Occupy Faith

Occupy Faith
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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Gleaning as a spiritual practice.

Over at Godspace, Christine has a wonderful little exercise going under the title of What is a Spiritual Practice? This takes my fancy, somewhat.

You see, in this day and age, many people - even a very good Marxist atheist friend of mine - admit to spirituality. May people consider themselves spiritual or spiritual seekers while not owning a specific spiritual tradition. And, I say to myself, why not? If, as some of us believe, we are here to learn stuff and that stuff is of a spiritual nature, then all of us, whether we realise it or are oblivious to it, are on a spiritual journey.

Some of us do this in formal and structured ways. We study religious texts. We pray in certain ways. We study in certain institutions. Some of us though find ourselves entering the spiritual dimension in multitudinous ways. While I express my spirituality through two traditions - Anglican and Quaker - I find that in living my life the spiritual is expressed in many ways.

The responses Christine has attracted are testimony to this. I wish to add another: gleaning. For over forty years, I have been gleaning one way or another. Sometimes through auction sales. Sometimes through second hand shops and through eBay. However, perhaps the most satisfying has been through gleaning from the "hard rubbish" people place on footpaths.

OK, OK. I can hear some of you raising your hands in horror saying...But that's illegal. You can be fined for that. Ah well, you will have to put my actions down to plain old fashioned civil disobedience. Gleaning is an ancient tradition although in ancient ways it applied to what was left after the harvesters had completed their task. We read in the Book of Ruth that Ruth, in her asylum-seeking state, went out to glean. Boaz was compassionate and asked the harvesters to secretly leave a little more for her.

I see no difference in my gleaning from the "hard rubbish" of someone's left-overs on the footpath than gleaning for grain in a paddock. And, in my experience, most people who put out "hard rubbish" don't seem to either.

In fact, the habits of those who put out rubbish are quite thoughtful and amusing sometimes. Householders are clearly aware that their cast-off stuff will be of use to someone and, on many occasions, the goods are placed or stacked neatly. I have seen wardrobes left with a door deliberately ajar to attract people's attention to their good condition. I have seen china and kitchenware so neatly and carefully stacked that I wonder why it has been placed on the footpath when it could have been delivered to a nearby Op Shop.

And, having gleaned my selections, what comes next? For me, this is a most spiritual experience. I renovate, rejuvenate, refurbish. I make the discarded valuable once more. And I think that is what my Creator does with me. I get stripped back, re-finished, a few decorative touches and re-channeled into useful service.

Just look at the picture on this post. It is of an outdoor eating area. There is hardly a thing in this photograph that has not come off someone's footpath in the City of Knox. The table - well, I think I am the only one who could have seen its possibilities. It had peeling varnish which had turned green from exposure. The table top was rough because clearly it had been left in the open to all weathers. I sanded it back; painted it; made a nice trellis pattern; and then decorated it with flowers cut from a calendar bought at a Girl Guides garage sale. The chairs with the pink and mauve cushions at either end of the table were as good as new except that a weld had come apart. I paid $20 at a neighbourhood welding shop to have them repaired. I painted them my favourite not quite white to give them a shabby chic look. The baskets, the trellis, the hanging pots etc. etc....

And for my time and effort and gleaning, I have something original and creative. I have something that I can share with others as I bring in that other spiritual practice of hospitality.



  1. Brigid,
    great. I love the idea that as we strip and refurnish an item that God is accomplishing the same in our lives. Wish that you could come and finish stripping the oak chest of drawers that has been sitting in our garage for the last couple of years

  2. Christine, would love nothing better than doing your oaken chest of drawers. Have done a few oaken pieces in my time. I love the golden-ness of oak. And their are so many spiritual metaphors in oak - the tree when it is living and the wonderful grain when we have harvested it to put to use.

    Blessings and bliss