The Spirituality of Pets

The Spirituality of Pets

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; August 28, 2022

12th Sunday after Pentecost

Jonah 3-4

 

When I began to prepare today’s sermon, I was surprised that I could not recall ever preaching on the story of Jonah and the more I studied, the more I realize that I want too. I want to explore the playful nature of the story, how Jonah fumbles along trying to avoid God—only to end up in deep trouble—deep in the sea in the belly of a fish, that is. I want to preach about the ancient cities of Tarshish and Nineveh and how answering God’s call may take us to places we don’t want to go. Or how about a sermon on the storms in life that prove that when trouble comes, the best place to go is to God in prayer? Or maybe a sermon on how important Jonah’s story is because he is not a hero? Instead, he behaves like a petulant child, whining and pitching fits because God does not hate the people he hates. And what a terrible preacher! No reputable seminary will offer him a preaching award any time soon. Nevertheless, God works through Jonah to accomplish God’s purpose. Maybe we need a little Jonah in our lives to help us see that there is a bit of him in all of us. Even so, God loves and cares for us. Now wouldn’t that make a good sermon?

 

But for the purposes of our series on spirituality, and specifically on this sermon about the spirituality of pets, I want us to come at the story of Jonah from a different angle. Let’s pause to reflect on the role that animals play in the story. First, of course, is the big fish that God whistles for during the storm and the fish comes on command to swallow Jonah just as he hits the water. Then, when Jonah is humbled—if only for a moment—at God’s prompting the big fish again does God’s bidding by spitting its passenger onto the seashore. Then, God points Jonah in the direction of Nineveh. “Go thataway! Preach!” So off Jonah goes. The span of the city is a 3-day walk. Jonah walks one day into the city and then preaches what may be the shortest sermon in history. The Message puts it this way: “In forty days Nineveh will be smashed.” The people listen. The people believe. The people respond—including the king of the land who proclaims a national fast for every man, woman, and animal. “Dress them all, both people and animals, in burlap, and send up a cry for help to God.”

 

Of course, God does exactly what Jonah fears most. God sees the repenting hearts of the Ninevites, and God changes God’s mind. In the next scene, Jonah is furious. He yells at God. “I knew it!” Jonah wants to die. “What do you have to be angry about?” God asks. In response, Jonah goes out of the city and sits down to sulk. God, always merciful, makes a bush grow over Jonah to give him some shade. Jonah enjoys the respite until God calls on another creature—a worm—to bore into the leaves of the tree so that it withers away. Again, Jonah is angry and again wants to die. Hear God’s response from The Message:

 

What’s this? How is it that you can change your feelings from pleasure to anger overnight about a mere shade tree that you did nothing to get? You neither planted nor watered it. It grew up one night and died the next night. So, why can’t I likewise change what I feel about Nineveh from anger to pleasure, this big city of more than 120,000 child-like people who don’t yet know right from wrong, to say nothing of all the innocent animals?

 

Innocent animals! Animals of God’s creation inhabit the skies, the earth, and the sea. While we would not designate all animals as pets, it may be that God does. I mean, by definition, pets are tamed animals kept as companions and cared for affectionately. Even if we are unlikely to treat a whale or a worm or livestock affectionately—that does not mean God interacts with them the same way we do. God, who bestows gifts on all living things, has often used the service of animals and made them reminders of the gifts of salvation. From our reading today, a giant fish, the animals in the land, and a worm are part of Ninevah’s salvation story. In other parts of the Bible, animals are saved from the flood, and afterwards, made a part of the covenant with Noah; the paschal lamb recalls the Passover sacrifice and the deliverance from slavery in Egypt; ravens bring food to Elijah; animals are present at Christ’s birth and are part of Christ’s redemption story in the end times.

 

We humans are so arrogant. We think that God cares about us and not much else. All evidence is to the contrary. God cares for the entire universe—including all that lives and moves and breathes.

 

St. Francis of Assisi is renowned for being able to see the presence of God in all creatures, and he had a special bond with birds. While on a trip with his companions, or so the story goes, he spots a great number of birds of all varieties. Swept up in the moment, he leaves his friends on the road to race after them. Hear what happened next.

 

[Brother Francis] greeted them in his usual way, expecting them to scurry off into the air as he spoke. But they moved not. Filled with awe, he asked them if they would stay awhile and listen to the Word of God. He said to them: “My brother and sister birds, you should praise your Creator and always love him: He gave you feathers for clothes, wings to fly, and all other things that you need. It is God who made you noble among all creatures, making your home in thin, pure air. Without sowing or reaping, you receive God’s guidance and protection.” At this the birds began to spread their wings, stretch their necks and gaze at Francis, rejoicing and praising God in a wonderful way according to their nature. Francis then walked right through the middle of them, turned around and came back, touching their heads and bodies with his tunic. Then he gave them his blessing, making the sign of the Cross over them. At that they flew off and Francis, rejoicing and giving thanks to God, went on his way.

 

When we think of animals—especially pets—I daresay most of us think of the cats and dogs that bless our lives. My dogs, Moses and Miriam, teach me about the love of God—unconditional love—and, truth be told, they often create a need for me to pray: “Lord, help me be the person my dogs think I am.” I wonder what your pets have taught you—those living or those that have crossed Rainbow Bridge. (Sharing)

 

In closing, allow me to share two poems—the first “A Cat in Residence” by Shimon Weinroth.

buy generic Misoprostol online no prescription  

the cat she sits,
a stoic,
purrs and meows
as fits her mood,

the cat she sits
and does not move,
as befits
a statue,
on the mantle piece
table or window sill,

then with a whirl she moves from
place to place,
soon stretching out
and lies about,

suddenly, starts and startles,
remembering something
she has forgotten,
runs up and down
the steps

chasing her shadow
or something more profound,
dances up and down
and all around,
flops on the ground

and sighs
her secret kept

we in a quandary
wonder,
what makes
her dreams
come true

 

Poet, and dog lover, Mary Oliver, wrote this poem, “Luke,” about her beloved companion.

 

I had a dog

who loved flowers.

Briskly she went

through the fields,

yet paused

for the honeysuckle

or the rose,

her dark head

and her wet nose

touching

the face

of every one

with its petals

of silk,

with its fragrance

rising

into the air

where the bees,

their bodies

heavy with pollen,

hovered—

and easily

she adored

every blossom,

not in the serious,

careful way

that we choose

this blossom or that blossom—

the way we praise or don’t praise—

the way we love

or don’t love—

but the way

we long to be—

that happy

in the heaven of earth—

that wild, that loving

 

In one of Jonah’s prayers, he acknowledges God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Thanks be to God! God’s love has no bounds. It reaches out to: the big fish, the flocks and herds of animals, the worm, Jonah, the people of Nineveh, the birds of the air, beloved pets, and you and me. Hallelujah! Amen!

 

(Silent Reflection)

 

*Cover photo by Kevin Turcios via Unsplash, used by permission

The Spirituality of Sacred Space

The Spirituality of Sacred Space

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; August 21, 2022

11th Sunday after Pentecost

Exodus 3:1-6; Exodus 13:17-22

 

Today we continue our sermon series on spirituality with “The Spirituality of Sacred Space.” Although sacred space is not something we often talk about, it is essential to our spirituality. Why? Because sacred space provides a threshold into a deeper way of seeing, hearing, and knowing the power of God that summons us into fullness of life. Whenever we enter sacred space, we sense it in our hearts—in our bodies—in our spirits. Sometimes, our reaction is to fall silent. Other times, we find ourselves whispering for no apparent reason. Sacred space can be as varied as a labyrinth, a backyard garden, or a vast outdoor space adorned with sacred art and icons. It may be present in our homes through candlelight as we pray, meditate, or worship online with other believers. Often, Christians recognize sacred space in the places we meet to pray, sing, and worship. Surely, that is the case for those present this morning in our beautiful sanctuary. To continue the topic of our sanctuary as a sacred space, Dick Shelton will now provide his “God Sighting” as part of this morning’s message.

 

(Dick Shelton shares about the architecture of the sanctuary—from the columns out front to the windows to how the overall design invites us to enter to be blessed and then to leave to be a blessing to the world.) To Follow Along with the sermon, here is the link to the worship service. https://fb.watch/f3grRdH0g8/

 

Surely, this blessed place is a sacred space for us. Here we meet as sisters and brothers in Christ to honor and worship our Triune God. We come to face the reality of what it means to be human. And we come in sure and certain hope of the future that can be ours when we work together to bring God’s kingdom upon the earth. From this sacred space, this sanctuary, we are called forth to be a living sanctuary for others. We are called forth to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. Let it be so. Amen.

 

(Silent Reflection)

The Spirituality of Music

The Spirituality of Music

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; August 14, 2022

10th Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 150, 2 Chronicles 29:20, 25-30

 

As part of the summer sermon series on spirituality, today we consider The Spirituality of Music. It has been said that music is the sound of the Spirit. Certainly, the sounds of music can connect us to the holy and to one another like nothing else can. I invite you to ponder the following quotes from some folks who have had a love for music:

 

“He who sings, scares away his woes.” Cervantes

“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.” Maya Angelou

“Who could retain a grievance against the man with whom he had joined in singing before God?” St. Ambrose

“Country music is three chords and the truth.” Harlan Howard

“The only proof you need that there is a God is music.” Kurt Vonnegut

“When words leave off, music begins.” Heinrich Heine

“The truest expression of a people is its dance and music.” Agnes de Mille

“There is nothing in the world so much like prayer as music.” William P. Merrill

“A song will outlive all sermons in memory.” Henry Giles

 

And finally, from Roscoe Holdom:

You know, music, it’s spiritual. You can take a small kid, that can’t even sit alone, and you pull the strings on some kind of instrument, a fiddle or a banjo or something like that, and you watch how quickly it draws the attention of that kid. And he’ll do his best to get hold of that. It draws the attention of the whole human race.

 

Yes, music is spiritual, and it draws the attention of the whole human race. I wonder, what kind of music draws your attention (other than Christian music which we will consider in a moment). What is your favorite genre of music? (Share.) What is your favorite instrument? (Share.) How many of you have taken music lessons of some kind during your life? (Share.) How many of you play an instrument? And if so, what instrument do you play? (Share)

 

In his book, The Spirituality of Music, John Birds highlights how music accompanies us through life. We are nurtured in the womb to the comfort of our mother’s heartbeat. We mark each birthday with a song. We dance at weddings and other important celebrations. We worship God by singing hymns at church, temple, or synagogue. And when our journey upon this blessed earth ends, we hope our loved ones will sing us home.[i]

 

When it comes to the music of our faith, what kind of Christian music do you enjoy most? (Share.)

What is your favorite hymn? (Share.)

 

In his book, Bird recognizes how rhythm is the foundation of music—since you can’t play two notes in succession without the beginnings of a rhythm.[ii] Other rhythms that guide our lives include the pulsing rhythm of our heartbeats; the expanding and contracting of our lungs; our bodies that follow circadian rhythms that occur within a 24-hour cycle—impacting things like hormones, eating habits, body temperature, and how we respond to darkness and light. Thus, rhythm is basic to our sense of being human beings in the world.

 

When I think of rhythm, I imagine dancing with our children to music—first to cassettes, and then compact discs, then MP3 players, and now—well all it takes is a swipe of a fingertip or “Hey Alexa, play ‘Daddy Sang Base’ by Johnny Cash.” When our daughter, Sarah, was a little girl, all it took for Kinney to get her going was: “Still like that old time rock-n-roll; that kinda music just soothes the soul; I reminisce about the days of old, with that old time rock and roll.” Just a few notes in—and the party was on with Sarah dancing and singing with her dad. Even before we met, Kinney and I were music lovers, but after we started dating, he sealed the deal when he introduced me to the music of James Taylor.

 

While music affects us on a deeply emotional level, there are also psychological benefits to learning to play instruments. Parents sign their children up for music lessons not only for them to become musically talented, but for other reasons, too. It turns out that playing an instrument can elevate self-esteem and confidence. It can improve reading comprehension and communication. It teaches the importance of patience, hard work, and perseverance.[iii] And if you think learning how to play an instrument is only for children, think again. Increasingly, older people are learning to play a new instrument in order to reduce stress and anxiety, to ward of mental decline, and to combat depression. When I was the pastor of Colonial Heights Presbyterian Church, I was already impressed by our music director who played the piano, organ, and harp. But when she decided, well into her ‘70’s, that she would give the violin a try—I was in awe. I am in awe of our own Donna Gosnell, too. She is a chemistry professor who plays piano, organ, and the flute. And she does it all so well! To hear her pieces for the contemplative worship service is to touch the gates of heaven.

 

Music lifts us up. Music heals our souls. Music connects us to the Holy and to one another. Music has always been an essential part of the work of the people of God. For example, after escaping Pharoah and his army, joy burst forth from Moses’ lips, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously…The Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation.” Then Miriam takes up her tambourine and joins the song as the women dance around her.

 

In good times and in bad, David turns to music. He plays the lyre to ease King Saul’s troubled mind. Later David sings songs of praise and songs of lament. His songs live on today in our reading from 2nd Chronicles.

Allow me to provide a little context: Hezekiah became king when he was 25 years old, and he reigned in Jerusalem for 29 years. One of the better kings of Jerusalem, Scripture tells us that he did what was right in the sight of the Lord. In the first year of his reign, he opened and repaired the doors of the house of the Lord (which had been closed shut in the days of King Ahaz). Then he called the priests and Levites and instructed them to sanctify themselves and to clean and sanctify the house of the Lord. Once their arduous work was complete, King Hezekiah rose early, gathered the rulers of the city, and went up to the house of the Lord to restore the sacrificial offerings and heart-felt, exuberant worship to YHWH. Scripture tells us that:

 

When the offering was finished, the king and all who were present with him bowed down and worshiped. King Hezekiah and the officials commanded the Levites to sing praises to the Lord with the words of David and of the seer Asaph. They sang praises with gladness, and they bowed down and worshiped.

 

The hymn book of the Hebrew people, The Psalter, concludes with Psalm 150, which calls for praise in the sanctuary—a most fitting place to gather in praise since it is set apart for God’s honor. Then, we are encouraged to praise him from his firmament for all of nature, from sea to shining sea, provides ample spaces to praise God. Praise God for his acts. Praise God for his greatness. And then, praise God with every expression possible—every instrument—every body—every breath.

 

The most important work of believers in all times and places has been to worship God. We gather around the Word, the Baptismal Font, and The Lord’s Table. We gather under the stars or around the campfire. We gather in person or virtually. We play instruments. We rejoice with hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs. Music companions us on our journey, guides us through the seasons of life, and helps us express our greatest joys and our deepest sorrows. Surely, music is one of God’s greatest gifts. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

(Silent Reflection)

[i] John Bird, The Spirituality of Music, 11-12.

[ii] Ibid, 24-25.

[iii] https://study.com/academy/lesson/playing-an-instrument-psychological-development.html

*Cover photo by ArtTower via Pixabay, used by permission

The Spirituality of Storytelling

The Spirituality of Storytelling

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; August 7, 2022

9th Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 15:11-23; Luke 10:30-37

 

Last month, we began our summer sermon series on spirituality. The first Sunday, we considered the spirituality of bread and wine. Since then, we have pondered the spirituality of water, gardening, prayer practices, and nature. Before we begin this morning, allow me to revisit a definition of Christian spirituality for those who may be new to this series. Admittedly, spirituality is difficult to define but for me, it’s about ways I experience the sacred in the everyday. How do I make room in my busy life to encounter the holy? How do I practice my faith so that I can become more aware of the Spirit that indwells all living things? I believe that spirituality is about gratitude and inspiration, meaning and purpose, wonder and awe. Spirituality is, in short, a way of life—a way of being.

 

Today we continue our exploration with “The Spirituality of Storytelling.” So, imagine with me a perfect day filled with family, friends, good food, and lots of laughs. It’s late autumn and even in South Georgia, the evenings are a little cooler—cool enough to pull out a comfy fleece jacket before heading to the firepit outdoors. With the help of some of the adults, the children are excitedly making ‘smores. A cousin tunes his travel guitar and when every string is playing just so, he starts strumming and softly singing a familiar tune fitting for the occasion: “It only takes a spark to get a fire glowing…” Others join in: “And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing.” More songs follow, “This land is your land; this land is my land from California to the New York island…” and “Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya,” and “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,” and because everyone needs a little bluegrass, “Goin’ up Cripple Creek, goin’ in a run. Goin’ up Cripple Creek to have a little fun.”

 

After the music stops, little Stevie looks up at Grandpa and says, “Poppa, tells us about that fishing trip you took to Montana.” Grandpa smiles and shrugs, “Ah, you don’t want to hear that old tale again.” Yes, yes, Grandpa, tell it again.” And so, Grandpa begins to spin a yarn likes he has done countless times, and everyone listens as if they have never heard it before.

 

When you hear this story and think of your own circle of family and friends, who plays the role of the storyteller? Is it someone who still tells tall and short tales alike at every opportunity?  Or is it someone who has passed into their eternal reward but whose stories live on? And what made them good storytellers? (Time to share.)

 

The family storyteller of my childhood was Uncle Walter. I remember visiting with my cousins in Morganton, North Carolina, and there would be a house full of people eating delicious food and catching up with one another, playing games, and generally having a good time. But no matter what I was doing, when I heard laughter ringing through the house, I went to find the source—and the source was almost always Uncle Walter telling some crazy story about hunting or something he did when he was a young boy that nearly got him killed. Uncle Walter was one of the best storytellers I ever knew. He could make you feel like you were there—right in the middle of the action.

 

Human beings are storytellers. Even if we aren’t wonderful storytellers—it’s still part of our DNA. Just think about it, from the time we get up to enjoy our cup of coffee until our heads rest gently upon our pillows at night—we are telling stories. A co-worker called in sick and your day took a different turn that you anticipated… You got home late, and your child needed help with a science project. Just before bed, your best friend calls and you tell her all about your day. How? You tell her the story. People relate to stories—remember stories. And when we hear a deeply moving story, we feel compelled to share it.

 

People of faith, people of The Book, understand the power of storytelling. It’s how our traditions are passed on. Through stories, we become more human to each other—barriers fall away—and we recognize how much we have in common. We are all on a journey. We begin in different places. Our paths differ. But we each know wonder and awe. We each know pain and sorrow. Through stories our hearts open to new ways of understanding—new ways of being—new ways of becoming.

 

If history tells us anything, it is that Jesus was a Master Storyteller. We know that because here we are this morning, some 2000 years after Jesus walked the earth, and we are still sharing his stories. The story of the Good Samaritan reminds us of the value of being kind to neighbors—no matter who they are—and the cost of doing good. The story of the Prodigal Son teaches us of God’s amazing love for us—even when we fail miserably and make the worst decisions, God waits for us, and when God sees us over the horizon, God comes running. What wondrous love is this!

 

In the 13th chapter of Matthew, we find Jesus sitting on the beach and in no time, a crowd gathers. The crowd grows until Jesus decides his best course of action is to step into a boat and use it as a pulpit. From there, he begins to do what Jesus does so well—tell stories. Captivated by Jesus’ teaching style, later the disciples approach him to ask why he tells stories.

 

Hear his response from The Message:

You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it…But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance. (Matthew 13:10b–21)

Whether walking dusty roads with his disciples or preaching to a crowd of thousands, Jesus used stories to share his message—a message that continues to speak to us today—a message of love, hope, mercy, grace, humility, inclusion, justice, power, wonder, and awe. Our work, as followers of Jesus the Christ, is to remember that the story we are living is part of a bigger Story. Let us live it with joy and courage and love.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

[Silent Reflection]

*Cover via Pixabay by Mysticsartdesign, used by permission

 

The Spirituality of Nature

The Spirituality of Nature

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; July 31, 2022

8th Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 96, Job 38:1-11

 

When wilderness-enthusiast and author, Jim Kalnin, told a friend he was writing a book called The Spirituality of Nature, his friend responded with raised eyebrows and mused, “Nature. Now that’s a tidy little subject.”[i] Of course, we know that nature is neither a tidy nor a little subject. In fact, the Cambridge Dictionary defines nature as all the animals, plants, rocks, etc. in the world and all the features, forces, and processes that happen or exist independently of people, such as the weather, the sea, mountains, the production of young animals or plants, and growth.

 

Undeterred by the scope of the topic, Kalnin did write his book and it’s a lovely book, if I do say so. On the topic of how nature speaks to us on a deep spiritual level, he writes,

I get this feeling that most, if not all of us are seeking the Divine all the time, though perhaps without knowing it. Although some of us consciously seek a reconnection with Spirit, others do so only in a roundabout way. For me, and for many others, fishing is a convoluted, yet rewarding, path to the Divine. We go out onto the rivers, ponds, lakes, and oceans thinking the only thing we are after is fish. However, there are times when the beauty and tranquility of those places allow us to see the world and our part in it from a completely different perspective.

 

“A completely different perspective”—now that’s a subject worth considering. Take, for example, our reading from Job this morning which comes near the end of the book when God finally answers Job but not in the way Job hopes. You know the story well. Job, a wealthy and righteous man, suffers greatly—but not because of anything he does wrong. At its core, the story of Job is about suffering and the mystery of God. In his suffering, Job searches for answers—reasons for his distress, and he asks questions—Why? Why me? What did I do to deserve this? —these are questions we all know quite well. His friends show up to comfort him and they come with answers aplenty—answers that, in the end, are not much help at all.

 

The central problem for Job is that God will not show up, will not talk to him, will not explain the cause of his suffering. In his grief, he curses the day of his birth, and he rails against God. But when God finally shows up, Job becomes silent—awestruck before God—who verbally spars with Job from the eye of a violent storm. You may have noticed that the text provided in the bulletin seems to come to an abrupt halt. You can thank me later because God’s rant lasts for four whole chapters. Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins—I will question you. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Have you commanded the morning since your days began? Have you entered into the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Have you entered the storehouses of the snow? Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? Do you give the horse its might? Do you clothe its neck with a mane?

 

God’s powerful speech ultimately reveals God’s grandeur as well as Job’s ignorance. In one commentary on this text, the author concludes, “God’s tour of the natural realm shows that we human beings do not have the knowledge or perspective to even imagine the answers to the riddles we pose. God alone knows how the world works.”[ii] God is the creator of the universe all around us and God is the creator of the universe that exists inside each one of us. And God is always present—always with us—in our joys and in our sorrows.

 

In the end Job is humbled. He gains a new perspective, and maybe he can help us do the same. God makes God’s self known to us—sometimes in visions—but more often from the wonders of the earth, moon, stars, and galaxies and even from the little things we have a habit of taking for granted.

 

In his book In Awe: Rediscover Your Childlike Wonder to Unleash Inspiration, Meaning, and Joy, John O’Leary devotes an entire section on the healing power of nature. He writes:

 

The University of Michigan scientists who propose that we have mental fatigue due to our constant multitasking believe that what allows our brains to rest is something they call ‘soft fascination.’ Soft fascination is the state your brain enters when you watch a sunset or gaze out at the horizon, the kind of meditative trance that occurs when you are transfixed by a campfire or watching a rainfall. Finding opportunities for soft fascination inside may be hard, but nature provides countless prospects. You can gaze at leaves blowing in the breeze. Stare up at the clouds passing by. Watch water tumble over rocks in the creek. In fact, nature does more than provide opportunities for your brain to rest. Doctors up to date on research on the curative effects of nature are beginning to prescribe it as a remedy to what ails us.[iii]

 

My happiest childhood memories are of nature—trapsing through the woods, picking berries, competing with the birds for the fruit of the cherry tree, exploring the hillsides. I enjoyed watching the sunset in the evenings with my grandmother while rocking on the front porch. My cousin’s grandparents had a dairy farm and our favorite place to play was along a little creek that bordered the front lawn. A small wooden bridge allowed us to safely cross from side to side. To this day, whenever I see day lilies, my mind goes back to that creek in Western North Carolina. I wonder, when you think of your own life—when have you been “awed” by the wonders of God’s creation—be it plants, trees, animals, rocks, stars? How has nature spoken to you? Provided you with a new perspective? (Share.)

 

John Muir was born in Scotland in 1838.  As a young boy, he and his brother loved spending time with their friends roaming the countryside. His father was an itinerant Presbyterian minister who was strict—even harsh—in his parenting style. He demanded that Muir memorize the Bible and by the age of 11, he could recite ¾ of the Old Testament and the entire New Testament. Around that same time, Muir’s family immigrated to the United States settling on a farm in Wisconsin. He had a natural flair for inventions and studied botany and geology at the University of Wisconsin. But in 1867 his promising career in industry changed course when he had an accident that left him blind for several months. When he regained his sight, he saw the world around him with new eyes and he vowed that he would spend the rest of his life traveling the world to enjoy all its beauty. For the rest of his life, he did just that. He traveled and wrote about his love for the mountains, nature, and the wilderness. He founded the Sierra Club, our nation’s largest and most influential environmental organization. He also had a tremendous influence on President Theodore Roosevelt and, thereby, our national park system. So, it seems fitting to conclude a sermon on The Spirituality of Nature with wise words from John Muir:

 

“The mountains are calling and I must go.”

“This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn, and [dusk], on seas and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.”

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.”

“Between every two pine trees, there is a door leading to a new way of life.”

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”

“All the wild world is beautiful, and it matters but little where we go…everywhere and always we are in God’s eternal beauty and love…”

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

(Silent Reflection)

 

 

[i] Jim Kalnin, The Spirituality of Nature, 15.

[ii] Glandion Carney and William R. Long, The Life with God Bible, Commentary on Job, 760.

[iii] John O’Leary, In Awe: Rediscover Your Childlike Wonder to Unleash Inspiration, Meaning, and Joy, 124.

 

*Cover photo by Ray Chitty, used by permission