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.

 

 

 

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.’

manger

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.

A Christmas Wish: 26 Acts of Kindness

In the last few weeks we’ve been inundated with images of random violence.  From the shootings at Clackamas Town Center Mall in Portland, to the murder of 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on December 14th.  We are shaken by violence in places normally thought to be safe.

What can we do?  How can we honor the lives of those lost and reaffirm all that is good?  With gratitude to the resiliency of the human spirit, people are responding in the most imaginative of ways.   One movement is 26 Acts of Kindness Campaign, which encourages individuals and communities to offer 26 expressions of kindness.  Imagine what happens when people throughout this nation and around the world respond to the challenge to grace others with kindness.  Each act in honor of those who lost their lives at Sandy Hook.

The website www.RandomActsOfKindness.org offers wonderful ideas for gifting neighbors and strangers with expressions of kindness.   It can be as simple as giving someone a prime parking spot, or deeply listening to someone, or buying a homeless neighbor lunch, or volunteering at school or serving others through your church.  The only limitation is our imagination.

In Judaism there is the hebrew word khesed, which means loving kindness.  The challenge is to offer each day at least one khesed, without drawing attention to oneself. 

Jesus said, “be compassionate as God is compassionate to you.”  The word compassion means to ‘suffer with’.  To be compassionate, is to enter into the pain of the other, to respond with loving kindness, in word and in deed.

In response to the needs and challenges of our time, Jim Wallis, the Christian activist writes:  “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”  We are the ones who can reclaim our society from violence and indifference.  We are the ones who make this world a more loving, just and hopeful place. 

Jesus was born into a world of violence and uncertainty.  Herod the cruel King was on the throne.  Yet the lesson of Christmas, is that the violence and uncertainty of any moment in history, will never have the last word.   And what is our role in the Christmas story?  To share God’s love, to be God’s khesed.

May you be both blessed and a blessing this Christmas.