Love Thy Nature

This sermon given by the Rev. Alison Cornish at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lancaster on April 7, 2019. Readings precede the sermon below.

Time for All Ages: “The Agreement” by Barry Lopez

South Fork of the Salmon River ( source)

One time…before there were any people walking around this valley there were bear people. They had an agreement with the salmon people. The salmon would come upriver every fall and the bears would acknowledge this and take what they needed. This is the way it was with everything. Everyone lived by certain agreements and courtesies.

But the salmon people and the bear people had made no agreement with the river. It had been overlooked. No one thought it was even necessary. Well, it was. One fall the river pulled itself back into the shore trees and wouldn’t let the salmon enter from the ocean. Whenever they would try, the river would pull back and leave the salmon stranded on the beach.

There was a long argument, a lot of talk. Finally the river let the salmon enter. But when the salmon got up into the country where the bears lived the river began to run in two directions at once, north on one side, south on the other, roaring, heaving, white water, and rolling big boulders up on the banks.

Then the river was suddenly still. The salmon were afraid to move. The bears were standing behind the trees, looking out. The river said in the middle of all this silence that there had to be an agreement. No one could just do something, whatever they wanted. You couldn’t just take someone for granted.

So for several days they spoke about it. The salmon said who they were and where they came from, and the bears spoke about what they did, what powers they had been given, and the river spoke about its agreement with the rain and the wind and the crayfish and so on. Everybody said what they needed and what they would give away.

Then a very odd thing happened—the river said it loved the salmon. No one had ever said anything like this before. No one had taken this chance. It was an honesty that pleased everyone. It made for a very deep agreement among them. Well they were able to reach an understanding about their obligations to each other and everyone went (their) way. This remains unchanged. Time has nothing to do with this. This is not a story. When you feel the river shuddering against your legs, you are feeling the presence of all these agreements. 

— Barry Lopez “The Agreement”

Reading: “Earth Teach Me” from the Ute Indians

Earth teach me stillness
as the grasses are stilled with light.
Earth teach me suffering
as old stones suffer with memory.
Earth teach me humility
as blossoms are humble with beginning.
Earth teach me caring
as the mother who secures her young.
Earth teach me courage
as the tree which stands alone.
Earth teach me limitation
as the ant which crawls on the ground.
Earth teach me freedom
as the eagle which soars in the sky.
Earth teach me resignation
as the leaves which die in the fall.
Earth teach me regeneration
as the seed which rises in the spring.
Earth teach me to forget myself
as melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me to remember kindness
as dry fields weep with rain.

—from the Ute Indians

Meditation: “In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver

Blackwater Pond (image source)

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars
of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,
the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
to let it go.

— Mary Oliver “In Blackwater Woods”

Reading: excerpts from “A Sand County Almanac,” Aldo Leopold, 1948

Image from the Aldo Leopold Foundation

On a land ethic
Perhaps the most serious obstacle impeding the evolution of a land ethic is the fact that our educational and economic system is headed away from, rather than toward, an intense consciousness of land.  Your true modern is separated from the land by many middlemen and by innumerable physical gadgets.  He has no vital relation to it; to him it is the space between cities on which crops grow.  Turn him loose for a day on the land, and if the spot does not happen to be a golf links or a “scenic” area, his is bored stiff.  If crops could be raised by hydroponics instead of farming, it would suit him very well.  Synthetic substitutes for wood, leather, wool, and other natural land products suit him better than the originals.  In short, land is something he has “outgrown.”

The case for a land ethic would appear hopeless but for the minority which is in obvious revolt against these “modern” trends.   The ‘key-log’ which must be moved to release the evolutionary process for an ethic is simply this: Quit thinking about decent land-use as solely an economic problem.  Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient.  A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.  It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

The evolution of a land ethic is an intellectual as well as emotional process.  Conservation is paved with good intentions which prove to be futile, or even dangerous, because they are devoid of critical understanding either of the land or of economic land-use.  I think it is a truism that as the ethical frontier advances from the individual to the community, its intellectual content increases.

The mechanism of operation is the same for any ethic:  social approbation for right actions; social disapproval for wrong actions.  By and large, our present problem is one of attitudes and implements.”

— Aldo Leopold, excerpted from “A Sand County Almanac,” 1948

Sermon: Love Thy Nature

The Rev. Alison M. Cornish
As I was meditating on the theme of today’s service, and the musical offerings and readings selected by the Green Sanctuary Committee, a vivid childhood experience came rushing back to me. 

I was perhaps 9 years old, visiting a zoo with my mother and some friends, and watching a dolphin cavorting in a deep pool; sleek and lithe, moving through the water the way I dreamed I, too, would love to – arcing up and slicing through the clear waves it was making for itself. 

Nearby, a zoo worker talked about the animals.  Looking down into the water, I noticed some pennies at the bottom of the pool – as is so common in fountains and ‘wishing pools.’ 

I dug a penny out of my pocket, and tossed it into the pool, watching it flutter down through the water.  Suddenly the zoo worker was yelling –at me – scolding me in front of everyone.

What a stupid, dangerous thing to do he shouted.  That dolphin thinks you just threw some food, and is likely to choke on what you just thoughtlessly threw in the water.  I felt myself turn red and hot. I was as embarrassed at being called out in front of others as for having done something wrong.  Others had done what I had – there were lots of pennies on the bottom of the pool, but I was the one who got caught.  I remember walking slowly away, tears brimming and cheeks burning, and – perhaps the worst feeling of all – unable to undo what I had done.

Fast forward a few years. Now I’m an adolescent, again on a family outing, this time at an aquarium.  Again, we stopped to watch the dolphins swimming about.  No zoo worker this time – instead, there was an interpretive panel mounted on the railing by the pool, showing a picture of one of the aquarium’s dolphins taken during an autopsy, its intestine filled with – pennies, made bright and shiny by the animal’s stomach acid. The grisly display was clearly intended to stop people – people like me – from throwing pennies into the dolphin’s pool.  As I looked at the picture, my heart sank, and my stomach twisted.  This wasn’t ‘my’ dolphin – I hadn’t thrown a penny into this particular pool – but … it could have been. It might have been. 

I tell you this not as a personal confession, or as a glimpse of me as a flawed human being capable of making egregious mistakes, although it is both.  This story rose into my consciousness – and my conscience – in contemplating today’s theme – Love Thy Nature, I think, for a couple of reasons.  The memory suggests to me a more apt name for today’s service is ‘Love Thy Nature’2 – that is, ‘Love Thy Nature Squared’ – because there are really two ‘natures’ we need to love – the nature seen in that glorious dolphin – as well as in the transient world Mary Oliver describes – and our own human nature – us, the often exasperatingly wrongheaded beings we are.  Love for these two ‘natures, are two different tasks; but, I believe both are necessary and critical to our survival, as well as the survival of those with whom we share this planet.  And the stakes are high – for if we fail, we stand to lose both ourselves, and this precious place we call Home.

This morning’s reading from Aldo Leopold, written in 1948, is but one plea from a long line of philosophers, conservationists, theologians, and yes, even musicians, who decry the separation between humans and the natural world – and the consequences of that separation. “Your true modern is separated from the land by many middlemen and by innumerable physical gadgets…

[they have] no vital relation to it …” Leopold laments.  “They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot,” sings Joni Mitchell.  Barbara Kingsolver writes, “We have a habit of naming a new development for what we just cut down and bulldozed – ‘Hidden Valley Condominiums’ – Whispering Pines Resort.’”   I imagine you, like me, are sympathetic to their cries, and share their sadness of losing what we love – a hallowed place, a habitat teeming with life.  Most of us would like to see more open land preserved from development – most of us see real value in animal and plant species having unpolluted, undisturbed, land to call their own, to live unfettered and free lives.  And most of us are all too familiar with the forces set on pushing ‘nature’ further away, to the edges of our towns, and our consciousness.  And, most of us are not as connected to the world of nature as we could – or – should be.

Saltwater tidal creek, Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Gateway National Recreation Area; Gregory J. Edinger; source

Before moving to Philadelphia, my husband and I lived for 27 years on the east end of Long Island.  We were blessed to have a house fronting directly on a saltwater creek, which led out to a bay, bordered by a wildlife refuge, and a county park.  At this time of year, osprey would return from their winter homes in Florida, their distinctive chirp announcing their presence.  As the creek water warmed, so did the turtles, who floated to the surface from their winter quarters in the mud.  Geese hatched goslings in the reeds.  We were surrounded by the rhythms and cadences of nature because they were literally in our front yard.

Life in the city is an altogether different enterprise.  Nature exists in the interstices – between pavement and steel and the machinations of human invention.  Tree roots explode through concrete sidewalks. Birds nest in rowhouse gutters.  Cherry blossoms float down the river, swirling around plastic detritus. 

What I want to say is – while it was easy to be aware of the natural world when it was everywhere around us, it was also frighteningly easy to take it for granted, to become inured to its astonishing richness. Finding nature in the city is more like a scavenger hunt – there if you look for it, precious and remarkable in its tenacity.  But here’s an uncomfortable truth:  in either place – surrounded by close-by trees and water and marshland, or the carved-up gridded cityscape – to truly be in touch with nature, and to allow nature to touch us, requires acts of intentionality on our part.  Because whether we are habituated to its presence, or too busy to search out its slim existence, it has become entirely possible to live out the daily patterns of our human lives in ways that touch – us to nature, and nature to us – simply does not happen. 

image source

Think about it – reaching for the shrink-wrapped chicken or fish in the grocery store’s refrigerated case – do you remember it once breathed the same air we do? What about that carton of almond beverage squeezed from nuts fed by California’s water ‘borrowed’ from the future? 

Slipping on a pair of jeans, do we think about the fabric’s fibers spun from countless cotton bolls, grown and harvested under the relentless sun?  The metals in the battery that powers my smartphone – do I picture them mined in far-away Congo? 

from:World Wildlife Fund impact of cotton

This separation I’m describing may not look exactly like the mindlessness of my penny tossed into the dolphin’s pool all those years ago; but the consequences are similarly dire – though magnified by multitudes.  When we have eyes only for the human-made products of our world, it is so easy to simply not even see the rest of the world – the plants, animals, seeds, minerals; the rivers, salmon and bears; the insects, soil and compost for next year’s crops.  And what we don’t see, we can’t love. And what we don’t love, we can’t save.

Just as there has been a steady flow of those who call out our separation from nature, there has been another, more recent stream of thinking about the human species’ place in the world: that it’s just a matter of time before the conditions set in motion by the agricultural and industrial revolutions manifest a world that is simply impossible for us to live in – and, so goes this line of thought, the world will be better off without us.  Without human activity that pollutes and destroys, endangered species pushed to the edges of extinction will rebound, habitats will be restored, and the natural order will be returned, as enemy number one – us – fades away into history.

forest in recovery; image source

I cannot analyze how realistic this scenario is – or isn’t.  But I am sympathetic to those who are drawn to it, and hold it.  The condition of the world is grim, and the cause of that condition is us.  We drive the cars, cut down the trees, and build pipelines so oil and gas can snake across the countryside.  We destroy intentionally, and unintentionally.  We preference our own needs above the health of the air, water, and soil needed by all that lives. Even if we wish it were different, we are embedded in a system built on a foundation of ‘humans first,’ voraciously fed by resources taken for our own needs. 

I will admit, there are days when I wish, fervently, that I was other than human, just to separate myself from the species most responsible for this desecration and destruction. But we – humans, that is – are here.  And we have a purpose in being here.  To me, that purpose is not to find new and creative ways to exploit and plunder the gifts that surround us, and on which we and all life depend.  Our call now is to claim and use the unique gifts of our species – that which makes us special – to do what we can – and must – that which no other species can. 

A dear friend, John Andrews, wrote beautifully about this, ruminating on why humans are necessary:

We [humans] have subjective, conscious experience – the greenness of grass, the tinkle of bells, the smell of a rose, the pleasure of sex, the pain of torture, the joy of human bonding, the anguish of loss, the “aha” experience when we solve a difficult puzzle.  Equally special, we are able to pursue goals that go beyond mere self-preservation.
People may differ on whether there are other beings that share our gifts of consciousness and purpose.  …  Do some of our cousins among the animals qualify?  Perhaps dolphins create ballets and symphonies that we don’t yet appreciate… if there is any other class of purposeful, sentient beings you think might exist, [think now of] them …
Because the next thing I want you to do is imagine a universe in which there are no such beings.  Such a world would be empty of meaning – no joy, no awe, no hope, no love. 

In such a world – however vast, however complex, however charged with energy – nothing would matter.  It is we – perhaps together with other beings of similar or greater capacity – who lend importance to events.  We are indeed the measure of all things.  We can comprehend the awesomeness of the cosmos, the delightful intricacy of a flower.  We can transcend our selfish genes.  We can seek, we can approach, we can even, perhaps, sometimes attain the true, the beautiful, and the good.  Therein lies our dignity.

— John Andrews

John’s description of the role of humans carrying the consciousness of creation reminds me of the words of Annie Dillard found in our hymnal – “We are here to abet creation and to witness to it, to notice each other’s beautiful face and complex nature so that creation need not play to an empty house.” 

John called out human’s unique role in being conscious; I would add to the “specialness” of the human species – conscience.  Again, our knowledge may be limited, but as far as we know, we are the only species that has a sense of moral awareness about right and wrong, of understanding what is actually our responsibility, and the impulses that move us to act.  This, too, is a special charge and position of our species. 

Consciousness and conscience – these are the human endowments we must nurture and grow faster than any other unique human quality.  We know enough about the interdependent nature of the world to know the web is in tatters.  We have collected abundant information and developed plenty of technological expertise to solve the problems we face.  But without fully developing human consciousness and conscience, we lack the strength and fortitude to live up to our full humanness.  Consciousness, the direct experience of the awesomely beautiful and complex world in which we live, leads us to love nature.  Conscience, to enliven us so that we might act for good, leads us to love ourselves.  We need generous helpings of both – consciousness and conscience – to love our way into the times ahead.

The world is on the brink. We are facing the pressing reality of climate change, particularly the rising surface and ocean temperatures of our planet, Earth.  The cause of that warming is clear:  human activities, most especially the production and combustion of carbon-based fuels, as well as agricultural activities such as factory-farming of animals and clear-cutting of rainforests.  The changes wrought by rising temperatures pose a risk to humans and the multitude of ecosystems of which we are a part, and on which we depend.  Climate change is real. It is here, now – not someday ‘out there.’ The changes are now in motion.

What do we do?

And you know there are lots of pragmatic steps each and every one of us can – and do – take every day. We recycle. We walk or bike. We use less paper, drink tap water, pick up litter, and eat lower on the food chain. We bring our own bags, we take the train.  We know how to do these individual actions.

But there’s a whole lot of space between the aspiration of our 7th principle and the practical steps we take each day.  This is the space for growth for us, so we can face the hard tasks before us. 

This is the space where we must show up as the curious, creative, empathetic – and yes, flawed – humans we are, to ‘remember who we are, to remember how we can live.’  This is the space where the lessons ‘earth teaches us’ become our root tradition, our primary lessons upon which all else can be built.  This is the space where ethics are crystallized, where “a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community, [and] it is wrong when it tends otherwise.”  This is the space where the astonishing beauty of nature can break our hearts, and disturb our consciences, so we may begin again, in love.

I will be honest: this work is not for the faint-hearted.  Nor can it be done alone.  It may be odd to close a sermon with the hope we each feel our hearts sink, our stomachs twist.  But this is how we will answer this clarion call of our times:

Come, be fully human. You are needed.

Benediction: Excerpts from the Adorers of the Blood of Christ Land Ethic

Whereas, we Adorers of the Blood of Christ believe creation is a revelation of God, we proclaim that:
As Adorers, we honor the sacredness of all creation; we cultivate a mystical consciousness
that connects us to the Holy in all of life…
As students of Earth, we listen intently to Earth’s wisdom; we respect our interconnectedness and oneness with creation and learn what Earth needs to support life…
As prophets, we reverence Earth as a sanctuary where all life is protected; we strive to establish justice and right relationships so that all creation might thrive…
As advocates of Earth, we choose simple lifestyles that avoid excessive or harmful use of natural resources; we work in solidarity with all creation for a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.
As companions with creation, we enjoy and share its bounty gently and reverently; we seek collaborators to help implement land use policies and practices that are in harmony with our bioregions and ecosystems.
As co-creators, we participate in God’s dream for Earth; we offer new visions and vistas that expand consciousness and encourage creative expression…

— The Adorers of the Blood of Christ
The complete Land Ethic is downloadable here.
Image by Charles Mostoller for The Intercept

2019 Bike Blog Day 3: Churchville, MD to Baltimore, MD

Blogger: Nathan Martin

After being graciously hosted by members of the Churchville Presbyterian community on Saturday night thanks to the tireless efforts of Fawn Palmer and the Church’s Peace and Justice committee, our riders gathered on Sunday morning to spend time with the community.

We spent the first part of the morning writing and sharing prayers for the earth, a powerful exercise to elicit people’s concerns and passions around climate change. Here is a prayer that Ardon, a 13-year old wrote during the 10-minute exercise:

It’s where humanity lives
But we take for granted what it gives
We’re polluting its air and water
while making it hotter and hotter
We must take action, start working now
But the question is where and the question is how.
Renewable energy, safe and clean
Traveling in nature and sharing what we’ve seen.
The earth is our planet, and it we must protectBe dealing with climate change, humanity’s defect

We then joined the community for Sunday worship where we were given special blessings for the journey, including a blessing for the bicycles, by Pastor Stephen Melton. We could not have asked for a more welcoming community of faith that supported our work and mission. We hope to continue our connection with the community in the future.

The theme of the rest of the day was water. We contended with a regular rain and cold for the first couple of hours of our ride towards Baltimore, but thankfully the rain let up a bit by the time we entered our 7-mile stretch of the Torrey C Brown rail trail. Because of the significant rainfall from the night before and the morning, the rivers were full and as the trail intersected Big Gunpowder Falls creek we were humbled by the power of nature. 

Jess Ballenger also shared a piece of the story of the Jones Falls river and watershed which we road through heading into Baltimore which became tremendously polluted in the 1800’s with the urbanization of Baltimore and then later became an underground conduit for for storm water and sewer drainage. More recently through the efforts of non-profits working with the city more of the river is being shifted back to above ground and being rehabilitated.

We continue to be humbled by the generosity of our hosts; after a long hard day of riding we were welcomed and well taken care of by Sister Helene Cooke at the Mennonite owned Reservoir Hill House of Peace for our evening rest. We hope to carry the many blessings we received today for strength and perseverance into the halls of congress when we arrive in Washington, DC.

Follow the trips on Instagram and Facebook and with the hashtag #paiplonbikes for lots of photos and videos

Nationwide Earth Day Climate Prayer

 Sign up and download a Climate Blessing here.

Join your prayer with others in solitude, while walking in the woods, with friends and family, with your congregation, in your neighborhood, or, as a multi-faith group from Philadelphia PA IPL has done, on the island of a busy intersection with a banner or two inviting folks to join them. 

STATE COLLEGE — Earth Hour Prayer and Readings

Flyer to post and share.

Earth Hour 2019 at PA IPL member congregation Trinity Lutheran Church at about 7:30 PM on March 27, following Holden Prayer Service.

Their invitation generously states “any PA IPL folks who would like to attend are most welcome to come for one of Pastor Ron’s Lenten suppers at 6 PM and then stay for the Holden Prayer Service at 7 PM.”  (Pastor Ron ministers from the kitchen as well as he does from the pulpit!)

Earth Hour started in 2007 as a simple observance of turning the lights off for an hour to show awareness of the negative effects human activities are having on our planet. While lights-out events remain central to the celebration of Earth Hour, the scope of the event has broadened as with the Connect to Earth theme for 2019 – something Trinity folks did with the Care of Creation hike on March 17.

The lights-out celebration officially happens from 8:30 to 9:30 PM on March 30 this year,  but lots of small observances take place at various locations during the weeks immediately before and after the formal date and time.

Trinity Lutheran will be observing Earth Hour in a very brief session of prayer and readings starting at about 7:30 PM after the conclusion of the Holden Prayer Service on Wednesday, March 27. We will be joined by friends from Good Shepherd Catholic Church.   Others are warmly welcomed.

Pave the Way with Prayer

This May PA IPL cyclists from several counties will depart from State College and Philadelphia on May 10 and pedal our climate concerns all the way to Washington, D.C. They will speak with people along the way about their shared love for the earth. And they will raise money to support the work of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light.

They need your help and support. Pave the way with prayer. Send your hopes for our future, share a prayer, an image or a poem

Continue reading Pave the Way with Prayer

Holding space for gratitude and reconnection.

Sermon given at University Mennonite Church on Sunday, February 24, 2019 by Cricket Hunter

Confession and Assurance of Pardon
(from the UN Environmental Sabbath)

We have forgotten who we are.
We have alienated ourselves from the unfolding of the cosmos.
We have become estranged from the movements of the earth.
We have turned our backs on the cycles of life

We have forgotten who we are.
We have sought only our own security
We have exploited simply for our own ends
We have distorted our knowledge
We have abused our power.

We have forgotten who we are.
Now the land is barren
And the waters are poisoned
And the air is polluted.

We have forgotten who we are.
Now the forests are dying
And the creatures are disappearing
And humans are despairing.

We have forgotten who we are.
We ask forgiveness
We ask for the gift of remembering
We ask for the strength to change.

We have forgotten who we are.

Scripture readings: Genesis 1:29-2:2Matthew 13:31-34James 3:13-18

Cricket Eccleston Hunter, Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light

Good morning.

We have forgotten who we are.
We have forgotten.
We do forget.
We are forgetting.

We are children of God.

Today I want to talk with you about our forgetting, but also about remembering.  About wisdom and practices that can lead us back, in hope and by hope, in faith and by faith, toward right relationship with ourselves, each other, and our world.  I want to talk with you about peacemaking, writ large.

The world, it seems, is not so interested in peacemaking. 

The world teaches us to value worldly power.  It values busy-ness —doing and producing.  The world teaches pride, and is full of hubris.  The world values independence, unruffled-ness, imperviousness.  The world seeks immediate results, large and visible impacts.   The world values the ability to get.

And the world tells us that without those qualities — without pride, independence, imperviousness— we must be insignificant: powerless, or naïve.  Yet if we hit pause, if we can stop the world’s messages for a moment, we all have experiences that point to something else undeniably real — experiences that show us the power not only in giving, but in receiving with grace and gratitude; the power in connection and interdependence; the power in patience, humility, and kindness.  As people of faith, we have those experiences.  So do others.  We are all given that wisdom.

But thank God for the ways that faith and religion can ground those experiences, and give them a toehold, and a community.  Thank God for the stories, and the wisdom-of-old that sings the chorus, the melody that can help our own verses, our own experiences rise into view.  Thank God for those not-worldly messages telling us that that quieter power is real and true and wise.  And thank God for the practices that help us return to it. 

It is not a new thing for the world to say one thing, and our hearts and souls and scriptures to say something else. 

We just heard James speak of selfish ambition in opposition to work done in a gentleness born of wisdom — first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 

Have you noticed, that those quieter, purer messages have never vanished?  While civilizations rise and fall, they weave an unbroken thread. In the midst of enormous changes fueled by discovery and invention they ripple by, whispering the same clear song.  They’re still around.  How powerful they must be.  How elemental.

Peace churches, I think, are in some ways more practiced in holding countercultural values and carrying them into the world.  They may hold a more readily-accessible library of stories about being in the world gently and powerfully choosing not to bow to all of the world’s ways. “A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”

But as we know, peacemaking is not simply not-warring.  Peacemaking is a creative and constant practice.  It is about being alert to hatred, injury and despair so that we might sow love, healing, and hope.  But the world will never put peacemaking on your to do list. 

And there is another challenge: there is so much pain in the world, and we are but a few people.  How can we be enough? 

How can we trust that we are mustard seeds, that we will land on fertile ground?  How can we trust that the rain will come – just enough—and the sun will shine, and somehow, our tiny, roll-ly seed selves can grow into a shrub!  A shrub with flowers to brighten the landscape! a place big enough for birds to rest, and nest, and sing — to hatch new birds that will themselves fledge and scatter hymns and songs past the next fields and beyond, farther than we will ever go? 

These are important stories.  These are powerful stories. And it is important that we keep sharing them with each other, drawing courage, and seeking wisdom.

Many of you know that my work —my day job—focuses on climate change as a great moral challenge of our time.  Climate change is a problem of the world, an enormous and knotty problem caused by humans being profligate, and prodigal, a mess that seems to fold in on itself and cause more of the same.  It is not a surprise that many people are responding in the ways the world knows how to respond: in fear and anger, with imperatives and invectives, and by simply refusing to see pain so that we don’t have to feel it. 

But this disruption, this messiness, this pain are also invitations to be part of great change.

We have forgotten who we are. 

We are children of God, and we are being invited to remember. 

We are a part of the integral ecology of the word: the world and all who inhabit it. When we live in ways that cause harm, we suffer. 

We suffer through disconnection in our human community.  We suffer because of the ways imbalance and poor-use ripple, shake, and rend the fabric of which we are a part, this bejeweled and beautiful web of Creation.  

Do you know, we’ve been doing this for so long, consuming the world, discarding people and places that wise people have created new words for a pain that is not as easy to point to as a broken leg, or a diseased lung.

Solostalgia is the word that a Dutch philosopher Glenn Albrecht created in 2003 to describe the  disconnection and pain that leaves us feeling homesick for our own places and spaces while we are in our own places and spaces.

image source

The author Toni Morrisson created the word rememory, which her character in the novel Beloved uses to talk about traumas that are just beyond our graspable memories, but still very much with us and with our places. 

I believe we also have another capacity of rememory.  A rememory that can heal.  I believe we have rememories of connectedness, that those fleeting moments of recognition, glimpses of vibrant and insistent Life and Love in places the world teaches us we should not see them – I think those, too, are rememory – recognition and recollection that begins just beyond our own selves.  Memory of who we are when we are whole.

Climate change is a symptom of our diseases of greed and inattention.  The antidote is connection, courageous attention, and and love.  We must turn toward our rememories of the whole.  We must remember who we are.

This is why I am so excited about the Sabbath book study that some of you have begun.

Sabbath is bold and powerful. It holds space for the stories we need— the stories we crave — so that we can hear them above the ones amplified by money and consumptive culture. And it holds space for a spirit of Creation, where our rememories of wholeness may lead.

Do you suppose that God had the whole of Creation in mind at the start?  On the first day?  Before the first day?  I don’t know.  But we do know that God paused at the end of each day.  Each day!  and the story doesn’t suggest that it was just a quick pause, either, so God could throw in a load of laundry, or answer the phone.  No, in those pauses, God attended and appreciated the work of the day.  At the end of each and every day of big and generous creation, God stopped.  And God saw that it was good. 

Lagoon Nebula, image credit: NASA

You may have noticed that we didn’t read the whole Creation story.  We didn’t start with the dark and the void.  We didn’t read the whole story, because when we listen to the whole thing, we hear only the doing – and then God made this!  And that!  Then this!  And that and that and that!  Our ears are not attuned to all the rests, but they’re all there.  So today, we just read the sixth day, so we were less caught up in the doing, and we could hear the rest, listen to it.  God took 6 mini-sabbaths of attention and appreciation before the big one at the end.

And on the seventh day God rested.

I suspect  “rest” may not be so helpful a word these days.  A sabbath is not just a stoppage of work (though that is a rest). It is not a collapse (that, too, is a rest when we’ve been overdoing it).  A sabbath is not simply a time to pant our way through to breathing normally (though, if we’re being honest, many of us need a number of those pauses, too).

Yes, God set aside a day to delight in God’s own Creation, in the fullness thereof.

But God did not wait until the world was.  Each day, God saw that it was good.  Do you re-remember?

Can we do that, on a small scale?  Can we turn to Sabbaths big and small as a time to regard, with love? a time to attend? a time to look, and see and listen well, with open hearts. How glorious that could be.  How powerful.  How resonant. What a joyful discipline!

Let us remember: God created us in God’s own image.  Aren’t we, then, also creative beings, capable of awe and wonder, inspiration and appreciation? 

We have jobs and lists because people do need us, and we do need to do things.  That’s true (though probably not nearly as true as we think when we’re caught up in the middle of it all).   Sabbath invites us to step out of our worlds of task-y shoulds, out of doing-to-accomplish, doing-to-achieve, and into spaces where we can open ourselves to wisdom.  A Sabbath practice invites us to build those muscles so that we can do even our least-delightful tasks with our whole selves: with attention, and love, and openness.

We can make spaces to move out of human doing and into human being.

If you ever doubt that attention is a kind of prayer, think of the impact of a tiny kindness, a poetic notice, one time when something let you know that someone saw you, heard you. Those moments can be rare, but they are beautiful, and we carry them.  Attention and gratitude are like crystals that are not large, but can catch, reflect, and scatter the Light, painting rainbows in more places than we can find.

at the Omattiduium, Samuel Wilkinson and Beau Lotto, London

The words of the Bible often speak, as James did today of wisdom coming “down from above”  perhaps because daily life and its chores were already so connected to the land, and the vast sky offered a different vision, a different view.  In our time, though, so many of our lives skim over the surfaces, through the atmosphere at dizzying rates, pinging to and from satellites, that perhaps in our time we can seek God’s creative and creating voice, and find God’s fingerprints by looking down, listening inward, tapping into the other world wide web, the web of Creation, of which we are a part.  It remembers who we are.   

Did you know that if you plant a seed, no matter which way it lands, still the root grows down and the shoot grows up.  It remembers who it is.

It’s February on our hills.  Have the trees begun to blush with the redness of swelling buds?  Do you know?

If we make space, and give attention to those things that sometimes gift us with of rememories of wholeness, we till the ground.  If we nourish our souls not only with scripture, and song in community, but also by noticing with amazement and gratitude the ways that the world stubbornly continues to create, as it was taught by the Creator, then — perhaps then— we will hear whispered answers when we ask: and how can we be seeds?  How do we germinate, sprout, and grow? How do we host the birdsongs?

So, yes, please do reduce your food waste.  Use your dryer less.  Walk, bike, carpool.  Skip the single-use plastics.   Switch to renewable electricity.  Advocate for public policies that will help make bigger changes.  Those things are important, and they do matter.  Talk to people about the connections between climate change, our energy choices, and human displacement and migration, between climate disruption and war.  Those conversations are powerful.  But Sabbath, taken seriously, is revolutionary.  It says: we choose interconnection over destruction.  It says: the world is beautiful and amazing and enough. And we can see that it is good. 

Let us pay attention, each of us, and all of us, to the pulse of Gods beloveds, to the heartbeats of Gods world, and all who live in it.   Let us seek peace.


photo credit: Larry Weber

Responding prayer
by Sophie Churchill (reprinted in Sam Hamilton-Poore’s Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer for God’s Creation

(People)We believe in one God, 
(Leader): who gave birth to the cosmos and to us,
creating out of nothing but God’s own will
a world of rocks, plants, and human longing;
whose eyes will not fail 
to cry for it all.

We believe in one God, 
who redeems the waste of all things good, 
weaving, from the griefs of our freedom, 
new and unhoped-for things;
whose mercy will not fail to heal it all.

We believe in one God, 
who lives among all people in all places
calling us from our despair and sleep 
to live out Easter in our generation;
whose love will not fail
to hold us all.

Benediction adapted from the Church of Scotland by Sam Hamilton-Poore,  Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer for God’s Creation)

Go in the peace of God, 
in whom there is no darkness, 
but the night shines as the day. 
May God renew your heart with quietness, 
your body with untroubled sleep; 
and may God waken you to use the gift of life with faith and joy.