The Place of Humans

Two weeks ago, I was high in the mountains of Switzerland. In the valleys below, flowers were blooming, trees were leafing out, and birds were singing — a glorious, gentle spring was in full swing. Life was easy. Where I was, though, all was bleak. Sheer walls of rock rose a thousand feet above me. Snow and ice covered the land and gusts of wind up to 50 mph knocked me off my feet. Ahead, I watched a small line of ski mountaineers, heads down, trudging into the storm. Puny human creatures, dwarfed and diminished by the wild, raw, fierce landscape around them.

I love being in such wild places in part because they help me remember how puny I am, how puny all human creatures are. Such places — mountains, wild forests, deserts, vast plains — are reminders that, despite all our obsessions, conceits, and capabilities, we are not the center of all existence. There is Much Bigger Existence all around us, though we are not aware of it most of the time.

What happens, I wonder, when we lose sight of this? When we forget where we fit in the world? When we forget about the other forms of Existence, Being, Beauty, Power that also inhabit the world? When we forget that we are puny?

Last week, we celebrated Earth Day at Church of the Woods. We sang. We restored a gravel bank with new soil and seedlings, we transplanted some day lilies into the sunlight. We mourned the myriad harms that we puny people manage to inflict upon this beautiful Earth that we are privileged to inhabit. We celebrated the gifts of light, of life, of love.

There is a paradox here, of course. As individual creatures of flesh and bone, we are puny, vulnerable, fragile. Together, we have enormous power — power to destroy so much of what seems to dwarf us. How do we handle this vast power? What are the responsibilities that come with such power? How do we put limits on our own capabilities? Where do we draw the line?

What would it mean for humans to willingly relinquish some of our power, to accept the mantle of puniness, in order that other forms of Existence — other forms of life and love — have room to live? Can we reign ourselves in voluntarily? Or must we wait till Much Bigger Existence reminds us, once again, that we remain, despite it all, puny?

 

— Steve Blackmer


Earth Day at Church of the Woods

We enjoyed a beautiful afternoon of Earth Day activities: tree planting, water meditations, signing, picnicking and being in good company with each other and with this beautiful planet!

Enjoy some photos below:

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DSC_0072 Water meditations

DSC_0073 Vernal pool at Church of the Woods

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DSC_0090Getting a look at the tiny living creatures in the water

DSC_0093 Let the planting begin!

DSC_0095Transplanting Day Lilies

DSC_0099 Transplanting white pines and hemlocks

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DSC_0119The altar after services


Goldfinch Resurrection

I was away a few days last week and when I came back to New Hampshire, the male goldfinches had started to turn color. Perching in the sugar maple between zips to the feeder, their newly golden forms flashed like living, breathing photons.

They are glorious little creatures, bright and shiny, full of new life — each one a perfect sign of spring, of Easter, of resurrection.

And then it snowed. The temperature dropped to 12 degrees. Ponds froze up again. Winter returned. The finches’ gold again muted as courtships were shelved. Spring stopped.

It was so fitting that just as the cold blast arrived, we came to the story of doubting Thomas who declares that he won’t believe in Jesus’s resurrection unless he can see the marks of the nails in his hands and put his fingers in the wound. “If my senses can’t verify it,” he suggests, “I won’t believe it.”

If we read the text closely, though, there is no indication that Thomas actually touches Jesus. Jesus appears in a closed room, unconstrained by walls and doors. He is simply there. And, somehow, Thomas knows himself to be in that presence.

This has led me to consider several questions for reflection in this post-resurrection season.

Where do we (you) encounter the presence of Christ (which we know is within and around all things)?

How can we know we are in that presence?

How can we become more aware of being in that presence?

What happens to us when we are in that presence?

What happens to the world around us when we are in that presence?

Like goldfinches in the spring, being in the presence of Christ fills us with light. I pray that in that light we, too, may be beacons of love, hope, and caritas.


— Rev. Steve Blackmer

 


The Magic of Maple Syrup

We love our maple syrup here in New England — and all of the processes that go along with it! There are only three places in the world where maple syrup is produced: Canada, the Northeast, and the Upper Midwest. From Minnesota, Emily writes about “the magic of maple syruping” and whether “it will be something that future generations will also be able to enjoy.”

You can read her full piece, ‘Maple Syrup and Climate Change: Not So Sweet?,’ HERE.


For the Birds

I woke up early this morning with an urge to take my morning prayer outdoors. With just a hint of light behind the clouds speeding overhead, a strong north wind heralding the coming cold front, a quick cup of coffee warming my insides, and my blue windbreaker over a ratty sweatshirt warming my outsides, I headed into the pre-dawn woods. To pray. To be. Among the creatures.

The core of my prayer life — long before I called it “prayer” — has always been outdoors. Walking or running through the woods. Just being there, surrounded by the tree beings. Or in the mountains. Or in my canoe on the river. Prayer in this kind of place needs no words — it is enough simply to be there. Though a word of thanks never hurts.

In about 30 minutes, I arrived at the clearing. Pausing for a few minutes to say Thank You, I was startled by an explosion from the red maple across from me. Pow! Then again: Pow! Pow! In the dim light, I could see huge projectiles launching from the treetops into the sky.

It startles me every time. Turkeys! It is amazing to see such large birds — a male can weigh up to 25 or 30 pounds — flying to and from the trees. Fantastic!

It was as though the turkeys were echoing Psalm 148 that we sang at Church of the Woods on Sunday, for Easter.

… Praise God, sun and moon;

praise God, all you shining stars!

Praise God, you highest heavens,

and you waters above the heavens! …

Praise the Lord from the earth,

you sea monsters and all deeps,

fire and hail, snow and frost,

stormy wind fulfilling God’s command!

Mountains and all hills,

fruit trees and all cedars!

Wild animals and all cattle,

creeping things and flying birds! …

When I go out into the woods, this is all that is really needed — to sing the praises of this glorious, magnificent world. And to give thanks — which is where words do come in handy.

Happy Easter!

Steve



Holy Week & Easter Service Schedule

We hope you’ll join us!


Maundy Thursday (March 24th):
Join us for a community supper and services in Canterbury!
5:30-7:00pm
(Feel free to bring a dish to share! Please email Chelsea at chelseascudder@kairosearth.org for more details if you plan to attend.)

Good Friday (March 25th): 
at Church of the Woods
5:00-5:45 pm: Litany of the Extinct
5:45-6:15 pm: Silence
6:15-6:30 pm: The Crucifixion 
6:30-7:00 pm: Silence
7:00-7:30 pm: Tenebrae

Holy Saturday Vigil (March 26th):
at Church of the Woods
Join us for a vigil & bonfire
7:00 – 9:00 pm

Easter Sunday (March 27th):
at Church of the Woods
3:00 – 4:30pm


Of Seeds Buried in the Earth

“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, 
it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”   John 12: 24

 

These 30 words are, for me, as close as one can get to a one-sentence summary of the mystery of Christian faith — and a perfect way into the end of Lent and the approaching mystery of Easter.

Like so many of my favorite biblical passages, this one is rooted in references to the Earth and nature. Any of us who garden (or have children!) are well aware of the mystery of planting seeds in the ground and bearing witness to the miracle of new life springing up from these seeds that have “died.” Of course, the seeds haven’t really died, it is just that particular form — the seed form — that has died. The seed itself may be gone but the life-force that springs from the seed is beginning to grow and flourish. Whatever grows from this seed — whether it is another stalk of wheat or a bird or fungus that has digested the grain — will in due course form its own new seeds that will, in turn, “die.”

This eternal cycle of death leading to life leading to death is among the greatest and most beautiful mysteries of all existence. Is it any wonder that people have marveled at it since time immemorial? Yet the farther away from nature we live, the less aware we are of this deep truth at the center of all existence: Death is not just the end but a transformation. The divine life-force never ends but — always — takes on a new form. In nature, for example, some of the body and life-energy of an oak tree becomes acorns that can form new trees, but most of the body of the tree decays and becomes part of entirely different forms of life.

This eternal and unchangeable mystery is the root of the Christian belief in the resurrection of the body — that death is not the end but a transformation into a different form. What that form is, we cannot say, but precisely because the mystery that we witness around us in nature — and in the life of Jesus — is so profound and pervasive, we know that we must be part of it, too. Everything, when it dies, takes on a new form, a new “body.”

When Jesus tells his followers the parable of the grain of wheat, he is allying himself to this great mystery. He is alerting them that he will die — and that his death is necessary. In the resurrection to come and the descent of the holy spirit at Pentecost, we get glimpses of how that new life may take shape in a transformed world.

He is warning his followers that they, too, are part of this mystery — that they must follow him even into death. The next two verses are stark: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me…” 

When we die and our physical bodies take on new form, we are part of the new and ever-emerging life of the world. We are not separate from other forms of life but are one with all life and all matter. We are one particular manifestation of an eternal and universe-wide flow of form and energy — the cosmic Christ.

But this is not only about physical death and transformation, it is also about spiritual death and transformation — about becoming “a new person” in Christ. What Jesus is really trying to teach — indeed, what the entire Bible is working toward — is this transformation in consciousness that allows us to understand that we are not separate beings. We are not separate from each other, we are not separate from nature, we are not separate from the Earth, we are not separate from God. This awareness of being One — and learning what behaviors and actions that requires of us — is what Jesus elsewhere calls the Kingdom.

In the end, we all die physically — that part, we can’t avoid. The transformation of consciousness that the Christian tradition calls metanoia (usually and very misleadingly translated as “repent”), is what we are called to strive for in life — a transformation of heart, mind, and action that allows us to live as Jesus lived, in love and service to all. For this, too, we must undergo a death — and a rebirth.

My blessings for these last days of Lent and the coming resurrection of Easter.

Rev. Steve Blackmer


Sacred Ground

Dear Friends,

It was almost eight years ago, on the morning of June 22, 2008 that I woke up wondering,

“What is sacred in our world? What does ‘sacred’ mean? How do we even have public conversations about sacredness?”

I carried these questions with me when I started attending church a couple of months later, when I went to divinity school, when I was ordained, and when I formed Church of the Woods. They remain central to Kairos Earth, now.

I believe all life is sacred, and that we are meant to wrestle with the paradox that we must take life in order to live. The way through the paradox is to recognize that we have to treat the taking of life — the feeding upon life, for there is no other way to live — as itself a sacred act.

The alternative to this awareness of omnipresent sacredness is to treat the taking of life as a bloodless transaction, one with no moral consequence. Or to be sidetracked by questions about whether one form of life feels more than another the pain of being killed and is, therefore, more suited to be killed.

This month, we are launching a new program — the Common Ground Initiative —dedicated to exploring these questions and their relevance for conservation. What does it mean to destroy, or to protect, a natural landscape if the life it holds is sacred? What happens to the business of conservation when we lose the ability to speak of land and its living inhabitants as sacred?

When God told Noah to pack up All Creation — two of everything — he meant it! Can we speak about the diversity of all life as sacred?

How do we become more aware of the ways in which we take life? How do we wrestle with the paradox of taking life in order to live? Is there any way out of our ecological dilemmas without recovering an understanding of sacredness?

These questions will become a central focus of the EarthTime newsletter over the coming months, and we hope you will participate. How do you experience the sacred? Is the Earth and Nature an expression of that? Can you share an experience? Please join the conversation!

And since it is the season, if you are near enough, please join us for all or part of our observance of Holy Week and Easter at Church of the Woods — see below for details.

I look forward to being in touch, and thank you,

Steve