New Year Reflections

January 1, 2014

This year more than most, I am embarking on a new life in keeping with the start of the New Year. Notwithstanding all my Christmas Doubts & New Year’s Fears, I feel I have – finally – settled onto my new path. As I embark on this new way, I want to take a moment to reflect on and give thanks for a few of 2013’s milestones.

As of a year ago, Church of the Woods was only a vague notion. Now, it is starting to come to life. God willing (and generous supporters concurring), we will open come June 2014. Thanks to all the people who have made this possible.

This time last year, ordination as a deacon and a priest was still a remote prospect. Our wonderful new bishop, Rob Hirschfeld, was just taking office and I had no expectation of swift action to ordain me. I was wrong! Within six weeks, I had become a deacon at St. Paul’s Church in Concord

Easter Vigil, 2013

Easter Vigil, 2013

and began the steep learning curve of being a clergyperson. I am so grateful to the people of St. Paul’s and to Bishop Rob for bringing me up in the church, supporting me, training me, and loving me.

Seven months later, on September 7, I fulfilled the instruction to be a priest at a wonderful ordination service at the Church of the Woods Annex,DSCF9183 copyhosted by our dear friends Mark and Jenny Hopkins. To Mark and Jenny and the many others who made that marvelous day possible, I am forever in your debt.

Finally, through the fall of 2013, Kairos Earth began to take shape as an organization. As I write, we have a wonderful board of directors, have incorporated as a non-profit organization, are putting the final touches on our application to the IRS for 501 (c) 3 status, and are setting up the many organizational systems from budgets and work plans to bookkeeping, payroll, and communications that an organization requires. I can’t say I love having this be such a large part of my life right now, but I am grateful it is happening and for everyone who has helped.

All in all, 2013 was a year in which nearly a decade-long phase of preparation and training has drawn to a close. Not to say there isn’t more to come, but…

It is time to shift to action. In 2014, I look forward to walking this new path – to actually doing some of things I have been dreaming of for all these years.

A new path - Church of the Woods

A new path – Church of the Woods

Thanks to all who have made it possible.

 

 

 


Christmas Doubts and New Year’s Fears – Part 1

December 31, 2013

I awoke early this morning, around 5:00 AM, this day that wraps up the old year and presages the new. It was still a beautiful winter night – pitch black, zero degrees, crystal clear, snow covering the ground. Both nighttime and morning.

I awoke to thoughts of the Apostle Paul dancing in my head. Paul is a touchstone for me – an obstreperous man of strong convictions, a persecutor of the new Christians, he was one of the watchers at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7: 57-60) – the first Christian to be killed for his faith. As Acts 7:58 says, “The witnesses placed their coats in the care of a young man named Saul” [who becomes Paul]. Acts 8:1 continues, “Saul was in full agreement with Stephen’s murder.”

And then everything changes.

In Acts 9, he is “still spewing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples… [But]… During the journey, as he approached Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven encircled him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice asking him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you harassing me?’ Saul asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are harassing,’ came the reply. ‘Now get up and enter the city. You will be told what you must do.’ Those traveling with him stood there speechless; they heard the voice but saw no one. After they picked Saul up from the ground, he opened his eyes but he couldn’t see. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind and neither ate nor drank anything.” (Acts 9: 1-9)

As he gradually adapts to and inhabits his new life – doing “what you must do” – Paul travels throughout Asia Minor and Europe, establishing new communities of Jesus followers among the “Gentiles,” the non-Jewish peoples of Greek culture and religion.

From being a watcher of Stephen’s murder, Paul becomes a planter of tiny seeds of communities and writings from which the transforming word of Christ spread throughout the western world.

Like Paul, I have been caught up – converted into a new person, even – by something vastly bigger and more powerful than I. Like Paul, I have been told what to do – to tell my story and why it matters to conserving the Earth.

Despite an understanding of God that doesn’t conceive of “God” as anything remotely like a person or a being who speaks, nevertheless “God” does speak. There is an unspeakable and irresistible realness to this, regardless of how improbable or even impossible it seems. It may not be possible, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

The Bible doesn’t tell us about Paul’s doubts and fears, but I am sure he had them. He did as he had been told anyway. Notwithstanding the doubts and fear, I am trying to do the same.

 

 

 


Christmas Doubts and New Year’s Fears – Part 2

December 31, 2013

Exactly a year ago, I awoke in the wee hours of the morning in a different frame of mind. One that wasn’t as optimistic. Filled with overwhelming fear and doubt. Scared, worried, anxious. My journal captures a few thoughts as I sat in the dark, cold stillness of my study:

“I awoke about 2:45 AM. Slowly, thoughts came together, coalesced as doubts and fears.

Doubts about Church of the Woods… Who will ever come there? How will I promote it, generate awareness? In order to make it happen, I will have to raise money, design programs, develop plans, tell people what is going to happen there. But I don’t want to do those things – I want the land and the people to figure it out, not me. I don’t want to get back into the non-profit marketing routine!

The Fears come in several forms. Fears about once again making a living – or more, about not being able to do so, or at least not in a way that is in keeping with the path I have been given.

We [our family] have made it through the past five years on the strength of gifts from the dead  – from Mum and now from [my cousin] Meg. I could write an essay about how all life, actually, feeds on the gifts given in death – riches accumulated in life then given away in death. Everything living thing, everything we eat, it all requires death that we may live. For now, I simply note that the gifts they bestowed when cancer ended their lives much too early are a large part of what has made my adventure possible. I bow in humble gratitude

In the midst of the doubts about whether I am doing the right thing, whether it will work…there must also be a recognition that, in fact, I can’t really do anything else. For better or worse, it feels as though one by one, other options, other doors, other paths have been closed off, leaving only this one way.

I have not so much chosen as given in, acquiesced, surrendered. I suppose I could have said no, but truthfully, I can’t imagine how I could have done so.

But I sure do have doubts and fears. Doubts that all I am thinking and working on will amount to anything. Fears that I will waste all the gifts and directions I have been given. I don’t want to waste it! And yet, it feels there is so much to do…I can’t do it all, I can’t, I can’t…

But here I am. I must re-read Jeremiah about doubt and fear. And Jesus preparing to die:

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane. He said to the disciples, ‘Stay here while I go and pray over there.’ When he took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, he began to feel sad and anxious. Then he said to them, ‘I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert with me.’ Then he went a short distance farther and fell on his face and prayed, ‘My Father, if it’s possible, take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want. (Matthew 26: 36-39)

Take heart in their doubts and fears. Even to death on the cross. Talk about a way that isn’t obvious!

Not what I want but what you want. Stay with it – this is the path.


Practice

“And after Jesus had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain alone to pray.” (Matthew 14: 23)

“For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace: the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the fields shall clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55: 12)

In preparation for my ordination tomorrow to the priesthood, I went this week, in imitatione Christi, alone to the mountains to pray. I climbed Mt. Adams and Mt. Jefferson in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. I was welcomed by fierce wind, fog and rain that turned to glorious sun, and still fierce wind. The spirit of God is strong on those mountains.

As part of my preparation and prayer, I immersed myself in the Eucharistic prayers of the Episcopal Church – the prayers in which a priest leads a congregation into the mystery of the body and blood of Christ.

The mountains and Arvin were the congregation, bursting with song. A rye cracker was the bread, held in place by the bones of the earth. Water became wine. The Spirit was present.

It is all part of the practice. Prayer in the mountains.

IMG_0457


“Start a Church”

Throughout my years at seminary, when I listened most deeply (i.e., prayed) about what I was supposed to do as a priest, I would hear something like this: “Start a Church.” But I didn’t want to start a church! That was too messy, too complicated, too costly, much too

Lady slipper & Princess pine

Lady slipper & Princess pine

hard. So I would jot down the words on a scrap of paper, stash them in a file, and forget about it.

But all the time, Kelly and I were trying to buy a little (well, not so little – 106 acres) piece of land in Canterbury NH, so I could have the woodlot I have always wanted and Kelly could design a house. I had thought that we might be able to create a little spiritual retreat center there, too, but that was about it. Until we actually bought the land.

Last October, when the landowner finally lowered the price to a reasonable level and –  thanks to a generous supporter – we were able to buy it, I suddenly realized what that voice had been telling me all along. I was supposed to start a church – but a completely

Turkey eggs

Turkey eggs

different kind of church. I was to create a “woods-church.” Or as I am now calling it “The Church of the Woods.”

The basic idea is simple: The woods (and any other patch of Earth) can be a holy sanctuary for the contemplation of God, for listening to what the Spirit has to say to us, for understanding and loving the beauty of the world that surrounds us, and – above all – to open ourselves to be fed, to be transformed by “God.”

Yes, we will have buildings also, because there are cold days and snowstorms, rainstorms, blackflies, mosquitoes, and many other times when it isn’t comfortable to be outside for long. And well-designed buildings, of course, also are places for the contemplation, inspiration, and mystery of God.

Mama turkey

Mama turkey

But at The Church of the Woods, “the church” will be the woods. The main building will be the meeting house, but it won’t be “the church.”  The primary place of prayer – of spiritual encounter – will be outdoors, with the snowstorms, the blackflies, the moose and the turkey, the saplings and the birds. Right along with “every creeping thing that creepeth upon the Earth” (King James Bible, Genesis 7:14).

There is a huge amount of work to do to make this happen – I wasn’t wrong about that. But it is beginning! Stay tuned — I look forward to welcoming you to The Church of the Woods someday soon.

In the meantime, here are a few photos of the springtime congregation.

Lots of moose!

Lots of moose!

 

 

 


He Trusted in God

My mother had died suddenly two months earlier, prey to a creeping invisible cancer discovered only when it was too late. I was depressed, in pain from her death and exhausted from building and running the Northern Forest Center.

I knew I would destroy the Center if I stayed too long – I needed to quit but was afraid of what would happen to the organization without me – and especially of what would happen to me if I relinquished my role. Who would I be if I let go? What would I do?

Driving to work one lovely summer morning, I suddenly felt the urge to play Handel’s Messiah on the car CD player. Why? In July? Why did I even have the disks in the car? I don’t know. But I did. I opened the box, looked at the disks and for some unknown reason, chose the second rather than the first. The moment the 5th track –  He Trusted in God – began to play, I burst into tears. I sobbed the rest of the way to work. Something in that music and those words – he trusted in God – had touched my deepest soul.

The text, I later learned – once I made it to Divinity School and actually read the Bible – is from Psalm 22: “He trusted in God, let him deliver him, if he delight in him.” I had long loved the music but having read neither the Psalms nor the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and death, I was only vaguely aware that this is the psalm, according to both Mark and Matthew, that Jesus speaks aloud in his final moment on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And with which the priests and scribes mock him, saying, “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to…”

For me, as for Jesus, those simple and utterly beautiful words were enough to allow me to let go, to surrender, to trust, to put myself in other Hands.

Where do you turn when you need to trust?

In memory of my mother who died six years ago today.


Jeremiah lives!

I first met Jeremiah, the Biblical prophet, when I was a college student studying abroad. I didn’t literally meet him, of course, since he lived 2,700 years ago, but I had an encounter with him on a field trip to the ancient abbey at Moissac in the south of France.

Captivated there by Jeremiah’s penetrating eyes embedded in a sinuous carving of stone, I brought him home in the form of a poster purchased from the abbey gift shop. Though I wasn’t a church goer and didn’t know who Jeremiah was, I carried that poster with me, wrinkled and crumpled by age, for 35 years. In all that time, Jeremiah remained as silent as the stone he was carved from.

Until three years ago. By then, I was a student at Yale Divinity School, having left family, friends, community, and 25-year career in conservation to learn about my new-found Christian faith. I wondered how it was relevant to climate change and why I’d been called to become an Episcopal priest in order to be a more effective advocate for Earth and her people.

In my first biblical studies class, I finally read the book of Jeremiah and knew why I had been carrying him with me for all those years. Jeremiah spoke to me, as he had spoken to so many over the centuries, about human greed and foolishness, about failure to help the poor, about laying waste to the land, and about orienting our lives toward the wrong things. In my worries about our world, and especially about the coming disaster of climate change, I heard Jeremiah speaking as profoundly today as he did nearly 3,000 years ago.

Jeremiah was not a popular man and the message he carried to ancient Israel was not a popular message. In brief, Jeremiah prophesied that destruction was coming in the form of the great army of Babylon because Israel no longer adhered to the central ethical command to love God and neighbor. As the book of Jeremiah says, “But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart…they have become great and rich, they have grown fat and sleek. They know no limits in deeds of wickedness; they do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy.”
Telling of the destruction to come, Jeremiah gives voice to his grief: “My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent… Disaster overtakes disaster, the whole land is laid waste… I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void… I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert…”

Oh, how my own heart pounded in resonance as I read this! Jeremiah was speaking of an entirely different culture and time and, at the same time, is speaking profound truth for our own times. We, too, in our quest to be fat and sleek, have caused a great scourge to sweep down. Not the army of Babylon but that of climate change – a transformation of the atmosphere and oceans that hold and support all life – and whose coming will harm the poor most of all.As this summer’s drought throughout so much of the fruited plains of America may have foreshadowed, we, too, fear that the fruitful land may become a desert.

As in Jeremiah’s time, it is easier to ignore the threat, to go about our lives pretending it doesn’t exist. Certainly this is what is happening in current political and economic debates. But Jeremiah voices the cost of such willful ignorance: Anguish! Woe! Destruction! And the only response: Repent! Yes, repent! To repent means to reorient one’s life toward the source of creation, love, and hope rather than toward self-interest, greed, and power. This, in the end, is what Jeremiah tells us. That even as we do stupid things, even as through our greed and short-sightedness we harm others and ourselves and cause destruction to Earth, even as we suffer, there is hope, in God – by whatever name, form, and faith – and within the human heart.

For me as an environmentalist concerned about Earth and her people, amidst anxieties about human failings, this is the final message that Jeremiah, ensconced in that poster still pinned to my wall, came to deliver: The world is in trouble. People have caused it.Yet, there is hope.

 

This was first published in the Concord (NH) Monitor.


Despair and Beauty

One of the challenges I have faced as an environmental activist is that of despair – of feeling that no matter how successful I am, the best I can do is slightly slow the rate at which we are destroying the abundance and diversity of our planet. Such despair can be debilitating, and from it arises other feelings – of grief, frustration, and anger – each of which can be paralyzing and destructive if not transformed into constructive emotion and action.

As I became aware of the extent of these feelings within me, and of their corrosive nature, I sought ways to remind myself that the world was not, in fact, going completely down the rat hole.

One of the practices I developed was to look for beauty around me, everywhere. As I rode the bus to and from work, I’d look out the window on a quest for beauty – in the sunrise, in the clouds, in the birds flying by, in the graceful shape of trees blowing in the wind, in the face and form of a woman, in the sunlight reflecting off the skyscrapers, in the rippling of the water – which even if polluted was still beautiful.

http://youtu.be/cLXKDxIFBMg

A theology of beauty, I came to understand, is a direct way to approach the divine. At that time, I didn’t think of this as a spiritual practice, but of course that’s what it was. In times of despair, one can do worse – much worse – than be a seeker of beauty.


Who are you?

Can you imagine growing up as a duck who didn’t know that there was such a thing as a pond? Not knowing about swimming, diving, and splashing? Not knowing who you most truly are? Actually, a lot of us grow up not really knowing who we are, where we belong, what we are on this earth for. Because of the complexity of human life, it sometimes takes a long time – even a full lifetime – to find these answers. This is one of the greatest tasks of spiritual development – to discover our truest selves.

The path to doing this is a path to God. Psalm 139 expresses the joy of someone who realizes that God already knows each of us, in our own particularity and peculiarity, and loves us as we are. (It also expresses the anger we feel when others use the name of God for evil rather than for good!) These ducks experience sheer joy when they realize they were made to swim and splash in a pond.

For humans, the pond we swim in is God. We can experience that kind of joy when we find our way to God. What do you already know about who you most truly are?


Murmuration of Starlings

For the first 53 years of my life, even before I walked into a church for the first time, nature was the path that allowed me to experience the divine directly. This “murmuration” of starlings illustrates the power of spiritual experience in the natural world. Natural theology is a branch of Christian theology that explores how the natural world allows us to experience and understand God. Through nature, we can use our five senses to realize that there is something beyond all that we can see, taste, hear, smell, and touch.

Watching this flock of birds swoop, form, flock, twist, and disappear, I can’t help but ask some of the deepest and oldest questions of theology: Why is there order in the universe and not just a mess of random particles? Why is there a universe at all? Why are there birds and water and people? And finally, where does such beauty come from?

Originally posted on Sunshine Faith