Friday, September 6, 2019

From My Nature Journal: Welcome to the ‘Season of Creation’


Before too much more of the month of September gets past me, I wanted to get something on my blog regarding what is known in some Christian circles as the Season of Creation. To my neglect, I was not at all familiar with it as such before my recent connection this past year with the Greening Congregations Collaborative, a local ad hoc association of churches here in our new Washington digs committed to creation care, about whom I have written before. And once again, it seems it is our Catholic friends whom we have to thank for the original effort.

The Season of Creation is a special time when people of Christian faith are urged to pray and work toward greater stewardship of God’s good Earth. It actually is celebrated annually from September 1st through, appropriately, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4th (or St. Francis’ birthday, if you prefer). Even if you are not Catholic, it will be well for you to know that he IS, after all, the Patron Saint of Ecology. Of course, it’s not as though one should ever really celebrate Earth stewardship for one month and neglect the issue the remainder of the year. Good stewardship is good stewardship, and one month of it is not intended to be a bad stewardship ‘offset.’ Creation care is a critical dimension of Christian discipleship – always has been, always will be – and it is becoming increasingly important as Earth’s degradation dangerously proceeds.

Anyway, I’ll quit preaching. Here is a prayer that Christ-followers are urged to pray and work toward :

Divine Creator,
For the web of life that connects us all, we give thanks.
For the sacred places where we hear Your still small voice, we listen.
For those carrying the heavy burden of climate injustice, we speak out.
Guide us to be good stewards of Your marvelous creation.
Inspire us to advocate for our common home.
Help us work for justice so all may receive Your abundance.
Amen.

Find out more on the Season of Creation website, https://seasonofcreation.org/about/. You could also check out one of my favorite Christian faith-based creation care organizations, Earth Ministry. Find them at https://earthministry.org.

~~ RGM, September 5, 2019

Friday, August 30, 2019

From My Nature Journal: Shifting Sands


The beach, as usual, is gorgeous, but very, very different this year from last: as far north and south as my eye can see it looks like three feet of depth of sand has washed out compared to my last time here.  That’s a lot of sand. And above the tide line there is a steep ledge about four feet high that rises to the vegetation level, grasses and sedges beginning there almost immediately. The high tide right now is washing up against the ledge, and above that, the walking zone varies in width from twenty feet at most to as narrow as three.

I know it is likely just an unusual surge in recent days. It IS hurricane country, after all. But it still leaves the impression of almost no beach. How different from a year ago, when the beach was spacious and wide, a huge playlot for the kids. 100 feet wide? 150? Today that play space is gone. This afternoon the frisbee tossers and football throwers will be tripping over the sunbathers, if they’re here at all.

Beach gone? Where does it go? Does the sand just wash out and fill in the depressions on the continental shelf? Does it work its way out further? What exactly pulls it all out? And what force, or combination of forces, ultimately restores it?

I am this beach, different this year
than last, changed this day from
yesterday, altered, yet the same.

Beaches are constantly changing, as are, to a less noticeable degree, the dunes that back them. It may be wildly different or subtle, but it is almost always evident. Even on a beach that seems from one day to the next to be level and elevationally unchanged, today I find a
carpet of shells. And tomorrow? Nothing but sand as blank as a huge sheet of sandpaper. One day the beach seems absolutely littered with those small, one-lobed scallop shells the reddish-purple of Michigan sunsets: the next there’s not one to be found, though there are numerous of another kind I did not see yesterday. 

I am this beach, different this year than last, changed this day from yesterday, altered, yet the same.

Blow your quickening winds over me, Lord. Force the clean currents of your Spirit against my obstinate shores. Shape me in every way your will intends, and sculpt me constantly into such beauty that would bring you as much delight as this beach does me.

~~ RGM, from an entry years ago in my old nature journal,
after a beach hike at Hobe Sound NWR, Florida

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Blowin' in the Wind: The Dimensions of the Milky Way



("Blowin’ in the Wind" is a periodic feature on my blog consisting of an assortment of nature writings – hymns, songs, excerpts, prayers, Bible readings, poems or other things – pieces I have not written but that inspire me or give me joy. I trust they’ll do the same for you.)


Gail and I will be heading soon to the hinterland of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where a highlight we always enjoy while there are its night skies. Occasionally we are treated to some fantastic views of the aurora borealis, the northern lights. But each and every single night that is clear we’re given fantastic views of the cosmos, and I often find myself sitting long with a star map and a pair of binoculars on the end of the dock. Star clusters, nebulae and distant galaxies are not difficult to spot with binocs if one knows where to look, but they’re not my favorite sight. Besides, these are usually ‘pinpointed’ objects, where one does not get a sense of the sky’s awesome vastness, or its almost dizzying three-dimensionality. My favorite sky view? Taking a long look at the Milky Way. It almost always takes my breath away, giving me a feeling of space-flight while I’m at it.

The Milky Way is best seen without binoculars to get this sensation, though a look through field glasses or a telescope always presents an absolutely stunning array of stars not visible even to the best naked eye. After evening twilight in the U.P. in mid-August, the Milky Way runs diagonally in a fairly straight line from the northeast down to the southwest, picking up great constellations along the way like Cassiopeia, Cygnus, Lyra, Aquila, Sagittarius and Scorpio, all rotating clockwise as the night progresses. And the ‘line?’ That is because we are actually looking out ‘sideways’ through our spiral galaxy’s flattened disk, and the concentration of stars presents itself to us as a wispy, cloudy line. One is usually unable to see it from even small cities, with its artificial light typically fading away both the sky’s blackness and the Milky Way’s lightness at the same time.

One can easily get caught up in the complexity and enormity of this galaxy we call home. Over 100 billion beautiful suns and at least as many planets. 100,000 light years across. And up until a mere century ago last year it was thought to be much smaller and, at that, alone in the universe. But then a man named Harlow Shapley worked out its rough vast dimensions, including the placement of our solar system within it, and informed a near disbelieving world. On and on it has gone since, as we have found our galaxy one among many, its address among what is called a ‘local group’ of galaxies within a larger supercluster, which is then itself within an even larger galactic supercluster. And some are even postulating our universe itself may belong to a ‘multiverse’ consisting of numerous universes.

A person need not be overwhelmed by this, though, since, once we are up to considering a galaxy 100,000 light years across, bigness just gets bigger. And God just gets to still be God.

I recently ran across a poem written about Shapley’s discovery and wanted to share it with you. I know nothing about its author, but would be glad to meet her some day and talk about it. Here it is.

The Dimensions of the Milky Way
by Marilyn Nelson

Discovered by Harlow Shapley, 1918

Behind the men’s dorm
at dusk on a late May evening,
Carver lowers the paper
and watches the light change.

He tries to see earth
across a distance
of twenty-five thousand light-years,
from the center of the Milky Way:
a grain of pollen, a spore
of galactic dust.

He looks around:
that shagbark, those swallows,
the fireflies, that blasted mosquito:
this beautiful world.
A hundred billion stars
in a roughly spherical flattened disc
with a radius of one hundred thousand light-years.

Imagine that.

He catches a falling star.

Well, Lord, this infinitesimal speck
could fill the universe with praise.

Indeed. I could not agree more.

The sky is fascinating. It captivated the ancients as they tried to figure out how this whole thing works, and it even mesmerized the Bible writers with awe and appreciation for its (and their) Creator. And it captivates and mesmerizes me, and I hope you.

When I consider your heavens and the works of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have set in place… O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8: 3, 9)
~~ RGM, July 30, 2019

Friday, May 31, 2019

From My Nature Journal: “Behold the Earth” -- A Review


Time for a blog shout-out to a new resource brought to my attention by a new friend here in our new digs. Sorry, that’s a lot of new, but the issue the resource presents goes back to the beginning. The very beginning. As in, the Garden of Eden beginning.

Namely, it's a simple video resource/documentary released recently called Behold the Earth. BtE is a music-rich film that explores the subject of earth stewardship/creation care as a critically important spiritual practice for all people of faith, and asks tough questions about church engagement with environmental issues.

Do you think of earth care as one of the core issues of Christian discipleship? Many church-goers do not, and, I'm very sorry to say, perhaps particularly us evangelicals. I cannot begin to count the number of times people have expressed their surprise to me in meeting an evangelical concerned with creation care. What a sad reality. And I'm not sure what the deal is here. Is it some evangelicals' sole preoccupation with personal salvation, or at least that perception from others? Is it poor exegesis on our part with Jesus' admonition to 'love not the world' (1 John 2:15), which isn't referencing creation care at all? Is it the evangelical error of equating the issue with 'liberalism' (whatever that is)? Or do we limit the stewardship idea to the traditional mantra of time, talent and treasure? If so, then I'm flummoxed: if God's creation is not also treasure to us, I'm not certain what is. Of all people, evangelicals, as 'people of the whole book,' should be at the forefront of the issue.

How is it that we forget that the charge to steward creation is the very first commandment in the Bible? Yup, Genesis 1:25 and 2:15. And don't get hung up here on the words dominion and subdue; the words are far richer and more complex than appear on the surface, surprisingly so if we truly get into them. But I'll write on that another time.

OK, end of sermon. Sorry. I am likely preaching to the choir. Let me highlight the resource.

Set with lovely videography and provocative music, Behold the Earth features conversations with legendary biologists Edward O. Wilson, Theo Colburn and Calvin DeWitt, interspersed with the perspectives of emerging leaders Katherine Hayhoe and Corina Newsome, and founder of Young Evangelicals for Climate Action Ben Lowe. Yet this is no talking head documentary. In addition to the stunning video, it is full of fabulous Appalachian-style folk music, a pleasure to listen to in its own right, featuring Grammy winners and musicologists Rhiannon Giddens, Dirk Powell, and Tim Eriksen. Extensive music is interwoven in such a way as to give the viewer a contemplative opportunity to reflect on the verbal material just presented, and, if you're like me, in addition to the subject matter, the music is the thing you will remember long after the documentary has finished, and may be the thing you want to come back to again and again. It has certainly spurred my interest in these artists.

One final thing. I've gotten involved here in our new Washington community with a cooperative of churches called Greening Congregations Collaborative. It consists of members from numerous area churches who want to bring a greater awareness of earth stewardship to their congregations by creating and sponsoring cooperative events, initiatives and presentations that highlight creation care as a critical part of Christian discipleship. Does your church have such a committee or team, even a small group of people interested in championing this concern in your church fellowship? This simple, one-hour movie can provide you a quality way to introduce this subject to your church leadership and your friends. It's not intended to resource those of you who are already advocating for this issue in your sphere, though it can inspire you, as it has me; it's intended to touch those who may not yet be there, and is a great discussion starter. Here's the trailer.
~~ RGM, May 31 2019