[These words were shared at Leaven’s closing celebration January 29 by April Allison, who wore many hats at Leaven, including interim director.]
Last week a friend of mine told me about the weekend she had spent here with Valerie Brown earlier this month. With excitement, she described the depth of her experience during the retreat; then exclaimed “the eagle flew right past the window. Amazing! Its wingspan was this big, as she held her arms out.”
Her story was both so familiar and so unique and wonderful. We have seen the eagle; each time an unspeakable gift to those clustered at this window, gazing in admiration.
Later, I began reflecting on what the eagle has seen, here on this land that we know as The Leaven Center. Do they pass the stories on from generation to generation as they fly from the north down to their winter home on the Grand River near Lyons?
Perhaps they share stories about time before the humans, when the eagles arrived each year at their winter home to find themselves the rulers of all they surveyed as they soared above the river. Do they tell of how things changed when the first humans arrived, and it became necessary to share the fish; but there was still plenty for all. Do they point out where the settlement was near modern day Lyons for the Maple River Band of Ottawa?
About 170 migrations ago, a whole different set of humans arrived, slowly at first, but then flowing in to cut the forest, drive out most of the Maple River Band, and convert the land into farms. Do the eagles remember the Faxon family that arrived on this very plot of earth in 1853 and continued to live here for approximately 100 years? Then, more recently. Skip and Barb Newman built their home on this very spot that was to become the Leaven Center lodge; while next door John and Betty Duley were constructing our own home and the guest house by hand.
Over these millennia, we humans have dreamed big dreams, brought our families and built houses and villages, altered the land to suit our own needs and visions. We have brought our pain and our tragedy, our love and our cruelty. This land has witnessed the murder of a young Native American woman by white men on the river, has seen Faxon sons sent off to fight in the Civil War, has seen so many of us gather here at the Leaven Center to share our dreams and gain strength from one another.
And this complex mix of love, heartbreak, soaring dreams and dashed hopes, continues. It will continue after we have left today. We don’t know what the future holds here. We do know that this land, these eagles, have borne witness to it all. It has nurtured us and held us safe; held our pain and our dreams, along with its own. And it will continue…
At one of Laura Apol’s writing workshops, Ann Flescher wrote a poem for Leaven, and I would like to close by sharing it. Many of you knew Ann, who died too soon several years ago.
Anywhere, Everywhere, Nowhere or Here
A sacred place, with particular location, becomes hallowed ground. Maybe it has been such for centuries and experienced by thousands. Or maybe it became so, five minutes ago, due to a spiritual encounter just now experienced.
Under the proper conditions a sacred space may be anywhere, everywhere or nowhere.
Requirements for entrance is ones open loving heart,
or ones wounded, fearful, closed off heart.
It is where truth telling is spoken and witnessed;
and where shame and doubt are replaced by atonement, humility and centering strength.
There is a feeling that begins to take hold as I approach a sacred place.
Time begins to slow,
as does my breath.
I feel my body moving from the shallow living pool
to the deep.
Where complicated is not hard but accepted for itself.
As I drive down this winding country road,
turning into the long drive way,
I know I have arrived at such a place.
Sound is at once amplified yet hushed,
as Nature whispers its familiar greetings.
Here, my soul will be both soothed and challenged as I am met by ancestors past and future.
Homage will be paid to those who have forged the way.
I will be supported and inspired by their strength,
as I am held to my own account.
Completed February 6, 2008