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Stop and Be

September Blog Headers (2)

Editor’s Note: Overseas Lay Missioner Nora McMahon reflects on lessons gleaned from stopping and being with nature. 

There’s a banana tree in the garden of the Center where I live in Bolivia and, besides pictures, I’ve never had a chance to observe a banana tree before. In the land of eternal spring, the actual season of spring here is fascinating. When most of the world is being engulfed by a colorful blanket before the earth rests for a time, the southern hemisphere is only starting to wake up.

The Season of Creation, the annual Christian celebration of prayer and action to protect creation, ended on St. Francis’ Feast Day, but it does not end our need to absorb nature. Most of us anymore use nature as a treat, a reward, a planned weekend trip, or getaway. We totally ignore the trees on our drive to work or the flowers sprouting in the sidewalk by our houses. The birds that wake you up before your alarm are a nuisance; what else do we call something that disrupts the created fantasy of control that our cities proselytize? Living in such abundant numbers that we don’t know the name of the person living across the street, we can kid ourselves into thinking that we aren’t also a part and parcel of this nature that we exclaim and dominate.

Nature shapes us just as much as we shape it. The only difference is who acknowledges it. In his poem “Right Now I’m Standing,” Jason Allen-Paisant reflects not only on the nature of the tree that he is standing beneath, but how his nature and history are reflected in it. In it comes the reflection that even a park where people can spend time relaxing and strolling comes with expectations, power, and prejudice.

The wood that built slave ships came from beautiful forests.

In Irish tradition, St. Stephen was hiding from Roman soldiers in a bush and a wren gave away his location. Ever since this story was populated, there is a day dedicated to killing wrens in Ireland.

So does nature shape us or do we shape nature?

I don’t particularly care about the answer. What I do care about is that I found a rose bigger than my head and was able to stick my whole face in it. That I had a conversation with a parrot sitting on my finger. That every day I pass by the banana tree, something has changed.

No matter how hard my day was, how tired I am, or how much of a rush I’m in, the thing that pulls me out of my head and places my feet firmly is the fact that I don’t control anything that I think I do, such as a new leaf growing on a tree that wasn’t there the day before. We should take our cues from this form of control that nature exerts. Just a nudge, some sunlight there, rain here. That’s what we can do, so why act like it’s not enough? Bananas aren’t grown in a day, so we can enjoy our fruits only when it’s time; no sooner, no later. As Jason Allen-Paisant wrote, “Listen there is nothing as exhilarating as the feeling of life coming into you.”

Reflection: How can you better connect yourself to the nature you are a part of? How has nature shaped your life?

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What most attracted me to the long-term overseas mission with FMS was the emphasis on solidarity with the poor. A lot of other wonderful mission programs preferred to focus on other aspects of serving communities, but I love FMS’s commitment to being with the people they are serving. It is unique and adds a depth, that you are not only going overseas to provide a service but to understand.