Having been raised in a home where the basement often served as temporary residence for an Eastern Orthodox monks, nuns, and artists, my heart holds a special fondness for monastic communities and their devoted denizens. As an intentional community, the days at Koinonia follow a deliberate pattern which soon feels like a flow- a rhythm subject to changes in volume and tone yet unfluctuating.
There is a daily discipline. For the residents and interns, communal life begins at 7:45 a.m. with silent meditation and prayer at the chapel, followed by morning devotions at 8:15. On weekdays, after chapel, everyone stands in a circle on the dew-covered grass and discusses daily work assignments and service.
“Faith is not belief in spite of evidence but a life in scorn of the consequences.”
Clarence Jordan, The Substance of Faith: And Other Cotton Patch Sermons
We woke up the first morning to a room bathed in light and the unmistakable sound of roosters crowing nearby. Still tired from the drive, I lingered in bed with the kids, listening to the roosters and trying to decide if we could get dressed quickly enough to make it to chapel.
My long-haired Max, still flirting with sleep, observed, "Hey, maybe the roosters are like church bells here..." Clearly, we were being called to chapel by the combination of ethereal morning sunlight and rooster bells. Groggy and hungry, I followed the kids out the door just a few minutes too late. Before the guilt set in, the little people started gallivanting through the bright green grass, sniffing flowers (and weeds), exclaiming over spectacular "fire ant castles", and befriending a couple of very friendly kittens.
Clearly, we were being called... to life. So we set out to explore the farm. The seasonal interns that shared suites and rooms with us in the Jubilee House were returning from chapel. Clad in rubber books and carrying coffee cups, they stopped to greet us warmly before setting off on their assigments for the day. Lacking an assignment, we set off down a path following the kittens.
Max keeps an eye on the ladies who lay the eggs.
Lo and behold, the henhouse awaited us. Max tried to classify the feathered friends while the girls avoided a rather startled turkey that lumbered around the corner of an old wooden shed.
And then we discovered "three little piggies", to borrow Milla's phrasing.
Soon all three kids found themselves enamored of pigs.
The Koinonia bell rings three times a day for a moment of silent meditation and prayer. Whereever you may be working or studying, whether in the fields or in the bakery, the bell rings at 10:30 am, 3:30 pm, and 8:30 pm. As the days slipped past, I found myself listening for the sound of the bell to divide the morning and afternoon, to make me aware, again, of the rhythm behind everyone's actions and intentions.
At the 10:30 ringing, folks congregate in the coffee house to brew a couple of pots and share their thoughts with one another. Coffee creamer waits in the pitcher of fresh milk coaxed from resident cows at the first crack of dawn by Brendan; something about the coffee (probably the creamer) tasted sublime. We introduced ourselves to a couple of Koninians, though names and faces still tended to run together at this point.
A charming intern named Susie shared her own experiences as a home-schooled child. As we chatted, I found myself thinking (probably contrary to her own impressions) that her independent spirit and openness were exactly the sorts of qualities I treasure in Max, Micah, and Milla- the qualities I hope to honor and cultivate, the qualities that may one day lead them to choose the sort of journey that brings them back, as interns, to Koinonia.
My restless desire to help somehow rubbed against the three little people who needed my guidance and care. In my imaginary world, of course, I could volunteer while somehow juggling the needs of three kids (one still potty training). But reality intervened to put a kink in my plans. Trying to avoid the sense of annoyance- "I came here to help and then but for the small folks"- I reminded myself that I was here to serve and to learn; and that the two did not have to take the form I imagined.
I closed my eyes, counted to ten backwards, and vowed to stay open to what the surroundings, and the spirit that filled them, wanted me to learn. Even if it was something as unexciting as the realization that my own impatience and eagerness often stands in the way of my humility towards the daily tasks and demands of life.
We camped out at Jubilee House sharing Clarence Jordan stories and writing (or coloring) poems and hymns until the lunch bell rang. Then we wandered over to the dining hall for what would be our first communal meal- an experience that truly merits a post of its own, one which I look forward to sharing later this week. The short version is that the shared meal time transformed my understanding of communion and fellowship. The meal took two rituals which had managed to stay separate and brought them together with all the force and power of an intergalactic collision.
I think we ate a few of these delicious flowers at lunch in the salad.
Our explorations took us to the town of Americus and then back to the farm, where we read, wandered, chatted, and played before meeting everyone again at dinner. I kept finding funny stories- tales of Clarence- in books and magazines, stories I read to the little people over laughs and giggles. Stories like this one.
Once when he was being given a tour of a new church building, the pastor pointed to the cross on the steeple. The pastor said something like, "That cross alone cost $10,000."
Clarence said, "You got cheated. Times were when Christians could get them for free."
"Clarence was a funny farmer," Micah declared.
The sun set without a sound. As Micah and Milla changed into their pajamas ande debated whether or not to brush their teeth, I read the free copy of Koinonia Farm Chronicle laying on the table in our room. Just reading it made the world feel like a better place- the kind of place in which it made sense that I never once locked a car door or a room door during our stay. Once everyone finished their pre-bed preparations, we changed our minds about the bed and set out on one of our "starlight walk", a tradition quickly started under the vast, starlit Koinonia skies.
"Mom, we're really just tiny things," said Max, staring upwards from the center of the meadow where we settled and snuggled in the tall grass.
"No Max!", replied Micah, huffy as always. "Milla is tiny but I am big- my feet are big too!"
The lull left a space for me to speak, maybe to soothe the misunderstanding by reasserting the hierarchies of big, small, and in-between. Older, younger, wise- all the known quantities- felt too heavy to handle in that open field. Something about the beautiful night skies always steals the words from my lips.
Making sense of language pales next to the mysteries of existence- the wonder of all that remains ineffable. So we talked about the word "ineffable" instead. And then we sat together, all four on the verge of a shiver, and paid a silent tribute to the ongoing ineffability of things.
Previously, I blogged a little bit about the history of Koinonia. Stay tuned for the next post about our Koinonia experience...