By Brian Hollingsworth
“Our goal should be to live a life in radical amazement.” These words, written by the noted Jewish rabbi and mystic Abraham Joshua Heschel, greeted my fellow sojourners and I as we gathered inside a rustic red yurt last summer on our first full day at Adamah Farm in Falls Village, Connecticut.
We were there for a week as part of a course offered by the Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative at Wake Forest University School of Divinity. The course, titled “Roots and Branches,” was an interfaith immersion course in which we would learn and work alongside our Jewish brothers and sisters as we learned about the spiritual and theological roots of Jewish agricultural practices.
Prior to our arrival, I had heard wonderful things about the trip, and imagined myself spending most of my days there with my hands plunged into the dirt. I was told I might even get a chance to milk a goat and kill a chicken! It would be hands-on work, dirty work and somehow, spiritual work. And so I was surprised on our first day together to find myself about to embark on what our leader, Rebecca, called a “Radical Amazement Hike,” a short journey to a nearby overlook (nowhere near the farm) in which we were being invited simply to be silent, listen and pay attention.
While I had arrived with pen and notebook in hand, ready to jot down the best way to grow vegetables and how to convince my friends and family that care for the earth was spiritual work, most of the learning I would experience that week would be by simply being quiet and paying attention.
After a short introduction inside the red yurt, we followed Rebecca in silence to the summit overlook atop a nearby mountain. Along the way, we were asked to take notice of the natural world around us. As I hiked, listening to the birds and the winds in the trees, I became aware of a vast network of communication happening around me, the sounds of creation speaking a language I did not know or understand. What might I hear if I listen more carefully? What might God be trying to say?
Looking back, I realize that my venture through divinity school is much like that hike – an opportunity to listen, to pay attention, to hear what God might be saying. I bring with me my hopes, my ideas and my interests (and of course, plenty of pens and notebooks), but as I continue on my spiritual journey, I’m learning that much of the work of ministry is about simply paying attention. It’s about being present in each moment, listening to others, and tuning in to the work God is already doing around us.
We did indeed put our hands in the dirt that week at Adamah Farm. But it was our hike together that gave new meaning to all that would come after. Like Moses, who encountered God’s presence in the burning bush, only after turning aside to listen did I realize, in radical amazement, that the ground on which I stood was holy ground, the people alongside me were doing holy work, and through the vast and mysterious language of creation, God was speaking a holy call.
Brian Hollingsworth is a native of Raleigh, N.C., and is a second year M.Div. student at Wake Forest University School of Divinity. He is a member of Greystone Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C.