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   http://kairosearth.org 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.

 

 

 

Outdoor Religion: Part One

The Latin for religion is re-ligio meaning to attach or re-attach. Our word ‘ligament’ is from this root. Religion in its myriad forms is intended to help us attach to a source which is greater than oneself. Since the beginning humans have collected stories that seek to describe our relationship to the mysteries of life. Rituals help us connect so that we might be transformed and transported.

In Celtic theology both pagan and Christian, there is the concept of the ‘thin place’. The Celts believe that there is a permeable membrane that separates the conscious world from the supernatural. Thin places are often found in nature where our senses are heightened. In nature we become aware of a different level of reality and are invited to consider our place within it. The island of Iona in Scotland for a thousand years has been a thin place for countless pilgrims.

photo Iona

Today many in our western culture are moving away from traditional forms of religion. A book called ‘The None Zone’ point to a trend particularly among the young, away from organized religions. Yet, the majority who say that they have no religious affiliation, consider themselves to be spiritual. By that, many refer to an openness to a source of wisdom greater than oneself. A presence that inspires and transforms.

Many whether they be religious or not, find spiritual meaning in nature. Mountains, rivers, deserts, forests, oceans, the night sky remind us that nature is complex, mysterious. Such complexity both humble us and inspire. The natural world calls us to look up and out and in so doing, to go within. Religions seek to guide us so as to tap more deeply and intentionally into this mystery that some call God/Creator/Sprit/Sacred Mystery/Other.

Mechtild of Magdeburg, the 12th century Christian mystic said: ‘The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw – and knew I saw – all things in God and God in all things.’ John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club put it this way: ‘I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.’

What helps you to attach or re-attach to that which you hold sacred? What rituals do you practice that help you go up and out and within?

A few days ago I went skiing at Loon Mountain, New Hampshire.

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The day was crystal clear, the temperature a bracing 10 degrees. For me it was a mystical place that blessed and transported me. Rather than simply observing I felt connected, attached to this beautiful and complex ecosystem to which we all belong. Perhaps this is what the mystics and monks of various religions aspire to, to feel apart of all that is.