On a recent October Sunday, the Reverend Fran Gardner-Smith and people of St. Thomas Episcopal celebrated the Feast Day of Saint Francis of Assisi with an outdoor service attended by about 50 people and 11 dogs! Following this service, Rev Gardner-Smith shared the following communication with her congregation:
“Francis is known for his love of all creatures and for creation. At our outdoor service, we heard this reading from one of Francis’ sermons entitled “Peace, birds, peace!”:
‘My brother and sister birds, you should greatly praise your Creator and love him always. He gave you feathers to wear, and wings to fly, and whatever you need. God made you noble among his creatures and gave you a home in the purity of the air, so that, though you do not sow nor reap, he nevertheless protects and governs you without your least care.’
At the service, our choir sang one of my favorite choral pieces, “For the Beauty of the Earth” arranged by the English composer John Rutter. You can hear youth from the Milwaukee Vocal Arts Academy singing it here.
I hope you can find a small way to honor St. Francis today. Take a walk outside. Admire some leaves that are beginning to turn color as we move into October. Snuggle with an animal who shares your home. Whatever your day holds, may you find beauty. “
On that same October Sunday, across town at Redeemer Lutheran, Pastor Sandy Kessinger delivered a sermon also reflecting on this beautiful time of the year and on Psalm 8 that is excerpted here:
“O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”
On this important topic Pastor Kessinger had this to say (summarized from her sermon, full text can be found here.):
“Who are we that God is so mindful of us? A better question is – Do we value ourselves as much as God values us? How quick we are to look at our faults and not see our gifts.
We need to look up at the heavens and the sky, the moon and the stars, the mountains, and the oceans, and place ourselves among the manifestation of God’s glory. God orders all things and gives us infinite value and worth in spite of ourselves.
Who are we? We are children of God, a little lower than the angels, and crowned with glory and honor. And in his infinite wisdom God also gave us partners so that we do not need to go it alone. May we live into what God intended for us when God created us in his image.”
As the trees begin to turn, I will reflect on Rev. Gardner-Smith and Pastor Kessinger’s messages. I will give thanks for the beauty of the earth, my sometimes silly and beloved animal companions, and the wonderful friends I have made through Tysons Interfaith – all members of the same human family, valued and partners in spiritual living.
I’m finding that the transition out of COVID is stressful for me. And if conversations I’ve had are any indication, the transition is stressful and for many of us. We are in that funny time where we are working toward freedom (our Reston family had our first meal together in an actual restaurant last night!) but we aren’t all the way there yet.
One word for times of transition is liminal, which means occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. Liminal times can be exciting, but they can also be stressful. Figuring out what life looks like as we cross a boundary can be invigorating. It can also be exhausting. I was thinking about this particular liminal time when I read a reflection written by one of the Assisting Bishops in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, Bishop Porter Taylor. He shared this poem by Wendell Berry called “The Peace of Wild Things.”
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
In this liminal time, I find that I am needing the peace of wild things. I need time surrounded by nature. I need quiet and rest. And I certainly need to remind myself not to be taxed with the forethought of grief and anxiety.
I hope that you are able to find times and spaces for refreshment, whatever that looks like for you. Can you take a walk in nature? Can you watch the birds from a chair on your porch? Does your dog, your cat, or your gerbil make you smile? Where can you rest in the grace of the world and be free?
This blog post is the expressed opinion of its writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Tysons Interfaith or its members.
As I wrote in an earlier post, Tysons can be a good if not great place for biking and hiking. But when Fairfax County shuts down one northbound lane of Tysons Boulevard to vehicular traffic beginning on July 6, you must at least try one time for yourself. Capital Bike Share station map
The Bike Share bikes are heavy, so if you procure one, you will go slow, not such a bad thing even in these pandemic times. Tysons Boulevard is not as busy as International Drive but believe me it can get a bit of traffic. So, closing it off to allow pedestrians and cyclists is a good tradition to have.
Let me remind you that in addition to access to Tysons Galleria, you can easily access one of the few trails in Tysons. Even before you enter the closed portion of the street, take a right down West Branch and then enter the trail on your left. It will take you to the (artificial turf) soccer field.
As delicious local summer and fall produce reaches its peak, you might want to check out the bounty that can be found at our local farmers’ markets. These markets offer a wide variety of locally grown and produced fruits and vegetables, flowers, dairy products, baked goods – even soaps, jams and pickles! Wear your walking shoes and bring a basket or shopping bag, because you never know what treasures you might find as you support our local farmers and businesses.
- The FRESHFARM Farmers Market at the Boro is located in the heart of Tysons in the new Boro residential and shopping district off of Route 7. You can find it behind the Loft Building at 8399 Westpark Drive on Thursdays from 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm through October 28th. Read more here.
- The Falls Church Farmers Market To Go is open every Saturday from 8:00 am to Noon. It is located at 300 Park Avenue, Falls Church. Additional information can be found here.
- The McLean Farmers Market is open every Friday through November 12 from 8:00 am to Noon. It is located at 1659 Chain Bridge Road, McLean. Additional information can be found here.
- The Vienna Farmers Market, sponsored by the Optimist Club of Greater Vienna, is open Saturday mornings through October 30. It is located at the Vienna Community Center, 120 Cherry Street, SE, Vienna. Additional information can be found here.
- The NOVA Central Farm Market is open year round on Sundays. April through December hours are 8:30 am to 1:00 pm. It is located at the Church of the Holy Comforter, 543 Beulah Road, Vienna. (The Church of the Holy Comforter is a member of Tysons Interfaith.) Additional information can be found here.
- The FRESHFARM Farmers Market Mosaic is open Sundays through December 26, 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. It is located at 2910 District Avenue, Fairfax. Additional information can be found here.
This past month, Peter Bartholomew, an old acquaintance of mine from my Peace Corps Korea days passed away suddenly. Peter was no ordinary guy, as the attached obituary by Andrew Salmon attests: Asia Times: Guardian of Korean Heritage Passes. It’s long, but very juicy and worth reading, particularly the passage about fights between developers and preservationists. “Developers cleared Seoul’s higgledy-piggledy little alleys and tiny hanok to make way for the steel-and-glass commercial towers and soulless apartment complexes that dominate today’s city.” In a tribute to Peter, one Korean-language paper used this as the headline: “An American who loved Korea more than Koreans.” What a legacy.
We don’t have the same issues that Peter gleefully fought in Seoul, but there are some in my neighborhood who resist the “infill” taking place and the plan to turn McLean into a “mini Tysons.” They don’t want to change the “soul” of the neighborhood. Similarly, I know many are hoping that Tysons, as it develops over the next thirty years, will be purposeful in preserving natural settings and developing physically pleasing and connecting spaces for the humans who will live and work there.
I share with you this image of McLean Central Park where I walked our grand dog just the other day. Off the main path I found this amazing shrine placed there apparently by a group of teenagers.
I’m of two minds about the park improvement project, which among other things will bring us an amphitheater to compete with other venues in Tysons. I like the woods just the way they are. And wouldn’t it be nice if there were someplace in Tysons where kids could do something other than play soccer on artificial turf, maybe putting up a shrine like this, even if it’s to an anime character?
I remember the first bird that piqued my interest in taking up the hobby of birding —it was the strangest thing I’d ever seen! It about thirty years ago, and this fellow was sitting as still as you please under a tree in my backyard. I was able to draw a terrible rendering of it and mailed it to a birder friend. After she finished laughing at my artistic skills, she wrote back and said it appeared to be a Northern Flicker, and it was a very good bird to see in the backyard. I went to the yellow pages to find a local bird store (did such things exist? yep, they did), marched in, bought a field guide and some binoculars, and signed up for classes. I was hooked.
Over the years, I became known as the bird mom at my children’s school — I would teach them about bird song (ask me sometime about the bird clock chorus lesson) and migration, about creating bird friendly habitats in their own backyards, and how to make their own bird feeders. I would take small groups of them out to a local lake and show them the beautiful spring warblers with their vibrant colors, the thrushes with their musical instrument-like songs, the tiny nests of the hummingbirds and the funny ground nests of the killdeer, and the raptors and other large birds that were always hanging around in the shadows, or way up in the sky.
One of the things I learned when I did my research for these lessons came from my great grandmother’s King James Bible, with its pages falling out. There was a section at the back entitled “Aids to the Student of the Holy Bible,” and in the section about animals and creation, it had this ponderous statement about birds: “The creation birds is placed in Genesis after that of fishes and reptiles, and before mammals, in exact accord with what paleontology has indicated.” The kids thought that was way cool! (So did I; this Bible had to have been printed well over 100 years ago.)
The grounds of the Church of the Holy Comforter offer a phenomenal habitat for our avian neighbors, especially now that we’ve begun to clear the non-native plants while leaving those that birds and insects depend on for food, nesting, and shelter. I’d encourage you to stop by the church early in the morning some day and sit on one of the benches by the labyrinth (or walk the labyrinth — just don’t put on your earphones and listen to music while walking!) Listen to the songs, to the chattering and chipping, to the skittering through the grass and the trees. Come again in the evening, at dusk, and you’ll hear all different songs and sounds (again, ask me about that bird clock chorus!) Close your eyes. Breathe.
Lots of folks at Holy Comforter like to talk about “thin spaces”, which to me means places where the distance between heaven and earth, between God and me, feels thinner, feels closer. I’ve just described to you what the everyday thin space is like to me — the grounds of the sacred space where my church family will someday come together again, in the company of those creatures that defy gravity and soar above us, singing their own praises to the same God. This is bliss.
This blog post is the expressed opinion of its writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Tysons Interfaith or its members
My eighty-seven-year-old mother is an incredible gardener. Until she gave up her own home in rural Maryland and moved in with my husband and me in McLean (just on the edge of Tysons), she had an exceptionally large vegetable and flower garden that my siblings and I loved to raid each summer and the grandkids loved to explore. Once Mom moved to McLean, we just had to continue the tradition. Brothers were enlisted to help build several raised garden beds in our back yard. Since then, Mom and I have been successfully raising lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, kale, arugula, beets, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, jalapenos, apple mint, basil, parsley, and other herbs. Not only does it help with grocery bills, but the food is delicious. We both enjoy being out of doors and working in the yard. It can be a workout, and watching God’s amazing variety of vegetation grow is a real joy.
Not everyone lives in a situation where there is room for backyard beds, but there are other ways to garden for those who might be interested. You can start small – just a few pots. Also, the Fairfax County Park Authority rents more than 650 garden plots in nine county parks on an annual basis to Fairfax County residents. Information about this program can be found by visiting https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/green-spring/plots
If you think you, your family, friends, work colleagues or spiritual community are interested in starting your own community garden, Fairfax County also provides these resources: https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/topics/community-gardening and https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/food-council/urban-agriculture/edible-gardens-resources.
Local non-profits, such as SHARE and Food for Others, are happy to receive donations from community gardens. Information about Food for Others’ Farm to Family program can be found at: https://www.foodforothers.org/farm-to-family-program. The link to SHARE’s produce donation program can be found at shareofmclean.org/community-garden (The SHARE program is on hiatus during the pandemic.)
For home gardeners who may be interested in sprucing up their landscape and learning about native plants, a great place to visit is Green Spring Gardens, a national historic site, museum, and outdoor classroom. https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/green-spring. Also, there is the nearby Meadowlark Botanical Gardens. https://www.novaparks.com/parks/meadowlark-botanical-gardens.
Finally, if you are looking for an opportunity to be out-of-doors and experience beautiful gardens, check out Virginia Historic Gardens Week. This is an annual event sponsored by the Garden Club of Virginia. This year it runs April 17 – 24. Tours of private landscapes, public gardens, and historic sites are offered by local member clubs throughout the Commonwealth. Tickets are required and available for purchase at https://www.vagardenweek.org/.
This blog post is the expressed opinion of its writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Tysons Interfaith or its members
Photo courtesy of Tysons Partnership
There’s a new way to connect in Tysons: cycling.
From my neighborhood on the east side, pedal around the Safeway or take a left at the Kingston apartments through MITRE Corporation to the McLean Metro stop at Route 123. Despite the wait, the crossing is safe and better than the one at the Great Falls intersection. And though I’ve never tried it, you could take the elevators (escalator anyone?) and cross over the Metro bridge as well.
In the early morning, fog might settle on the new Jones Branch connector (Scotts Crossing) by Capital One and Wegman’s, but there’s usually bright sun and little traffic over the thrumming Beltway and hazy skyline. The bridge is pitched so you can make it up on most road bikes, and it has pristine cycle lanes.
Go left on Jones Branch past the Hilton or right past Valo Park and left up Westbranch, which I usually do, and turn right on Westpark for a climb that gets the heart pumping all the way to International Drive. A right at Greensboro across from the Boro and Whole Foods sends you sailing past the Rotunda down to the “T” at Spring Hill for a quick left past the Ascent to the Metro stop on Route 7. The new Vesper Trail on the southeast side pops into Vienna, where I have explored the back roads to find a safe route to the W and O & D trail. There’s even a way to Wolf Trap that avoids the narrow (and scary) parts of Old Courthouse Road. It’s an adventure to find these links between east and west.
Alternatively, the sidewalk past the old Sheraton leads to a trail and a bridge that crosses the Dulles Access Road to Jarrett Valley Drive and the McLean Islamic Center, one of our Tysons Interfaith Partners. Explore the MIC neighborhood and cut across a bit of grass along Route 7 to the service road leading to the traffic signal at Lewinsville, where three churches, including TI member St. Thomas Episcopal, are located. Loop back along Lewinsville or explore the back roads to the Spring Hill Recreation Center along the rolling hills of Brook Road. There’s a bridge/tunnel trail from Spring Hill on the north side of Route 7 as well, but it stops way short. Soon, hopefully, all will be smooth sailing on both sides!
Pedaling around the area this COVID-19 spring and fall, I was impressed by the energy and diversity of Tysons, where young and old of many different backgrounds come out to exercise, walk their dogs, and play. They should also cycle, run, or walk through the Vienna and McLean neighborhoods, where the flora and fauna provide a yin to the yang of the emerging urban space. I’m not sure I would use a Bike Share loaner to cross the connector bridge, but the Vesper Trail is doable, and hardier folks might try the steeper climbs or even the bridge. You can always push the bike, as I saw one construction worker do one morning crossing from west to east. Where did he begin his journey?
Here is an interactive map you can use to explore the possibilities. The Vesper Trail is the unmarked route that parallels Spring Hill and ends on Vesper and Higdon Streets in Vienna: https://fairfaxcountygis.maps.arcgis.com/apps/Viewer/index.html?appid=8a7ac4884e9c4c9bb37acc69dfb237a4