Big Sky in My Heart

Eco-Steward Gerard Miller is living in Los Angeles after spending his summer at Greenwood Farm in Hardin, Montana. As part of the Episcopal Urban Intern Program, Gerard works as a campus aide at the Alliance Health Services Academy High School, a public charter school in South LA. Here he reflects about his time on Greenwood Farm and the Crow Reservation.

There is so much that happened during my two months at Greenwood Farm that it’s impossible to distill the experience to the “best” or “choicest” moments. Though the work was hard, building an Earthship and doing other farm tasks were as much a part of my personal and spiritual growth as the rest of it. Being able to get down and work with my hands, to learn by doing, and to be deeply in touch with the “stuff” of the Earth really fulfilled a longing that I had. I now have a deeper personal understanding of the parables and the lives of the prophets and patriarchs of the Bible, and of my personal calling.

Here’s a sample of my typical day at Greenwood Farm:

Our wake up call at 6 a.m. rolled around all too quickly, and that powerhouse of Dave Graber, like time and tide, waits for no man. Not willing to let a man 40-some years older than us show us up, Dave Grace (my fellow intern) and I struggled out of those soft beds and headed down to work.

Eco-Stewards Dave Grace and Gerard Miller pose with Dave Mark at Greenwood Farm.

Once outside in the early morning light and cool air, things were better. I fell into a good rhythm and felt like it was no time before Bonnie called us in for breakfast at 7 a.m. Before we ate, we would read daily Psalms from the missal handed out by the Catholic church in Crow Agency. Then, one of us would pray over the food and the day. Mealtimes were one time during which I felt the most different from everyone else. Raised by a southern or southern-oriented family, I was taught to take my time and enjoy the food and fellowship as much as possible. More often than not, at breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Daves and Bonnie would be up clearing the table and washing dishes while I was finishing the last third of my plate.

Then it was time for the real work, which usually went from about 7:45 a.m. to about noon. Weeding the garden, mowing the considerable grounds, rebuilding the chicken coop, planting trees, and working on that monster of an Earthship, I worked like I have never before. Relieved when at 11:45 a.m. I went in to help Bonnie set up for lunch, around 2:30 p.m., we were handed over to “Graber” again. We’d continue working until 5 p.m. or 6 p.m., depending on the task at hand and what else was going on.

The Earthship (made of reclaimed tires) under construction at Greenwood Farm.

“Grace” withstood my daily rant, where I used things we saw or heard on the radio as a way to think through and organize my thoughts after so much study over the past several years. I can never be more grateful for him putting up with me as I preached to him, the choir.

Many table-side conversations were opportunities to learn from the life and wisdom of the Grabers, who have lived exceptional lives and stand as examples of a well-thought and well-applied faith. I also gleaned a great deal from talking to the Mark’s (Dave and Bonnie’s daughter, Kristen, and her husband, Dave), who had their own insights into both temporal and spiritual matters. We agreed on so many things that it surprised me, and those areas in which we saw differently, challenged me to consider my stance. Even the Mark children taught me attitudes, ways of understanding, and a patience that I couldn’t have gotten without their earnest and lively input.

Gerard and Dave Graber pose with the Mark children.

In addition to life at Greenwood Farm, we also got out into the community of rural Montana, particularly the Crow Reservation. We attended numerous cultural events, among them:  Catholic and Pentecostal church services, Baptist and Pentecostal camp meetings, pow wows, rodeos, Crow Hymns Ministries meetings, a Sun Dance, and a sweat. These cultural events gave me insight into the daily emotional and spiritual lives of the people in the area. I saw God manifested in so much of the experience– the people, places, and events– that I’m still playing it back to extract understanding. The ideas of community, of koinonia, and of intentionality guided and highlighted my time on the Res. It expanded my worldview and deepened my conviction to discern my gifts and callings, though they be without repentance. I carry Big Sky in my heart.