Saturday, July 18, 2009
Life Lessons from a Pest Plant
Guests at the World Healing Institute at Cobb Island Station, on Virginia's beautiful eastern shore helped launch the first-ever Radical Joy for Hard Times retreat on June 19-21. It was a particularly diverse and inquisitive group, composed of two Methodist ministers, an architect, a biologist, an artist, and WHI center coordinator Annie Hess.
Plans for the weekend included a walk on Sunday with a biologist to visit and perhaps do ceremony on a stretch of endangered beach. However, on Saturday our attention was repeatedly drawn to an environmental problem closer at hand. This was the common reed that grew abundantly between the institute's front lawn and the bay. Phragmites (frag might eez) has become a reviled plant along the eastern shore, even though it grows on spoils, such as dredged land, where no other plants can survive. The Nature Conservancy, which owns the land at WHI, has tried repeatedly to poison it, but it keeps coming stubbornly back.
The mission of Radical Joy for Hard Times is to bring attention and beauty to wounded places. Gradually our group came to realize that phragmites itself is one of nature's wounded. We discussed the plant at length, getting the facts about how it grows and where, then each person spent an hour sitting alone among these tall grasses with their round stalks and sandpapery leaves. Afterwards, everyone came together to tell the story of what had happened. All the comments were striking in their individuality and in the precision of the way observations of the plant all around had dovetailed with inner experiences and reflections. I was particularly moved by what one of the ministers had to say:
"I was thinking about inclusivity and exclusivity. There's a movement in our church these days to exclude gay people from worship services. I think this is wrong. Everyone should have a right to worship God and His creation. And every plant should have a right to grow, because it, too is a part of creation."
As in any Radical Joy for Hard Times event, we ended this excursion with an Act of Beauty. This one had two parts. First we all made a path through a long stretch of phragmites, a kind of meandering ramble that might serve as a counterpart to the beautiful Chartres-style labyrinth cut into the grass between the building and the (phragmite-lined) bay. Finally, when the path was complete, we cut stalks of phragmites, arranged them in a glass vase, and placed them on our dinner table.