Category Archives: nature as spiritual practice

Going with the Flow

“As it was,ebb and flow
As it is,
As it shall be
Evermore,
O Thou Triune
Of grace!

With the ebb,
With the flow,
O Thou Triune
Of grace!

With the ebb,
with the flow.

Celtic blessing from the Carmina Gadelica.

 

by Marjorie George

It is the North Sea that rules the tiny island of Lindisfarne, also known as Holy Island, which sits off the east coast of far northern England near the Scottish border.  Twice in every 24-hour day, the island is completely cut off from the mainland to which it is connected by a long, rutted, often muddy causeway. Twice a day, when the tide rises, the causeway road is submerged and disappears, leaving no trace of its existence, and Lindisfarne is surrounded by the sea. Visitors to the island are warned by a sign that is updated daily:

CAUSEWAY CLOSED
TODAY

7:10 to 10:50 am
and
7:35 to  11:15 pm

This would not have been unsettling to the Celts of Northumbria, the name for that section of northern England. The Celts were a people of the land, of the wind and the sea, of the creatures wild and domesticated.  They were a people who knew – and respected —  God as Creator of all, and all of creation as co-inhabitants of the earth.   Did the North Sea wish to reclaim her portion of the island twice a day? Very well, so it is; and that is the rhythm by which we shall live.  

The monks who went out from Lindisfarne to spread the Christian gospel under the direction of St. Aidan and St. Cuthbert beginning in the seventh century did so mindful of the ebb and flow of the sea.

Life on Lindisfarne is submissive, slow, connected with raw nature and her Creator. Those who make pilgrimage to Lindisfarne soon learn there is no progress to be made in asking the sea to adjust her schedule to accommodate human enterprise. Visitors to the island arrive and leave on the sea’s timetable. (Laggers-behind can find overnight accommodations at the island’s several hotels and guest houses.)

And there is no point in trying to overcome the tides – standing at the edge of the causeway, bucket in hand, feebly trying to bail faster than the sea can come in.

Nor can one stand in the middle of the causeway as the tide comes in and rail against the injustice of it all.  One will simply drown. Pity.

No, on Lindisfarne one subjects one’s human ego to the tides and acknowledges a grounding to life that is set by something larger than ourselves.   And that is a thing both frightening and comforting. Frightening in that we must let go the stranglehold we have on our lives and surrender to God what is God’s. Comforting in that once one does that, one can relax into God’s bounty.

God and the sea are faithful. Day after day, the tide rolls in and the tide rolls out. You can, quite literally, set your watch by it.  And you should.

We Westerners of the 21st century can take great counsel from the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. Society of neurotics that we are, we think we have to run the world and control the planet. Oh, silly people — we cannot change the tides. Better to spend our energy fitting our lives into the world as it is created rather than as we wish it to be.

Ebb and flow, ebb and flow. Your life and mine need both – times of productivity and intensity, and times when we allow the high tide to cut us off from the mainstream and to rest in the certainty that God is in charge of his creation and of all creatures, including us.

Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine.  Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org or leave a comment below.

 

Historical note:

St. Aidan came to the island from Iona on the Scottish west coast in 635 AD and built a monastery at Lindisfarne;  St. Cuthbert continued that work after Aidan’s death. From the island, missionaries went out to spread the gospel among the pagan English. All was destroyed by Vikings in 793. After the Norman Conquest of 1066, a second monastery was built and later dissolved by King Henry VII in 1536;  its ruins can still be seen on Lindisfarne. Today a small community of Christians on Lindisfarne welcomes more than 650,000 visitors each year. To learn more about the Holy Island of Lindisfarne: http://www.lindisfarne.org.uk/general/welcome.htm

 

 

 

An Offer I Can’t Refuse

by Marjorie George

A ministry opportunity presents itself.  In faithfulness, I enter into the discernment process. I go again to Frederick Buechner’s definition of  “vocation” as “the place where the world’s greatest need meets your greatest passion.”

Is this ministry something I feel passionate about? Yes.

Is this something the world needs to have done? Does it benefit society? Yes.

Is it scriptural? Is it something that resonates with the faith I have been taught? Yep.

What about me. Am I equipped to do this ministry? Do I have the ability needed, the resources that will be called upon, the time to commit? Yes, yes, and really I could make the time.

Then Jesus looked at the rich, young ruler with the eyes of love and said: “Now give it all up and come, follow me” (Mark 10: 21).

Well I didn’t see that coming. I was preparing to offer God my gifts and talents and abilities – the ones that YOU gave me, God, I might add – and God asks for myself instead. 

I can see myself in this ministry and I will take that chair right over there, God, I say. Bless me on my way.

God says, “Right, now go over here.”

But God, I point out, I could do that over there.

“Got it,” says God. “Now go over here.”

Really, I am better working out of my strengths — you know, the ones YOU have given me.

“And I want you to work out of my strength,” he replies.

God is always choosing people, points out Richard Rohr. But “First impressions aside, God is not primarily choosing them for a role or a task, although it might appear that way. God is really choosing them to be God’s self in this world, each in a unique situation. If they allow themselves to experience being chosen, being a beloved, being somehow God’s presence in the world, they invariably communicate that same chosenness to others.” (Daily meditation for September 16, 2013, find it here http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Richard-Rohr-s-Daily-Meditation–You-Have-to-Be-a-Beloved-to-Know.html?soid=1103098668616&aid=WIKS9hNDLm0 )

Jesus, walking along the seashore, calls Peter, James, and John  –  but not to be better fishermen. He does not choose Matthew for spiritual training in how to become a better tax collector. God equips us and showers us with gifts and teaches us and sets us on a path then says, “Now put that all aside and just show up. And, by the way, nothing has been wasted.”

Christ had a great ministry going. Who knows what else he might have accomplished had his life not been cut short. How many more followers he might have attracted.  How much easier it would have been for his disciples. How many martyrs’ lives might have been spared. Maybe the entire Roman Empire could have been converted on his watch.

But he came to God saying, “Nevertheless, your will be done, not mine.” And that was the offer God wanted (Matthew 26:39).

It is exactly our uniqueness that each of us brings to the Kingdom and that each of us must put second to first being the expression of God in the world.  In Four Elements: Reflections on Nature, John O’Donohue writes, “It is ontologically and spiritually true that each person is privileged and burdened with the gift of uniqueness . . . No one else sees your life in the way that you do. No one else feels your life in the way that you do. Neither can any other stand on the same ground as you . . . You are the unique inhabitant of your own reality and of your own life” (pg 5-6).tree single bare for web

So it is my uniqueness that God asks me to bring to ministry, and it is my uniqueness that God asks me to surrender. My gifts, skills, and talents are not what I have to offer; what I have to offer is being a creature whom God created, Christ redeemed, and the Holy Spirit endows with a certain perspective and a certain experience. Everything else is just details.

Thomas Merton, observing nature, writes “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying [God]. It ‘consents,’ so to speak, to [God’s] creative love. It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree” (from New Seeds of Contemplation).

“And thus the Mystery passes on from age to age,” says Rohr. “Yes, we do have roles and tasks in this world, but finally they are all the same—to uniquely be divine love in a way that no one else can or will.”

Marjorie George is editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org

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Practicing Nature

This week:

Go out into nature and spend 15 minutes thinking about Thomas Merton’s reflection that “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree.”

Or try our new 15-Minute Meditationclick here

Take a walk using the Cathedral Park Meditation Walk. Go to the page for more info.

Attend the opening of “Seasons” at Cathedral House Gallery on Sunday, Sept 22, 2 to 4 pm. Go to the page for more info.

See the calendar for more spiritual formation opportunities. Click here.

 

 

 

 

On Safe Ground

 by Marjorie  George

The assignment was to go into nature and create something.  Those were all the instructions we were given – no drawing paper, no crayons, no diagrams to follow.  Just go create something.

I headed for my favorite nature spot — the grounds of the Bishop Jones Center, the 19-acre site of trees and hills and paths and plants and fountains and flowers that is home to the Diocese of West Texas.

Wandering the grounds in search of a destination I knew not where, I followed rock paths and climbed over bushes; it was a warm and muggy morning, and as I batted away clouds of teeny little creatures swirling around my head, I found that I consistently lost my way. I was familiar with the property; even so, I was not sure where the paths were leading. Sometimes I would end up back at my starting place, sometimes not. Sometimes I knew where I was, sometimes not. I noticed how frequently the paths offered no indication as to where they were leading beyond the horizon I could see at that moment. A path might make a sudden turn or a quick drop, taking a direction that I could not see from my current vantage point.

sticks for web 2Eventually I climbed down a steep path and landed in a small clearing. Preparing to follow yet another path out, I noticed a pile of small sticks and wondered what I could create with them. I picked them up and separated them one from another, categorizing them by size.

Looking to the right of the path I had just come from, I saw some rock steps that rose to a drop-off point at the top beyond which I could not see. I planted the bigger sticks at the bottom of the steps and the smaller sticks a few steps beyond that. The smaller sticks were beginning their journey; the bigger ones were cheering them on.  When I was done, I had created an assemblage of pilgrims on their way – old ones, young ones, bent and worn ones, fresh and green ones.

Then I noticed that I was now behind and below the columbarium, a large stone structure on the property with niches that hold the ashes of the deceased. The steps led up to it, and though I could not see it, I knew it was there. And there are the cremains of my parents.

What is it that the Spirit is telling me? Where I am being led? I decided the message must be that I am to listen to my elders – those who are so much wiser than am I. I tried to come up with a list of who that might be, but it did not feel right.

As I got into my car and prepared to leave the Jones Center, it suddenly hit me. The message is not that I am supposed to listen to my elders; the message is that the whole Communion of Saints – the elders — holds me as I make my journey. I must continue on this journey that has begun though I do not see the way ahead. There will be swirling bugs and missteps and bushes that reach out and scratch and snag me, but I am not alone. The Communion of Saints – all those who have made the journey and all those who are now making the journey and the whole of creation – holds me, surrounds me, protects me, leads me.

In the beginning, God called forth creation. He spoke, and it appeared (Genesis 1 and 2). We speak of God’s act of creation as being ex nihilo – out of nothing, but I think another way to say that is God called forth creation from God’s self. God’s essence is the basis and the sustenance of all of creation. What is revealed to us in creation is a revelation of God himself.

When we co-create with God, when we enter into the act of creation — whether it be writing a poem or giving birth to a child or shoving some scraggly sticks into the ground — we are participating in God. We transcend for a moment the literal, the material and tangible, and enter into a dimension heretofore not discernible.  Then we touch the realm of angels and saints and what we connect with there – ah, that is more real than the very ground we walk on.  

Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine.  Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org

 

This week:

Saturday, Sept 14 – Spend two hours on the grounds of the Bishop Jones Center with some guided meditations. See the calendar.

Take a walk using the Cathedral Park Meditation Walk. Go to the page for more info.

Sunday, Sept 22, Attend the opening of “Seasons” at Cathedral House Gallery on Sunday, Sept 22, 2 to 4 pm. Go to the page for more info.

Participate in a variety of activities during Contemplative Arts Month at Viva Bookstore. See the calendar.