Our September worship gathering was cancelled due to a thunder storm.
Our theme would have been Gelassenheit - a German word used over the centuries by Christian mystics, Anabaptists, and now eco-theologians and environmental ethicists. It is often translated as yieldedness, though some other words might be composure, tranquility, serenity, unhurried, calm, easy-going, and laid-back. Gelassenheit is a form of releasing ourselves from our egos or from anthropocentrism, and opening to mystery and connection with the world around us, with the divine among us.
As I was thinking about the turning of the seasons, this idea of yielding came to mind. Summer yields to Autumn; the lighter half of the year yields to the darker half of the year; flowers yield to seeds, leaves yield to the earth, growth yields to dormancy. This kind of yielding is happening all around us.
“The idea of “waiting” in Gelassenheit is distinguishably different from our normal idea of waiting for something that is named, and is more about waiting upon, which has the feel of a gift being bestowed. … What Gelassenheit offers is the opportunity to look at another way of being… By letting that which is apart from us come to us on its own terms rather than on ours, we are in a listening mode whereby objectification ceases. An experience reaches us from beyond. … In silence and listening things come out to meet us.” (Sharon Harvey)
Set aside some time to go outside and open yourself to what is happening around you - wait upon creation, wait upon God's wisdom, and see what happens.
“Be still and know that I am God.” - Psalm 46:10
All around us, we see summer yielding to autumn. What lessons might we learn from adopting a similar posture?
Our August worship gathering began with a picnic, moved into a tree identification walk, and ended with our worship gathering. We took time this month to better get to know the trees who host us each month at Bechtel Park. Among the trees we identified were three varieties of oaks, black walnut, beech, ash, black cherry, maples, ironwood, hemlock, and willow.
Our worship theme was inspired by this blog post written by an acquaintance of mine, Ragan Sutterfield, called the Hospitality of Oaks.
“The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.” - Genesis 18:1
Ragan points out that oaks are the most hospitable trees. They provide acorns, of course, to feed birds and squirrels. But their generosity extends far beyond that. Oaks are the exclusive larval host plant for over a hundred different butterfly and moth species. That means that the caterpillars of these insects can only eat the leaves of oak trees. Such an abundance of caterpillars also means an abundance of food for birds, many of which rely on them to feed their young.
The bark and branches of the oak is also a favourable place for other life to grow, from lichen and moss to ferns. The hospitality of oaks is not only on the outside, either. As they mature, oaks tend to hollow out, creating a space for animals in the enclosure of the tree’s healthy and living outer layers.
Given their abundant generosity, it was a grove of oaks that were the real hosts of Abraham’s encounter with God at Mamre. It was the oaks that provided a hospitable space for Abraham’s tent, and in turn created a hospitable space for him to encounter God through welcoming three visiting strangers. Abraham was only able to extend hospitality to the visitors because he first received hospitality from the oaks.
During our wandering time, we were invited to engage with a tree - any kind of tree. Reflect on its hospitality, and the gifts it has to offer. Or reflect more generally on the hospitality this forest offers you today, or recall a memory of a particular tree that has nurtured you in a particular way.
In all of this, how does the hospitality of trees invite us to encounter God, and God's hospitality toward us? What can we offer in return?
Water, Wind, Earth & Fire - the elements that are the building blocks of all life. Elements is also the word that we use for the wine and bread of communion. Our July worship gathering connected and played with the interconnection between the communion elements and the elements of the earth/God’s provision in the natural world. Thomas Merton said that the elements can act as spiritual guides to help us on our sacred journey. The qualities of these elements invite us to pray with them, helping us to know the nature of God.
Henriette shared this quote from Barbara Brown Taylor:
“To lie with my back flat on the fragrant ground is to receive a transfusion of the same power that makes the green blade rise. To remember that I am dirt and to dirt I shall return is to be given my life back again, if only for one present moment at a time.
Where other people see acreage, timber, soil, and river frontage, I see God's body, or at least as much of it as I am able to see. In the only wisdom I have at my disposal, the Creator does not live apart from creation but spans and suffuses it. When I take a breath, God's Holy Spirit enters me. When a cricket speaks to me, I talk back. Like everything else on earth, I am an embodied soul, who leaps to life when I recognize my kin.”
We wandered, reflecting on the elements, and were invited to respond afterwards by sharing the elements together in the ritual of communion. On our altar, we had the elements of life - bread which comes from earth, juice filled with water, a feather representing air, and a flame of fire - this is the stuff of which we, and all living things are made.
Our June gathering offered opportunity to reflect on the summer solstice - the sun’s pause, and on the sun’s fire. With forest fires raging across Canada this month how are we feeling?
At this point in the year, we celebrate the sun's strength, heat, light and energy. Due to this, the season of summer is often associated with the element of fire. Fire has been on my mind a lot this month, and for many of us that felt heavy, especially when smoke filled our skies and affected our air quality earlier in the month.
Fire can be devastatingly destructive, and fire can be beneficial. Wildfires have always been a natural part of healthy forest ecosystems. In natural cycles, fire releases nutrients for the soil, opens the canopy, and cracks opens seeds of certain trees that require heat to germinate. It is only since the advent of clear cutting, fire suppression, and climate change that extreme fires have become so destructive.
As we approach the season of summer, I invite us to reflect on fire - its benefits and its harm. And as we remember how fire has destroyed vast sections of forest, I want to share these words paraphrased from 1 Corinthians 12:26 - If one part suffers, all suffer together; and if one part rejoices, all rejoice together.
We are all one body - us and the earth, the forest, the water, the air. We are all interconnected and all part of each other in a web of belonging.
Take time to pause and reflect on the impacts of the sun, fire, and light on our lives, and on the earth. Hold the paradoxes of hope and despair, of brokenness and beauty, of suffering and rejoicing. What are you seeing, feeling, hearing, thinking? What is this place sharing with you today? Where is God showing up?
Our May worship gathering invited us to reflect on the hospitality we receive from God and from the Earth, and how we offer hospitality in return as an act of reciprocity.
As part of the readings & reflections time, the following was shared by Leah Bowman:
Robin Wall Kimmerer speaks in her book Braiding Sweetgrass about reciprocity; the idea that there should be a give and take between humans and non humans. She sometimes refers to this idea as the Honorable Harvest, where you only take what you need. For far too long, humans have been doing a whole lot of taking; too much taking; taking to the point of extinction; taking to the point of resource depletion; taking to the point, as some may say, of no return.
I'd like to read a couple of quotes from Braiding Sweetgrass where Robin reflects on this concept to get us thinking about this idea.
“...all flourishing is mutual. We need the berries and the berries need us. Their gifts multiply by our care for them, and dwindle from our neglect. We are bound in a covenant of reciprocity, a pact of mutual responsibility to sustain those who sustain us.” (p 382)
“The moral covenant of reciprocity calls us to honor our responsibilities for all we have been given, for all that we have taken. It’s our turn now, long overdue. … Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and to dance for the renewal of the world. In return for the privilege of breath.” (p 384)
Today we want to reflect on what it means to engage in reciprocity and hospitality with the earth & beings that are other than us. What does it mean to be neighborly to the earth and other beings? The Voice translation of the golden rule in Luke 6:31 reads: "Think of the kindness you wish others would show you; do the same for them.” What does it look like to extend Jesus' invitation to both our human and our more-than-human neighbours? How do you show kindness to all beings?
How do you see reciprocity & hospitality happening in this place, at this moment right before you? What are the ways that you are currently engaging in reciprocity and hospitality in your life, with your little corner of the world? Are there things that you are currently doing or wish to do that would foster a spirit of reciprocity & hospitality?
At the end of our gathering we each took a little handful of black-oil sunflower seeds and left them behind somewhere as a symbolic act of reciprocity.
This weekend we spent some time cleaning up trash at Bechtel Park, our regular site for worship gatherings. The park is thankfully kept pretty clean in general, but we did find a mix of trash and recyclable items that we cleaned up.
After the cleanup we talked for a bit about single-use plastic, and its impact on the environment. We reflected on two verses:
Romans 7:15 "Listen, I can't explain my actions. Here's why: I am not able to do the things I want; and at the same time, I do the things I despise." (The Voice)
Genesis 1:22 "Be fruitful and multiply" - a blessing given to the birds of the air and the fish of the sea, before the same blessing was offered to humans.
How does our addiction to plastic prevent the rest of creation from flourishing according to God's blessing for them?
To see a fuller Bible study & discussion guide Wendy created, along with an art & music video project on single-use plastics created by Rockway Mennonite Collegiate, follow this link.
We gathered on Easter morning at twilight - the time between the two lights. The moon was setting behind us as we gathered on the east-facing slope awaiting the rising sun. The dawn chorus of birds provided music for our prelude.
Our text was John 20:1-18. Step Chandler Burns, of Pastors in Exile, shared these words before we spend time 'wandering and wondering' and watching for the sunrise.
"This morning, like every new day, Christ is alive among us. Each day, God is doing a new thing and inviting us to bring our faith and our questions and enter into the new life being made among us.
So this morning, and all mornings, believe the gospel. The Good News is that new life is possible. Seek the new thing God is doing, whether you understand it or not.
Resurrection is here and happening among us every day: the sun rises, the snow melts, the animals and birds sing to the morning, the cold gives way to the sun, the cycles of life and death keep moving. People heal and reconcile and learn and grow. Relationships mend, we’re made new. Even when we don’t want to be. Even when we’re not at our best, even when we’re hungry, angry, lonely and tired. Or when we don’t understand quite yet.
This morning, you’re invited to take in the morning. Listen to the birds and the animals, the waking of the earth. Take in the new life, resurrection among us. And believe, or question it. Jesus will meet you there. May it be so."
What ways are you experiencing resurrection? Where are you seeing signs of new life? Whether we believe easily, or are skeptical, Christ meets us in sunrises and in rain, in honking geese and songbirds, in our day to day lives.
Today is Global Recycling Day. While we try to recycle the best we can, I am aware that our recycling system is broken and misleading. Particularly concerning plastic. Less than 10% of plastic produced worldwide is recycled. Canada produces about 3.3 million tons of plastic a year, and 2.8 million tons of that ends up in landfills. Additionally, Canada ships a portion of our plastic waste to other countries to be 'recycled,' contributing to global plastic polution.
So, when I think of recycling, I think of the many other "R's" that should come first:
Forgive us for taking more than we give back.
Remind us that everything we buy will one day be garbage.
Help us repent from wasteful ways.
Restore our sense of belonging and connection to the community of creation.
Renew within us awareness that the earth is full of your glory.
Touching on themes of incarnation and epiphany, our January worship gathering reminded us to pay attention to God’s sacred presence among us. God’s incarnation was not a one-time event. Epiphany was not a one time event. They are archetypes of how God is active and present in a variety of forms in the world - showing up in human form, in all creation, in stars, on journeys into unfamiliar territory.
Matthew 2:9b-10 “...they (the Magi) set out, and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen in the east, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.”
All that the magi had to illuminate and guide their way was a star and a dream. Their journey to encounter holiness began with a burning light, with a step taken, with companions gazing in the same direction.
As we stand near the beginning of this new year, what is guiding you? What are you noticing? How are you following your longing to encounter holiness? Which direction is calling you? What are you giving your attention to? Who are your companions on the journey?
I've been in a bit of a writing slump. So for the month of February I took on the spiritual practice of writing one (or more) six-word sermons each week, based on time spent out in creation. I'd encourage it as a simple way to focus and synthesize your thoughts and reflections from time spent outdoors, or whenever/wherever you spend your contemplative time.
Here are the five I shared on our social media streams this month:
Below the snow, seeds await spring.
God's here in our winters, too.
Love shines on all God's creatures.
Every day let kindness burn bright.
Be rooted in peace, not war.
Reflections, poetry, prayers, photos, and resources written by Wendy Janzen unless otherwise noted.