The Gospel of Nature

How has experiencing nature inspired you?  How has nature shaped your spiritual experience?

The Hebrew Psalmist captured it well:

“The heavens tell of your glory, O God,
and the earth proclaims your handiwork.
One day after another tells the story
and night after night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, no word, no voice,
yet the message goes to all the world”    (Psalm 19a)

When I ask people to share a personal experience that they consider “spiritual,” they most often share an experience of nature.  As the Hebrew psalm attests, people have known for millennia that nature conveys a deep wisdom, a sure knowledge about life that is not only a source of awe, but also a source of deep connectedness.

Too often we think of spirituality and spiritual practice in terms of the right place:  a meditation room, a yoga studio, or a great cathedral.  Many people exert great effort to create spaces for prayer at home with candles, incense, and statues.  While there’s nothing wrong with this, we too often neglect or dismiss the practice of seeking wisdom through a spiritual connection with nature.

It’s nature that teaches us the cycle of life from birth to death to rebirth.  It’s nature that teaches us basic understandings of justice and fair play as the sun shines and the rain falls on both those living moral lives and those who seem morally challenged.  It’s nature that instructs us about beauty that can be found in both the daylight and the darkest night.

Just as indigenous peoples around the world understood the deep connection and unspeakable truths found in nature, such lessons were also apparent to our ancestors in Western religion.  Martin Luther understood this profound truth about nature: “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars”; and, “Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.”

By regularly experiencing the awe and wonder of nature, we develop a greater balance in our lives.  While in nature there is no speech or word or voice, there is a truly profound message.

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How can you spend time in nature, in ways that will help you embrace the graceful flow of life?  How do these experiences help you develop a greater sense of wholeness?

 

© 2016, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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The Body of Christ

Are there times when you’ve been connected to others in a profound way? In that experience of connectedness with another, did you sense a deep, spiritual presence?

In late May, I was spending a week at a Benedictine monastery for a time of rest and retreat. Sunday of that week happened to be the Roman Catholic observance of “Corpus Christi”, Latin for “the Body of Christ.”

This feast day celebration was of particular importance to my hosts: the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. These monastic women, with roots to a monastery in Switzerland, practice a contemplative spirituality focused on the presence of Christ in the communion bread, a devotion that originated in the Middle Ages when only priests partook of the communion bread.

When speaking with any of these women, mostly in their 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, you immediately felt a profound peace and serenity. After years of prayer and contemplative practice, their lives had truly been transformed.

That Sunday, about two dozen nuns were joined by some outside guests for the Mass. While the priest was delivering his homily, I became aware of something very fundamental. While the priest spoke of the bread-like wafer as the body of Christ, I realized that it was actually the congregation gathered that was the real Body of Christ, the true “Corpus Christi”. Those gathered were well past midlife and showed signs of aging in their bodies. But in their faith, they gathered and sang and expressed something rich and deep that was life giving for them. These women, many stooped and bent with arthritis, were like the communion bread: blessed, broken, and given. In their spiritual growth and transformation, they were clearly blessed and had become a blessing for others. As they had grown in age, not only were their bodies breaking but they had broken down the illusions of wealth, fame, and fortune by living out their lives in simplicity. They have given their lives to prayer and spiritual practice, striving to be a source of healing and hope for others. As I looked around the chapel, I knew that the Body of Christ was not the wafer in the priest’s hands, but was the holy communion shared among the women who lived a monastic life, committed to prayer and to each other. I found myself gazing with adoration at the true Body of Christ.

When people gather to share deeply of themselves and give of who they are for the life of others, the Body of Christ becomes alive and real in the world. I see that each day as I watch a neighbor visiting a woman on my street who is home bound; as I see a guy down the street giving his time to play sports with the kids in our neighborhood; and, as I witness the devotion displayed by a married couple to each other on their morning walks. It’s in these gatherings where the Body of Christ is real, for it’s in these gatherings that life is renewed.

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How are your spiritual practices leading you to deeper communion with others? How is this spiritual connection life-giving for you and for others?

 

To learn more about the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, visit www.benedictinesisters.org

Photo credit: BostonCatholic via Foter.com / CC BY-ND

© 2016, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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Living the Questions

Have you ever questioned your faith or wondered if what you were taught was true for you?

As a child, I learned about faith and religion from a catechism:  a summary of principles of the Christian religion in the form of questions and answers.  Catechisms were viewed as foundational among Roman Catholic and many Protestant denominations.  While I memorized the answers the way I was taught, as I got older I realized that the answers were not sufficient for me.  Even more significant was that the questions in the catechism weren’t the ones I was asking.  I wanted something more that went beyond the boundaries of the preconceived questions and answers.

Many forms of traditional religion claim to have the answers to life’s questions.  Today, that’s most evident among Evangelical Christians who often state with pride that they know all the answers based on their specific interpretation of the Bible.  It’s very clear that many people today find that the answers provided by religion just don’t hold much weight.

My experience is that the journey of faith, the spiritual journey, is not based on answers.  Instead, meaningful, well-grounded spiritual journeys begin with questions.  When an insight becomes clear then another question emerges.  The process continues so that rather than obtaining answers a person learns to live with the questions.

Those of us who believe in God need to accept that if this deity truly is Divine, then God is fundamentally unknowable.  At best, we get glimpses of the essence of God.  By definition, God is beyond our capacity to conceive and therefore always a mystery to us.  To claim certain knowledge — an answer for all times — is to destroy the mystery or even deny the essence of God.

Instead, spiritual practices like meditation teach us to be present to the Mystery which is the source of life and permeates all of life.  Rather than answering a question, we learn to live in a way that is open to the Mystery.  In doing so, we learn to live into our questions.

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In what ways can regular spiritual practice, like meditation, help you live with Mystery?

 

Photo credit: stewit via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

© 2016, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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