The Spiritual Path - The Sacrements
excerpted from, "A School of Change" by Douglas Stevenson

The Sacrament of Birth
One of the most powerful experiences that came to impact the hundreds of people coming in contact with The Farm was that of birth, a practice enshrined in the phrase “Spiritual Midwifery.” Over the last hundred years, much of the western world has had the miracle of birth removed from the realm of direct experience. By the late 1960’s and 70’s, shuttered behind the doors of operating rooms in clinical sterile environments, birth was no longer a natural process, but a medical procedure.

Fathers were completely removed from one of the most significant direct life changing moments one can ever encounter. Drugs made mothers unconscious and unaware of their own personal miracle.

Back in San Francisco, several of the women associated with Monday Night Class had become mothers and were unhappy with how they had been treated while in the hospital. Stories also began to circulate about a few brave women that had chosen to give birth at home.

When The Caravan left to travel across the country, among the group were several women, including Stephen’s partner Ina May, who were due to give birth at some time during the journey. Several babies were born in buses along the way and the impact of those experiences was so powerful that it affected not just those present at the birth, but everyone in the group.

After arriving Tennessee, the sanctity of birth was acknowledged as one of life’s most important sacraments and a cornerstone of The Farm Church.

The Sacrament of Death
One of the babies born on The Caravan did not survive. Soon after arriving in Tennessee, a young man was killed by a lightning strike. These events and others to follow forced the community to face the entire circle of life, bringing Farm members into direct contact with another universal sacrament, death.

Death disproportionately visits the very young. The Farm’s midwives and a numbers of families were painfully aware that the task of delivering babies was a life and death responsibility and that sometimes despite everyone’s best efforts and intentions, in those early years a number of babies were lost.  

The great sorrow these families endured was shared by the community as a whole and brought into focus the importance of compassion as we accept the responsibility of caring for each other.

Again western society in many ways has built walls separating people from direct experience. The old are placed in nursing homes where they often die alone instead of surrounded by loving family and friends. Excessive medical procedures thwart the course of nature prolonging life, at times even against the will of the individual or their family.

Care of the Elderly

As a direct action and an alternative to this aspect of western culture, members of The Farm began to bring aging relatives to live with them in the community. While the number of seniors living on The Farm has neverbeen very large, their influence and impact has been extremely significant.

One of the first to come was Uncle Bill, rescued from a nursing home by his niece. The loving warmth of his new extended family brought an exuberant level of joy to his remaining years.

Susie was a homeless woman found in a local bus station that was brought to The Farm.

Joe Silvers saw Stephen and members of The Farm on a national talk show in the late 1970’s. Although already well into their retirement years, he and his wife Helen left their home in Chicago and moved to The Farm. The money from his social security checks was used to help fulfill Joe’s vision of community, purchasing playground equipment and a riding lawn mower so Joe could contribute his time and energy, helping to improve the community’s appearance by mowing along the edges of Farm roads. From time to time various families will bring in an aging parent or two to live with them.

Claire came with her husband Stanley when he became bedridden and she was no longer able to care for him alone. Stanley spent his last year living in the home of his daughter and her husband along with their three kids. After his passing a cabin was built for Claire so she could live independently.

Although in her 80’s, in many ways Claire truly blossomed like no other time in her life. She became a fully participating member of the community, serving as the ticket taker and money collector at virtually every Farm event. Her performances of old standards, decked out in snappy clothes and a sequined red hat, were an inspiration and a gentle reminder that every person has something to contribute, that life is to be enjoyed right to the end.

Each encounter with death produces a period of internal reflection and contemplation. While our contact with this experience does not provide answers, it can cause a person to evaluate the meaning of their life and to consider their past actions and how they will spend the time they have left, the essence of the spiritual path and the true definition of a sacrament.

Sacrament of Marriage
To counter balance the lose sexual morals of the time, in the founding years The Farm social code took a shift back toward the center, recognizing and honoring marriage as a sacred bond between two people. The responsibility of bringing children into the world and into a relationship was again recognized as a spiritual pact that had lifelong consequences. To elevate marriage into its proper position as a spiritual sacrament, marriage ceremonies were performed immediately after Sunday Service meditation, the point at which the community would come together in its clearest frame of universal mind.

The Path of Truth
Along with the growing awareness of the essential truths to be found in world religions came the profound respect for truth itself as a concept and practice. The spiritual seeker could hold on to truth as a lamp illuminating the darkness of illusion, leading to greater clarity and ultimate sanity.

Truth was seen to represent honesty in all relationships and exchanges. As participants in Monday Night Class, The Caravan and later The Farm learned how to live together in community, the adherence to truth served as the touchstone for conduct in day to day living. Each individual was regarded as God’s eyes into the world carrying one piece of the truth as the observer.

The power of truth could be utilized to raise the collective intelligence for decision making and resolving differences, rallying each person’s input until the truth of the moment could be determined. In practical application this meant that each member expressed their feelings and put into words their observation and viewpoint of the truth.

In the early years of The Farm, families and single folks would live together in communal households ranging in size from 15 to 40 people. Living in such close proximity to one another day to day meant that you were exposed to each other’s actions and habits in a way that doesn’t happen when we live separately.

For example, the subtle energy exchanges between a husband and wife were no longer hidden away but instead played out on a stage before an audience of observers. The sharp words and intimidation that often take place between spouses and able to proceed unnoticed behind closed doors would become obvious and unacceptable tactics when they were acted out before fellow house mates. Work crews provided another opportunity for people to bump up against each other.

The hierarchies and pecking orders found in outside work places were replaced by a system in which no one had greater social position than another. All were considered equal. This meant that when a person felt that they were treated unfairly it was within their right to call attention to the exchange and seek redress to their situation. When unbalanced energy exchanges are able to occur without being acknowledged and corrected, they linger in the subconscious mind. In order to “clear the air,”, it became each person’s duty to bring these actions to light, speaking the truth during what at times could be long sessions to “sort out the vibes.”

Because each person acknowledged that their presence in the community was to pursue a spiritual path, they were seeking this type of information about themselves in order to bring about personal change…at least in theory.

Each person’s ability to hear the information and accept it played out in different ways. It is always easier to see the faults in others than it is to acknowledge them in yourself. When delivered with love and compassion, coming from friends that you knew and trusted, people could hear and take in what was being said and phenomenal changes could take place in personality. Old habits could be broken. 

When backed into a corner, surrounded and outnumbered by people unhappy with your actions, walls of defenses could be thrown up blocking the individual’s ability to take in the information and learn about themselves. What made this work was the belief that each person carried within them a piece of the truth and by taking the time to “sort it out,” and hear from everyone, the reality of the situation could be determined and the truth could be known. 

Sort sessions could last for hours and at times all work would stop until the individuals involved could “get straight” with each other. Not every encounter worked out smoothly or came to a positive resolution, but enough did that learning how to mediate differences became a core element of the community’s survival.

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