Good morning, everyone! I’m writing this from my desk in the sunroom overlooking the east pasture and old pecan grove at Egret Isle Farm. As I think about all the changes that have happened recently and all the changes coming soon, I want to thank you for coming along on this new adventure! It’s a work in progress, and I’m excited to invite you along for the ride. Over the next several months, we will be working behind the scenes to build something new with an eye to rolling out several programs along the way, all under the name the Serene Disciple Project. You will not only have the opportunity to watch it be built–you can have a hand in designing it. So, what is the Serene Disciple Project and how does it relate to Egret Isle Farm?
The name Serene Disciple comes from a poem by Thomas Merton, which I’ve included below. This poem was meaningful to me while recovering from a deep personal and professional crisis almost a decade ago. In the aftermath of that crisis, I longed for a more sustainable and life giving way of being in the world. Merton’s poem captures the essential peace and grace of the way of life I began to develop during that season of reclamation. This way of life, which I smilingly called “suburban monasticism,” owed much to the sort of monastic “rules” I had learned about in church history–rules not in the sense of a list of do’s and don’ts but precepts for a way of being, speaking, and acting. Suburban monasticism consisted of time moving between solitude and personal devotion (on the deck), creative activity (in the workshop), hospitality (in the kitchen), and spiritual friendship marked by good natured and generous conversation (on the porch). This monastic quadrilateral of deck, shop, kitchen, and porch form the core of the Serene Disciple Project. Wrapped around that core is the understanding that our lives, including our spiritual lives, happen in a place–a physical context–and that when we disassociate or disconnect our spiritual lives from real people in a real place living real lives, we end up with sterile and sterilizing dogma. The Serene Disciple Project is about modeling and sharing a way of life that moves gracefully through devotion, creativity, hospitality, and spiritual friendship in the context of Egret Isle Farm. In its meadows, gardens, ponds, barn, creative spaces, paths, kitchen, and porches, we will explore sustainable spiritual practice and sustainable agriculture. We will grow vegetables and souls, piglets and friendships, cauliflower and community, corn and–well, you get the point.
But as I dreamed about these big ideas, I realized that not only did I not know most of the answers, I didn’t even know most of the right questions! I needed a clearness committee. (A what?) I knew I wouldn’t be able to figure out those questions on my own, so I convened my own version of this Quaker invention. A clearness committee is a group of trusted advisors who are committed to my success and willing to abide by two rules: ask any questions that would bring clarity to any aspect of the concern at hand (logistical, theological, philosophical, procedural, etc.) and refrain from offering advice. I asked seven people to form my clearness committee and stick to those guidelines. The questions immediately began to come: how, why, when, where, who? Lots of questions! As I answered the questions, the project became clearer–its real focus and scope, what it would require of me, where my thinking was fuzzy or just wrong, how to proceed. This collaborative way of thinking about a project was new to me, but I can now recommend it, even if I found the volume and complexity of the questions daunting at first.
Because of the clearness process, we have begun establishing our financial and legal infrastructure and have a more focused sense of the vision, mission, and values of this project, all of which I will be sharing in the future. Toward these ends we will be producing audio, video, and written content to be distributed in a variety of media. We will also host periodic Serene Disciple Gatherings and Egret Isle Farm days. And, of course, we will be selling what we produce: fruit and vegetables, eggs, honey, beef, and pork, as well as hand crafts made in the workshop.
As the earliest travelers joining us on this journey, you will watch it grow from the ground up. So, don’t look for polish just yet. Instead, enjoy the rough edges and experimentation, and let us know what you think and how we can improve. Rather than presenting a finished product, you will see the nitty gritty of how it all comes together, which will serve, in part, to model how to set out on your own adventures and maybe give you the courage to start even if you aren’t sure how.
What comes next? First, look for a weekly email newsletter to be released every Friday. Then, beginning Sunday, February 24th we will host a weekly Serene Disciple Group gathering at the farm. These gatherings will include free time around the farm, a shared meal, and a time of focused learning and conversation. Beginning Saturday, March 2 we will host monthly Farm Days. On Farm Days you are invited to spend time at the farm in work and leisure, ending the day with a shared meal and group activity (conversation, music, play, etc). In March we will begin our fundraising push, and in April we will roll out websites for Egret Isle Farm and Serene Disciple Project, a Patreon site, a YouTube channel, and much more!
So, welcome! I am grateful to have you on this adventure. Please share this newsletter with whomever you think would be interested. If this was sent to you and you would like to be included on the email list, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to come help out on the farm other than on Farm Days, let me know. We need to finish the turkey yard in preparation for a new flock, ready the barn for another round of piglets and cattle, mow the walking paths and grounds, and spray the pecan trees.
There’s lots to do, so come along!
“When in the Soul of a Serene Disciple”
When in the soul of the serene disciple
With no more Fathers to imitate
Poverty is a success,
It is a small thing to say the roof is gone:
He has not even a house.
Stars, as well as friends,
Are angry with the noble ruin.
Saints depart in several directions.
There is no longer any need of comment.
It was a lucky wind
That blew away his halo with his cares,
A lucky sea that drowned his reputation.
Here you will find
Neither a proverb nor a memorandum.
There are no ways,
No methods to admire
Where poverty is no achievement.
His God lives in his emptiness like an affliction.
What choice remains?Thomas Merton
Well, to be ordinary is not a choice:
It is the usual freedom
Of men without visions.