I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Elaine Breckenridge’s reflection “Chickens and Kinship.”
A few years ago, I signed the Monk Manifesto and pledged myself to “The Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks.” I took the commitment seriously and adopted the Manifesto as my new Rule of Life. Most recently, the Spirit has given me an opportunity to go more deeply into practicing point four: “I commit to cultivating an awareness of my kinship with creation and a healthy asceticism by discerning my use of energy and things and letting go of what does not help nature to flourish.”
I have always been attracted to the kinship with creation theme which is found in Celtic Christian writings–both in the ancient and contemporary texts. As an Episcopal priest, I have sought to incorporate more images of nature when designing liturgies, using a variety of Celtic texts to connect the worship with God’s creation. I have enjoyed reading the stories of the saints and their special relationships with animals. However, the only embodied kinship I experienced with animals took place on St. Francis Day when it was my job to bless animals. It was fun to play with a kitten, pat puppy dogs or pose with a horse.
But it was only kinship for a day. Most of my practice of Celtic Spirituality has consisted of reading books in an arm chair in my living room, or, writing reflections at my computer for Abbey online classes. That has changed.
This spring I retired. I gave up my full-time ministry in a congregation and a suburban lifestyle, seriously downsized and moved to an island. The house we are currently renting is half the size and without many of the amenities to which I have become accustomed. Most inconveniently, there is no garbage disposal! I have never lived without a garbage disposal. The prospect was unpleasant as I did not want to begin composting. Fortunately, my son offered an alternative. He lives on a working farm just ten minutes away and has given me a chicken bucket. I save all of our food scraps for the bucket. He picks it up weekly, takes it to his chickens and leaves me with a clean bucket for the next week. The first time he brought us an empty bucket, he also brought a dozen eggs from the very chickens I had agreed to help support. They were and are the best eggs I have ever had in my life!
That prompted my visit to meet these chickens. I saw their home and helped to collect eggs from the nests. On that visit, I watched them strutting around a pile of food but not eating. Apparently, they had been given old bread from a local bakery. A day later, my son picked up my chicken bucket and I soon received a text and the following photo from my son, “Mom, the chickens really like your bucket!” They do appear to be feasting!
The first week of my life without a garbage disposal was soon transformed into my life with saving and blessing foods scraps for our chickens. I feel free to say “our” because I contribute to their diet by recycling our food waste. (I am pleased to say that my bucket continues to be a favorite!) And by my purchasing the eggs (and other farm products as well) I am also supporting the work and indeed the ministry of this farm. They are in the process of creating a little Eden, caring for the Earth and in turn contributing to the wellbeing of the humans who buy their food. And I am an active participant in this circle of life.
The circle has expanded. I have practiced a letting go of many of my creature comforts in this new environment. I am more conscious of the water and electricity I use. I am buying organic and eschewing plastics. We are trying a little gardening. I am taking small steps towards reducing my carbon footprint on the planet.
And I am spending more time outdoors and have taken up both forest and Puget Sound bathing. I now have a sense of my personal kinship with creation. I am not just practicing. I am living as a Celtic Christian and a disorderly, dancing monk. It is a joy to have traded in my living room arm chair for a beach chair on Camano Island.
Elaine Breckenridge is a dancing monk and retired Episcopal priest living on Camano Island, Washington in Puget Sound. Currently she is doing some supply work for the Diocese of Olympia but is mostly enjoying forest and beach walks and shopping at local Farmers Markets. Her passions are the music of Kristopher E. Lindquist (Kelmusic.com), yoga and living the Abbey of the Arts Monk Manifesto.