Gathered Around This Table Rev. Anna Woofenden, 10/25/2015


Rev. Anna Woofenden
The Garden Church
Isaiah 61
Revelation 21 & 22

“The Spirit of The Lord is upon me, for God has anointed me, God has sent me to bring good news to those who are poor; to heal the broken hearted and to proclaim release to those held captive… to comfort all who mourn, to give flowers instead of ashes…the oil of gladness instead of tears, the cloak of praise instead of despair.

They will be known as trees of integrity, they will rebuild sits long devastated; they will repair the ruined cities…

For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and a garden brings its seeds to blossom,

O Exalted God makes justice sprout, and praise spring up before all nations.”

These words of Isaiah echo in my ears as I look back over the past six months of the planting and growing of the Garden Church.

The Spirit of The Lord is upon us, for God has anointed us.

On May 1st when the Garden Church opened our gates here on 6th Street, the very first thing we did was to place the altar, the table, God’s table, in the middle of what was then an empty lot, and anoint it with oil.

Stories from The Garden Church 1

The practice of anointing—anointing with oil—is one that is usually reserved for priests and kings, for prophets and leaders, people are anointed to lead, to proclaim, to be a prophetic witness. But on May 1st, just after we opened our gates, we anointed this table and we began with these words: “May the God of all creation, bless this space and its many parts, for the seeking of the peace of the city. This lot has been waiting for us, longing to be a life-giving element in our city and in the lives of the people who live here. It is our partner, our co-creator, our home for this season.”

We went on to bless the gates and the soil, giving thanks for God’s presence in the earth and the sky.

We then consecrated the table with these words:

“We consecrate this table with the anointing of oil, the oil that runs over the head of those who are prophets and priests of God’s message in the world. We anoint our table with oil as it in itself, at the center of our worship space and of our life together as a community, bears God’s prophetic message to the world. All are welcome at this table. All people, in all expressions of humanity, welcome at this table to feed and be fed. This is God’s table, all are welcome here.”

And that, my friends, is exactly what has been happening. All kinds of people, from various walks of life, young and old, housed and un-housed, from different backgrounds and languages, race and gender, gay and straight, wealthy and living in poverty, from different faith traditions or none at all, varied ideologies, and so many stories, are meeting together in the garden—feeding each other and being fed.

And we keep finding that something happens when we gather together around this table, as two sets of hands meet to help each other plant a basil plant, or open our eyes to the beauty of a vibrant yellow flower.

Something happens when we show up and open our hearts to each other and see each other as valued and human.

Something happens when little Laya calls out “Quia, Quia” across the garden and something happens when Brett reaches out and welcomes James into the circle.

Something happens when we encounter Karen’s friendly face at the front gate and a watering can waiting in Darlyn’s hands,

Something happens when we see the cucumber go from a seed in the seed tray, to a little seedling ready to go in the ground, to a growing plant ready to be harvested, then into our salad, and the scraps go back around to the compost to make more soil.

Something happens when a new voice stands up and reads scripture, and when we hand each other the bread and the cup.

Something happens when we see God’s Light in each others eyes, as we look across the table.

This table where all are welcome. This table where we interact with people we wouldn’t otherwise encounter. This table where all people come to feed and be fed.

This table, God’s table, where we experience a loving expansive God who is more interested in transformation than conversion, more interested in us treating each other with love and respect, than there being one right way. This God that doesn’t just tolerate diversity, but actively creates and delights in variety, the God that is everywhere and moving in all things, the God that it is right here, incarnate, present with us.

As we gather around this table.

In the anointing of the table, and the naming of the space, over and over again, seeds of justice and collaboration, healing and hope, love and transformation were planted

The earth has brought forth its shoots, and this garden brings its seeds to blossom.

And now dear ones, take a look around us. Look at this table in the center, and then look around you, to this beautiful sanctuary we have created together. From the creamy plumeria, to the yellow stalked Swiss chard, to the lovingly made picnic tables, to the faces of each of you and of the thousands of others who have been part of this space over the last six months.

The Lord God has made justice sprout and praise spring up before all nations.

This truly is more heaven here on earth. And this is the church, the garden, the urban sanctuary, our little bit of heaven, right here in the middle of the city, which we have built together.

Together with collaboration with all kinds of people and organizations, from our friends on the block, to the local recovery homes, our denominational partners, and Cultivation Team members all across the globe, to our core collaboration, with Green Girl Farms. Our partnership with Farmer Lara and her team have been integral in this work and a continual blessing on so many levels as we share this work hand in hand. It has truly become a place that is bringing more love and healing and goodness into our community as we collaborate and grow together.

Our second scripture reading for today came from the very end of the book of Revelation, and invoked this image that we circle around every week here at the Garden Church—the Tree of Life.

We continue to explore and remember the Tree of Life—and that Heavenly City that it is in the middle of—as we show up to this work and engage in doing our part to bring more justice and peace, healing and transformation to our plot of land in the middle of this city.

As we re-imagine church, we’re walking outside of traditional comfort zones of pews and stained glass, one right way and specific belief statements, one and only one way of seeing God and people.

photo 4-5

Our tradition often draws on these images from the Heavenly City, New Jerusalem to imagine, to re-imagine what it means to be the church in the world, what it means to be people of faith, what it means to be community and to be part of the human race.

As we look to these rich images of the Heavenly City, we see twelve gates, welcoming people of all kinds, of many different backgrounds and traditions, ways of life and belief, all to be part of this place together.

We read that in this Heavenly City, there is no temple, because God is everywhere. God is not contained within a specific church or belief structure, or only accessible if you’re good enough or right enough or pious enough. No, God is everywhere, in the cracks in the sidewalks and the cracks in our lives, in the rich soil and in the depth of human connection, God is in and amongst it all, the ground of all being, the spiritual reality infusing our physical world and experience, and accessible, right here, right now, for all of us.

There’s a river running through the middle of this Heavenly City—the River of the Water of Life, renewing, cleansing, teaching. Clear as crystal—God’s wisdom and truth that leads us and opens us up to God’s transformative ways.

And then there’s this Tree of Life that is right there in the middle of the city. A tree that has twelve kinds of fruit, one for every season, and leaves that will heal the nations. It’s this tree that we keep returning to here at the Garden Church, on our icon as we unpack the tabernacle each week, it’s on our logo, it’s one of the spiritual images we look to as we continue to discover who we are as a community and what God is calling us to in the world. And it’s this Tree of Life that is central to our communal art project that Ebony Perry has been beautifully leading us in over the past eight weeks, and will share more with us now.

“I want to begin by saying thank you to everyone who made this possible and I also want to mention what an amazing journey it has been. I feel very honored to be a part of the Garden Church—and the transformative effect it is having on San Pedro. Every time I leave this space, I feel at peace and incredibly inspired, by all of the hard-work, positive energy, and dedication that not only goes into making this garden grow, but also all of the hard-work and dedication that goes into helping grow and heal the community that surrounds it. So thank you.

Now, this piece that we are about to unveil, is the result of an eight-week, multi-generational art series known as “Enlightened Art.” Enlightened Art began as a very loose, very experimental idea inspired by the belief that art can be used as a vehicle for positive change in the world… That by placing it here in the garden, we could continue enriching and engaging the community through communal art, nature, gardening, and spiritual connectivity via shared space. After I presented the final proposal to Anna in September, we put the series into motion.

For several weeks, my good friend Stephanie Ramirez and I joined forces, prepared, and lead meditational art workshops for the community in this sacred space—creating leaves to heal the nations, with all who came to collaborate with us.


Each week we used a different artistic medium, and more importantly, focused on a different mantra, theme, or positive intention to incorporate into our creations. Each of these mantras, themes, or positive intentions was meant to reflect what we desire to see happening in the world around us.

  • ` During sessions one and two, we focused on the themes of Yin and Yang. We meditated on the importance of bringing light into our lives as well as serving as a source of light in lives of others. This was done in order to find balance and harmony within.
  • During week three, we meditated on the importance of consciousness, being aware, and awakening the creative spirit.
  • For week four, we meditated on the importance of unity and celebrating the beauty of a world with diversity.
  • Week 5 focused on strength, fearlessness, and peace.
  • Week 6 focused on the theme of healing through positivity, and the importance of having faith when life presents us with obstacles that seem impossible.
  • In week 7, we meditated on the virtue of compassion, in order to continue inspiring compassion in our community.
  • And now for week 8—the conclusion of the Enlightened Art Series—we have come full circle, by using the mediums in which we began the series, while focusing on gratitude, counting our blessings, and giving thanks for how far we’ve come as a community.

And with that, we present to you the final, living, community art piece that you all helped to create, and will now crown with the leaves you hold in your hands today for our ceremony. A true symbol of the power and beauty in unity, and a true symbol of you all being part of the positive ripple effect that began here.”

And that ripple effect, that individual and communal transformation, that belief that the seeds we plant here, the love we engage, the work we do, the gospel we live, here in this space emanates out, ripples out, into the world.

Because dear ones, when we look at the world around us, we know that it is not all as we wish it was, not all people are being fed in every month by that fruit, there are people who are hungry and hurting, there are tears that are being shed, there are places, in ourselves and in the world around us that need healing. We need these leaves that will heal the nations. The hope. The peace. The justice. The more heavenly way of being, here on earth, that we all make together. Amen. 

Sabbath, Sorrow, and Sending: Sermon at Almont Camp

This sermon was offered on Sunday at the close of Almont Summer Camp, addressing the Seventh Day of Creation and Sabbath rest. It was adjusted significantly just before and during to strive to respond to and meet the needs of a community that suffered an unexpected loss in the community late the night before. I was humbled to stand before the community and strive to offer words and space in that moment. 

You Are a Pumpkin

“You Are a Pumpkin” or “Being Emptied Out”
 A sermon for Joint Seminary Chapel
(Earlham School of Religion and Bethany Theological Seminary)



“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” When I hear these familiar lines, I’m drawn to the second-half of the equation. Let’s talk about the dancing and this joy-filled clothing. “You brought me up from the grave, you spared me from going down into the pit.” Rescue and new life—excellent! I’ll avoid even acknowledging that the pit is there…thank you very much. Let’s stick with the new life, the joy and the springtime states. They’re pretty, new and shining, light and fluffy.

But look outside for a moment. What day is it? September 30th.  Fall is upon us. Look outside. The leaves are dying and falling to the ground, the plants are curling up and drawing in. Things are rotting, decomposing, returning, dying. The cycle of the seasons around us reminds us… Surrender comes before growth. Cycles and seasons are part of the journey. The pathway to life is through death. Death to our self, to our agendas, to our need to control. Birth to the idea that God is God and we are not.  Nature displays in front of us, that part of spiritual life is the process of being emptied out. There are internal parts of us that need to die, in order for the Divine Life to flow through more freely.

Or another way of framing it: You are a pumpkin.

A pumpkin, filled with the seeds and muck, mixed with hope and new possibility, and baggage and old stories. Terrified of the pain of carving, while yearning to shine brightly.  You are a pumpkin. A pumpkin in the hands of the Carver. Anticipating the scooping out, to make space for the light.

Stephanie Eden, a friend and brilliant singer/songwriter paints it this way:
She says: These are the lyrics to a song I wrote this past October while carving pumpkins with my children.  It is inspired by a sermon given by Pastor Jonathan Rose a number of years ago on the process of being emptied out, and it’s titled: Hollow Me

Hollow Me
By Stephanie Eden

One October a pumpkin grew
Full of seeds and thoughts
She said I don’t wanna be one of those
That sits around and rots
Pick me now cause I wanna be
Like other pumpkins I’ve seen
With a picture and a warming light
For the kids on Halloween
But the other pumpkins warned her
It’s a process you can’t handle
Being scraped and carved right to the flesh
Till you’re cleaned out for a candle

Hollow me hollow me hollow me
And make me shine
Make me shine

The pumpkin she was determined
Her fate was in decoration
But with the first stab of the knife she thought
Time for reconsideration
They were right she thought I’d be better off
As a pie or on the vine
Why wasn’t I satisfied as a big orange squash
Why did I want to shine?
But the carvers hands were gentle
And she could sense the jubilation
As he held her and he made his plans
In great anticipation

Hollow me hollow me hollow me
and make me shine
make me shine

As he began to scrape inside she found
To her seeds she was attached
She was afraid without all her junk inside
She’d be more likely to get smashed
But she noticed too a feeling
Of freedom as she was emptied
All the space and possibilities
Like holding light instead of seeds
Though she never had felt pain
As a pumpkin on the vine
The pain could not come close to how
Good it felt to shine

Hollow me hollow me hollow me
and make me shine
follow me follow me follow
if you wanna shine
make me shine

You are a pumpkin.  You have a choice. Each of one of us have a choice. We can stay on the vine. Comfortable and secure, yes, but in the end, probably just a waste, rotting away.  You have a choice. Each one of us have a choice. We have a choice to allow, or in moments of bravery and insanity, even invite the Carver to take out the knife and begin to hollow. To open up to the emptying out that Christ calls us to, and that Christ walked. Welcome and invite brokenness and being emptied out? Careful what you wish for…but Christ did. Or at a minimum, Christ boldly and deeply accepted this path, wrestled with it and brought new life from it. Christ rose again.

I think that in our culture we often like to try to put a little more space between these polarities—to separate the dying from the rising again. We put space between the scooping out of the insides of the pumpkin to the brightly shining jack-o-lantern. We want to create distance from re-birth to the death. We can be drawn to just think about the newness of life, spring, flowers, shining lights twinkeling from the pumpkins. Of course, these are all good things to focus on, but I believe that in separating the pieces of the cycle, death and life, light and dark, springtime and fall, we can loose some of the profound message for each of us in our spiritual paths.

Swedenborgian theology, my faith background, talks about the process that Jesus went through throughout his life, culminating with death on the cross.

It outlines this process into two states: One, being emptied out and
two glorification or resurrection, new life. A passage from Swedenborgian theology:

“The reason why Christ experienced these two states, the state of being emptied out and the state of being glorified, is that no other method of achieving union could possibly exist.  This method follows the divine design.

The divine design is that we arrange ourselves for receiving God and prepare ourselves as a vessel and dwelling place where God can enter and live as if we were God’s own temple. We have to do this preparation by ourselves, yet we have to acknowledge that the preparation comes from God. This acknowledgment is needed because we do not feel the presence or the actions of God, even though God is in fact intimately present and brings about every good love and every true belief we have. This is the divine design we follow to go from being earthly to being spiritual.” True Christianity 105, Emanuel Swedenborg

In order for God to flow through us, the vessel needs to continue to be cleaned out and cleared out. The shining of our light requires being emptied out, being carved, being formed. We can probably all probably pretty quickly think of a time in our lives or an area of our personal and spiritual growth where we have felt the carving, the cutting, the spiritual surgery, the scooping of the goop. Maybe when we lost a loved one, or transitioned jobs. When we came up against challenges in relationships, experienced a health crisis, a spiritual crisis. When we encounter doubt, struggle, and in the day to day work.

This is the work. To be emptied out and to be filled up. The emptying is painful. And powerful. It’s part of the design. It’s part of the cycle. The seasons.

But the other pumpkins warned her
It’s a process you can’t handle
Being scraped and carved right to the flesh
Till you’re cleaned out for a candle

Hollow me hollow me hollow me
And make me shine
Make me shine

This link between the suffering, pain and death and the new life, resurrection and hope is one of the cruxes of the human experience. Recently I’ve been reading a number of memoirs and autobiographies for classes and I’ve been struck by this theme. I’m touched by the honesty and vulnerability that is brought forth in these human stories and it leads me to reflect on and wonder about my own story.  If I was writing my life auto-biography, would I have the guts to lay out this level of honesty? To expose my seeds and goopy insides to others?

Sure, it’s easy to be open about the mountaintop moments and the ah-ha’s in our spiritual life. The challenge is, do we share about the places where we are broken, where we’re being emptied out, the times when we wondered about this whole “God thing”, the days when we continued to make the same mistakes, listen to the same old stories and live in ways that were far less than saintly. It’s this that sticks with me and challenges me.

The pumpkin she was determined
Her fate was in decoration
But with the first stab of the knife she thought
Time for reconsideration 

They were right she thought I’d be better off
As a pie or on the vine
Why wasn’t I satisfied as a big orange squash
Why did I want to shine?

A few weeks ago, in worship, a fellow classmate offered his vulnerability to the group and invited us into the story of Jesus’ healing the man with the withered hand in the gospels.  He pointed out that before the man was healed, Jesus asked him to stand up before everyone and reach out his hand, and show his vulnerabilities.  My whole body tensed as he recounted the text, just imagining God calling me to stand up and articulate my brokenness, my wounds, my scars to the people around me. So much of me resists this, and yet, somewhere inside I feel the wisdom. Not to spew my life history at every turn as if spiritual community is one big therapy session. But to, in those moments of sacredness, present with God and human community, to be strong and courageous and reach out to the Healer in the presence of others. To acknowledge that part of the process of spiritual life IS the emptying out, that that is intrinsic in the process of shining. The call, the challenged, is to look honestly in ourselves and see what is blocking the Divine Light from shining through. What are the places in us that are stuck and stagnant? Where do we need to look a little deeper and see how our places of challenge and struggle can be transformed into wisdom and strength by the Great Carver? Or as Rumi puts it: “Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasure”

I wonder if that’s what these authors did, in sharing their stories.  Is this part of the spiritual process of Anne Lamott, John Woolman, Roberta Bondi, Thomas Merton, Pema Chodron and so many others who share their life stories, their spiritual journeys, in the pages of autobiographies, memoirs, blogs and journals.  In the written word they walk through the suffering, line by line, in snapshots and in full-color. The dialog of the challenges, the pain and doubt lead to places of transformation. In these lives laid before us, a sacred offering to the larger community of faith, we can see God at work.  We can see God working through the life of a brilliant, addicted, depressed writer as she bares a child, finds God in a new way and steps into a daring journey of discovering faith. We can see God in the workings of at early church leader, as we see Christ’s light shining through division and mis-understanding, in leading and being silent.

Be it through the written word, honest preaching, held conversation, or solitary prayer, we can feel Spirit beckoning. Beckoning us to surrender to the Carving. Urging us to bravely look inside and examine and begin to let go of the things that are blocking the Light. Bravely inviting the Carver to hollow us, cleanse us, and shine Divine Light through us.

Because this healing is not just for each of us. This call to vulnerability is not about me or you. There is a greater call to healing through our brokenness, restoration through our vulnerabilities, resurrection through inner-death. This challenge to dig into our muck and guck and be cleared out is not simply a personal exercise. There is a world of brokenness, there is a God of Healing. As we walk through this process individually, we can be part of changing the collective. As the Light shines more and more brightly through each one of us, the Light in the world strengthens and spreads, widens and enlivens. The baptism of spirit offers all new life, cleansing and hope, each and every day. As we die to our own ideas of how life should be, as we loosen our grip that clings to the past and the future, as we release our needs to be in control and have it all together…God seeps in, rushes in, moves in our midst. Moves to bring healing to the all.

 Though she never had felt pain
As a pumpkin on the vine
The pain could not come close to how
Good it felt to shine 

Hollow me hollow me hollow me
and make me shine
follow me follow me follow
if you wanna shine
make me shine

As we continue our time of shared worship, you’re invited to get your hands dirty and engage in these questions.

What are the areas that you have been emptied out?

What are the areas you’re resisting?

What fears come up when you think about letting God carve you?

What does it look like to surrender to being cleared out?

What would it feel like to have the Light shining through more brightly?

Invite the Divine Carver to continue to shape you. Immerse your hands in the seeds, with the gook and yuck, acknowledging and embodying that part of the process of shining involves walking through the valleys, the brokenness, the shadows, the pain.

Where is God hollowing you right now? What needs to be emptied out? What light is bursting to be shone, that needs the surgery to let it free?

Wash your hands, remembering the power of your baptism, the promise of new life, of resurrection of the Light of Christ shining through you.

How do you see hope, new life and light moving in you?

Light a candle and hold it high, Christ’s light in you as you move in the world.

We’re also reminded in this process that this is not merely individual work. It is a collective effort to each take part in bringing more of Christ’s light into the world.

Sending Out: Reflections on Wholeness

 All:                   Busy, normal people: the world is here.
One:                  Can you hear it wailing, crying, whispering?
Listen: the world is here.
Don’t you hear it,
Praying and sighing and groaning for wholeness?
Sighing and whispering: wholeness,
Wholeness, wholeness?
An arduous, tiresome, difficult journey
Towards wholeness.
God, who gives us strength of
Body, make us whole.
Wholeness of persons: well-being of individuals.
The cry for bodily health and spiritual
Strength is echoed from person to person,
from patient to doctor.
It goes out from a soul to its pastor.
We, busy, “normal” people: we are sick.
We yearn to experience wholeness in
Our innermost being:
In health and prosperity, we continue
To feel un-well,
Un-fulfilled, or half-filled.
There is a hollowness in our pretended
Our spirits cry out for the well-being of the whole human family.
We pride ourselves in our traditional communal ideology,
our extended family.
The beggars and the mad people in our streets:
Where are their relatives?
Who is their father? Where is their mother?

We cry for the wholeness of humanity.
But the litany of brokenness is without end.
Black and white;
Rich and poor;
Hausa and Yomba;
Presbyterian and Roman Catholic:
We are all parts of each other,
We yearn to be folded into the fullness
Of life—together.
Life, together with the outcast,
The prisoner, the mad woman,
The abandoned child;
Our wholeness is intertwined with the hurt,
Working with Christ to heal the hurt,
Seeing and feeling the suffering of others,
Standing alongside them.
Their loss of dignity is not their loss:
It is the loss of our human dignity,
We busy “normal” people.
The person next to you: with a different
Language and culture,
With a different skin or hair color—
It is God’s diversity, making an unbroken
Rainbow circle—
Our covenant of peace with God, encircling
The whole of humanity.
Christians have to re-enact the miracle
Of Good Friday:
The torn veil, the broken walls, the
Bridge over the chasm,
The broken wall of hostility between
The Jew and the Gentile.
The wall between sacred and secular?
There is no wall
There is only God at work in the whole;
Heal the sores on the feet;
Salvage the disintegrated personality;
Bind the person back into the whole.

For without the one, we do not have a whole.
Even if there are ninety-nine:
Without that one, we do not have a whole.
God, who gives us strength of
Body, make us whole.
“An African Call for Life” from An African Book of Prayer by Desmond Tutu

(Psalms for Praying by Nan Merrill)

All praise to You, O Beloved,
For You have raised me up, and have not let my fears overwhelm me.
O Compassionate One, I cried for help, and You comforted me.
You, O Love, helped me release my soul from despair;
You gave me strength to face my fears;
Now love is awakening in me.
Sing praises to the Beloved, all you saints, giving thanks to Love’s holy Name.
Love withdraws when we close our hearts, yet ever awaits an open door.
In the evening we may weep,
Yet joy comes with the morning.
In my prosperity, I had lost sight of Love, I found power in my wealth.
In your mercy, O Beloved, my foundations You shook,
and in recognizing my separation from You,
I was dismayed.

I cried to you for help; to You,
I pleaded for forgiveness;
“What profit in my riches if I am separated from Love?
Will emptiness praise You? Will it tell of your faithfulness?
Hear me, O Beloved, and be gracious to me!
O Love, hasten to my assistance!”
And You turned my mourning into dancing;
You set me free and clothed me with gladness.
My soul rejoices and is glad in You;
Songs of gratitude fill my soul rising up to You, O Beloved.