| By Rosalyn Wasserman | Cover photo and veggie photos next page by Cameron Kempson |
Consider a different angle on earth-work from spiritual director and retreat leader Cameron Kempson, who muses, “It seems that we always focus on environmental sustainability through farming and gardening, but we overlook the spiritual sustainability that creation care provides.”Creator (or founder) of Growing Grace Farm, her suburban homestead south of Asheville, Cameron is passionate about connecting others to nature as a way to promote healing, health and wellbeing. “Gardening and homesteading actually serve as sacred space for most of us. These are activities that bring us into deep connection with our Creator as we nurture and learn from the earth. What better way to witness hope than a living green shoot appearing from a dry, dead bulb buried in the dark earth? What can teach us more about slowing down than a snail creeping its way across a fencepost?” suggests Cameron.
“The year I turned forty and was diagnosed with uterine cancer, I decided it was time. No more dreaming about my wished-for farm out in the country. No more working long hours in an office. No more feeling like I needed to organize everything or control everyone. I wanted to be free of all of that. During this time, I was not only healing from two surgeries but also standing at a crossroads in my faith journey. I felt physically and spiritually wounded, and I didn’t know where to go to begin healing,” she says.
Cameron continues, “Searching for peace and trying to find God in these challenges, I ventured out into the gardens of my little suburban farm every afternoon. I sat among the sugar snap peas and lilies and tomatoes and learned how to ‘just be’ in the midst of creation. God and I talked and cried and laughed as we watched flowers blossom into vegetables and chickadees build nests in trees.”
“As my body began to heal, I spent more time tending to the Earth and tending to my spirit. I dug through tears and weeded through frustrations. I prayed as I planted, and I listened as I harvested. It was out in my gardens that I finally surrendered pain and loss and began to experience a sense of reconciliation and healing. If that is not grace, I don’t know what is. My spirit was touched not in the walls of a building but out in the Holy Spirit’s great garden, and in honor of this gift, I christened our little homestead ‘Growing Grace Farm,’” she explains.
You might think that as a white Protestant woman, Cameron would be staid. However, she is quite progressive, working actively to address systemic issues marginalizing various populations, including the LGBTQ community, people with developmental disabilities, and those who live in poverty. “As a deaconess with the United Methodist Church, I am called professionally to seek justice, love, kindness and walk humbly in this world,” says Cameron, who continues, “I live out this calling by helping people find peace and healing through spiritual guidance, gardening, and ‘just being’ in Creation.”
Cameron manages marketing for Brooks-Howell Home in Asheville, NC, but even in this position, she finds herself connecting people with nature. “Brooks-Howell is a unique community. Many of our residents have served as missionaries, clergy or deaconesses and continue to live out their faith in action, even in retirement. Our residents’ time tending to gardens is about more than aesthetics— it is about caring for creation,” Cameron explains. Cameron’s other professional passion is spending time with people, helping them to appreciate the spiritual benefits of gardening and homesteading and supporting their own healing and wholeness. To do this, she offers individual spiritual direction, small group workshops and weekend retreats. “When people ask me about spiritual guidance,” says Cameron, “I share with them the metaphor of the three chairs: You are in one chair, I am in one chair, and the Spirit is in one chair. Together, we are listening to God’s call for your journey. We do that through prayer, conversation and listening.”What makes Cameron’s practice unique is that she has no office. She typically offers spiritual direction outside and engages directees in creation care, a practice and philosophy she considers as critical for our earth and as critical for our spirit. “Creation care allows us to turn off the modern day distractions and encourages us to focus on what is right there around us and within us,” says Cameron. She continues, “I remind people: ‘You are a part of creation too. Take time to engage in self-care.’ For many of us that means reconnecting with our mind, body and spirit.” Even as a working single parent, Cameron appreciates the need to care for herself just as she teaches others to do. “When my daughter was very young, she asked me one day if I had gone outside and put my hands in the dirt,” Cameron remembers and continues, “When I asked her why, she noted very matter-of-factly that I was grumpy and that playing in the dirt always made me happy. She was right! Being outside was not only connecting me with creation, but it was also re-creating my spirit each day—what a gift!”
Cameron says that a quote by Barbara Kingsolver serves as her mantra: “It is what you do that makes your soul.” Cameron expounds, “When I read those words the first time, I knew that was the intention of Growing Grace Farm and my role as a spiritual director. Gardening and creation care are about more than the physical pursuit of sustainability. They are also a source of soul care (or “retreat” but not “work”) that is critical to mind, body and spirit.”
Rosalyn Wasserman is an armchair gardener, who reads seed catalogs for fun and dreams of a chicken coop and home garden.
Cameron Kempson writes about gardening, spirituality, homesteading and creation care on her website www.growinggracefarm.com.