Friday, June 29, 2018

From My Nature Journal: A Seed and Me


Gail and I are currently serving a transitional ministry call among the good people of Trinity Covenant Church in Salem, Oregon. The state capitol, Salem nestles in the arms of the Willamette River Valley, the destination of several hundred thousand pioneers who undertook in the mid-1800’s the rigors of the Oregon Trail across the vast and little-known central expanse that would become Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon. It’s a fecund and fertile wonderland here in the valley, among the richest farmlands on the face of the earth, predominating these days in the cultivation of grains, grass seed and grapes. Beside the crops, though, every square centimeter of uncultivated soil seems to sprout up with something or the other, so it has me thinking today about seeds.

I’ve heard it said that there are three possible futures for, let’s say, a grain of wheat: it can be left on the stalk or placed in a sack as feed for God’s beasts, ground into flour or otherwise transformed in a myriad of ways as food for God’s humans, or planted back in the ground and, under the proper conditions, allowed to produce the miracle we call a crop.

If I were that seed grain, my first inclination would be to prefer the last of the three. It sounds regenerative, even heroic. As surely as multiplication beats subtraction, so surely would I find this preferable to being eaten by cattle or crushed under the weight of a millstone.But what of that planted seed? Only on second thought do I consider the trauma necessary to accomplish its predestined regenerative glory. First I must be buried in the cold ground, concealed in the oxygen-less depths for the required time. Buried! It was writer Norman McLean who quipped something along the line, “There are certain things I am meant to do, and, as long as I am on the oxygen side of the earth’s crust, I had best be going about them.” But not the seed. It is covered, sealed, suppressed, hidden away, closed over by what the songwriter calls ‘the ‘whelming flood.’ Held fast by life’s perplexities, I lie immobilized, seized up, stock-still as death. Is it the stillness of the grave, separation from God? Or is it more rightly the gestation and constriction of a womb, secure within the bosom of God?

Thus abandoned beneath the earth, I wait in the dark. It may be the darkness of my despair or ignorance, the darkness of my sin or failure, the darkness of my isolation or loneliness. But when all around me seems pitch black and unintelligible, something, even within that dusky dungeon, quickens within me. Whatever it is, it, in concert with the moisture around me (my tears? the dampness of the divine breath? both?), breaks me open. As I simply submit to the regenerative power of God, my shell is cracked and something profound happens within my brokenness.

From my landlocked space in God’s grip, warmth and light begin to attract a strange and tiny marvel upward from within me, while light-repelling roots spread below to seek a footing, and my transformation proceeds -- sprout, blade, ear -- a metamorphosis. From the place where God bade me trust him in the darkness, I’m enlivened by the freshing of the Spirit, softened to a breaking point, and grow upward into the warmth, light and fruitfulness of a vital relationship with my Creator.

Jesus: “A sower went out to sow his seed… and some fell onto good soil (Luke 8:5,8).”

Again Jesus: “Most assuredly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much… (John 12:24).”

~~ RGM, June 19 2018

Saturday, May 26, 2018

From My Nature Journal: Pastime, Passed Time, Past Time or Passing Time?



A day off…

I sit restfully on a dock and let time pass, contentedly watching not much of anything. A Kingfisher flits across the bay; something in motion flashes on an opposite shoreline; sunlight mirrors a lava-lamp effect on the rippling water; a squirrel leaps a gaping maw from a high branch of one hemlock to that of another; a stationary wolf spider ambles out to sun, or to watch for prey, or to do whatever it is that wolf spiders do, maybe, like me, just to sit restfully on a dock and let time pass, contentedly watching not much of anything.

Ten minutes? Thirty? An hour? Who knows how long I have been resting here? Oxymoronically, the time passes in no time. I feel fully alive, but still, somehow, sad.

What is it about the passing of time that makes for something of a sadness? It matters not that one is having fun, as the saying goes, though that is where the sensation can seem most acute. Family time, meaningful work time, free time, day off time, cabin time, friend time, vacation time, sabbath time, up time, down time: there is a kind of sadness when they’ve ended.

We long for the seemingly timeless moments, to feel free of duration, to enjoy interludes when the clock stands still, periods that constitute what author Sheldon Vanauken envisions as “…the dream of unpressured time – time to sit on stone walls, time to see beauty, time to stare as long as sheep and cows.” Such moments sear themselves in our memories, especially, for me, when they have been shared with a loved one. But those interludes are too rare, and we are held captive to duration, cognizant, oh so very cognizant, of the passage of time.

And yet this cognizance should not be all there is to the story. Again Vanauken: “Awareness of duration, of terminus, spoils now.” This is often certainly true for me. How frequently I find myself mentally, inadvertently, even against my will, counting off the vacation days like ticks off a timer, numbering each day backwards to zero.

Yet, as God’s creatures, for now, time is merely another dimension in which we must live. Like space, it simply is. In that regard it’s also not unlike the air we breathe, or the space we take up as we move: but we don’t sit around decrying whether or not we’re going to run out of air or the space to get around.  So, why time? A thousand generations pass, all bound by this same dimension, yet somehow we still let it not be simply what it is.

Back to the flitting bird, the jumping squirrel, the lounging spider. Animals do not sense time. They are completely at home in the present in their natural surroundings. I wish I could do that, live that way. Perhaps this longing for timelessness is a uniquely human curse. Perhaps, as a result, it also becomes a proof, or at least an inference, of the existence of eternity. Perhaps, just for now, timelessness can only belong to God and God alone. Just for now…

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

Saturday, April 28, 2018

From My Nature Journal -- Celebrating Earth Day by Praying through the Creation Story: Day 7, "Gratitude"


Introduction: The ways people pursue God, or even pray, can be as different as the very people who pursue God. Spiritual writers and mentors have long appreciated these varieties of pathways that pilgrims have followed in their prayer journey. For example, many are led to deep devotion through such things as music, contemplation or activism, but others have found that it’s the beauty and mystery of the natural, created world that leads them to a humbling encounter of praise and prayer with their Creator God. Of course, the pathways mix to varying degrees according to our personalities and interests.

Those who find nature an important spiritual pathway can see their own faith story unfold in the creation story of Genesis 1 and 2 in the Christian and Jewish Bible. Being mindful not to worship creation but only the Creator, a consideration of the natural world not only helps them do that, but also guides them in their stewardship of what God has created. Each day this week we will look to the ‘seven day’ creation story from these first two chapters of the Bible’s very first book. All references are from the Bible’s New Revised Standard Version.

Day 7 – “Grateful” -- And on the seventh day God finished the work… and he rested… So God blessed the seventh day… (Genesis 2:2-3)



Reflect: God’s tasks were complete, for the time being, and he rested. Did God need it? No. But as so often the case, God first models the behavior and action God desires from his children. He knew we would need it. And as God rested, we cannot but imagine that he also reflected, gratified for a job well done.

God’s creation story is one of fruitfulness and respectful gratitude. Should our story be any different, especially if we are created in God’s image? Along with his spectacular creation, rest and a spirit of thankfulness are gifts to us from our Creator God. One replenishes us. The other defines our reason for being. But we must give ourselves time and opportunity to practice and enjoy them both.

When it comes to spiritual reflection, on the Sabbath or any day, people of faith for centuries have enjoyed a practice called an examen. Most often experienced in the evening, it is a time to reflect upon our attentiveness to the presence of God in our day. When did God seem most close? When most far? Why? For what am I thankful? When was I most attentive to God? Least? Did I represent Jesus well today, or not? When? What can I do differently tomorrow? Though the questions can vary, a regular examen can be a very important practice in one’s ongoing Christian formation.

Observe: Make a place this evening, or by the next Lord’s Day, for the last of our five-minute retreats this week. If you can and if the weather cooperates, sit outdoors or by a window where you can observe a sunset or a night sky. Do you know the simple hymn to the tune of Taps, called Day is Done? Reflect on it as you prepare for rest.
                       
            Day is done. Gone the sun
            From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky.
            All is well. Safely rest. God is nigh.

                        Fading light dims the night
                        And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright.
                        From afar, drawing nigh, falls the night.

                                    Thanks and praise for our days
                                    ‘Neath the sun, ‘neath the stars, ‘neath the sky.
                                    As we go this we know: God is nigh.

Pray: Lord, you are ever near, revealing yourself to us through others, through your creation and through your Holy Spirit. Thank you for your creative majesty, for beauty that inspires, for marvels that humble. O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Amen.

Hymn for the Day: “How Great Thou Art”

Friday, April 27, 2018

From My Nature Journal -- Celebrating Earth Day by Praying through the Creation Story: Day 6, "Treasured"


Introduction: The ways people pursue God, or even pray, can be as different as the very people who pursue God. Spiritual writers and mentors have long appreciated these varieties of pathways that pilgrims have followed in their prayer journey. For example, many are led to deep devotion through such things as music, contemplation or activism, but others have found that it’s the beauty and mystery of the natural, created world that leads them to a humbling encounter of praise and prayer with their Creator God. Of course, the pathways mix to varying degrees according to our personalities and interests.

Those who find nature an important spiritual pathway can see their own faith story unfold in the creation story of Genesis 1 and 2 in the Christian and Jewish Bible. Being mindful not to worship creation but only the Creator, a consideration of the natural world not only helps them do that, but also guides them in their stewardship of what God has created. Each day this week we will look to the ‘seven day’ creation story from these first two chapters of the Bible’s very first book. All references are from the Bible’s New Revised Standard Version.

Day 6 – “Treasured” -- And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind… Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness… Be fruitful and multiply…” (Genesis 1:24, 26, 28)

Our newest grandchild, Annamae Catherine, born last week

Reflect: We circle back again today to Psalm 8, a text referred to on ‘day 4.’ As I read it, I easily picture David a young shepherd, finally lying back at twilight after a day guarding the flocks, and musing on the night sky. (I’ve done it often myself, perhaps you, too.) “…What are human beings that you are mindful of them…?” he says (Psalm 8:4). Now, there are two ways this text may be taken, and the choice is ours. Choice 1? To render it with despair, emphasizing, “What are humans…?” In other words, we might say, “God, if there is one, why would you concern yourself with this insignificant dust speck of a person on this insignificant dust speck of a planet amidst all your creation?” Or choice 2? Contrarily, it can also be rendered with a different emphasis, “…that you are mindful of them…?” David gets to this latter place. In other words, he and we say, “Somehow, you see me and know me, even love me. Little lower than God? Dominion over your works? Indeed!” What else can be done but give praise, “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:1 and 8:9)

But our command to fruitfulness and dominion does not allow us license to abuse the good earth God has given. Along with responsibility and authority must come commensurate accountability. God will hold us answerable as his creation’s stewards.

Observe: Do you people watch? Sometimes I do, at an airport, mall, city center or other congested area. Occasionally I do it with only an eye of curiosity, but lately more often with a prayerful spirit that says, “There goes a child of God, a crown of God’s creation.” Take time today, and each day, to watch the people around you and pray for them.

Pray: How quick I can be, Lord, to make the first choice mentioned above; for there is too much in this world that can lead to despair, including humankind’s inhumanity to others, and its neglect and abuse of your creation. Forgive me, forgive us. Lead us in a new way, your way, the way of your mindfulness toward us and all that you have made. Amen.

Hymn for the Day: “Children of the Heavenly Father”