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 December worship gathering, as always, combined themes from the Advent season and the coming winter solstice. It is no coincidence that we celebrate Advent when we are at the darkest point of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The return of the sun symbolizes the coming of the Light of the World, Emmanuel: God With Us.
While we want to be mindful of not polarizing light and dark, or demonizing darkness, we do acknowledge that there is destruction and brokenness in the world; as a result all of us, and all of creation is in need of hope and healing. This is what we celebrate as we light candles and wait for the sun’s shift back toward lengthening days.
Just as there are different types & stages of light, twilight, and darkness, we experience light and darkness differently in our own lives. The intensity of darkness varies. Perhaps it is a constant companion - one you are more or less comfortable with. Perhaps it is a veil that you long to have lifted. Both light and dark play important roles in our lives and in creation.
“Sing, starry sky and every constellation, for what the Eternal One has done. Shout for joy, dark soil underfoot and deep caverns below; Erupt in joyful songs, mountains and forests, and every tree in them! Sing joyfully, for the Eternal One has rescued Jacob; the splendor of God will be revealed...” (Isaiah 44:23, The Voice)
Leah invited us into a time of wandering with this invitation: "Sometimes when I enter into our wandering & wondering times, I find having a phrase or words to repeat to myself…kind of like a mantra. So today I offer you the opening line of the song The Sound of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel, which says 'Hello Darkness, my old friend'. We invite you to use that phrase as an invitation to lean into the darkness today during your wanderings & wonderings."
After wandering and sharing with each other, we listened to this song Find the Light by David Ramirez as we lit candles.
Our closing blessing was A Blessing for Traveling in the Dark by Jan Richardson:
if you can.
More slowly still.
this is no place
to break your neck
by crashing into
what you cannot see.
it is true:
have different tasks,
and if you
have arrived here unawares,
if you have come
or in pain,
this might be no place
you should dawdle.
I do not know
what these shadows
ask of you,
what they might hold
that means you good
It is not for me
whether you should linger
or you should leave.
But this is what
I can ask for you:
That in the darkness
there be a blessing.
That in the shadows
there be a welcome.
That in the night
you be encompassed
by the Love that knows
- in Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons, Jan Richardson
This month we gathered together to practice lament, recognizing that grief work helps to build our muscles for grieving when we find ourselves in the depths of grief. Though it is a vulnerable thing, lament is best done in community.
This passage from the prophet Isaiah seemed like it was written for today, as we carry grief for the violence and injustice happening in Gaza and Israel, and recognize that violence impacts both people and the more-than-human world.
Isaiah 33:7-9 (The Message)
But look! Listen!
… men weep openly.
Peacemaking diplomats are in bitter tears…
The peace treaty is broken,
its conditions violated…
The very ground under our feet mourns,
the … mountains hang their heads…
and the forests… ? Bare branches.
We suffer together with all creation. Wars and disasters decimate people, land, water, and the creatures who live in its wake. For our wandering & wondering time, we were invited to take time to be attentive to the heartaches and injustices of the world, of our lives, and of the land. Where is God in the midst of grief and injustice?
Great Mystery, God of Peace,
we stand together
in community with all creation,
living and dying
and longing for new life.
Receive our tears.
Lighten our hearts.
Heal our sorrows.
Carry us forward.
Here in Southern Ontario, October is a month of abundance - gardens, farmers markets, and orchards overflow with vegetables, fruits, and herbs.
In John 10:10 Jesus said these words - “I came so everyone would have life, and have it abundantly.” This kind of abundant life isn’t measured by productivity and success, achievement, wealth and power.
This abundance looks more like shalom - fertility of the land and the wellbeing of all inhabitants - human and more-than-human alike. This kind of abundance is characterized by peace, gladness, and joy in having enough to share. To live well, to live abundantly, we must overcome division and isolation and recognize that our own flourishing depends on the flourishing of all in the community of creation, of neighbours near and far.
In the closing lines of Wendell Berry’s poem, The Wild Geese, are these words of wisdom:
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.
Take time to wander, and to reflect on what is here.
Where do you see abundance?
How are you experiencing abundance in your life?
What wisdom is this season offering you today?
We remember that sometimes there is an abundance of pain, sorrow, heartache, injustice, and that, too, needs to be named and honoured.
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.
Reflections, poetry, prayers, photos, and resources written by Wendy Janzen unless otherwise noted.