A Part of It All

Psalm 148    Job 12:7-10

April 18, 2010    A Celebration of the Earth 


Eugene Peterson titles this section of Job, “Put Your Ear to the Earth.”  I think he has it just about right.  What would happen if we listened to the earth?  What would happen if we paid attention, not only to what humans were saying, but also to the messages we hear all around us that come from non-human sources?  What are the pine trees saying as the winds move through them, creating that amazing and eerie sound?  What are the chickadees chirping to their companions as they congregate around the feeder, munching on sunflower seeds?  What are the rabbits saying as they munch steadily on the grasses out in our lawns?  What messages are we missing because we only know our own language?  What else is happening out in the world that we just don’t know anything about?  Probably quite a lot.  When I conceived of this sermon, I thought I would explore the subtle messages nature offers to us on a regular basis, and I will; but there are also some messages mixed in here that are not as positive as I had envisioned for a sermon.  Earlier this week a volcano erupted over Iceland, disrupting air traffic over Europe due the thick ash hovering in the air, ash that could seriously harm jet engines that tried to fly through that area.  The volcano erupting is one thing, but then I heard that scientists speculate the volcano ‘s eruption has something to do with the effects of global warming.  So now the volcanos are speaking to us - volcanos that had been silenced for many years and held in check until we messed up that careful balance.

As I let the message of the volcano sink in, I started wondering if other messages from the natural world might also be on the level of warnings.  Could the sound of that sweet tumbling of water over the falls in the river below our house actually be telling us that we need to wake up and change our ways?  Could those crows we think are being so obnoxious actually be squawking dire warnings to us as we walk along the woods road?  Could the thunder and lightning storm that came one night in late March, knocking out electricity for so many people have held a message about excessive power consumption?

For years now, I have enjoyed being out in the natural world, paying attention to everything that I saw and heard, smelled and felt.  When I am outside, I appreciate everything I encounter as another living being.  I am curious about them, and enjoy watching and wondering as I move through their habitats.  I also try to open my mind and spirit to whatever or whoever I encounter, and ask that I might learn something from them.  With this sensibility, walks in the woods, even though they often follow the same trail day after day, tease up new encounters each time.  For instance, so far this Spring I have come upon at least four snakes.  Most years, if I see four snakes in the whole season, that is a lot.  So what might these snakes be calling to my attention?  What message might they have for me?  Snakes shed their skins, letting go of the old `by wriggling right out of it and leaving it behind on a wood pile or a sunny rock crevice.  Hmm, are there things I need to let go of, things that I am holding onto despite the fact that they no longer serve me well?  And maybe the snake tells us that in God’s eyes, there is no shame in letting go of what is no longer useful.  Maybe we need to allow room within ourselves for growth, and release ourselves from the confines of all that holds us back from being the ones that God created in the first place.  Three of the four snakes I found had been hit by cars on a remote dirt road near our home, so was a part of the message that we had best be careful about crossings, or that there is still danger out there, despite the fact that we have shed our old skin?  I don’t know what the message of these snakes may have been, or even if this is a reasonable way to look at those encounters.  What I do know, is that when I take the time to puzzle out encounters such as this, I often find some really nourishing food for thought.

In the book we are reading for our Celtic discussion group, J. Phillip Newell reminds us that the Irish monk, Columbanus said, “If you wish to know the Creator, come to know his creatures.” From this, I find myself wanting to push my encounters in the natural world even further.  I want to spend even more time out in the woods and meadows.  I want to explore my understanding not only of these experiences and how they enlighten my life and sense of self, but also how they might point to God and deepen my relationship with God.  One of the ideas that arose for me in this chapter, was the idea that every creature manifests something of God; and so now when I encounter a swallow or a daffodil, a fox or a honeybee, I look more carefully, more closely to see what I can learn about God by getting to know them.  What an amazing thought, that absolutely every living being can teach us something about God!  This opens up so many windows and so many possibilities.  But we play a role in this too... actually several roles.  For our own observations, we need to keep our minds and hearts open to each and every encounter we have - even the unpleasant ones with people or situations we are not at all fond of.  If everything has something to teach us about God, then I believe that means everything.  

Another thought to consider is that we, ourselves, also show something of God to the rest of the world.  Each and every one of us expresses some truth about who God is and what God is like.  This is almost more than any of us can really grasp.  We don’t feel worthy.  We don’t feel holy enough.  We don’t even feel whole enough, most of the time.  And yet, there it is, the truth of our being - that we carry something of the divine within us for all to see.  When we hide this essence of God, then we are not being true to God or to ourselves.  But when we show forth this truth, it can be very beautiful - and so are we.  The psalm this morning reminds us that everything is capable of expressing praise to God.  We have the opportunity to join in with this praising chorus through words or actions or simply via our presence and in the nature of our being.  So much is possible, when we are willing to live as God intended for us to live.

God our Creator, we come before you with such gratitude.  You created us as well as this amazing world in which we are to live.  We need your help so that we might live with integrity.  We need your guidance so that we might live in harmony with all life on this planet.  We need a sense of balance, so that we are able to see ourselves as a part of a larger picture, and not the apex of the whole thing.  Be with us in our human bewilderment.  Speak to us using whatever means we will hear.  In Christ’ name we pray, Amen.