Christmas in the Woods

In the midst of the deep darkness of December, made complete with the Winter Solstice, is the promise that light follows. Advent, the prelude to Christmas,  invites us to anticipate the embodiment of this light, in the life of a baby named Jesus.

This can be hard to believe when the temperature is cold and the sun sets so early.  Hard to believe as a metaphor of hope, when the political winds blow contrary to so much that I hold sacred and dear.

With such dark thoughts in mid December, I climbed into my Subaru and headed 90 miles for Canterbury, New Hampshire. I’d heard about a little church that invites seekers to unplug, breathe deeply and walk mindfully in the forest.

Warming barn for Church of the Woods

I drove up a snowy road to Church of the Woods and parked adjacent to a small barn.  Standing in a field, adding logs to a campfire, was Steve Blackmer, pastor of this unusual church.

Steve, a forester by profession, has become an ordained Episcopal priest.  His parish is the outdoors.  Most often congregants are sent out into the woods, in silence, to commune with our Creator.

Church of the Woods is tapping into a truth that most of us know but so often forget.  That that great mystery we call God/Spirit/Creator, is heard and sensed most clearly when in nature.

Early Christians had a name for this truth:  ‘The Book of Nature’.  They believed that in nature we hear and experience the voice of the Creator reminding us to be humble, thankful, mindful.  Inviting us to make room for awe and wonder.

Martin Luther spoke to this truth when he wrote: “The call of a bird, water in a stream, the wind through the reeds, are little words to us from God.”

Steve invited us to walk the snowy paths of Church in the Woods.  We worshipers were a mix of ages from three to seventy plus.  He invited us to listen carefully for little, holy words.  After a time of wandering, a bell called us back to the barn with its wood stove.  There we warmed our bodies and shared gifts from our walk.

On the altar was the Eucharist, to which we added decorative touches of pine cones and hemlock bough.  Steve spoke ancient words inviting us to consume the bread and drink from the cup.  Each a symbol of God’s grace.

Once all were served, Steve poured wine onto the ground, reminding us that the fertile soil is the source from which the wine and bread come and to which we will one day return.

Now late in the afternoon, the sun had begun to set.  It was time for me to drive home.  I left feeling calm, centered and thankful.  Thankful for the Book of Nature that had spoken so gently and clearly.  Reminding us that ‘little words’ from God are being spoken for those with ears to hear and eyes to see.

This season may we remember that light always follows darkness.

Wishing you a blessed Christmas.




A Christmas Promise: Only Love is Real

Fall 2015 052

Outside the church stand four doors, public art intended to engage the imagination of the wider community. Painted by the children of the church with lettering by a local art student, the four doors are intended to catch the attention of those driving and walking past. Together the doors say: ‘God’s Door is Always Open to Everyone’.

At the base of the fourth door is a blackboard with chalk with the invitation ‘share a prayer’. Each day people stop to write their prayers. Often the board becomes full and at the end of the day erased so that new prayers can be offered.

Yesterday, a few days prior to Christmas, I saw these words written by a passerby: ‘Only Love is Real’. This left me pondering, do I believe that to be true? Certainly evil is real. Certainly loss and pain are real. But is love different? Is love even more real?

A line from a hymn comes to mind: ‘Love Came Down at Christmas’. Christmas arrives each year to remind us that love made a home in the life of an infant named Jesus. My Christian tradition teaches that this infant was a gift to humankind from God. This infant would grow to show us what is real. He would grow to show us that love is more expansive than anything our human minds can possibly comprehend.

In time this bearer of love would confront an adversary that is also real, evil. Evil in Jesus’ time (as in our time) had and has many faces. For Jesus and his people evil took the form of a sociopath named King Herod and a seemingly all-powerful emperor called Caesar. We know the story. King Herod forced Jesus’ parents to flee with their baby and seek refuge in Egypt. Later when Jesus was age 33 the empire put him to death. So is evil more real than love?

The Jesus story tells us that the empire does not have the final word. On Easter life overcomes death, forgiveness overcomes hatred, love overcomes evil.

I agree with the writer on the church door: ‘Only Love is Real’. This will continue to be true as long as people like you and me do our part to make it so.

Centuries ago, Theresa of Avila wrote: “God has no hands on earth but our hands, no feet on earth but our feet, no heart on earth but our hearts.” To the extent that we believe this and live this, then the promise of Christmas continues. The story of God’s love coming into the world in human form remains true, incarnated in your life and mine.

It’s true: ‘Only Love is Real’. I wish you a very good Christmas. May you be both blessed and a blessing.

A Litany for Christmas: Seeking Refuge

Ever felt like your life was out of control? Ever woken at 3 a.m. wondering what would become of your life? Have you ever worried over the well-being of those you hold close to your heart?

Response: The Gospel of Luke: ‘In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. Joseph went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child’.

Mary and Joseph were homeless, forced by the Roman Empire to go to Joseph’s ancestral home for the purpose of a census. Imagine living under occupation. You are about to have a child and the only refuge you can find is a barn full of the muck, smells and sounds of animals. Can you imagine a more humble setting to bring your first child into the world?

Response: ‘While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.’


Imagine Bethlehem full of travelers. Perhaps Mary and Joseph weren’t alone in the barn that first Christmas. Could it be that other travelers were also in that barn seeking refuge? Could it be that there were other women attending to Mary, as she brought her baby into the world?

Response: ‘And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger, a feeding trough, because there was no place for them in the inn.’

We light a candle for Christmas. We light this candle to remember neighbors who are homeless in our own community. We light this candle to remember millions of our neighbors, seeking refuge from violence in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere. We remember that Jesus on that first Christmas was homeless, born to parents seeking refuge. We remember that on that first Christmas, hope was born.

Refugee woman with baby

Response: As we journey toward Christmas, we walk with those who are vulnerable. We walk knowing that darkness gives way to the light. Come let us worship the coming of the Christ child, the gift of light.