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Finding the Divine in Nature

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FINDING THE DIVINE IN NATURE

“Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal,” writes theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Perfectly said.

In less mystical language, the Message translation of the Christian Bible says, “The basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of {Her} divine being.” Romans 1:20

Ancient mystics have always felt that silence is God’s first language, which may be true, but nature is certainly a very close second. Together, they are the gateway to the Divine.

Assisi Pathway

God has always spoken to me through the natural world. I wasn’t brought up in a religious home — my sanctuaries were the woods and meadows of New Hampshire and a muddy little spot on the edge of a silty pond in southern Florida. Turtles, grasshoppers, and garter snakes served as my preachers, “intimations of the divine,” in Rabbi Heschel’s words.

Preach it, sister!

I know that many people experience a “higher power” most strongly in nature. Of course, not everyone will choose an environmental profession as I did in response to nature’s divine communication. But if you spend quiet time in a natural setting and “take a long and thoughtful look,” you cannot help feeling a sense of connection, belonging, oneness . . . awe. There are no words to capture this connection, hence silence.

Tomorrow is World Day of Prayer for Creation, which was started in 1989 by the Eastern Orthodox Church and is now celebrated worldwide by people of all faiths. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a “praying person,” why not get outside, preferably alone, and say something like, “Hello?” 

Or consider the words of 12th-century German philosopher mystic Meister Eckhart as you look up at the sky: If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” 

Amen.

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Colorful Blessings: Wild Goose Festival 2018 #3

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COLORFUL BLESSINGS

It would be impossible to characterize the spiritual beliefs of the thousands of people who gather at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, North Carolina every year. Since the wild goose is the Celtic symbol for the Holy Spirit of Christ, I would guess that most attenders are at least curious about the way of Jesus.

Some have been seriously wounded by churches and are wary of the label “Christian.” (After the 2016 presidential election, it’s kind of hard not to be!) Many LGBTQ Jesus-people have found their “tribe” at the Goose but wouldn’t be caught dead in a church, especially in the south. And you’ll find a lot of self-proclaimed “recovering evangelicals” at the festival.

Tattooed, multi-pierced millennials raise their hands in prayer alongside white-haired baby boomers with their grandkids. Newly ordained African-American Methodist women sing alongside retired white male Baptist preachers in the Beer & Hymns tent each night.

Beer & Hymns

It’s a welcoming group, open and inclusive and unafraid of people from various religious and cultural backgrounds. There were Buddhists and Hindus leading workshops, and a young Syrian-American Muslim rapper named Mona Haydar who led us in singing “Wrap my Hijab,” which has been called one of the top twenty-five feminist anthems of all time. Watch her here

The Holy

I went to a session called Blessing 101, which I found deeply moving. I have always liked the biblical concept of a “priesthood of all believers,” which holds that each of us carries “the holy” within us, and we’re called to bless one another with that Divine love.

During this session, we moved from person to person beneath a large tent, marking each other with colorful powder and offering blessings and prayers. We passed around vials of gulal, a powder used like Christian anointing oil by some Hindus and Buddhists. In Nepal and India, there’s a spring-time festival called Holi where exuberant crowds throw handfuls of the powder all over each other to celebrate the victory of good over evil.

I was surprised how after a moment of looking into a stranger’s eyes, I felt I could sense what they needed to hear. It felt intimate and beautiful and made me realize how inattentive I am towards others in my day-to-day life. 

I blessed people with courage and perseverance and peace and forgiveness, and several people blessed me with something like wisdom or “sageness,” which made me feel old, but seemed right for my journey.

For the rest of the day when people commented on my colorful self, I enthused, “Yes, I’ve been blessed!”

Blessed!

Up next: Battling Buddha

This is Why They Kneel: Jordan Edwards

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Jordan’s picture has haunted me even more than they usually do. Because you can see it, can’t you? The spirit, the humor, the warmth, the potential. All that potential. Shot dead in front of his brothers for something that probably would have produced a police warning, if that, had the kids been white.

But you know the story, right? I don’t need to set it up for you. We read them all the time. We even see videos of them, unarmed Black people running or begging. And then the gunshots, always multiple gunshots. I think Jordan took five.

He was fifteen years old.

This old story, though, has a new ending. And I’m praying that this different ending births different stories. Stories where the police officer takes a deep breath, thinks twice, or maybe just doesn’t aim for the head. The officer might not imagine Jordan’s face, but maybe he or she will see their own child’s face, or perhaps an image of a white police officer being escorted out of a courtroom in handcuffs, headed for prison.

I pray that the conviction of Roy Oliver in Texas today — sixty-three years to the day since fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was lynched in Mississippi for allegedly flirting with a white woman — will be a new beginning. I know, I’m a radical optimist. But someday I hope to live in a country where Black boys can go out with their friends without worrying about getting abused, searched, insulted, beaten, or murdered.

This is why they kneel, Mr. President.

Jordan Edwards: Rest in Peace and Power

Wild Goose 2018 #2: Resurrecting the Church of Jesus

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Every year, I intend to write multiple posts about my experiences at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, North Carolina, a spiritual gathering of thousands of souls thirsty for peace, justice, beauty, and creativity. And every year I get sucked in to some other reality and end up sharing only the tiniest taste of the festival.

Sunday Parade: “Down to the River to Pray”

This year my first post-Goose offering was simply about the struggle of returning to the “real world” only to find a certain someone still occupying the White House. 

Fortunately, I soon entered another alternative universe, one which, like Hot Springs, has poor internet connectivity. So except for my daily nose dive into the headlines, I have generally maintained my serenity here in New Hampshire with my nephew and his gaggle of teenagers. I am on vacation from the ugliness.

I can now take time to reflect on the 2018 Goose and begin sorting through pages and pages of notes and dozens of memories and photos of the festival.

Resurrecting the Church . . .

A few good friends and I arrived early for a pre-festival event hosted by a group called Convergence, a new program for progressive Christian leaders hoping to transform their churches and become part of “the larger multi-faith movement for peace, justice, ecological responsibility, and inclusion for all.” (If this sounds good to you, check out their website and apply for the next cohort by August 27. Apply now and get 50% off!)

Convergence leader Brian McLaren (who is also the founding pastor of my church) began by stating outright that “the old model of church is dying and salvaging the dying won’t work.” Though there was little disagreement, most of the people there were heavily invested in that old model, having attended seminary and devoted their lives to pastoring in denominational structures. All agreed that acknowledging what’s been lost is necessary before new growth is possible, but this acceptance gave the day a bittersweet mood.

One of the Convergence leaders personifies this journey of loss and new growth. Anna Galloday was a Methodist pastor in Tennessee who was relieved of her duties for marrying a gay couple earlier this year. Anna felt certain that following Jesus meant accompanying all her parishioners through every life transition, but the result was that the life she had planned crumbled around her. From the rubble she is building a new life as an outspoken leader in the social justice field and a supporter of other clergy who stand for a loving, inclusive Christian faith.

“Leadership without love is just noise,” says Brian McLaren.

The new face of Christian leadership PHOTO COURTESY RECONCILING MINISTRIES NETWORK

Creating Discomfort

Change in any institution is hard, but churches are especially tough because many pastors see their job as keeping their congregations happy, and as Brian points out, “Happy people don’t change.” He says that a pastor’s job should be to instill a desire for change, to create discomfort with the status quo; in fact to make people unhappy.

If you read the Bible, you’ll see that’s exactly what Jesus did. He constantly challenged institutions and individuals to move towards compassion and justice. He probably wasn’t a very comfortable guy to be around, especially for those invested in their egos and/or the status quo.

Just imagine what Jesus would say to the preachers on the extreme right who are supporting the current administration! And just imagine if they listened to him! Tragically, these lost souls are caught in the triple-deep pit of ego, money, and power. Barring divine intervention, I’m not expecting them to become Christ-like anytime soon. 

Change is Inevitable

I can’t begin to cover all that we discussed during the pre-festival gathering — Brian shared his ten commandments of church change, we talked about how various personality types respond to change, we covered “Moral Foundations Theory” and how liberals and conservatives view it differently.

Brian McLaren: Mastering Change

The bottom line is that change is inevitable because “today’s solutions create tomorrow’s problems,” so leaders had better get used to it.

I left the Convergence session feeling overwhelmed but grateful that our little independent church isn’t tied to any institutions or existing power structures. Unlike most churches, Cedar Ridge is entirely free to follow God’s Spirit where we feel she’s leading, which for us means a contemplative frame of mind and a movement towards social justice — racial, economic, and environmental.

I see why I have trouble capturing the Wild Goose Festival — this post is quite long enough and I haven’t even gotten to the official start of the festival! Stay tuned for random thoughts on discernment, Buddha, and the creation of new rituals . . . In the meantime, check out “Wild Goose” in the search function of this blog and read about past festivals.

A Summer Morning in New Hampshire

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A SUMMER MORNING IN NEW HAMPSHIRE

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I live in the crazed and chaotic D.C. area most of the time, but steal away for a few precious months each year to my family’s old farmhouse in New Hampshire. Here I shed my usual roles and responsibilities and am able to simply be — a human being rather than a human doing, as they say.

While I’m usually alone, my nephew and his four teenagers come each summer for one of my favorite times of the year — a month of jigsaw puzzles and art projects, early-morning ice cream and late-night board games, swims in the river and croquet on the lawn. And piles: piles of dirty clothes on the floor, piles of shoes by the door, piles of dishes in the sink, and piles of books everywhere. Kind of like my place at home, come to think of it, but on a smaller scale.

Quality Time

Midway through their visit, I’ve been gifted with a rare quiet morning. All the kids are upstairs reading books, of all things.

My first order of business was to relocate three house mice that I caught in live traps overnight. I’ve read that you must put three to five miles between the critters and your house or they might somehow find their way back. This is hard to believe, but I’m not going to question it. We have an all-out invasion this year, and I’ve only begun to fight.

I drove the wide-eyed traumatized mice three miles up a narrow winding road on the far side of the Ashuelot River (can they swim across rivers?) and found what looks like a good spot to begin my resettlement project, featuring lots of brush and a seed-rich meadow on one side of the road, and the river on the other. After I had introduced the migrants to their new home and left them a hearty breakfast of birdseed, I went wading in the river and perched on a sun-warmed boulder to contemplate my blessings.

Once home, I fed the wild birds, boiled some sugar water for the hummers, and scattered sunflower seeds on the deck for the chipmunks. (And I wonder why I have mice!!)

Chipmunk Investigates Mouse Prison

Once the outside creatures were taken care of, I cut up four perfectly ripe mangos and made a jug of iced tea for the inside creatures when they emerge. Now for some quality deck time with my bird book and journal, binoculars, and Father Richard Rohr’s book, Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go. After a week of spotty internet coverage, I am indeed learning to let go and just breathe. I have no idea what that man donald trump is tweeting, and I don’t care.

Peace.

Deck Time

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