Encountering the Divine in Nature
Worship in the Meditational Woods
Indianapolis First Friends
Pastor Bob Henry (facilitator)
July 8, 2018
This morning we are going to do something slightly different from our normal routine for Meeting for Worship. Our setting itself is a welcomed change of pace from the Meetinghouse. I always find it a joy to be in these meditational woods – they are a very special place to commune with God within the city of Indianapolis. I believe in our world today, we need to find time away from the news, the busyness, the clutter, and get back to our roots.
A few years ago, a librarian friend of mine suggested I read the book “Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in the Everyday Life” by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussart. I picked up a copy of this just over 600-page book and found it a true joy. One of the chapters in the book deals with nature. It begins this way…
“Nature provides a theater for some of the most dramatic experiences of the sacred. Most people can tell you about a time when they were soothed, inspired, or awed while contemplating the natural world.
The settings may vary but the feelings are universal. Communion with nature may take place while walking through the woods, watching a sunset, fishing in a mountain stream, looking at the waves of the ocean, observing the ripples on a lake, or sitting under a tree in a park.
Often these occasions turn into mystical moments when we sense that the inhabitants of the world – the trees, flowers, fields, streams, hills, rocks, dolphins, bears, birds, and babies – are our relations, as Native Americans express it. When this happens, we have started to read the book of nature.
Both the historical and the primal religions emphasize the importance of the natural world as a reservoir of spiritual meaning. For Jews, Christians, and Muslims, the Earth reflects the glories of God. Buddhists, Hindus, and Taoists look for the connections between nature and human nature.
For the aboriginal peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Australia, the land and all the creatures upon it are spiritual teachers who must be listened to and taken seriously. The shamans of these groups are those who understand the languages of stones, plants, trees, and animals.”
From this point on our service this morning will be broken into three sections: Go Out, God’s Trademark, and Wrapped in the Ordinary.
During each section you will have the opportunity to let God’s creation or nature sooth, inspire, and awe you. We will be taking longer moments of reflection to allow your senses and minds to fully engage. Also, during each of the sections, I will be sharing a thought or story from someone who has been lead to a deeper appreciation for nature and its effects on our lives. Then I will give us a query to ponder and Eric will wrap each section up with a song. I am asking us to keep silent during these experiences instead of speaking out of the silence, let nature do that this morning, so we can fully experience the Divine in nature.
So, let me begin our time this morning with our first section.
Section One -- Go Out.
Our thought is from Bede Griffiths, a British-born Benedictine monk and priest who lived in ashrams in South India and became a noted yogi. In his book, River of Compassion he writes…
In South India there is a pilgrimage to a place called Sabarimala. It is a pilgrimage to the forest and hundreds of thousands of people go there every year. The deep meaning of this is that people need to go back from time to time to the forest, to the wilds, where they were before they belonged to a settled civilization with a home and a city. We need to recall the freedom of the forest. Some time each year, at least, we should go out from our fixed abode, leaving our possessions and everything to which we are attached, and become free to wander or to settle in some very quiet place, to be free for some time like the sannyasi.
Bede Griffiths in River of Compassion (from Spiritual Literacy)
Bede Griffiths challenges us today to “go out” from our fixed abode. We have done that this morning. He asks us to become free to wander or settle into a quiet place and to release everything from which we are attached. For us Quakers this is centering down.
Let’s now take some time in this quiet place to center our hearts, to calm our minds, and re-connect to the wild, to creation, and to God. Let us open our hearts and senses to this place.
Section Two – God’s Trademark
For our second section this morning, I would like to read from Nicaraguan poet and priest Ernesto Cardenal. In his work, “Abide in Love” he shares his observations of nature that give rise to the spiritual practice of wonder.
Everything in nature has a trademark, God’s trademark: the stripes on a shell and the stripes on a zebra; the grain of the wood and the veins of the dry leaf; the markings on the dragonfly’s wings and the pattern of stars on a photographic plate, the panther’s coat and the epidermal cells of the lily petal; the structure of atoms and galaxies. All bear God’s fingerprints.
There is a style, a divine style in everything that exists, which shows that it was created by the same artist. Everything is multiplicity within unity. Everything is both like other things and unique. Every individual thing has its own manner of being; it is that thing and not anything else. At the same time there are millions and millions of others like it, both minute creatures and immense stars. Everything has its own stripes, speckles, spots, dapples, veins, or grain – the caterpillar, the clay pot, the chameleon, the Klee painting and the Persian carpet, sea spray, stalactites, white agate veins in pebbles, the carpet of autumn leaves, wood, marble, sea shells, and the skeleton of the reptile…
In the image of God who created them, all beings are at once one and many, from the galaxy to the electron.
No two caterpillars are alike, no two atoms, no two stars, even though they look the same in the sky at night. But all things also have something in common. The poet seeks to discover this pattern, this design running throughout creation, and tries to see how even the most different things have an underlying likeness. The mountains skip like rams and the hills like young lambs…Your hair is like a flock of goats winding through the mountains of Gilead.
Earnesto Cardenal in Abide in Love (from Spiritual Literacy)
Now, take a moment to look around you, look at both nature, the people, the space, where do you see "God’s trademark" in this place? What patterns, fractals, similarities do you see? What is the underlying likeness running through everything? Allow your eyes and mind to engage the wonder of creation.
Section Three – Wrapped in the Ordinary
In our third section, I will be sharing words from “A tree Full of Angels” by Marcina Wiederkehr, a member of Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and a catholic nun who has a facility for finding the sacred in the ordinary.
I must share with you a story about a particularly barren time in my life when I used a tree for a spiritual director. I learned so much that year because I listened in silence…
Because it was small I couldn’t lean on it but could only sit beside it. That taught me a lot about what the role of spiritual guide should be.
Even though it was small, it had the ability to give me a certain amount of shade. You don’t have to have a lot of leaves to give shade. Because it was silent I listened deeply. You don’t need a lot of words to connect with God.
When it got thirsty I watered it. The miracle of water is a little like the miracle of God’ love. That little sycamore taught me a lot about foot washing. Watering it was a great joy. A soul-friend relationship never works only one way. There is a mutual giving and receiving.
I learned from my tree that being transplanted is possible. I can always put down roots again, connect with the Great Root, and grow on…
I wouldn’t recommend using a tree for a spiritual guide all the days of one’s life, but that sycamore got me through a long stretch of barrenness. It was only a little tree, and I didn’t know it was holy until I spent time with it. Truly, holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary.
Macrina Wiederkehr in A Tree Full of Angels (from Spiritual Literacy)
I have always been fascinated by trees. They seem to call me. I find myself painting and drawing trees. There is a spirituality among trees, a sense of community, a wonder and awe that only trees can possesses. They also have unique personalities, shapes, colors. Trees are their own eco system. They are life sustainers, life producers, and life shelters.
Take a moment to hone in on a specific tree in these woods, what might it be teaching you this morning? (If you would like to get up and move, to experience a tree more up close and personal, please do. Getting the perspective from underneath the tree, even up in the branches, and from a distance is important. Touching a tree also creates a special bond and connectedness. Take this time to connect to a part of creation we take for granted that is part of the ordinary. Allow God to speak to you through the trees in which we commune today.)
Prayer for our Path Dedication:
May this path be a path to peace and love.
May it be a path to prayer and communion with You.
May it be a path to moments of silence, stillness, and solitude.
May it be a path to transformation and growth.
May it be a path to thanksgiving and gratitude.
May it be a path to wisdom and discernment.
May it be a path to hope.
May it be a path to courage and perseverance.
May it be a path to strength and encouragement.
May it be a path to rest and refreshment.
And may it be a path that connects us to your wonderful creation!
Creator, be our companion on the way, our guide at the crossroads, our strength in weariness, our defense in dangers, our shelter on the path, our shade in heat, our light in darkness, our comfort in discouragement, no matter what path you have set before us. Bless now this path and all who take it. And all God’s people said, AMEN!