A Wednesday morning in church

Barred owl, pileated woodpecker, short-tailed ermine.

Bracken fern, sphagnum moss, princess pine.

White pine, black birch, red maple, beech.

Blueberry, winterberry, blackberry.

Dragonfly, ant, mosquito, mayfly.

Vernal pool and trickling stream.

British soldier moss.

Quartz and gneiss.

Mud.

I can see or touch all of these within a few feet of where I am sitting. It’s a Wednesday morning. The sun is shining, the air is cool and dry, the trees are in full leaf, the birds are singing. All in all, it’s a gorgeous day to be…

In church?

Well, actually, yes. In fact, many of my neighbors – some of them mentioned above – are here, too. We are all rejoicing in this day the Lord has made.

I’m not really doing anything in church – just being here. There’s no printed text, no procession, no altar, no prayer book. Just miracles in every direction. And me, the lone human being this morning, as witness and reporter, liturgist and priest.

I am here to pray. Apart from being present and paying attention, there’s nothing to do. These are the same things, of course – prayer, being present, and paying attention.

I find that true prayer is an act more of listening than speaking, of being present to what is rather than clamoring for what I want. And of course, of giving thanks for the blessed fact that everything around me IS – and that I am. Which, of course, is the name of God.

The earliest spirituality must have been something like this. Simply marveling at the existence of the world around us. Just being in the company of the extraordinary, rich, diverse, shifting pattern of nature, of the world, of the stars, of the entire universe. Feeling at one with all that is around and within. Simply resting in God.

With our scientific knowledge, we can know that we are privileged to live – so far as we know – in the only place ever, anywhere, where life exists. How amazing is that?! God from whom all blessings flow, indeed.

On a lovely June morning, my experience of God is as a beneficent provider. Smelling the fertile soil, listening to the birds calling their morning song, watching the saplings reach toward the sun.

If I were here on a January night or during a September hurricane, I might feel differently.

Is our God a tame God or a wild God? Does the world need me, or need people at all? What do we add to this beautiful, sacred Creation? These are the questions that arise in my mind.

I know well what we destroy – we destroy much of this very abundance and beauty. I see signs of this, too, around me. A pile of discarded metal from a logging truck. Empty plastic bottles that held lubricating oil for chainsaws. Piles of dead trees, heaped up and pushed to the margins. Dry bones. I want them to live again.

I am surrounded with the immediacy of life and of death, in every moment and every square centimeter of ground.

Where does a moose go when it dies? I haven’t seen any fresh sign of moose this spring – I wonder if he (I know it was a he because I picked up a discarded antler) succumbed to the warming temperatures and last year’s abundance of ticks. Happily for me, there are many fewer ticks this year. But, so far, no moose. A victim of global warming?

In this thought, I am come face to face with the question of sin. What does it mean that people are the cause – right now, in the world around us – of one of the six great extinctions of species in the history of life? Mea culpa. Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.

What does forgiveness look and feel like in the face of destroying entire forms of life? What can possibly atone for this sin? I don’t know.

And yet, sitting here this morning, I know that there is nothing that can keep me from the love of God. The sun rises every day and the moon at night.

In return, what do we do?

We celebrate! We give thanks, we rejoice, we bring to full consciousness – or as close as we can get – the gift of simply being.

And we care for others, for all those who need care and help and love. We pray. We make music and art and ritual. We speak the names of all those things that are created – and those that are being destroyed.

We remember our rightful place in the order of things.

In the woods, it is easier to remember that we are not the center of all things – that we are but keepers and servers of a creativity vastly greater than our own. That our great calling is to enhance, to elaborate, to create little riffs on great themes written long before time.

To make more, not less, of what God has given us. To leave the world a better place.

 

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