Saturday, March 30, 2019

From My Nature Journal: A Via Dolorosa for All Creation, OR, A Creation Care Lenten Lament

As our Lenten journey continues this year, I’ve come across a resource that has captured my spirit a good bit. It’s called Stations of the Cross with All of Creation, an expansive prayer experience of the long traditional Stations of the Cross. And though I do not know that this resource is completely original to this particular group, the 2010 copy I have in my possession is attributed to an organization called the Intercommunity Peace & Justice Center (, an extensive coalition of Catholic organizations in the Pacific Northwest, largely female.

Lent, of course, can appropriately be a season of lament, as one considers the sacrifices and sufferings of Jesus Christ on our behalf. The traditional Stations of the Cross themselves are a spiritual practice of prayer that follow the actual experiences of Jesus in the Gospels from the moment he is condemned by Pontius Pilate to his burial in the tomb. These Stations can differ slightly from tradition to tradition, and can be from twelve to fifteen in number; some even end with Jesus’ resurrection rather than his burial. In any way that it is prayed, however, it is meant to be something of a vicarious pilgrimage of the actual holy sites in Jerusalem along what is called Jesus’ Via Dolorosa, his Journey of Sorrows. Perhaps some of you have been there, as have I, beginning at what is called the Ecce Homo Arch, the traditional site of Pilate’s spoken words, “Behold, the man…” (John 19:5).

Over the last thirty years or so, I have found the Stations a very meaningful spiritual practice. So imagine my delight this Lent, as one who finds nature an important spiritual pathway, to come across Stations of the Cross with All of Creation. Basically, it’s a resource that parallels the lament of the Stations of the Cross with a lament for the environmental devastation being experienced in our modern day.  Some may say, “Well, THAT sure sounds political.” But for all of us who are deeply concerned about Creation Care, and about our responsibilities as Christ followers to steward the good gift that God has given us, it is not political at all. There is indeed much to lament when it comes to earth’s degradation, yet, indeed, much also that God’s people can do to steward the earth more carefully than they historically have. Filled with Scripture, quotes and questions for reflection, this resource attends to both aspects of this issue, lament and hope.

The parallels are very interesting to me. Let me see if I can summarize them as briefly as I can:
·      Station 1 couples the traditional station depicting Jesus’ condemnation by Pilate -- to the simple issue of environmental condemnation.
·      Station 2 couples the traditional station depicting Jesus taking up the cross -- with our being willing to ‘take up the cross’ of a role in better creation care, while understanding our complicity in the problem.
·      Station 3 couples the traditional station depicting Jesus’ first fall -- with the need for our concern for those most vulnerable and likely to be most quickly impacted by earth’s degradation. 
·      Station 4 couples the traditional station depicting Jesus meeting his mother along the way – to our need for a better understanding of the Earth as mother of all God’s creation.
·      Station 5 couples the traditional station depicting Simon of Cyrene’s forced recruitment to help Jesus carry his cross – with the admonition, again, that we might bear this cross, that we might live more simply so that others may simply live.
·      Station 6 couples the traditional station depicting St. Veronica’s wiping the face of Jesus – to ways in which we can work toward a cleaner environment.
·      Station 7 couples the traditional station depicting Jesus’ second fall – with concerns regarding the recent dramatic increase in the extinction of our home’s species.
·      Station 8 couples the traditional station depicting the women of Jerusalem weeping – with the degradation of the earth’s waters.
·      Station 9 couples the traditional station depicting Jesus’ third fall – to the degradation of the earth’s air.
·      Station 10 couples the traditional station depicting Jesus being stripped of his garments – with issues of global deforestation.
·      Station 11 couples the traditional station depicting Jesus being nailed to the cross – to our overdependence on fossil fuels and the environmental devastation and political turmoil that ensues.
·      Station 12 couples the traditional station depicting Jesus’ death on the cross – to the invitation to greater activism by all God’s people in creation care.

Once again, I can imagine some readers rolling their eyes in repugnance at some of these parallels, or others wondering if they may be irreverent or sacrilegious. But as I’ve reflected on them, I see all kinds of appropriate correlations, connections and admonitions. God’s redemptive plan is for God’s entire creation, and I am always eager to see more and more people drawn into environmental stewardship. If simple things like this can move some people forward, I’m all for it.

But here is another reason why I am enthusiastic about this resource. Since moving here to Western Washington, I’ve become involved with a church-based group called Greening Congregations Collaborative; it’s a team consisting of reps from seven or eight nearby churches who want to share ideas and create shared events and experiences that can draw more and more of their congregants to better creation care. Our GCC has adapted Stations of the Cross with All of Creation into a Lenten worship experience we call Way of Sorrows for All Creation, which we will present during Holy Week. I’ve taken a lead role in the revision and look forward to facilitating it on April 17, 4pm at Langley United Methodist Church. Let me know if you might be interested in receiving a copy of the liturgy we are preparing.

Meanwhile, look the list of stations over one more time, and prayerfully consider the sacrifice and generosity of Christ for you, as well as our call to be more sacrificial and generous stewards of God’s good earth.
~~ RGM, March 25 2019

P.S. Some of you will recall that I published here on my blog some time ago a resource I’ve written called Stations of Creation.  It is something that I’ve also presented extensively while leading retreats or events that highlight nature as a spiritual pathway. It can be an interesting companion experience to Stations of the Cross with All Creation. You may find Stations of Creation here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

From My Nature Journal: Thresholds

(Note: This essay goes back several years to the time Gail and I lived in Castle Rock, Colorado. With an apology that it will be awhile before my loved ones in the north country have this experience, and just as Groundhog Day and dreams of spring in early February seemed absolutely ridiculous to me when I lived in Minnesota, the following happened to me in a February, so I share it now.)

I smelled it today, and it wafted in more welcome than the sweetest perfume.

As I got out of the car on my way to a morning appointment, I caught a whiff -- that moist, earthy scent -- spring! It transported me quickly back in time to my Chicago roots. Common in the Midwest, the scent is not something one senses very often here in Colorado, what with the dry climate and all, but it was a remarkable sensation as I experienced it. I closed my eyes and mouth and breathed in deeply.

Late winter is a threshold, at least in climates where winter is truly a force with which to be reckoned. One day it is cold, and the ground seems locked in the vice-hold of the season. The next day something happens. You catch this sensation and something is born in your spirit: a threshold is crossed. The first harbingers of spring can be likened to what medieval Celtic Christians called ‘thin places,’ a fleeting moment when heaven and earth commingle, when death and life mix, or, for our purpose here, when spring becomes the proverbial cat that will not let winter stuff it back in the bag.

John O’ Donohue says of this threshold: “Within the grip of winter it is almost impossible to imagine the spring… Then, imperceptibly, somewhere, one bud opens and the symphony of renewal is no longer reversible… It is there before we see it, and then we can look nowhere without seeing it…”

Even if one loves the winter months as I do, eventually one still looks forward to spring: wildflowers, rain, garden blooms, t-shirt warmth, thunderstorms, going barefoot outside, and baseball! But even as one begins to long for spring, its coming still almost always catches us by surprise, unawares, forgetful that it was getting to be about the time for such a thing.

We don’t wake up in the morning thinking, “Gee, I
wonder if I’ll get my first inkling of spring today…”

We don’t wake up in the morning thinking, “Gee, I wonder if I’ll get my first inkling of spring today…”

If we might only pay better attention we’d find our days full of these kinds of thresholds, portents of change, but they usually catch us snoozing. Yet when they catch us fully awake, one moment we see things a certain way and then it’s as a filter is newly placed over our eyes, and the experience causes us to see things very differently, sometimes diametrically so.

It’s a moment from a quiet place just off the Emmaus Road, and whether we like it or not, it has become time to cross over.

“…And their eyes were opened…” (Luke 24:31)

“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.” (Isaiah 35:5)

“I pray that the eyes of your heart will be opened.” (Ephesians 1:18)

“Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. His eyes were opened, his sight was restored and he saw everything clearly.” (Mark 8:25)

~~ RGM, From an Old Entry
in My Nature Journal

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

From My Nature Journal: Perspective -- Things are Not Always as they Seem

“Gee, that little animal sure LOOKED tame,” I once heard someone say after getting bit.

But to something way less dramatic… A couple Sunday afternoons ago Gail and I were up hiking in the mountains, to be exact, attaining Carpenter Peak in Roxborough State Park. We were high enough to overlook from the west the exact same terrain we see so often from our house, unobstructed, just eight miles or so east from where we stood. But, for the life of me, I could hardly make out a single landmark, which should have been familiar as I surveyed them from the opposite viewpoint. It reminded me how wildly different things can look from different angles, from altered perspectives. I have experienced this so many times before while hiking, of course, particularly if I am without a compass or topo to give me some bearings. And no, I am not yet a GPS guy when I hike -- that still seems like cheating to me!

Anyway, that experience has gotten me to thinking these last several days about perspective. Perspective is curious, is it not? I think of the proverbial fable of the five blind men and the elephant, a proverb befuddlingly true. But I am still astonished how quickly and easily one’s assumptions can become one’s reality, however faulty those assumptions might be. This is perfectly the case as I study nature, even if I haven’t gotten bit. I make all kinds of postulations and assumptions based on my observations and my reading, the latter of which of course is nothing but another’s postulations and assumptions based on their observations. Yet nature is full of so many surprises that I usually find my conclusions about ‘the way things are’ frequently off base, if not sometimes completely off the mark. Just when I think something should happen, something else happens. Just when I think I understand, I find my perspective has as much sometimes muddied my understanding as clarified it. Or as my dear son-in-law Phil pointed out to me recently, just when we think we have things figured out, circumstances change. We find things aren’t always as they have seemed.

It’s no wonder people in the Middle Ages had such a hard time accepting the fact that the earth was round and not flat. (Am not sure WHAT informs the assumptions of flat-earthers today…)

So let’s think about our good, round earth for a moment and gather a little cosmic perspective about assumptions. I’ve understood that our planet is about four times the mass of our moon. For purposes of picturing it, let’s just say that if the earth were the size of a basketball, the moon would be the size of, oh, to keep the sports theme, a Chicago-style sixteen-inch softball. OK, so maybe you had heard of Chicago-style pizza but not Chicago-style softballs, and are among the uninitiated about them; let’s ignore the sports theme and instead liken the moon then to a large grapefruit. Got it? So if the moon and the earth were these rough, relative sizes, a basketball and a large grapefruit, how far away would the grapefruit have to be from the basketball in order to reflect real nature? Let’s start by imagining that it’s about a cubit. You remember a cubit from your ark-building class, right, the span from an average man’s elbow to his fingertips? Sure you do, it was the first ruler we had, and it was even built in with the original equipment. This is about how the illustrations in our old science books depicted it. But that was just because they had to print it in that perspective in order to fit it on a page. But no, that’s not it, how about a whole arm’s length? Or two arms’ lengths, maybe a span from fingertip to fingertip? This is what I would have thought. But no. 235,000 miles is a long, long way. In order to get the relative distance as accurate as nature you’d have to haul that grapefruit nearly thirty feet away from the basketball. Only then would it approximate reality, earth to moon, the moon measuring for us about ½ degree of sky at its distance.

Or take another example. You may have heard that the earth’s surface is covered more than seventy percent by ocean, and less than thirty percent by landmass. Some of those ocean depths are over a mile deeper than Mt. Everest is high. That’s a lot of water, you know, that ‘the ocean’s so wide and my bark so small’ kind of thing? And I don’t think that even includes inland lakes, rivers, streams, ponds or the puddles in my driveway. So let’s again imagine the earth a basketball. If we were to gather up all the water on earth into one mass, salt water and fresh, and reflect that also as a sphere next to our basketball-sized globe, all the earth’s water would be smaller than a ping-pong ball by comparison. That’s hard to imagine while standing at the edge of Acadia National Park in Maine as a nor’easter crashes ashore. A watery planet? Apparently just barely. It sure gives an appreciated perspective on the preciousness of the stuff, and our responsibility to protect the resource as well as we can.

Perspective is one of the reasons
why we need each other so…

It’s all about perspective. Nearly everything is about perspective. Perspective is one of the reasons why we need each other so, in order that alternative views of reality can be weighed and measured together until a consensus is reached, or at least a truce.

For my part on that mountain two weekends ago, I was glad I had Gail with me. Together we were able to better discern reality from our shared perspectives than I could have ever come up with at the time on my own.

Sometimes there is a way that seems to be right, but in the end it is the way to death. (Proverbs 16:25)

Two people are better than one, for they can help each other succeed. (Ecclesiastes 4:9)

~~RGM, From a January 2013
Entry in my Leather Journal