A Grounded Spirituality, in Community by Xochitl Alvizo


It was Sunday, April 1, we grilled corn and veggie-dogs and spent the day gardening with friends and neighbors. Each household with their own raised bed. We started seeds and planted starter plants. We spent all day outside, various friends and neighbors stopping by at different times of the day. This was my effort at a new practice of spirituality – to touch something green every day. Perhaps not the most obvious starting point, but it was what I could do.

I’ve always had a hard time understanding “spirituality” – or what people mean by it. I’ve never quite connected. When explained to me, I understand what people say it means, whether to them specifically or as a term broadly speaking, and as a scholar of religion I can study it and learn about it, but I just don’t connect with it. I didn’t have an entry point to the term or the practice.

I remember, though, very specifically, the moment I wondered what I might be missing, what depth of connection I might gain, if I did indeed have such a practice. There is an expression in Spanish, me dejó una espinita clavada (it left a splinter/thorn in me), used to indicate that something has stayed with you and causes you disquiet, and that moment did just that. It happened when I saw Edyka Chilomé perform in 2015 at Boston University. Edyka is an artivist, spoken word poet, and a friend who has contributed to FAR before and who I have written about in a previous post.

She began her performance with a ritual in which she recognized the sacred land on which we stood, calling it by its indigenous name, she called on the four directions, and she paid honor to her ancestors. It was such a grounding ritual and a powerful way to begin her performance, which is really her gift. You can see her perform a piece on YouTube here. Her way of starting her spoken word felt solid, as if it helped her know where she stood and to know the power that was within her. And as I witnessed it, it seemed to me that the ritual was a reflection of her spirituality, drawn from her indigenous roots.

It made me wonder about what I might be missing. What my life might gain if I too drew from a “deeper well” of sorts. What richness and power I might be able to draw into my work and be-ing if I had such a practice – if I thought of spirituality in this way and opened myself to it.

In many ways, I am a very practical person. I like solid, material things to engage with – so when thinking about starting a spiritual practice, I needed something solid with which to begin. So I decided I would commit to an easy first step – to touch something green every day – this would be my attempt to move toward an earthy, rooted spirituality.

My friends Tallessyn and Trelawney had been encouraging me to garden. Over the first two-plus years of transitioning from my life in Boston to life in Los Angeles, and in my job as a new professor, my friends saw me struggle. It was rough going for a good long while. When I would see them, they’d recommend that I spend time with the earth as a way to find my way back to myself. The earth is healing, they told me – this resonated with me and it became my starting point.

The plan to touch something green every day was for me both a way to remind myself to get my butt off my office chair and go garden outside and to be mindful to connect with my food, its source and process. But I also wanted my practice to have a community within which it existed; to have it be a source of connection with others. We had the space to do it, so it was just a matter of getting to work. We built five raised beds in our outdoor space and shared them with our friends and neighbors – we did the set up and they took it from there.

These pictures make it seem like I did this on my own, but trust me, I was mostly a helper and the man I married did most of the “heavy lifting.”

It was my first time gardening and we started both from seeds in the soil and from seeds in little pods. The most amazing thing for me is watching the seed develop into its green little leaves and hold itself up by its tiny little stem.

Or, in the seeds that we planted directly in the soil, to see the small green powerfully push itself up, lifting the soil as it raises itself through the earth! It is an impressive feat and exciting to watch. Squashes are amazing.

As far as this as a practice of spirituality, it makes sense to me. “Touching green” brings me new lessons every single day. I connect to the earth and feel myself more grounded . I love having a community of people with whom I get to be partners in tending the garden and I love getting to do this work with kids who bring so much energy to the process. All of this feel “right” and I can feel my disquiet, quieting.

 

I don’t know the impact this may or may not have on my sense of be-ing and my work; I don’t know if it will bring me more richness and depth, as I imagined Edyka’s practice does for her. But I’m here to find out and am enjoying the experiment. I feel more human already, and that’s no small feat!

 

Xochitl Alvizo, loves all things feminist, womanist, and mujerista. She often finds herself on the boundary of different social and cultural contexts, and works hard to develop her voice and to hear and encourage the voice of others. Her work is inspired by the conviction that all people are inextricably connected and what we do, down to the smallest thing, matters; it makes a difference for good or for ill. She teaches in the area of Women and Religion, and the Philosophy of Sex, Gender, and Sexuality, at California State University, Northridge.

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Categories: Community, Earth-based spirituality, Food, General, Nature

Tags: , ,

15 replies

  1. May your new practice continue to grow and blossom! “Nurture life.”

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  2. Beautiful post, Xochitl! I’ve never felt comfortable with the word, or the use of the word,spirituality, because it seemed to imply that spirituality was separate from, well, physicality, sexuality, matter, the dirt that is in fact the ground that feeds us. I wish we could all touch something green everyday. I love it that you are gardening in the midst of your community in LA. Urban gardening could heal so much in ourselves and how we connect to each other and all life on earth. Garden on!

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    • Yes, Elizabeth, that’s exactly right – the sense of disconnect with other aspects of life is what also troubled me about the term “spirituality.” It’s as if it is somehow a separate other-wordly thing – that never resonated with me. Thank you for putting that into words for me. And yes, Garden on! we will :)

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  3. I like this post, Xochitl, because it talks about a concept using an entry point that may or may not ultimately work for you. I also have a hard time with the meaning of the term “spirituality.” In my growing up years, the term carried with it this sense that spiritual people had attained a deep level or high state within their religious practice that most people did not. I also hear over and over again from students, “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” I’ve yet to get a satisfactory explanation from any one of them as to how that works itself out in their lives. Perhaps spirituality is one of those elusive truths that when focused on eludes us. Please keep us updated on your own experience.

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    • That is such a great point, Esther – students do use that expression often, but I, like you, am left wondering what that actually means to them. This would be a good classroom experiment to pursue. I do know Nancy Ammerman (sociologist of religion) did a study in which she pursues this question and resulted in a publication, “Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes” (see also, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jssr.12024) and concluded that this category is not very easy to pinpoint. But it would be awesome to investigate in the undergraduate classroom…

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  4. Make no mistake – “As far as this as a practice of spirituality, it makes sense to me. “Touching green” brings me new lessons every single day. I connect to the earth and feel myself more grounded” –

    You speak truth here. Let the plants lead you. This is the “way” in and through. There is something about engaging directly with Nature and allowing her to instruct us that leads to something else that I would call a spiritual path. It begins by doing… opening that door. For me spirituality is going to the river each morning to watch the sunrise, listening to bird song, tending my small raised garden with love and attention, loving my dogs, having conversations with Lizards…this and choosing to honor the eight spokes of the year and the thirteen moons though writing engaging with ritual – the two are intimately connected.

    Wonderful essay that in my opinion asks the right questions!

    Thank you!

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  5. That is such a powerful and moving video, Xochitl. Thank you for the link.
    I’m fortunate to live in housing (for independent seniors) that encourages gardens. This year I have a small “kitchen garden” just outside my door. I planted some herbs, greens, and garlic. Bigger beds inhabit bigger spaces and each one is so unique, according to the one who tends it. I have squash growing in one. I love the photo of the children btw, and if you ever are unemployed in teaching, you can start a business making raised beds – yours are beautiful.

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  6. Great photos and excellent practice in the community garden. We can touch green, as you say, even in very small ways, as when I plant new cat grass seeds in a largish pot with a cat painted on it. (It’s time for me to do this again.) My cats love the grass, so the planting and tending are good for all of us. Your planting and tending are good for a larger community. I believe that planting and tending, nurturing, watering, pay attention–these are all spiritual practices on a less elevated level than the preachers seem to want to stick to. Bright blessings to us and to the veggies and the grass!

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  7. Barbara and Barbara, I love each of the ways you are touching green – thank you for connecting. And yes, bright blessings to us indeed. Garden on! :)

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  8. A beautiful essay brimming with truth, as yours always are. I’ve always thought of “spiritual” as simply that which nourishes and nurtures the spirit within us, however we define that, which is deeply interconnected with the Earth we live on as well as our physical beings. Plants are so such wonderful pals – so giving and forgiving and always there for you if you just give them a little love (and water and sunshine and good soil…) I knew a man in his 80s who had made his living growing and selling plants and he told me that the secret to raising healthy plants was to say hello to each one of them every morning individually, tell them you love them, blow them a kiss…The older I get the more I believe that’s true – engaging with living beings different from us in a totally giving way eases our souls and theirs…Enjoy your garden and may it bring you peace and joy!

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  9. I know telling your plants you love them and talking to them makes them happy…they want a relationship with us – all we have to do is open the door!

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  10. Xochitl, bless you, bless you, bless you!! I am so joyful to hear how your friends are blessing you- your plant friends, the living soil, teeming with beneficial microbes, the living water, air, sun, rain, humans and other animals, all helping you feel connected with Ruach, the spirit, the force of being and breath that unites and animates all creation. Bless you always, beloved friend!!!!! ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

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  11. Xochitl, reading this and seeing the photos brought me such deep joy! What a wonderful idea – to touch something green – sometimes I even caress the vegetables before I cook them and/or eat them – they are precious beings who are giving their lives for me – the Spirit of Sophia-Christ is alive in them!

    I particularly appreciate how you start small – you may recall my post about fearing the natural world, because it gives me nowhere to hide from my grief and pain. Something so small – to touch something green – is a wonderfully gentle way to lead yourself down the path you want to travel, toward richer and more nourishing spiritual practices. Sending you lots of love!

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