During my time as an intern with EcoFaith Recovery, I’ve been invited to go to various meetings, from the Thursday morning mutual mentorship gatherings, to Randy’s Facebook Lives, and the Green Circles gatherings. Every third Tuesday evening, EcoFaith has been partnering with Oregon Interfaith Power and Light and Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon for the Green Circles gatherings. In these spaces, folks are engaging with Randy Woodley’s Becoming Rooted and EcoFaith’s partnership with Eloheh, building relationship, and even learning more about legislative action items their communities can support regarding environmental justice.
I was able to attend the February Green Circles gathering. The meeting was opened with a community member, Rachel Wheeler, sharing a story. This was especially exciting for me, as Rachel was the one who connected me with EcoFaith Recovery. I worked with her closely my junior year at University of Portland, when I took a class with her, conducted a research project with her, and she attended the Environmental Justice immersion I led that year. She was an amazing mentor and really opened my eyes to the concept of eco-spirituality and helped me broaden my concepts around spirituality in general as well. At the time that our paths crossed, I was also learning more about disability justice, the concepts of rest as a right, and learning to slow down as a radical act. Her teachings around asceticism, living a low-impact lifestyle, and slowing down helped me see that many of these concepts could live in tandem with much of my new beliefs around disability justice. Our research project focused on the tension disability justice and environmental justice can live in at times, especially around emphasis on being zero-waste or cutting out single use plastics. Through our time together, we both taught each other a lot about our respective viewpoints, I with my disability justice focused perspective, and her more oriented toward zero-waste.
For her time as the storyteller, she highlighted a passage of Randy’s, how it connected with her experience, as well as grounding it in some context of the desert mothers and fathers, who were early Christian ascetics. The quote that stood out to me that she read from the desert mothers and fathers was: “In the same way that no plant grows up on a well-trodden highway, not even if you sow seed, because the surface is trodden down, so it is with us. Withdraw from busyness into quietness and you will see things growing that you did not know were in you, for you were walking on them.”
Randy’s section she highlighted is entry 30, titled: “My Porch Swing.” Here, Randy writes about his porch swing that currently sits on his back porch. He writes: “…What would it take for my neighbors to see the sacred Earth as God’s own creation? Sacred to the Kalapuyan people since time immemorial. Sacred to me now. How could I help others see the contrast between these two different ways of living in the world? I want to put out a grand invitation to my neighbors and beyond: instead of destroying the land of our grandchildren, please come sit with me for a while, on my porch swing,” (76).
Rachel shared that this section made her think of her front yard. Although she doesn’t have a porch swing, she has a porch and a yard. In the summers, she lays out near her apple trees, feeling safe and connected to the earth.
For a long time, I was unsure of whether I would stay in Portland after I graduated, in May 2021. I was honestly really set on leaving up until the pandemic. I am not here to entertain eco-facist ideas that mass death of disabled and elderly folks throughout the pandemic was worth the ‘slowing down’ of those with privilege. At the same time, I did have the privilege to slow down during these months, March to September of 2020 in particular. I lived in University Park, across the street from the University of Portland, in a house with my 5 roommates and some of my closest friends. Like many, we went on daily walks and became incredibly familiar with our neighborhood. As someone who was a full-time student, worked between 1-3 jobs, and participated in several extracurriculars, I rarely had free time or down time during the day to wander around my neighborhood. I had never properly learned how to ride a bike, and became comfortable doing so during this time. At first I’d ride with my friends who would tag along at my slow pace and be patient when it took me what felt like years to start and stop and become comfortable balancing. Eventually my bike rides became a routine, and I’d blast music to the neighborhood as I rode around on the route I had carefully created of streets that were just wide enough and smoothly paved enough. Often I’d stop off in a nearby park and lay in the grass for a while. When I’d get back home after, I’d often sit on our porch or lay in our front yard.
Our house had a large front and side yard, a large covered front porch, and a swing attached to the tree right on the edge of our front yard. This became our playground for that last year and a half of college. It became a space where I felt safe and connected to the earth. In the spring, bright yellow daffodils popped up along our walkway and at the base of the tree with the swing on it. The huge green leaves on the two trees in our yard would slowly grow back, covering the yard in a blanket of shade for the summer, but not before leaving a dusting of pollen across the yard. We’d socially distance and sit out with friends we otherwise could only connect with virtually. We’d do homework and our virtual classes and virtual jobs and internships sitting on the porch. We’d put on our swimsuits and have water balloon fights or spray each other with the hose, running around our yard. We’d grill veggie sausage and zucchini and asparagus and fresh caught salmon and all sit together on our porch and have a family style meal together. We’d lay out blankets and play music and read and write and draw, all laying together, our limbs entangled together. We’d blast music and dance around on the porch in between classes. We’d swing so high we thought we were going to fly into the road. I’d swing so hard my legs were sore, reminiscent of my childhood. Some nights we’d sit out on the small ridge of our roof we had access to from one of the second floor room’s windows. Other nights we’d bundle up a bit and lay out in the side yard where there was less light pollution and wait until our eyes adjusted and look at the stars.
Even as the weather got colder and our days spent in the yard were few and far between, we’d lounge on our porch in our layers. I remember once spending an afternoon bundled up as it began snowing so I could sit socially distanced with a friend I hadn’t seen in a few months so we could catch up in person. That porch became a social space for us to connect with folks outside of our house, no matter the weather. It was a place where I felt connected and held by the earth, even in the darkest days of the early pandemic.
It is so important to find these spaces in our lives, that we can retreat to, that call us to slow down and notice the details, that ground us and hold us when we feel lost and tired. I would like to ask you to reflect on a place like this for you, as Randy and Rachel did of me.
- Meg Bender-Stephanski (she/they) and is a recent graduate from the University of Portland, where she received a B.A. in Environmental Ethics and Policy, with minors in Social Justice and Theology. Learn more about Meg here.
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