Our January worship gathering focused on the theme of Refuge/Refugia.
Winter is a season when we, and the creatures and plants around us, seek refuge from the harsh elements. It is also a metaphor for challenging and stressful times, like the times we live in with climate disasters, wars, and polarization.
Our winter book study is on the book Refugia Faith: Seeking Hidden Shelters, Ordinary Wonders, and the Healing of the Earth by Debra Rienstra. Refugia is a biological term that describes little pockets of safety, hidden shelters in harsh conditions or times of disaster and crisis, where life persists and out of which new life emerges. Author Debra Rienstra writes:
“... even amid destruction, the forces of life yearn for renewal. A refugia faith, similarly, regards our dire conditions honestly but immerses fear and despair in longing for God's promised new life.” (p 31)
Refugia are places to find shelter, but only for a time - they are not an escape or a place to stick our heads in the snow and ignore the realities of life. More importantly, refugia are places to begin, places where the tender and harrowing work of restoration and renewal takes root. Winter doesn’t last forever; trees don’t stay in dormancy forever; animals don’t stay in hibernation or in their burrows forever; birds don’t stay in their winter nesting grounds forever.
We can create places of refuge to protect us and renew us through the hardest times, and then launch from there into the next season or stage of regrowth.
Psalm 46 says “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change…”
Where do you see places of refugia in the world around you? Where do you go to seek refuge?
Our eco-spiritual practice for the month (and, indeed, for the year) is a Phenology Wheel. This is what I wrote about it for the Godspace website:
At Burning Bush Forest Church, we meet once a month for outdoor worship, and once a month for a learning/serving/action/community building event. To supplement those events, we offer an eco-spiritual practice of the month for people to explore on their own.
What is an eco-spiritual practice? There are a variety of ways this could be defined, depending on who you are and how you approach ecospirituality. As a Christian pastor and spiritual director, I see eco-spiritual practices as invitations to explore and deepen our spiritual lives through activities that invite contemplative connections with creation and creative or embodied expression of our response to God’s presence there. To some, they may seem far from a typical prayer practice, but as I read somewhere, anything can be a prayer when we bring that intention to it. eco-spiritual practices invite us into the wondrous, to nurture our spirit and connect with God.
The eco-spiritual practice we are currently exploring is creating a phenology wheel. Phenology is the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life. A phenology wheel is a way to record what we are noticing in the circle of the year. To make it a spiritual practice, an added element of recording the liturgical calendar or a spiritual insight connected to each month, adds another layer of paying attention. Because it is a wheel, you can begin this practice at any time of year.
I first discovered the phenology wheel in 2016 (on the Raising Little Shoots website), the same year I founded Burning Bush Forest Church. It appealed to me as a personal practice to aid in deepening my own awareness of God’s activity and presence with me in nature as I led others in outdoor worship. I sensed that if I was going to be leading a different kind of worshiping community I needed new and different kinds of spiritual practices to ground me in my ministry. It was an enlightening experience, one that opened me to engaging with the cycles of nature in ways that also nurtured my faith.
To engage with this as an eco-spiritual practice, create your own template using whatever you have on hand – I used the back of some scrapbooking paper, a dinner plate and a ruler to create my template with a bit of trial and error (This time around I am switching to watercolor paper). Or, use this template.
Once you have your template at the ready, turn your attention to what you notice around you each month. Take leisurely walks, gaze out the window, notice weather patterns, track the changes in daylight or moon cycles, watch for wildlife. See what captures your attention and take time to connect and reflect.
To quote Mary Oliver’s Instructions for Living a Life, “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” Pay attention each month to what astonishes you. What captures your curiosity? Observe the ordinary and the unusual. Then tell about it through creative expression. You may want to take pictures or keep a journal through the month to help you notice patterns or significant moments.
When the inspiration hits, or at the end of the month, pull out your template and whatever art supplies you have on hand. Use the outer part of the wedge to express what rises to the surface when you think about connecting with creation this month. Don’t worry about your artistic ability – this isn’t for show.
Use the inner part of the wedge to somehow record what resonated with your spirit or interior life this month – a ritual, a holy day, particular words, a mood. Is there any intersection between what you are noticing and the liturgical season you are in (if you are from a tradition that follows liturgical seasons)? Does your experience bring to mind a scripture verse or line of poetry? Does it inspire a prayer? Does it have anything to show you about God’s presence and revelation in creation?
Be playful, open-minded and open-hearted with this practice. My hope is that this practice
Reflections, poetry, prayers, photos, and resources written by Wendy Janzen unless otherwise noted.