Unitarian Sunday Reflections
(Hull and Lincoln Unitarians)
12 March 2023
Worship Leader: Jennifer Young
Worship Leader: John Carter
“Wandering the edges of the Forest”
Reflections on Lenten Practices
“If we think of ourselves
as coming out of the earth,
Rather than having been thrown in here from somewhere else,
We see that we are the earth,
We are the consciousness of the earth.
These are the eyes of the earth.
And this is the voice of the earth.”
~ Joseph Campbell
WORDS OF WELCOME
Welcome to each and to all:
seekers, journeyers, questing, and content.
May our time of reflection and worship,
fill our desire for wholeness and belonging.
In this time together we are made worthy…..
by John Carter
We light our chalice to open ourselves to a Lenten spiritual journey
to release that which needs to be released.
to incorporate that which we now need for growth.
to transform our lives into avenues of health and hospitality.
We light to become co-creators of a life and of a world
of justice, love and peace.
GATHERING EXAMEN (OPENING PRAYER)
Once again we gather, and we take time to reflect on our lives and living….
May our reflections continue in this time together, as we join to reflect on the deep things of the divine, and so we pray…
“May the spirit of life, guide us today” AMEN
HYMN SYF 13 (4/4) “Bring flowers to our altar” words by Lena Baxter
“The Four Paths of Creation Spirituality”
by Grace Blindell, from GreenSpirit: Path to a New Consciousness, O Books, 2010.
Matthew Fox in his book Original Blessing, set out the principals of what would become known as the ‘the four paths of Creation Spirituality.’ These need to be understood as ‘enablers.’ They enable us to see through ‘different eyes.’ For as William Blake said, ‘The eye altering alters all.’
“Ideas remain impractical when we have not grasped, or been grasped by them. When we do not get an idea we ask ‘how’ to put it into practice, thereby trying to turn the insights of the soul into actions of the ego. But when an insight or idea has sunk in, practice invisibly changes. The idea has opened the eye of the soul. By seeing differently we do differently. The only legitimate ‘how?’ In regard to these psychological insights is: ‘How can I grasp an idea?’”
Our task is to enable our new understanding about the nature of the universe to bear upon our whole selves, not just upon our intellect so that we can carry ‘seeing differently’ into all walks of our daily lives.
Creation Spirituality does not lay down rules of ‘thou shalt’ or ‘thou shalt not,’ instead it offers paths and insights. These spiral from one to the other, enabling a transformed and deeper understanding of what it is to be both an emerging consciousness of an evolving universe, always in the process of ‘becoming,’ and at the same time, a unique expression and member of the Earth community.
The Via Positiva: ‘Thou shalt fall in love at least three times a day’
The Via Positiva, entails reawakening awe, wonder, astonishment and delight. It has to do with reverence, with ‘is-ness,’ with ‘becoming again as little children.’
Matthew Fox said, “Forfeit your sense of awe, and the universe becomes a market place for you.”
Is this not exactly what has happened?
Could we have ravaged and polluted the planet as we have done if we truly held it and the life it supports in awe?
Yet once we have realised the extent of our ‘autism,’ once we have acknowledged how dulled we have allowed our senses to become, it is a small step to begin to see again through the eyes of wonder.
Our potential to be amazed at ‘being’ is buried under words, numbers, measurements, explanations. ‘Seeing differently’ in this respect involves being consciously aware of the deadening effect of the attitude which teaches its young so early to ‘take for granted’ the moment by moment miracle of ‘being.’
The Via Positiva invites us to live our lives open to wonder, to embrace again awe and reverence, to be consciously alive within the present moment… the eternal ‘now.’ To ‘see and to know we see, to be and to know we be.’
“Yogic Philosophy and Psychology” by Santoshan (Stephen Wollaston), from Rivers of Green Wisdom, GreenSpirit Books, 2016.
In the Yogic traditions, a true guru is one that helps her or his students find the ultimate guru, which is seen as both the divine and the teacher within oneself, all things and life.
Within Hindu and Yoga philosophy and psychology there is mention of seven main chakras or energy points, of which the base or root chakra is especially looked upon as connected to the physical body and to the Earth from which the body draws its vitality and energy. There is also mention of the three guns or qualities that are seen to interact continuously with each other and affect our actions. Various types of food and places are said to possess different vibrations of the guns. At the most basic level of psychological and ethical understanding, the guns can be looked upon in the following ways:
Actions that create harmony, are responsible, balanced, mindful and pure, flow spontaneously and freely from our nature, and connect with and consider others and the environment.
Actions that are influenced by self-centred desires, which cause a strain on our relationships with others and the environment, and arise from a belief in self-importance.
Actions that are performed from a confused, unclear and unthought-though state of mind, which are irresponsible, have little consideration for the outcome, cause offence and harm other people and life.
From a spiritual standpoint we see how the more negative actions summarised above would need transforming and how the cultivation of sattvic actions is more spiritually beneficial. Overall, the psychological ideal is about expanding our consciousness, being aware of and purifying, balancing and spiritualising different facets of ourselves and becoming more in harmony with life.
“Hildegard of Bingen: Theology of Viridtas”
by Christine Valters Paintner, from The Wisdom of the Body, Sorin Books, 2017
Hildegard of Bingen was a twelfth-century Benedictine abbess known for being a theologian, visionary, musical composer, spiritual director, preacher, and healer. For centuries monasteries have been centres of healing and herbal medicine. Monastics would grow the herbs and learn their applications so that people would come for both spiritual and physical healing.
In our current era, our understanding of healing and health is losing this connection between spiritual and physical healing. We rarely have a relationship with our doctors, spending only minutes with them each visit, whereas Hildegard, and other monastics like her, would have known her patients. She would have seen the profound connection between body and soul. She would have practiced slow medicine. She was an immensely practical woman who also saw the life of the body and soul as intimately intertwined. In an age when many distanced themselves from the body’s needs, she embraced the body as an essential portal to our experience of the Divine through the gift of our senses.
One of the fundamental principles of Hildegard’s worldview is viriditas, which means the “greening power of God.” Even more than that, it refers to a lushness and fecundity in the world, a greening life force we can witness in forests, gardens, and farmland. Hildegard, who lived in the valley around the river Rhine in Germany, was profoundly impacted by her witness to the profusion of greenness and how this green life energy was a sign of abundance and life. It is what sustains and animates us.
Greenness is not just a physical reality but a spiritual one as well. Viriditas is something to be cultivated in both body and soul. Hildegard’s language is filled with metaphors for seeking out the moistness and fruitfulness of the soul. The sign of our aliveness is this participation ins the life force of the Creator.
Anything that blocks this flow through us contributes to both physical disease and spiritual dis-ease. For Hildegard, viriditas was always experienced in tension with ariditas, which is the opposite experience of dryness, barrenness, and shrivelling up. She would keep asking how to bring the flow of greening life energy back in fullness to a person.
HYMN SYF 139 (2/9) “Sacred the body” words by Ruth C. Duck
“I am the one”
by Hildegard of Bingen
I am the one whose praise,
echoes on high.
I adorn all the earth.
I am the breeze
that nurtures all things
I encourage blossoms to flourish
with ripening fruits.
I am led by the spirit to feed
the purest streams.
I am the rain
Coming from the dew
that causes the grasses to laugh
with the joy of life.
I call forth tears,
the aroma of holy work
I am the yearning for good.
“I am that great and fiery force”
based on words by Hildegard of Bingen
I am that great and fiery force sparkling in everything that lives,
in shining of the river’s course, in greening grass that glory gives.
I shine in glitter on the seas, in burning sun, in moon and stars.
In unseen wind, in verdant trees I breathe within, both near and far.
And where I breathe there is no death, and meadows glow with beauties rife.
I am in all the spirit’s breath, the thundered word, for I am Life.
“Namaste: Reverence for the Elements”
by Marie Miller
Scanning smooth horizons of chalk hill with upward glance,
I think of all those shelled-lives laid down so long ago
which now rise up to greet each down as part of our dear Earth.
Then following that unbroken line of Channel’s view,
I marvel as each water droplet gathers in waves
Across the pebbled shore, recycled through
Millions of years, removed from who knows where,
I also gaze on many sea winged-ones, gliding
Silently above, then the swoop of swifts in clear
Evening sky, searching for sustenance. I honour
The air that holds them, taken for granted,
Yet source of life, our ‘beautiful breath’.
Finally, I feel the warming rays of setting sun,
Regular, consistent, self-giving; holding that energy of fire,
Keeping alive flora and fauna form dawn till dusk;
Ever faithful light throughout creation’s days and nights
….and so NAMASTE to all those elements
Reaching out, stretching beyond our planet
Enfolding us in their immeasurable cosmic embrace.
May we acknowledge them everywhere in daily welcome,
Gratitude and hopefulness; never failing
By our careless acquisitive living, to marvel
At the purity of their peaceful presence
Of which we are part and they of us
The gift of all to all.
SYF 11 (4/3) “Blessed Spirit of my life” words by Shelley Jackson Denham
Spirituality formed in verdant places”
(Examination of the Via Positiva)
The summer after I graduated from university, I became a camp counsellor for my second time at Sequoia Lake YMCA camp in California. It was located up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, next to the Grant Grove Sequoia National Park. That was a fun summer of work and I stayed on for a couple of additional camps at the end because I enjoyed being in the mountains and the lush landscape it provided.
During that summer we would take all the campers out on an overnight up into the park to rough it by sleeping in the open, under the tall sequoias, stars, and hope that the mountain rattlers decide not to use us for warmth at night. Many a time while up in that area, a few of us would wander off into a meadow, where the stumps of the trees that were cut down, before it became protected, were located. There we would climb up onto the stump, and stretch out and nap while our campers were exploring the area, some would join us…
Sequoias are ancient trees, the age is measured in centuries, if not millennia. And there was always a sense of beauty about this meadow, as well as a sense of sadness or melancholy that such beauty was cut down in it’s prime. Yet in this meadow, life still thrived, with wild meadow flowers, insect life, etc…it was a place to relax, reflect, and reconnect with ourselves.
Green spirituality, as expressed in the various readings today, is about the healing power of connectedness, especially as we observe nature around us. Where as last week in our conversation about the via negativa, and desert spirituality, was about the ways that we learn to see the beauty of the minimal, or hidden, or absent spaces. This week we are being called to reflect on abundance, natural abundance, and how being present to it can heal our soul, can also allow our bodies to heal as well.
Green spirituality looks to that which is naturally present, we see the abundance that the forest gives, both in individual species of plant life, but also in the variety of life that thrives within it’s lush verdant presence. In the desert we learned the beauty of the tree, the solitary affirmation of life on the edge, in the forest, well we learn the beauty of the whole and it’s interconnectedness and how that is important to our lives, and the living of our world.
It is one of the reasons that many are concerned about human activity especially in the mode of deforestation. Where we have stripped land of it’s forests and how that has impacted the environment as a whole. The amazon river forests is one example.
The recent rise in earth centred theologies and practices, is an obvious reaction, to the impact that we humans have made upon our home. It also comes from the way that religion has allowed itself to be coopted by economic and materialist values over the life of the planet. Mainstream religion, and in this I mean all organised religions, are not viewed as liberating and life affirming, but as controlling institutions for the maintenance of the status quo.
While I have no documentation of this, my reading of the development of the Earth Spirit Network for Unitarians, came from a sense of need for a spiritual connection, as a whole body experience and not being simply limited to our liberal Christian rationalism.
This is further reflected within our period of time’s obsession with dualism, especially when it is guided by an almost narcissistic individualism that sees and responds with a simplistic ideal of “if it didn’t happen to me, it didn’t happen.”period. We categorise people and their faith into handy memes, one liners, and brand the whole as such.
Christianity is monolithic and is seen in only one way. We have lost the historic development of chrisitianities, by our buying into the perspective of the loudest voices from the current crop of christian leadership. Thus seeing all of a diverse families of the tradition within the spectrum of one obnoxious, loud mouthed, and opinionated cousin.
When exploring what the spirituality of the forest can mean for us, we need to limit this reactionary way of viewing both historic and contemporary religious people.
Looking to the whole, we notice the variety within it, much like a hedgerow, the healthy hedgerows contain over a 100 of varieties of plant life, and thus give protection to a multiplicity of animal life, be they insect, avian, reptilian or mammalian.
So we see this within the history of religion.
Hildegard is an example of the historic awareness of the environment within the christian communities and how it may inform our theology, our ways of living. Another example would the be old order sects commonly referred to as Pennsylvania Deutsch, who’s simple living patterns of farming are more ecologically sound than modern farming.
This is not to advocate for our being Amish, or even pagan. We need to learn from our environment, to find connections for our spirit, and from that inform our lives and ways of living.
If the way of the desert teaches me to walk the good red road, and thus see the beauty inherit in the particular, the individual, the minimalist view…then learning to walk the verdant path of the forest teaches me to see the whole, and how it may bring life and balance to me and my ways of living.
Thus this lent I add something to grow into by my daily lenten or Spiritual practices.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC SYF 215 (3 / 24)“Where there is faith there is love”
Wandering Around A Meadow
Praying in the Way of the Forest
Again I wander
Seeking the divine,
a movement of soul
I am in a landscape not of my own
a place where I am stranger
a lush green land, foreign to my soul…
It is a lush green space, drawing me in
Enticing me with a sense of life
Filled with consolation
Filled with divine desire…
Each glance is filled with wonder
My eyes teem with verdant lushness
life exploding in each blade, leaf, and branch…
Unseen life burrows thru root, worm, and mealy bug….
I can hardly breathe for such lush beauty…
Yet I sense the divine in the midst of this verdant explosion…
Even as I drown beneath this verdant abundance
I know THOU
This is your doing,
ongoing, filling, fulfilling
GROUND OF BEING
Unspoken word flowing through this lush beauty
Calling me to come
And be at peace
In your lush green presence …
And I am dazed,
filled with awe
blinded by the lush verdant wholeness of THOU
How do I respond
What can I do
How do I do?
And so I sit and I
Breathe and know
Breathe and become
and I am content.
SYF 219 (4 / 25) “You are the song of my heart” words by Kendal Gibbons
May we walk this week in the sense of the verdant forest life,
Living edges, sustaining life,
Being the compassion needed in our world today.
Wandering the edges of the Desert – 5 Mar 2023 – Rev John Carter’s Sunday Reflections
Wandering the edges of the Forest – 12 Mar 2023 – Rev John Carter’s Sunday Reflections