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.