Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Wild Journey: Going Beyond Church Outside

Doing Wild Church


By Mindy Braun

 I have found God in nature for as long as I can remember. The tiny wildflowers would speak to my heart and reassure me that God sees me, just as He sees the hidden face of the flower. I also felt a sense of gratitude from God and the flower that I had the eyes to see them, notice them, appreciate them.

 It was through my grandparents, Bob & Barbara Stevenson, that this church of the wild experience really got established in me. They heard and answered Gods call to move from Coalinga, CA to Calvin Crest Conferences near Oakhurst, CA. Calvin Crest was established by the San Joaquin Presbytery of California in 1954. They moved their family of six up to the camp, where my mom spent her high school years. Our family would spend holidays there and I became a camper at Calvin Crest when I entered elementary school.

 The mountain and forests of Calvin Crest (which is on the homelands of the Miwok Indians) were midwives to my spirituality and connection to God. Calvin Crests outdoor church was my favorite. My heart could truly soar in worship underneath those pines.

 Im now 48 and am rediscovering a deep connection to God through this beloved earth and all creation. For years, my heart has longed for church outside again. I was able to get a taste of it during Covid-19 when my Presbyterian church, The Cove Fellowship, began to meet outside when the weather allowed. I confess that at times I may have listened more to the goldfinches singing in the trees than the sermon.

           When a fellow spiritual director told me about a book she was reading, my life and heart opened up in a new and exhilarating way. I began reading Church of the Wild by Victoria Loorz. Its her story of being a spiritual director and pastor, longing for something beyond her experience of church. When she writes, I longed for church to be a place where Mystery is experienced not explained…” I heard my own heart echoed.

 I soon visited Wild Church Petaluma and pretty much wept through the entire time. This could be church?” I thought. I signed up for Wild Church Networks six-week leadership course for those who were feeling the call to start a wild church in their watershed. Wild Church Petaluma is part of the Petaluma River watershed and I lived in the Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed just north.

 I quickly realized I was kind of doing wild church” already. I had been leading God in Nature Hikes for the past four years through Journey Center Santa Rosa, for which I serve as Executive Director. We are a Christ-centered contemplative spirituality nonprofit for those seeking to encounter the Sacred. We have various pathways to encounter the Divine and one of them is God in Nature. I had been leading groups where we started with a scripture or poem reading, walked in silence together for 20 minutes, then stopped along the trail to share what we had noticed. Then the rest of the hike was in conversation with one another.

After telling others in the Journey Center community about wild church and seeing there was a resonating “YES!” in people’s hearts, Wild Journey was born in December 2022! This is the description you will find on our webpage:

 

Wild Journey is an emerging community of those who are returning to nature as spiritual practice. We are Christ-centered AND welcoming to all spiritual paths. We are not led by doctrine or dogma, but by the Divine Mystery that dwells in us all. We meet outside in various locations within the Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed and seek to reconnect with the sacredness of earth, honoring the Divine Presence in all beings.

 

Our gatherings offer opportunities for contemplation, grief and praise, movement and song, solo wandering and wondering, advocacy, ecological restoration, and activism on behalf and in collaboration with the beloved others in our watershed. Children are welcome to participate or play nearby. All are welcome.   

 

We meet once a month within the Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed; usually the first or third Sunday of the month. Wild Journey is an expression of Journey Center Santa Rosa and is a part of Wild Church Network.

 

There are four movements within our time together:

·       Gathering & Grounding – Welcome, Invocation of the watershed, introductions and gratitude, 7-direction prayer

·       Reading & Reflection – Reflections on the season we are in and poems to ponder

·       Wandering & Wondering, - 30 minutes to wander and listen to nature speak

·       Sharing & Sending – return to the circle to witness how the Spirit moved in each other and then a closing song to send us out

 You will find on the Wild Church Network website this beautiful description of the movement that is drawing people to love, protect and preserve this precious gift of Mother Earth:

 

Popping up all over the land, like wild mushrooms after a spring rain, Wild Church communities are responding to a call from deep within to change the way we relate to the natural world, moving  ‘from a collection of objects, to a communion of subjects’Thomas Berry

 

In this age of mass extinctions, we feel compelled by the love of Christ to invite people into intimate relationship with some of the most vulnerable victims of our destructive culture:  the land, waters, and creatures with whom we share our homes.  

 

New Wild Churches are emerging all the time, offering invitations to reconnect with the natural world. As kin. As sacred. As beloved co-participants in a larger story of grace and inter-being.

 Wild Journey continues to grow and welcome those who are longing for connection to God and nature in community. I am in awe that this indeed is church and would dare to say it is a much fuller expression than I have ever known.

 

Mindy Braun is the Executive Director of Journey Center Santa Rosa. She graduated with the 2021 Cohort of the Journey Center Associations Spiritual Director Formation Program. Her passion is to create safe, sacred spaces for all people to experience love and belonging.

Grounded in Context

 by Rev. Eric Beene

Eco-activism can easily become abstracted. The problems of changing climates and planetary destruction become separated from the places where we encounter the needs of the world, and they lead us to worry in ways that can literally overwhelm us. Photography is also a process of abstraction. When we snap a photo, we literally put a frame around an object or a scene or even a person, and then we remove it from its context and carry it away into a much bigger world. But I wonder if photography can be a tool for grounding our activism again, too.

Although photography is a process of abstraction, the act of zooming our lens in on an object or set of objects and pressing the button or tapping the screen happens in a context. The context is not only visual. It is also filled with the emotions we feel when we are confronted with what we see in that place, as well as the spirit that stirred us to go to that place and take out our camera. As we frame and capture images, we also capture those feelings and that spirit’s leading, and if we are willing to pay attention to them, they can be a source of great power for us. In a 1958 article in Commonweal called, “Poetry and Contemplation:  A Reappraisal,” Thomas Merton said, “Aesthetic intuition is not merely the act of a faculty, it is also a heightening and intensification of our personal identity and being by the perception of our connatural affinity with ‘Being’ in the beauty contemplated.” By noticing and acting on the feelings and leadings inside us as we frame a photo, we exercise our creative power. That creative power is aligned with the power of the Creator whose work we are abstracting and carrying home. And then, in looking at our photographs later, and in sharing them with others, we bring them to new contexts in which we can discover additional details, with new feelings, different values, and longings we didn’t know we had. Through our photography, with all of its context, abstraction, and re-contextualization, we can ground ourselves over and over again in our “connatural affinity with ‘Being.’” 

We can let our impulse toward activism on behalf of the environment follow a similar path. We can take those issues that are abstracted and overwhelming and put them back in touch with the feelings and the spirit which were the context into which our activism was born. Our desire to preserve and protect the places where we live and where we encounter the needs of the world thus can become an expression of our affinity with the Being in whom we live and move and have our own being.

 All of the photos below were taken within an hour’s drive of my home in Sonoma County, California. I have paired them with sentences of scripture to show how I perceive my own connection through them with the God of my being. I pray that they will show you a way that leads you to be grounded in your own identity and affinity with the One who created you and calls you into the work you do.


“When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth.” (Jeremiah 10:13)





“You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore!” (Psalm 16:11)





“Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness and of your praise all day long.” (Psalm 35:28)




“For there shall be a sowing of peace; the vine shall yield its fruit, the ground shall give its produce, and the skies shall give their dew.” (Zechariah 8:12-13)




“The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)




“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11)




“Happy are those…whose hope is in the Lord their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them!” (Psalm 146:5-6)


Rev. Eric Beene is General Presbyter of the Presbytery of the Redwoods and an amateur photographer. Previously, he served as Pastor to congregations in Savannah, Georgia, and Boston, Massachusetts. He lives in Windsor, California, with his wife Mary and their teenage son Isaac.









Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Morning Grace

 

Eric Diekhans


By Eric Diekhans

The alarm sounds at 5:30 am and I immediately roll out of bed. In summer, the sun is already bursting through the blinds; in spring and fall my bedroom is dark and sometimes cold. I pull on lycra shorts, jersey, gloves, and cleated shoes. When the weather get colder, I add a jacket, booties, lobster gloves, and sometimes a balaclava. My gear allows me to ride even when the temperature drops below freezing. 

The world is mostly silent as I push my bike out the door and climb aboard. A few blocks later, I wave to a small gathering of cyclists also ready to roll out. They ride faster than my pace so I continue on solo. That’s the way I prefer it anyway. 

I’ve been taking these morning rides for years, two or three times per week from mid March until November. The early start allows me time to get home, walk the dog, and get ready for work. During the pandemic, when I was working at home, I continued my ritual. The streets I ride on Chicago’s North Shore were mostly deserted. In a time of turmoil and uncertainty, my this stress-free hour offered me peace.

 During Covid, I began to think of my morning ride as a form of prayer. I’ve always felt more comfortable with unspoken prayer that comes from my heart and soul rather than words that come from my head. While Covid brought the world almost to a stop, my thoughts receded and God’s presence came forth. 

I roll north and spot other cyclists out for training rides. A few cars and delivery trucks add to the mix, but nothing like this road will see in an hour as the morning commute begins. Lake Michigan is off my right shoulder. I sense its magnificence even though I can’t see the water through the houses and parks along the route. Some mornings, I pause partway through my route to ride down a steep hill to a deserted beach. The sun rises over the lake and I take a few moments to contemplate the wonder of nature.

Riding back up the hill, I continue on even quieter streets. Birds sing to me overhead and occasionally I spot a deer ambling across the road. I turn and pick up the bike trail that runs along the commuter rail for my return trip. Occasionally I spot a runner or a train roars past, momentarily disturbing the peace.

“The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” (Mark 6: 30-31)

I suspect that Jesus retreated to the desert or some quiet garden more often than reported in the gospels. Ministry is hard work and solitary contemplation is as important as engagement. As Christians, we need to be in fellowship in the pews, and in service outside the church doors. But we also need to connect with God in creation, and where better to find the Divine than in nature’s quiet embrace?

I reach the end of the trail and roll back onto city streets. The traffic is starting to pick up as the rest of the world begins its day. I’ve ridden these streets so many times I know every busy intersection and my mind continues to relax. When I arrive home, I’ll continue my own day in a state of grace thanks to the nourishment of the natural world. Hopefully, that feeling of peace will linger in my soul long after my ride has ended.

 

Eric Diekhans is an award-winning author, television, and podcast producer, and a member of Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago. If he’s not on his bike, you can find him at www.ericdiekhans.com


Nurturing Spirit and Body; Seeking to Nurture Earth

 

JOY’s 7-circuit canvas labyrinth

By Diane Waddell

 The Justice, Outreach and Yoga (JOY) New Worshiping Community is a part of the 1001 NWC program of the PCUSA. The group gathers in St. Joseph, Missouri, in a sacred, beautiful space where the prairie has flourished, offering solace and quietude for the restoration of body and soul.

 JOY was birthed from a Laudato Si understanding of seeking equity in both environmental and social justice. Leaders and others who are part of the community share opportunities for sacred connection. We are a Matthew 25 community, seeking justice, and are particularly grateful for the three recently added intersectional priorities” to Matthew 25, including the importance of working as faithful stewards of God’s Creation to respond to Climate Change.

 Our Community meets at least three times a month. Our spiritual gatherings begin with candle or sage burning, prayer vigil for local or global needs, and the music of singing bowls. Our themes have been based on Celtic spirituality which keeps us grounded and centered in Creation. Alternate months we share and are amazed by the work of the mystics such as Hildegard of Bingen, who offered an essence of “greenness.”

 We have been gifted by one of the members, Rev. Dr. Krista Kiger, with a 7-circuit canvas labyrinth, and have been able to share a special sacred time of a labyrinth walk at least twice yearly. Our hearts, minds, and spirits are enriched by the sacred walk.

 We are strengthened and nurtured in our space and through our community. Our next steps are those in which we reach out to the wider community — our neighborhood and the wider region to advocate for the healing of the Earth. (Refuse, reuse, recycle; limit or refuse single-use plastics; plant native flowers, shrubs, trees; care for our gift of water, air, earth…)

 Indeed, for we ourselves to be healed and whole, we must nurture and care for this beautiful home called Earth.

 

Diane Waddell is Leader of JOY New Worshiping Community.


Friday, April 21, 2023

Alyeska: A Special Part of Our Earth

 

Caribou photo by Brian Schmitt


by Barbara Brown

When I first moved to Alaska in 2007 I had visited here twice before, and I was in awe of the magnitude and majesty of this place. The name Alaska is derived from a native word: “Alyeska”, which means great land, and this state certainly is that.

 

    I live in the city of Palmer in the southcentral area of the state, about a 50 minute drive from Anchorage, the largest city. When I watch our local news and weather, the station is based in Anchorage, but the reports cover other areas of the state as well: North Slope, Interior, Southeast, Aleutian Chain, Western, Kenai Peninsula, and  Prince William Sound. I live in the area which is known as being “on the road system”, where a majority of the population lives. Once you get past Fairbanks in the interior there are no roads to get places except for the Haul Road, used by truckers to get supplies up to the oil fields in the north.

 

   My city has several very popular tourist destinations: the Reindeer Farm, where you can go in the pen and feed them, the Musk Ox Farm, where you can watch them being groomed for their incredibly soft qiviut fiber, Hatcher Pass, where you can hike, ski, and see the remains of the Independence Gold Mine, and the small town feel of the downtown area, full of shops and restaurants.

 

  Out my front window I have a wonderful view of Pioneer Peak which stands at 6,398 ft. and is part of the Chugach Range.  These mountains, along with the nearby Talkeetna Mountain Range, are not as high as the Rockies but are jagged and stark against the mostly flat plains surrounding them. The ever-changing light and shadows from clouds overhead means I will never get tired of watching them.  If you have never seen a mountain bathed in the pinkish, orangey glow of Alpenglow, you really need to come here to experience it.

 

   The Matanuska Valley, where Palmer is located, was carved out by the Matanuska Glacier. Like many of the glaciers in Alaska it has receded many miles back from where the town is, but it is readlily accessible by car, and you can go on guided tours across its surface. The Matanuska River flows from it through town, and it is a classic example of a braided river, full of glacial silt. The water at the height of the spring melt runoff time is a bluish gray color.

 

    The fertile soil in this valley means this area supports some of the largest agricultural fields of the whole state. Maybe you have heard of the giant cabbages that can grow up to 110 pounds, and other giant vegetable like 4 pound carrots and 5 pound kohlrabi. There is a whole section at the state fair (held in Palmer in late August through Labor Day) of giant veggies on display each year, so again, if you have never been to Alaska, maybe you want to come for that.  We even have Cabbage Fairies who wander around the fairgrounds in their cute green costumes spreading good cheer to young and old. 

 

   Our new Representative in D.C., Mary Peltola, is Alaska Native,  from the Kuskokwim River area in and around Bethel. She is passionate about protecting this great land.  She is aware that Alaska has mostly been a resource extraction state in its relatively short 63 years of statehood but she knows that there is much to be done to keep this boom and bust extractive economy from completing raping all the bountiful resources in this land. There are now collaborative approaches happening that are moving the state toward a regenerative economy. For a sample, listen to the latest episode of “A Matter of Degrees” podcast.  The episode delves into the decades-long fight to protect the Tongass National Forest in southeast AK. It features Marina Anderson, Deputy Director of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership and President Richard  Chalyee  Peterson of the Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

 

     In closing, I want to reiterate: Alaska is a great land, and its nickname The Last Frontier is well earned. I feel blessed to call this place home, and pray God will bless our efforts to care for this special part of our earth.


Barbara Brown is a member of PEC as well as the Presbytery of Yukon.  She was one of the planners and hosts for a glorious eco-trip to Alaska/ Yukon Presbytery in 2014 along with Curtis Karns, then Executive Presbytery of Yukon Presbytery.


Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Taking "Church" Outdoors

 

Covenant Kayakers

by Eric Diekhans

 

Outdoor ministry. The phrase evokes memories of church camp, probably a few hoursdrive from home. A week or two spent in nature for children, teens, or perhaps families.

 

But what if outdoor ministry was more accessible, just a short work or drive away? What if it was right outside your churchs door?

 

After retiring from his call as a PCUSA campus minister, Bruce Chapman became a Florida master naturalist and park ranger. When he and his wife moved to North Carolina in 2019, Covenant Church and its Outdoor Ministry Committee were a perfect fit for him. At the time, outdoor ministry opportunities there were modest. The church offered a monthly hiking excursion to contemplate nature and enjoy fellowship.

 

I started talking with Lauren Sawyers and other church people that were involved in the hiking,” says Bruce. We all were sensitive to environmental issues, and a core group of us wondered what else we can do as Christians.”

 

Bruce and Lauren became committee co-coordinators as their ambitions grew. The committee focused on a multi-pronged mission: To provide members of our community practical opportunities to experience nature; deepen relationships with the church, each other and our natural surroundings; and grow in faithful stewardship of the environment.”

 

The committee continued to offer hikes to beautiful area locations like South Fork Catawba Trail and the Stevens Creek Nature Preserve, along with kayaking and other outdoor activities. They also invited speakers like Timothy Beal, author of When Time is Short, to speak about climate change. An eco-study group formed and, Chapman says, We looked for ways to not just navel gaze but actually have a mission project or some kind of outreach.”

 

One of their first ventures was a stream clean relationship with the local stormwater district. The church adopted an urban stream in a restored riverine habitat that runs through Charlotte and committed to picking up trash there four times a year.

 

Last summer, the church also started a gleaning mission through the Society of St. Andrews, a grassroots, faith-based, hunger relief nonprofit. They collect leftovers from fields after harvesting is done,” Bruce shares.  “Our group visited rural North Carolina farms and collected tomatoes, squash, and other vegetables left in the field.  These were then passed through the Society of St. Andrews to needy organizations.”

 

The committee is also looking at ways to make a positive impact on the environment right outside the church’s doors. Just before we came to Covenant,” Bruce says, they added an addition to the building, To meet city code, they had to offset that impervious surface by digging an earthen basin to catch stormwater runoff. But the basin isnt doing its job because its not connected to any of the downspouts or drainage systems. Its just grass that we mow.”

 

The committee has drafted a proposal to repurpose the basin as an urban wetland habitat and micro-forest.  It sees the project as a significant statement about how Christians can be good stewards of the earth.

 

The work of the Outdoor Ministry Committee is just one way Covenant strives to be a forward-thinking community with a culture of embracing innovation as we live out our mission. “ In doing so, the church provides an inspirational example of how we can all be better stewards of our environment, individually and as a community.

 

Eric Diekhans is an author, editor of “Earth News,” a member of Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago, and Executive Director of the Greater Chicago Broadcast Ministries.


Walking Matthew 25

 

Rick and Jo Randolph in Alaska, 2019

by Jo Randolph

 

Walking is the oldest form of transportation on this earth. In Genesis 13:17 the Lord asks Abram to Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you.” He explains this is the way for Abram to get to know the land that the Lord will give to him and his offspring forever.

 

Having grown up on a farm in southeast Wisconsin, walking was the mode of transportation to get to and from my grandfathers home, to get to and home from school (on nice days), and to visit with friends after school and on holidays. It has become fundamental to the way I experience creation around me. When you wander many days and hours over fields, you feel the dirt between your toes, you smell the odor of the soil and the sweet ripe berries and fruits ready to eat.  The beauty of the trees leafing out, the flowers arriving in spring, and the sound and smell of the leaves falling to the ground in the fall. To see creatures scurry away from me, to see the birds soar above, to hear the sounds of the wind rustling the leaves of each of the different trees, or water flowing over the rocks in the streams – it is a different language you learn when taking the time to wonder on the immense gift of this glorious creation around us.

 

I have had the opportunity to walk in many and varied areas of the world, from the farms of

Wisconsin to the mountains and deserts of AZ, from the forests of Germany to the glaciers of Alaska and the sands of the outer banks. The sounds of each step on the land and the sounds of the winds and animals informed my deep love and passion for this world and to care for it deeply.

 

These and other walks just around our suburban area have taught me to listen, see, and learn about not only the nature around me but the way we have changed that nature to suit our desires but not the needs of creation that must live there.

 

Walking on a PCUSA Peacemaking study tour is an amazing learning experience. An experience of the greater world around you that you cannot learn from just watching a documentary. Take the opportunity for yourself.  I have had two such opportunities and am looking forward to a third one this April. My husband Rick and I traveled to Guatemala and Costa Rica in 2017. I also had the opportunity to travel in early 2019 to Guatemala, Honduras, and Costa Rica. 

 

In 2017 we experienced peacemaking, environmental issues, and climate concerns of highly conflicted communities. We traveled to historically peaceful places and highly conflicted small villages. From environmentally degraded areas to ones of great ecological beauty. We met and talked, worshiped, and learned about the people of faith in Guatemala and Costa Rica who have been responding to issues of peace and environmental justice issues for generations.  We arrived in Guatemala and first visited CEDEPCA (Protestant Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America) and its staff. We were briefed on the context of the climate and the areas of conflict of the indigenous peoples the we would be meeting and learning from during our short time in Guatemala. Our first stop the next morning was to visit with a small group of members of the Peaceful Resistance in La Puya. They were/are protesting the poisoning of their waters (and the minds of the corrupt Guatemalan government officials) by the mining corporations in Canada. They have set up a watch area on a small narrowing of a dirt road where they keep an eye on the helicopters and heavy trucks. The corporation is NOT supposed to be doing any work on or in the mines but these helicopters are flying in and out of the closedarea daily.  There are big earth-moving trucks that are just movingdirt to help clean the tailings pondsfrom the poisonous chemicals that are used to release the gold and silver from the land. Having lunch with these people while holding a watch on all the traffic flowing by was revealing. Some of the travelers were neighbors and some were unknowns. Some with weapons and some traveling with foodstuffs and children heading home from work and school. The whole visit was certainly a visceral learning moment to absorb what our developed world wantsand is creating for those indigenous people’s daily lives.

 

Our Guatemala travels also allowed us to worship with the Asociaciónde Mujeres Indígenas de Santa María Xalapán (the indigenous womens association of the Santa Maria Xalapán). The Xinca Invocation Ceremony was breathtaking and left us in wonder about the gratefulness these people have for the everyday gifts, given to them by God, of water, air, food, and comfort.

 

In Costa Rica, we learned the damage monoculture plantations of bananas and pineapples have on the lives of the small villages and villagers.  The overuse of pesticides and fertilizers used in crop production for the export of these two crops alone has poisoned the water and taken jobs from the original inhabitants of the villages.  I still wonder HOW villagers can function with only five gallons of water delivered weekly. The local government is mandated to deliver fresh water weekly to their homes, and it is per home, NOT per number of people living in the home. Those five gallons are to be used for ALL their needs, from drinking, and food preparation to cleaning both themselves and their clothing. The running water in the creeks is so caustic due to the chemicals it is eatingthe skins of the people and the fibers of their clothing.

 

The 2019 Central American Migrant Trails peacemaking tour of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras focused on immigration issues. Our group learned about the immigration context being faced by those wanting to emigrate north. It was a clearer picture of the reasons why they take the risk of embarking on a dangerous journey with small children in tow. We heard from Not For Profits and government officials while exploring the potential and actual consequences of US policies. Mass deportation is impacting the lives of the returned migrants, their families, their communities, and their nations. In El Salvador, we heard from Catholic Relief Services, the Ministry of Foreign Relations, and returned migrants from a migrant program. In Guatemala, we heard a priest tell us about the pastoral challenges to care for caravans of immigrants. We met returned Guatemalans and heard their stories of how they are unceremoniously returned to Guatemala by our government.  In Honduras, we met with organizations working for transparency and against corruption in the Honduran government. We also heard from a childrens ministries and advocacy group, the RedViva Danish network, and a Presbyterian Hunger Program partner Ecoré, working to better the lives of the people impacted.

 

Wandering and studying these and many other issues certainly opened our senses to wonder how this world created for all has been abused for the ‘select.’ Learning from those who have experienced the issues or those who work with impacted immigrants as well as with our own Presbyterian Mission Co-Workers opened our eyes in some small steps as to how we can walk in the manner to which Christ called us in Matthew 25 to care for all others.

 

This April my husband and I will again travel on a PCUSA Peacemaking Study Seminar. We will be studying the native lands of the Southwest, the Doctrine of Discovery, and its legacy today. We will be learning the harm the Doctrine of Discovery did to indigenous peoples of North America since the landing on this continent and to this day. 

 

Psalm 104 will be with us daily as we walk, wander, and wonder in the steps of those we have harmed.

 

(31-34) – May the Glory of the LORD endure forever: may the LORD rejoice in his works . . . . May my mediation be pleasing to him for I rejoice in the LORD.

 

Jo and Rick Randolph are members of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, Heartland Presbytery. Jo is currently the Treasurer of Presbyterians for Earth Care.  Rick, an MD, is Senior Medical Director of Heart to Heart International.

Creation is Calling

 

Diane with a Kenyan friend on a mission trip to Thawke Village near Nairobi

by Diane Waddell

 

Eco-Tourism is a popular item….a destination-type of tourism where visitors hope to travel responsibly or visit places that are deemed to be sustainable communities. `

 

Consider a spin-off on Eco-tourism…towards faith-based, destination Earth encounters, such as Sustainable Mission trips.   Consider the term…Sacred Earth travels as a new mindset. Indeed, connecting with our Sacred Earth is connecting with the beauty and intelligence of plants and other animals….with earth, air, soil, water.

 

In fact, Creation calls us… as God calls us…through whispers of water, air, fire, and soil; through multitudes of types of plants and animals; all miraculous. Our response to that calling honestly must be with reverence, grace, and gratitude. Creation is calling…for Justice. The Rev. Dr. Bill Brown (professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary) shared many wise words at PECs Stony Point Conference in 2019. He suggested that the term we need to use is Creation Justice” as we are stewards of Gods magnificent gift.

 

I am so grateful that the PCUSA, through Presbyterian Compassion, Peace and Justice programs, has shared and continues to share ways of connecting with our global partners through travels and seminars (both virtual and on-site.) I have been so grateful for connections that have continued to be transformative for me. In Lima, Peru, for example, I vividly recall climbing up one of the Andes Mountains toward a small community and school. The higher up the mountain, the more poverty there was. The children had to climb down in the dark in the morning to get to school, and parents had to leave in the darkness down the mountain to get to their farming work. Thanks to the work of World Mission partners, Hunger Program, Disaster Assistance, and many others for allowing us to be connected both virtually and physically around the world; raise awareness, and support persons in need.

 

Presbyterians for Earth Care has shared many excellent conferences both on-site and virtually, and continues to share and prepare us as Creation calls. Stay tuned for their next amazing conference in September, 2023 and for many webinars coming up…when we can virtually tour.And hold in appreciation those who have hosted conferences. (Thanks to Barb Brown who has written a lovely article about Alaska. She and others including then-EP Curtis Karns hosted a great conference in Alaska open to PEC members.)

 

Yet, we can also be connected with travel in our backyards, church campuses, local parks, rural areas, and more. We can work towards making a sanctuary in our own backyards with trees, plants, and animals. Planting native plants and trees is a beautiful way to make a special connection. Native species are more sustainable and adapted to thrive in their own natural habitat.

 

While connecting with your own space, look up the name and history of your watershed and what native tribes walked in the same space. Work with local and national groups who appreciate caring for your Earth space… to work on the transformation of your backyard, church campus, etc., toward becoming a more sacred space.

 

Wendell Berry states that it is impossible, ultimately, to preserve ourselves apart from our willingness to preserve other creatures, or to respect and care for ourselves except as we respect and care for other creatures; and…it is impossible to care for each other more or differently than we care for the earth.(The Body and the Earth) He reminds us that the earth is what we all have in common, that it is what we are made of and what we live from, and that we therefore cannot damage it without damaging those with whom we share it. Amen.

 

And as we travel, we recall that sustainability in means of travel is extremely important… Thanks to Jo and Rick Randolphs travel stories of walking while traveling. How beautiful to touch the Earth with respect while walking and hearing Creation calling that much more clearly.

 

And if and as you do travel using fossil fuels, consider contributing to the Restoring Creation Fund as a carbon offset program of the PCUSA, which will go toward planting and nurturing trees with longstanding partners.

 

Restoring Creation For Ecology & Justice (E865715)

To give by phone, call 800-872-3283. To send a check, please designate where you want your gift to go on the memo line and mail to:

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700

 

As you consider an eco-tour, hold in your hearts the concept of Sacred Earth. Consider that sacred earth each time you touch the ground as you walk, every time you breathe in the air, feel the warmth of the sun or the coolness of rain and marvel at the beauty of Gods garden. Allow each moment to be a means to answer Creations call for justice. Be grateful for each opportunity to be and share, whether it is with a plant or water fountain, indoors or outdoors; whether in your own backyard, or on a local, regional or global visit or conference.

 

Hold those moments and those places sacred. For indeed, they are.

Aho. Amen.

 

Diane Waddell is a leader in Heartland Presbytery’s Justice, Outreach and Yoga New Worshiping Community, and past moderator of PEC.


Hiddenness: I Saw a Corn Crake!

 

The elusive corn crake

by Nancy Corson Carter


From May 30 through June 8, 2013 my husband Howard and I joined a band of 42 pilgrims gathered by the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. This pilgrimage was to the small Hebridean island of Iona. This tiny island, measuring only about three miles long and one mile wide, lies off the west coast of Scotland. Here, the Celtic monastic community, alive in the fifth and sixth centuries and not dispersed until the 13th century, participated in a unique flowering of art and education, based on scripture and upon Gods revelation in Creation.

 

The shared intent of our pilgrimage, entitled Earth Care—Earth Prayer,” was to:

• listen deeply for Gods invitations to pray and care for our wondrous Earth

• open to the spiritual treasures of holy Iona, the Iona Community, and our

 own pilgrim community

• deepen our awareness of the Holy Ones radiant Presence, and to

• praise God.

 

What I found on Iona reminds me of Isaiah 58:11: You shall be like a watered garden, like a deep spring that never runs dry.” That verse gives me courage when I am close to despairing in my avocation of Earth-caring; it correlates with a deeply refreshing companionship that I felt on Iona—because of the land itself, its creatures, its hallowed history, and the pilgrim circles within and beyond our gathering. Even though I use the first person in this meditation, I am always aware of a great, encompassing we.”

 

J. Philip Newells The Book of Creation: An Introduction to Celtic Spirituality was a welcome companion to this pilgrimage. His commentary about John Scotus Eriugena, a ninth-century Irishman, particularly encouraged my receptivity to revelations from all forms of life on the island, even birds I had never heard of—the Corn Crakes!

 

[Eriugena] taught that God is the Life Forcewithin all things. Therefore every visible and invisible creature,he said, can be called a theophany.All life manifests something of the One who is the essence of life. . . . Through the letters of Scripture and the species of creaturethe eternal Light is

revealed. (xxi)1

 

Though Eriugena was accused of pantheism, it is clear that he saw creation not as God in itself, but as Gods dwelling place; he said each creature is a manifestation of the hidden,” or in Newells words, a showing forth of the mystery of God” (67-8). That so many Celtic saints are associated with creatures of Earth, sky, and sea affirms human creatureliness as a relationship to cherish and honor rather than to deny. Indeed, it is a gift at the heart of who we are" (71 ff). If we open ourselves to reciprocal caring with the whole creation, we will discover much that we might otherwise never know.

 

Hiddenness” is a word often indicating secrets or withheld information. However, it makes me think of seeing through a glass darkly” or the cloud of unknowing.” “Hiddenness” may suggest mystery yet to be revealed as we continue on our journey.

 

I found the theme of hiddenness by entering briefly into a somewhat comic relationship. Soon after our arrival on Iona, I became aware of a mysterious bird called a Corn Crake. It is also known as a Landrail; its Latin name is onomatopoetic for its rather grating call: Crex crex. In a little photographic display in our hotels central corridor of unique creatures which sometimes visited Iona, I first saw a Corn Crakes image. It looked to me like a long-necked light brown chicken with gangly legs and feet, a bit, Im sorry to say, like a rubber chicken. With the guidance of one of my fellow pilgrims, I quickly learned to recognize the strange grating utterances of the males. Its said that they can be heard a mile away. In the early breeding season, they sound often during the day and intensively at night—one bird may call more than 10,000 times between midnight and 3:00 am. (A Gaelic name for this bird is Cleabhair coach or mad noisemaker.”) But the strange thing is that while they call insistently for mates in voices extremely hard for humans to miss, they crouch so low as they creep along through the open meadow grasses that they rarely even ruffle a stem. They really seem to be invisible.

 

My husband Howard, a friend, and I were walking the path by the field below the Iona Cultural Center when I saw a Corn Crake pop up on the stone wall about 50 feet ahead of us. I knew what it was because Id studied the photo, and I excitedly pointed and exclaimed Its a Corn Crake!” Its a Corn Crake!” Our friend hadnt studied the hotel photo; he was doubtful, but I knew. The Corn Crake made an awkward jump into flight, crossed the path ahead of us, and skimmed over the opposite stone wall. We scurried to catch another glimpse, but it disappeared without a trace into the grassy field. Soon we heard the familiar call, but wed had our one look for our visit even though we tried hard for a repeat sighting.

 

Corn Crakes are rare enough that birders go well out of their way to come here so that they can add them to their life lists. These aficionados come by cruise ships as well as by ferries, and they often tote cameras with enormous lens, yearning to snap a photo or two. Were not sure why, but weve heard that the localsname for them is twitchers”? We saw many of them clustered hopefully around the fences of the fields where the hidden birds made their loud, unmistakable calls. One lady said shed been steadily looking for them, but that she had managed to see only a few legs.”

 

A review of the general habits and recent past history of the birds in this region demonstrates why its rare to see even those few legs.” The Corn Crakes travel from their wintering grounds in Africa to arrive on Iona for breeding usually by late April, leaving before the end of September. Friends from our hometown who visited the island in late July didnt hear them at all. Corn Crakes were once widespread in western and central Europe, extending east as far as Siberia, but they were lost from most of the UK after the 1930s. Local ecologist John Clare writes that Iona, and to a lesser extent the Ross of Mull, are now two of the few places in the British Isles where Corn Crakes nest in any numbers.”2

 

Conservation measures and reassessment of large and apparently stable populations in Russia, Kazakhstan, and western China have restored them to the category of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, but they continue to be carefully monitored. The focus of conservation efforts in Europe is to change the timing and method of hay harvesting; later cutting gives time for breeding to be completed, and leaving uncut strips at the edges of fields and cutting from the center outwards reduces casualties. Hayfields with limited cutting or fertilizer use (which I assume includes those on Iona) are ideal.

 

As though the Corn Crake were emissaries of approaching transition, I have begun to understand the idea of hiddenness personally. A friend recently gave me Henri J.M. Nouwens The Inner Voice of Love, and I was somehow led (like the little Puritan mouse that nibbled to the Bible passage God intended to be read) to open to one of his spiritual imperatives” titled Keep Trusting Gods Call”:

 

As you come to realize that God is beckoning you to a greater hiddenness, do not be afraid of that invitation. Over the years you have allowed the voices that call you to action and great visibility to dominate your life. You still think, even against your own best intuitions that you need to do things and be seen in order to follow your vocation. But you are now discovering that Gods voice is saying, Stay home, and trust that your life will be fruitful even when hidden.(89)3

 

Without ignoring the irony of the admonition to stay home,” I ponder what a difficult lesson Nouwen suggests. My Type A over-active Martha (vs. Mary) self constantly confuses me with guilt over not doing enough” and a lack of discernment over what is mine to do. I pray for clearer knowing, for a deepening trust that God is leading me to find. Again, I turn to Nouwen, whose book seems written expressly for this stage in my life, a stage” that could be called later life” or elderhood.” He counsels that

 

…you have not fully acknowledged this new place as the place where God dwells and holds you. You fear that this truthful place is in fact a bottomless pit where you will lose all you have and are. Do not be afraid. Trust that the God of life wants to embrace you and give you true safety (15).

 

So here I am—I venture that God might see me as goofy as the Corn Crakes appear to me, yet I yearn to be lovingly encouraged to fulfill my own creatureliness. Its a large hope, and I am always looking and listening for allies on this journey. I have been reading Václav Havels Letters to Olga, written from prison where he was sentenced in 1979 to 4 ½ years of hard labor for his human rights activities in Czechoslovakia. In the middle of his incarceration, he writes of a growing mood” of contemplation,” which he defines as the manifestation of a deeper, more spiritual relationship to the values of the world and my life” (204). What Havel says about this mood” strikes a chord for me as I explore the hiddenness” the Corn Crakes have roused me to ponder:

 

It is an experience of the manifestation—the vivid presence—of an otherwise hidden, yet all-determining dimension of the spirit, that is the presence of faith, hope and the profound conviction that there is a meaning(205).

 

The very fact that Havel has found this understanding in prison inspires me with the power of the human spirit to meet despair-inducing adversity with hope, daring to probe beyond surfaces to deeper meaning. Its a bit of a stretch, and I do not wish to appropriate his hard-earned wisdom glibly, but I like to think that Havel and I and the Corn Crakes are kindred spirits, expressing in quite different languages our kinship with the community of all Being. Finding even glimpses of what such hiddenness may mean is a gift as I travel a new path from middle age into later years.

 

When I think of the wholeness of Creation which Celtic Christianity claims as Gods intention, my thoughts go to places where it is now disrupted by threats of extinction. Within the context of a sacred universe, the loss of any form of life diminishes all of us; it takes away something from the whole book of our meaning.” As an educator, a seeker, a pilgrim, and one committed to advocacy for Earth care, this is of great concern to me.

 

Among the animal species, we are perilously close to losing such treasures as the California condor, the Bactrian Camel, the Hawaiian Monk Seal, the Mountain Gorilla, the Iberian Lynx—all are included among the25 most endangered species on Earth,” and this list names only ones we know about.

 

Extinction is not the hiddenness Ive been discussing so far, though it may be useful to compare them. Extinction as we now use the word, is a death, an ending of some life form that prevents its continuity. Extinction as a conceived crisis of species being torn from the fabric of creation surely must be one of the worst sins. In this case, it may mean that we humans have acted with the arrogance of hubris, not

admitting the possibility of anything hidden or unknowable as we pollute, mine,

toxify, clearcut, kill, and otherwise abuse Creation as a resource” for our use.

 

On the spiritual level, however, the idea of hiddenness shows us the absolute unknowability of the universe, let alone the unfathomable intricacy of the Earth itself. Stepping out into the depths of spirit, we are called to walk in a way that may be visible only one step at a time. Hiddenness requires a surrender to mystery that precludes any attempt to cleverly devise a map and run ahead; we must wait and trust invisible Being.

 

Iona itself was threatened when it went up on the auction block in 1979; luckily the Fraser Foundation purchased it back from the Argyll Estates and presented it to the nation. The National Trust now owns much of the island. In 2000 the Iona Cathedral Trust passed the abbey, nunnery, Reilig Òdhrain, and St. Ronans into the care of Historic Scotland.

 

I began this meditation with a fascination with Corn Crakes, but the more I thought of them, there in the great matrix of Celtic Christianity, the more I felt that they expressed important aspects of the spirit of holy Iona: that too was invisible but strongly present. It had been threatened but it survived. I did see one Corn Crake, but Im still trying to decode its message, a beguilingly quirky yet resonant one. What is hidden draws me onward in a mysterious adventure!

 

Nancy Corson Carter, professor emerita of humanities at Eckerd College, has published two poetry books, Dragon Poems and The Sourdough Dream Kit, and three poetry chapbooks. Some of her poems, drawings, and photos appear in her nonfiction book, Martha, Mary, and Jesus: Weaving Action and Contemplation in Daily Life and in her memoir, The Never-Quite-Ending War: a WWII GI Daughter's Stories.

 

1J. Philip Newell, THE BOOK OF CREATION: AN INTRODUCTION TO CELTIC
 SPIRITUALITY (New York: Paulist Press 1999), pp. xxi, 67-8, 71ff.
 
2 John Clare, Iona and Mull CORNCRAKES ( Mull, Scotland; Moving Stationery Ltd.,
2010), p. 1.  This pamphlet is also the source of the photo included.
 
3 Henri J.M. Nouwen, THE INNER VOICE OF LOVE (New York: Doubleday, 1996), p.
89, 15.
 
4 clav Havel, LETTERS TO OLGA (New York: Knopf, 1988), p. 205.