Backyard Mysticism

When my calling shifted from the "steeple" to what I've come to name as a more "free-range" ministry, I did not forsake the church, institutional or otherwise. I've spend most all my life in churches of all shapes and sizes, and would not know what to do with myself if I did not have such a "home away from home." But something did shift inside when I ceased pastoring full-time after 30 years. I made a vow (a big word, I know) to find everything that matters most in "my own backyard." I meant that literally and figuratively. If God is alive, if my love for others is true, if I can ever begin to make progress in the area of self-compassion, then the proving ground is close in and intimate. I must come home, start where I live, in this grounded, incomplete and ordinary glory called my own backyard. You can chalk up this penchant for the local to my having being raised in the agrarian South, or having read too many of the Agrarian Movement writers, who championed the regional and the low-tech as our country was becoming more homogenous and industrialized. But I have long held a hunch that won't quit: what's most particular and local is also most universal and global. Take William Blake for instance:


To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour. ~from "Auguries of Innocence"

Buddha and St. Francis inhabit my backyard. They keep a kind of distance. From my vantage point, about 20 feet. From Google Earth's vantage point, or, say, an astronaut's purview, they are part of the same blue dot. Which leads to a profession I have to make. I started to say "confession," but my good friend, pastor and poet Steve Holloway, reminded me recently that a confession implies the intent to change. So this is more of a profession, since it involves an affirmation of my heart, a devotion that I've come to over the years. Here it is: I need both the Buddha and St. Francis in my life because they help me in my striving to bear and share Christ's love. In other words, in the close place of my heart, they are part of the same blue dot.


Buddha teaches us to sit still and welcome all, the good and the bad, to see it all as what's been given to behold, to endure, to compassion what's impermanent and passing (since compassion is a verb). St. Francis shows us that genuine joy in Christ comes from caring for all of creation and repairing Christ's church. These twin practices, the cultivation of stillness and the call to care for God's world and repair God's church, hinge my life. They get me about as close as I can get to the door where Jesus knocks. They connect me, yet allow me to turn, again and again, away from my ego and toward the larger world that both roots us and draws us out in its blossoming forth. They help me, like all good hinges, to pivot and open when the Mystery knocks.


Given the choice, I'd choose St. Francis over the Buddha. (I've never been very good at sitting still!) But the good news is, in choosing Christ, I no longer have to make such choices. I can welcome and risk the Good, the True and the Beautiful wherever I find it. Why? Because my backyard, for good or ill, is where I live into the grace I've been given. And how I honor Christ's presence is much more about how God graciously holds and beholds me than the minute things I manage to think or do. I'm seeking the One who "is before all things, and in whom all things hold together." The One through whom "God was pleased to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross" (Colossians 1:17, 20). I'm seeking the One who sees and seeks me out, most often through the particular, small and odd offerings of my life. Before he was known as Christ, he knew us as Jesus of Nazareth, the simple man who called us to a near and nearing Kingdom known in a sparrow's fall, spinning lilies, or a cup of cold water.


The backyard is where I feed the chickens, cardinals and sparrows, walk the neighborhood with Maya the Wonder Dog, tend to the persnickety tastes of my three cats, and return the call of my turtle doves. I mow and trim and watch my wife plant and weed the garden. I write and read. Make calls, send emails, post stuff. Stare down my demons. Wheel the green wheelbarrow. Read the Post-Dispatch. Fall down and get up. Age. And pray--for a whole world, millions and millions of backyards where folk are doing their best just to be held, and to hold things together, on this blue dot of ours.

Write a comment

Comments: 6
  • #1

    Alex Davis (Thursday, 07 May 2015 19:26)

    Your words remind me to keep awake for the intimate and far-reaching ways "the Mystery knocks" and draws us to a place of growth right where we are. Thank you for sharing your thoughts here. :)

  • #2

    Terry Minchow-Proffitt (Friday, 08 May 2015 07:58)

    Beautiful, Big Al! Thanks for reading this and letting me know how it strikes you. You are truly in on it, friend! Looking forward to seeing you this summer.

  • #3

    Elizabeth Broyles (Sunday, 10 May 2015 09:57)

    Thank you, Terry. So much in this but I especially love the dance between being and doing that I remember as I read this, and the openness to wisdom and compassioning wherever they show up. I love that Buddha and Christ are part of the "same dot," and that you are speaking something dear to me in this public forum. Thank you for putting out your reflections and heart with a lovely vulnerability. Great to feel connected again.

  • #4

    Terry Minchow-Proffitt (Sunday, 10 May 2015 15:13)

    Thank you, Elizabeth! It is wonderful to connect again. Our season at the Haden Institute was so rich and encouraging. Know of my continued prayers for you and your new community.

  • #5

    michael robertson (Monday, 11 May 2015 17:44)

    Don't forget our Jewish brothers admonition to care for the church and repair the world. Tekun Olam!

  • #6

    Terry Minchow-Proffitt (Tuesday, 12 May 2015 08:25)

    Yes, Mike! Beautiful. I'm no historian of religions, I just read more than I should in the area of spirituality. My sense is that whenever you get to the heart of all authentic religious paths, you find distinctive expressions of the same compassion for all creation.