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.
Trees are amazing neighbours! They provide us with oxygen, sequester carbon, have a moderating affect on the temperature, reduce erosion, prevent water runoff, provide shade, are habitat for many other species, and some even provide us with fruit and nuts.
Trees, just like all of creation, can offer healing and can be a window into the nature of God. Trees are so critical to life on earth; they are also a potential place for divine encounter
Here are some reflection questions you can use to spend contemplative time with a tree. Go for a walk and find a particular tree or forested area that feels inviting to you.
Consider how this tree or this part of the forest might be a sacred text where the Holy One can be revealed to you today...
Or, reflect on what gives you a sense of grounding or rootedness...
Or, perhaps you feel you need to make a confession for humanity’s destruction of ancient trees and forests, and seek forgiveness...
Or, simply breathe and reflect on a sense of sacred reciprocity - giving and receiving so that all might flourish and thrive...
May you live a life rooted and grounded
in God’s presence.
May you stand tall and strong,
Bending with grace and trust in life’s storms.
May you give and receive freely,
Holding on to nothing for long,
So that all life might flourish.
May you hold space for those
Around you, bearing witness to
The joy and pain of life.
- Wendy Janzen
"Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life."
- John Muir
Early this month, before Covid-19 was a concern here, I was on a walk in one of the natural areas in the city. I kept on noticing, over and over, pairs of trees that felt like thresholds. I wondered why that might be. Was there a threshold that lay ahead that I needed to cross?
Little could I ever have imagined then what this month would hold. It indeed feels like we all have crossed a threshold into a new way of life.
A new reality.
A new way of understanding just how interconnected we all are.
A new level of vulnerability.
As unsettling as these times are, perhaps we are at a threshold to a new way of life. How will this crisis change us? As much as we probably all long to go back to the way things were, that is not possible. The only way ahead is to go through this together. When we come out the other side, we will have changed, and life will look different.
- Wendy Janzen
This month of November can be a melancholy month - darker days, moodier skies, fallen leaves, and days like All Saints Day, Remembrance Day, and Eternity Sunday that all point us toward facing our losses and making space for lament. A lot of us feel grief over the amount of climate-related damage is being inflicted on the earth. Our November worship gathering created space to acknowledge our grief, to name species at risk, and to turn to God for hope in the ritual of communion.
Litany of Lament
Christ, our Wounded Healer, who suffers the pains of creation, we bring to you our prayers of lament for the Earth. In your mercy, receive our prayers as we name the species of our province that are threatened, endangered or extirpated:
Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison
Christ, our Wounded Healer, who suffers the pains of creation, we bring before you our laments as we name other environmental concerns we carry:
Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison
Christ, our Wounded Healer, who suffers the pains of creation, we hold before you other griefs and laments that are on our hearts today:
Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison
Christ, our Wounded Healer, who suffers the pains of creation, Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, have mercy on us. In your kindness and love, you have entrusted us as caretakers for your Creation, to live as your image-bearers in a world you created for your delight. We confess that we have turned from your will, often abusing the natural world for greedy and short-sighted purposes. Now we are facing global climate disruption and other ecological crises as a result of our rebellion. Forgive us of our sins, and the sins of our society, and our failure to care for what you created for good. In your mercy, lead us to repentance, compassion, and life. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
I have set before you life and death . . . therefore choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)
Partial list of species who are threatened, endangered, or extirpated in the province of Ontario:
Eastern Tiger Salamander, Extirpated
Fowlers Toad, Endangered
Barn Owl, Endangered
Golden Eagle, Endangered
Greater Prairie Chicken, Extirpated
Lake Sturgeon, Endangered
Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee, Endangered
Karner Blue Moth, Extirpated
Mountain Lion (Cougar), Endangered
American Badger, Endangered
American Chestnut, Endangered
Small White Lady’s Slipper, Endangered
Spring Blue-Eyed Mary Extirpated
Four-Leaved Milkweed, Endangered
Blue Racer Snake, Endangered
Eastern Box Turtle, Extirpated
Spotted Turtle, Endangered
Timber Rattlesnake, Extirpated
Incurved Grizzled Moss, Extirpated
Pale-Bellied Frost Lichen, Endangered
Piping Plover, Endangered
Butternut Tree, Endangered
Eastern Flowering Dogwood, Endangered
Red Mullberry, Endangered
Common Five-Lined Skink, Endangered
Algonquin Wolf, Threatened
Eastern Persius Duskywing Moth, Extirpated
Northern Bobwhite, Endangered
- Wendy Janzen
Each October for several years now, right around the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, I pick the wild grapes that grow along our fence. I turn them into juice that is then used as our communion juice at Burning Bush Forest Church (and will be used at Wilmot Forest Church, too). It is a practice of gratitude, and a gift of grace, to have juice that comes from the "wild." I did not plant these grapes, and they are definitely not a cultivated variety. I rarely prune them, but every October they offer enough small little clusters to put away juice for worship. Below is my ode to wild grapes!
I open the door to the
wide, wild, world;
crisp October air washes my face,
fresh and surprising,
awakening me to this day.
Wild vines sprawl along an
urban fence line; who planted them -
human? bird? - no one knows.
Through summer months
tendrils stretched and grasped
for the sun, reaching further
and further, claiming new
territory each day.
Once vibrant green leaves
alive with purpose now
a yellowing and limp tangle.
I move slowly, methodically,
along the row,
the vines playing a game
of hide and seek with their
tiny deep purple clusters.
ample left behind for
other foragers, my heart
offers thanks for this small harvest,
grateful for this miracle,
this gift of the earth.
My mind jumps ahead
to jars of jewel-hued liquid
that will be poured out in worship,
poured out as an act of love for all.
The wild Christ,
present in the elements,
juice and bread;
in light, earth, water, and wind,
in rituals that transform us
and unite us with all that
was and is and ever shall be.
- Wendy Janzen, 2019
Mennonites are not known to celebrate or recognize feast days for Catholic saints. We turned away from all of that during the Radical Reformation. There are, however, some gems of wisdom in the faith heritage that preceded Anabaptism, and St. Francis is one of those figures who deserves some attention.
This 13th century saint was known for his desire to imitate the life and work of Christ, for his concern for the well-being of the poor, and for his belief that nature was the mirror of God. Over the past four years that I have been drawn into leading an ecologically-oriented outdoor worshipping community called Burning Bush Forest Church, St. Francis has become an inspiring figure of faith for me.
Francis’ reverence for nature and love of animals is a helpful example of how faith informs our relationship to the earth. We are members of a community of creation and have a call to protect and enjoy nature as both stewards of God’s creation, and as creatures ourselves. Fransiscan spirituality helps to provide a beautiful perspective on our place in creation, and paints creation as revelation of God’s outpouring of love not only for us, but for all creatures.
The Feast of St. Francis marks the end of the Season of Creation, a rather new liturgical season from September 1 to October 4. The Season of Creation invites Christians around the world to honour our Creator by loving creation and each other. The Feast of St. Francis is a day that some churches offer a blessing of the animals.
In this day of climate crisis and mass extinctions, it seems important that churches and people of faith address these pressing issues from a moral and faith perspective. The worship gatherings I lead with Burning Bush Forest Church are an invitation for people to deepen their connection with the earth and with our loving Creator who breathed life into all that exists.
I wrote this prayer a year ago to celebrate the Feast Day of St. Francis, and to express my gratitude for all animals.
Creator of all that lives and breathes,
we raise up a prayer of thanksgiving for
the animals in our lives
and in our world.
For the great animals --
elephants, whales, grizzly bears, wolves, wild cats…
For the endangered animals --
bees, caribou, orcas, whip-poor-will…
For pets and companion animals --
dogs, cats, horses, rabbits…
For forgotten and unpopular animals --
rats, reptiles, fish, insects…
WE GIVE OUR DEEP THANKS.
We are grateful for a world of beauty and diversity,
for the role of each animal in its ecosystem.
Stir us to action for creatures who have
no voice or ability to
save their habitat or
affect change in our world.
May we live lightly in this world
so that our more-than-human
neighbours may also live.
With gratitude for the blessings
of this earth, and for all
God’s creatures we pray.
- Wendy Janzen
Prayer for the Autumn Equinox
September 23, 2019
As I met with two different forest church groups on Sunday, September 22, my attention kept returning to the wind. It was stronger than a breeze: it made the treetops sway, and sometimes drowned out my voice as I spoke. It was the last day of summer, the day before the autumn equinox, and the temperature was downright hot with a serving of humidity to go with the sunshine. But the wind was not a summer wind. It was the kind of wind one experiences in autumn. It was the wind of change blowing in a new season, new weather patterns.
We are, right now, in the middle of a week of climate action. A week when climate change is on the forefront of the news and of our minds. There was a Global Climate Strike last Friday, and another coming this Friday. There is the UN Climate Summit happening in New York. And there are countless smaller events happening all over to highlight the issues that we have for far too long pushed to the back burner.
I hope the winds of change are blowing through our towns and cities, and through the halls of power. I pray that these winds of change are bringing with them new patterns of being and a new season of action. The equinox is a liminal space, a threshold between what was and what is yet to come. Liminal spaces are pregnant with possibility. May we have the courage to heed the winds of change. To let go of our unhealthy past, so that we are unburdened to embrace a new future that is not only sustainable for all, but regenerative for so much of what is broken.
Here is my prayer for today:
God of the seasons,
We come to you on this liminal day:
The day that marks the balance
between light and dark,
And the turning from
From summer’s fullness to autumn’s surrender.
We stand at this threshold,
Full to overflowing with the goodness of summer,
Ready, yet not ready to let go of what was,
And to embrace what lies ahead.
As hard as it can be, teach us to surrender.
In this age of climate crisis and mass extinction
Help us to let go of our dependence on fossil fuels.
Help us to let go of our rampant consumerism.
Help us to let go of our disposable lifestyle.
Help us to let go of our illusions of control.
May we surrender to your love for all the earth.
May we trust in enough rather than
Grasping for more.
In our letting go, may we know the freedom
Of abundant life.
- Wendy Janzen
A meditation on crows...
I have been noticing a lot of crow activity in our neighbourhood recently, and that got me thinking about crows. Crows are pretty common birds, often unappreciated or even despised by some. The are loud, and not especially beautiful.
The crow can invite us to celebrate the ordinary, and to even pay attention to them and discover their unique gifts.
Crows are part of the Corvidae family. The crow’s cousins include magpies, blue jays, jackdaws, rooks, nutcrackers and ravens. They are actually quite exceptional birds in terms of intelligence and adaptability. They are known for their problem solving skills and ability to communicate. They are cooperative breeders, which means that the young stick around and help to raise subsequent siblings. They can live for up to 14 years in the wild. (info from livescience website)
Often, I admit, I have found crows annoying. They are so loud I can hear their cawing from inside my house. But the more I get to know about them, the more that annoyance changes to intrigue. They are among my neighbours in this watershed, and within the community of creation.
Great Spirit of All,
I give you thanks for the ordinary
and the extraordinary
creatures I come in contact with
in my daily life.
Thank you for the blessings of crows,
and open my heart to learn
of their goodness.
Draw me into the community of creation,
that I might see all creatures as
gifts with lessons to offer.
May you find joy in the snow!
Here's a little story. Several years ago, close to this time in December, I got news that a lovely woman I knew had passed away. My heart was heavy as I went out for a walk to do some errands. It had snowed overnight, and as I walked, I saw someone had written "joy" in the snow. It made me smile. A few blocks later, I saw it again, and again on another street. Whoever it was who had left those messages in the snow had no idea what a difference they made to me that day.
Now, I leave messages in the snow when I have the chance, hoping to brighten someone's day. Besides, fresh snow really does bring me joy! Every time.
May you find joy in the snow!
Wendy Janzen 2018
Reflections, poetry, prayers, and resources written by Wendy Janzen and occasional guests.