal setting. For completing the course, they receive a full scholarship to stay in school.
The campus is filled with the light of hope. Girls find other girls who think 12 is too young to start a family. They gain skills to support their family nutritionally and financially. They are re-introduced to the crops their grandmothers grew before corn became king.
When I was there, we wove through fields a mile high, lifting elephant leaves, admiring bunches of bananas, blueberries, coffee, avocados, and mangoes. The morning clouds burned off, leaving the mountainside vulnerable to the searing sun.
We reached a steep plot devoid of trees. Three men in rubber boots took machetes to the tall grass. Seven women in flip flops and colorful skirts hacked rows of small holes a half foot deep. My team followed behind with a variety of fragile baby trees. The dry dirt slipped through my fingers, leaving the root exposed and untethered. The infant trunks will require six years of attention to thrive.
Caked in mud and sweat, we meandered back downhill for dinner. I gazed at the opposing mountain and its receding forest line. A man carrying a large burlap sack of firewood on his back passed us on the path. A wave of futility rushed over me.
Late that evening I woke to the sound of pouring rain. I imagined the water seeping into the earth, mixing the dry dirt with the fertile clay. I smiled and thought, “Maybe.”
Meanwhile, back in Minneapolis, a woman named Siri started a community garden. About a year ago, Siri found herself in a cycle of despair. She was feeling cynical, angry and overwhelmed about climate change. One night, in response to her lament a friend kindly offered, “Would it help to do something about it?”
Siri took the challenge to heart. Planting a seed requires the audacity of hope. Tilling the soil quiets the mind, brings peace to the heart, and slows time just a bit. Weeding is a spiritual practice. Watching seeds transform is a living metaphor. Fresh air shakes the dust from our souls. She built beds, planted seeds, watered them and tended to them. She showed up week in and week out.
The garden exceeded all of our expectations. It burst with life. The sun flowers towered over us. The pollinators brought life and vibrancy and splashes of color. We tended to the earth and it showered us with bounty.
Siri has been amazed at the shift inside of herself, growing from overwhelmed to empowered.
Siri is traveling to Guatemala in January to work in the dirt there and bring back what she learns at CCFC. In both places, the gardens are physical reminders of God’s abundance. A place to gather and listen to the soil and and remember whose we are. It brings dignity to get down on our knees and get dirty. Get some earth under our fingernails.
So this Advent I ask you, “What gives you hope? What seeds need planting? How can you move from overwhelmed to empowered? How can you grow hope in your heart and in your life so that it flows from you?”