I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World Guest Post series from the community. Read on for Michelle Lisenbee's reflection on caring for chickens as spiritual practice.
I live in the Mid-Atlantic. Our summers tend to be very warm and very humid. Not like, jungle humid, but sometimes it feels pretty darn close. One Sunday morning, in late July of 2017, I opened the door to feel blessed coolness. It had been in the high nineties all week. This morning, it was only in the seventies and the usual humidity was absent. I knew it would be back, but for this morning, it was glorious. The sun was shining, the sky was a perfect blue and a light breeze ruffled the leaves of the trees that ringed our back yard. I stepped barefoot out the door, off the porch and into the dewy grass, savoring the cool feel of it on my feet. Our chocolate Labrador, Shasta, always within touching distance of me, followed me out. While she snuffled about and did her business, I slowly crossed the yard to let our chickens out for the day.
We have a small mobile coop and five hens we adopted from a friend when she moved out of state and couldn't take them with her. We'd gotten only them six weeks earlier and I was still learning how to be a chicken mom. As I approached, I heard them softly clucking to each other. As they heard me coming, they got louder, greeting me in their chicken-y way. I smiled and knelt to open their little doorway. One by one, they hopped down into the grass and began pecking and scratching, looking at me sideways to see if I had something good for them to eat. I reached out to stroke each of them in turn and sang them the silly little "good morning song" I'd made up. Once they realized I had no treats, they ignored me. I placed their ladder, checked their food and water and latched the door. I turned and opened the nesting box lid to check for eggs – and found one perfect brown oval there resting on the sweet-smelling pine shavings. I cupped it in my palm. It felt perfect – round and smooth and warm.
I held it gently as I continued to wander through the lush greenness in our small corner of the world. My attention was captured by a blaze of yellow at our woodpile. I had seen these volunteer flowers growing there earlier and had warned my husband and sons not to mow them down. Today, they were in full, riotous sunshine-y bloom. Coreopsis, I thought. I did not plant them here. I had planted others in the front yard, but none in the back. I had no idea how they ended up here, but they did. The juxtaposition of the messy, overgrown woodpile and the bright happy blossoms lit up my heart. In that moment, I felt completely full of overwhelming gratitude for all of it: the gorgeous weather, the early morning egg, the blooming woodpile. I stood quietly, surrounded by God's creation – earth, sky, plants, and animals and breathed it in. I felt myself a part of it. As I gave thanks for everything, I realized I need to include myself as part of the picture. As God created all that surrounded me, he also created me. And just as each blade of grass and each perfect egg was a unique creation, made only once, so was I. My eyes welled up. This, I thought. This is truth.
It's now been a year since we adopted our chickens. Stepping outside twice a day to care for them has become one of my primary spiritual practices. I know, it probably seems odd to call caring for chickens a spiritual activity, but for me, it is. Every single day that I am home, at dawn and just after dusk, I step outside, barefoot if the weather allows. I pause. I breathe. I look up. I check for eggs. I supply food, water and as much safety as I can. I give thanks.
Being outside at the opening and closing of each day helps keep me in in touch with what is real. I notice the weather. I notice the position of the sun. I notice the phase of the moon. I notice the fireflies. (Oh the magical wonder of fireflies in summer!!) I notice the melting snow, the parts of our yard that stay wet for days after a rain, the birds that have built nests in our shed eaves, the bunnies that hop softly about. I hear woodpeckers in the dead tree next door, the geese that migrate overhead, the squirrels that race around playing tag.
Watching the seasons unfold and flow one into the next is part of what it means to be a monk in the world for me. Every dawn reminds me that we have the chance to begin again. Every dusk reminds me to give thanks for the blessings of the day. As a nurse and massage therapist, remembering that we are all part of God's amazing creation brings more compassion to my work. And as an artist, gratitude and nature often make their way onto my canvases. Even if the whole wide middle of my day ends up feeling out-of-sorts, these bookend moments are (usually!) enough to bring me back to center. Praying we all find centering moments in our day – with or without chickens. Blessings.
Michelle Lisenbee is a Registered Nurse, massage therapist and artist. She lives in a 100 year old house in the Maryland suburbs with her husband, two teenage sons, a large dog, three cats and of course, chickens. You can find her at www.michellelisenbee.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MichelleLisenbeeArt/