Welcome to A Reverent Life

Amidst the perspiration of life is the need for inspiration. It is vital to our overall wellness to find ways to heal, regenerate and celebrate life on Earth. Accordingly, we are always in need of joy and to serve others joyfully.

A reverent life is one that embraces beauty, hope, peace and joy. It is driven by a generous spirit and a compassionate heart. It is a constant flame serving to enlighten this Earthly journey and to help others on theirs.

The world today is in great upheaval. Irreverence  for life can be felt among humans, Nature, and all creatures large and small. Think of this Blog as a small island of grace in your day — an intimate sanctuary to reacquaint you with awe and wonder and gratitude, but also to remind you, with wit and humor, that irreverence can be an amazing and perhaps necessary teacher sometimes in our life, helping us to be even more devoted to living honorably and compassionately.

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Generosity — A Way to Peace

“How can I live on Earth today so that my life and the well-being of all life is served well?”

This may be one of the most important questions asked today, for it is based on a belief that all life on Earth has significance and purpose. As such, our relationship to other humans and this planet is better served through sharing and cooperating rather than competing, conquering, and over-achieving.

Thinking and caring about our interrelationship with others is one of the surest ways to change our old patterns of seeing today’s world as a place of conflict, tension, insensitivity, or one of boundless resources to exploit. Kind and clear-hearted caring, as a gesture of generosity, can help us find our unique way of being of loving service. Continue reading

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Give It All Away! — A Personal Lesson in Generosity

“Give it all away, Forrest! Don’t hold back, just give it away!” John, a fellow food vendor, stormed across the crowded food court screaming at the top of his lungs. I felt like a child being publicly admonished. On one level I knew why he was so angry: I had sold the last cup of smoothie from our pushcart just before his son requested a free one in trade for a meal I had gotten earlier from John’s food stand. Apparently his son only told him that I refused to generously offer up a drink.

On a deeper level, however, John had unknowingly struck a raw nerve in my character — I indeed had a notable tendency to hold back, no matter what it might be. I am certain it was a form of self-preservation from growing up in a family of regular emotional and physical abuse, and of meager means. Consequently, I offered less than my full self to others, like conditionally extending one hand with the other held behind the back.

At the end of the business day, I sat in long reflection, caught between the dilemma of familiarly holding back in my life and the unexplored universe of letting go and giving “it” all away, as John challenged me to do. It didn’t matter what IT was — my heart, emotions, thoughtfulness, generosity, money, possessions, whatever — my public humiliation was an opportunity for soul-searching.

My contemplation led to this thought puzzle: Imagine you have a small backpack in which you put anything you desire that will fit. The rest of the things in your life — well, you’re going to generously give them all way. What would be packed, and what would you part with? Continue reading

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Love All Creation

Copyright © 2011 C. Forrest McDowell

Love all Creation. The whole and every grain of sand in it.
Love every leaf, and every ray of light.
Love the plants. Love the animals. Love everything.
If you love everything you will perceive the Divine Mystery in all things.
Once you perceive it you will comprehend it better every day.
And you will come, at last, to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.

Dostoyevsky, Brothers Karamazov

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The Sacred Hearth as Sanctuary

Most people commonly associate the word “hearth” with a fireplace, open fire, or stove. But the feeling that hearth evokes is its great value. It enfolds us in communion, interaction, sharing, comfort and safety. It speaks of storytelling, the passing on of wisdom and skills, the processing of ideas and issues, the simple feeling of being embraced and appreciated by like-hearted and like-minded others. The concept of sanctuary is ennobled by the symbol of the Hearth. The Hearth is both the spiritual form of sanctuary and sanctuary itself with spirit.

In a very practical yet spiritually bonding ritual, our friends Sharon and Steve re-enact all the symbolism of the Hearth described above. Every evening, rain or shine at their country home, Steve lights a fire in a shortened burn barrel, around which they huddle for an hour or so. Here they embrace affectionate conversation, dreams for their lives and land, and gratitude for their relationship. Their days are exceedingly full and exhausting with work away from home, but this Hearth ritual, by their own admission, provides them with much needed respite for their relationship.

In another example, a father describes taking his son regularly to a local living memorial: a 2000-year-old oak tree. This tree acts as a type of Hearth for the community, where multi-generations of families have played and been held in its outstretched arms. David writes: “The eyes of the visitors follow the same path over the tree, seemingly trying to see past its leaves, bark, and wood to something meaningful that surely must have been hidden there — something spiritual and eternal. The hidden ‘something’ that these visitors sensed was, I believe, the life-giving presence of God which flows through the tree’s trunk and branches.” Continue reading

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Love is Weird

Memorial Day is special for Tricia and me. Thirty years ago, we stood atop a nearby mountain and she decided to partner-up with me. The next day she moved in. That is how a hippie and ex-college professor began life anew together. Isn’t love weird?

In some ways we are like oil and water. Tricia needs adventures; I am world-weary. She has a vast array of friends; I’m a loner. She never worries about money; I’m a tightwad. She plants flowers; I pull weeds. She is happy, happy, happy; I am too serious. She never ages; I, well, I just am. Isn’t love weird?

Our mutual weirdness is held together by a common philosophy: we revere life. People are hell-bent on erecting fences, and we are heaven-bent on tearing them down. People like to complain about life, and we love to celebrate it. People keep an arms distance from nature, and we live in a tiny glass house smack in the middle of woods and gardens. People over-consume; we religiously recycle. People grumpily awake growling “Good God, morning;” we cheerfully arise singing “Good God, morning!” People are dragged through the day by their hair; we float carefree like a UFO. Continue reading

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Moved by Impermanence — Letting Go in a Changing World

It has been hard to focus on gardening this Spring. Natural disasters have distracted me, and any losses my garden suffered this past Winter pale in comparison to those victims of earthquakes, tsunami’s, radiation, floods, tornadoes, drought, wildfires and the like. The suffering of people, animals and the landscape make my meager gardening concerns seem almost selfish. And yet there is a truth that yokes all our plights: change is a central feature of life.

As a gardener, I am always taking Nature into my hands and manipulating Her to meet my aesthetics: planting, pruning, moving, removing, shaping, vanquishing, cutting. Nature, however, seems to make decisions based upon indifference, not how conscientious an organic gardener I am, nor my ranking in society. My diligence at control and aesthetics, therefore, is matched by such natural forces as wind, rain, snow, drought, cold, insects and the like. My ability to accept change is always being tested, and I am reminded of the impermanence of life. Continue reading

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Sanctuary & Temenos — Sacred Boundary for the Soul

Our soul has a boundless desire to take in life. However, when we need a sense of safety, security, comfort, replenishment, solace, peace, and relief from worldly activities we are naturally drawn to boundaries. Boundaries of time and place are like islands of consciousness that are true safe zones for the soul. These safe zones can manifest as sanctuary or refuge from the world, if but for a few moments.

Safety and peace need enclosure, an “interior castle” as Christian mystic Teresa of Avila puts it, or as the ancient Greeks called it, temenos. Physically, temenos is characterized as a sacred, protected or enclosed place, as in the space surrounding a temple or an altar. Psychologically, Carl Jung characterized temenos as the safe, private inner space deep within us, i.e. our sense of self independent of the world. In short, temenos — be it physical or psychological, profane or spiritual, within or without — affords a sacred boundary for the soul. Thomas Moore offers a practical characterization:

When we choose a seat or standing area on a bus or train, when we arrange space in an office or workplace, when we decide where to put a garden, or chairs on a porch, where to sit on the riverbank to have lunch, where to play with the children — all of these decisions have to do with temenos, marking out a space appropriate for a certain spirit that breathes life into our activity. Continue reading

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The Value of Sanctuary in Daily Life

One of the most appealing features of everyday sanctuary is its universality. It is both a place in the world and a feeling of inner safety. It is a home or temple, cozy corner, garden, or deep woods; it is the arms of a loved one or friend and, yes, it is even a moment of time at our workstation or while standing in line. For many people, sanctuary is their refuge in God.

In every instance, sanctuary is a harbor for the soul, and the soul giving harbor. It is an extraordinary opportunity to love and respect ourselves and the world anew every day. Continue reading

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7 Principles of Reverent Gardening

Raised beds at Cortesia Sanctuary

We have gardened the same 2 acres at our 22-acre Cortesia Sanctuary, outside of Eugene, Oregon, for over 25 years. The zeal of our youthfulness has matured into the content of elder years. From the start, however, we challenged ourselves to practice gardening with a philosophical foundation of reverence for life. To guide our efforts to honor Nature via gardening and land stewardship, we created seven guiding principles.

As the garden season unfolds, now would be a good time for thoughtfulness in your gardening efforts. We offer you the 7 Principles of Reverent Gardening for inspiration and instruction. To quote our motto: “Plant a seed of hope, respect the Earth, and harvest your good efforts.”

7 Principles of Reverent Gardening

  1. All of Earth is a Garden
    Conscientious stewardship of a garden is a means to practice the Reverent Gardener’s ethic of service: To enhance the well-being and ecology of Earth, nature and humanity by gardening with respect, courtesy, gratitude, and reverence.
  2. Nature is a vast web of interdependent lives and events of which humans are only part
    By becoming a student of nature’s complex system (microorganisms, insects, plants, animals, minerals, soil, natural forces such as wind, rain, sun, etc.), we can perceive and understand nature’s subtle and dramatic workings in our garden. Consequently, we can garden to restore, regenerate, and sustain nature’s integrity.
  3. The value of Nature is as much for itself as for humans
    We should be grateful for the opportunity to co-create daily with nature, and to know when to simply be a witness of nature at work and play in our garden. In the spirit of cooperation rather than domination, not every human intervention may be appropriate.
  4. Gardening is an opportunity to engage in honorable effort and right livelihood
    In partnership with nature, we can be a noble steward — for a moment, an hour, a season, and a lifetime. We can learn to be patient, observant and curious, having faith in the mystery of nature. Above all, we can learn to evoke in our efforts awe and wonder, and wisdom.
  5. The process of gardening is as desirable as the end product of our efforts
    Gardening allows us to learn about nature and ourselves. We should strive for a balanced philosophy and practice that embraces the wise and creative use of intuition as well as an honorable and intelligent use of science and technology. Such gardening “tools” should cause the least harm to all without sacrificing the garden or nature’s overall integrity.
  6. A garden should be beautiful as well as nutritious
    We should strive to create a peaceful refuge that nourishes and nurtures, giving optimally nutritious food for the body and replenishing food for the soul. The highest compliment to a garden is to perceive it as an inspiring sanctuary.
  7. Give back to Nature and your garden more than you take
    Live like you won’t be here tomorrow; have reverence and compassion for Earth as if you will be here forever. Therefore, sustain and regenerate your garden’s soil, recycle waste, and conserve water. Encourage diversity of plants, native vegetation, and desirable wildlife, large and minute. Foster the use of heirloom seeds and seed-saving. Use the least toxic inputs for both soil and plant. Grow only as much as you need and can share with others while offering a portion to the garden’s wildlife. Finally, do what you can to educate others on how to be an Earth-friendly, reverent gardener.

Meadow garden at Cortesia Sanctuary

Feel free to visit our website for more inspiration:

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Beauty: A Way to Peace

Beauty is both a path toward inner peace and a path into the world. The recognition of beauty — within yourself, others, objects, architecture, animals and nature — can create a warm sanctuary for the soul in daily life. How is this possible? It is because when we put a face of beauty upon the world, our heart and mind are lightened amidst the heaviness or stress of life. Perceiving beauty, therefore, becomes a means to experience joy and reverence, helping us to elicit kindness and gratitude along the way. Continue reading

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