One Hazelnut at A Time

Jan 24 / Jeff Savage
Thought I saw the way things are
 Clearly, I do not
 Many ways
More to see than meets the eye
 Try it upside down
 Vision Clear
 – Brad Berglund

On a fine fall morning in 2020 I sat in my home office reflecting. As I did so, my attention lifted to the local family of Steller’s Jays transiting the cloudless sky. The hazelnuts were mature in the orchards across the river and the birds had taken up the rhythm of harvest. Relentless and focused, from dawn to dusk the Jays cut a straight line from roost to orchard and back again, one bird at a time, each time bearing one hazelnut for winter’s store.

I have often marveled over
the Jays’ practiced, purposeful response to abundance. On this morning, it sparked a deeper movement within. Three months prior I had retired from pastoral ministry for the purpose of leaning fully into the practice of spiritual direction. Now, after a season of sabbath, I sensed the time had come to set clear and focused intentions.

As I wrote in my journal that September morning:

“The Jays are calling. It is a call to go and do likewise
It is time for a humane, hopeful, and purposeful plan. God has been – and is – so, so good to me. Such a plan will include reflection, reading, writing, resting, recreation, relationships, renewal, responsiveness, regularity . . .”

I was being called to a new rhythm for a new season of abundant life.

By the next morning calamity had rushed in, changing everything. A fierce wildfire forced an evacuation that very night. Three days later we learned that the fire had reduced our home and belongings to ashes. It burned so hot that it rendered the concrete foundation useless and deeply scarred the land. It did the same to our interior landscapes, bringing an utterly unexpected (and unbidden) new need for the relentless focus of the Steller’s Jays.

The work of recovery, restoration, and rebuilding demands attention and requires endurance. Such work resists humane rhythms and the most hopeful of intentions. As weeks became months and more months, mine became a spirituality of carrying one hazelnut at a time, trusting that it was enough . . .

I tell my story not because I believe it to be exceptional. Quite the opposite. 2020 . . . 2021 . . . now 2022 . . . This is one story among many in these months marked by calamity and chaos. If we could sit down together, what story might you tell of unraveled intentions and rhythm interrupted? Of fractured foundations? Of an interior landscape scorched by the fires of adversity and loss? Of where you find yourself in relationship to recovery or restoration?

I tell my story as an invitation: please tell your story.

Today restoration continues. Currently we are in the foundation stage of rebuilding our home. It is a slow and precise process, the forming, pouring, and setting of footings, stem walls, and subfloors. A firm foundation is essential. And it has taken longer than expected, giving me ample time to ponder patience, attachment, and foundation work as a metaphor for inner work. What have I noticed? What would I want you to know?

The slowness of the process calls me to remember that soul work is slow work. There has been nothing for us to directly do to move the foundation along. Ours is the indirect and supportive work of prayer and patience, with trust.

The foundation supports and steadies the home.
Looking back, I see clearly that several foundational practices sustained and stabilized me through these months:
  • Intentionally holding gratitude and grief together as a primary practice of prayer.
  • Persisting in the rhythm of meeting each month with my spiritual director as an act of faithful trust.
  • Relentlessly engaging in the vocation to which I am called - holding space, inviting story and sacred reflection – as a commitment of purposeful living.
  • And community. Knowing that going through calamity alone is perilous, Janet and I are intensely grateful for those who have held us and to whom we cling.

Concrete signs of hope are emergingAs we watch our home take shape, we do so from the vantage point of our temporary “Begin Again Cottage” and we are reminded that we are not alone. Within these walls that a community of love has built, we are surrounded by the prayers of a great cloud of witnesses, literally within the walls. Supported and steadied by these prayers, I sense the sparking of a movement within.

The Hazel trees are now blooming, and I believe I hear the call of the Jays returning. Might it be time to nurture the sacred intentions that chaos deferred?

Let us begin again.” - Francis of Assisi
Jeff Savage
Jeff Savage is a spiritual director, retreat guide, and couples facilitator shaped by over 30 years of pastoral ministry and contemplative practice. He also serves as a spiritual director and faculty advisor for Portland Seminary. After the brutal wildfires, Jeff and his wife, Janet, are rebuilding their vision for retreat space for reflection, rest, and renewal at their home above the McKenzie River at Vida, Oregon. In each expression of his calling, Jeff finds abundant joy in holding space for folks to pay attention to their life in God. The values that center him in his vocation include hopeful trust, hospitality, attentiveness, and integrity. Jeff finds balance in tending the garden, photography, wandering, and being Pop Pop to four grandchildren (photos supplied on request).