The Spirit in Creation: Forest Sunday 9-7-14

Acts 17:22-28 Then Paul stood up before the council of the Areopagus and delivered this address:  “Citizens of Athens, I note that in every respect you are scrupulously religious. As I walked about looking at your shrines, I even discovered an altar inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God.’  Now, what you are worshiping in ignorance I intend to make known to you. For the God who made the world and all that is in it, the Sovereign of heaven and earth, doesn’t live in sanctuaries made by human hands, and isn’t served by humans, as if in need of anything.  No!  God is the One who gives everyone life, breath—everything. From one person God created all of humankind to inhabit the entire earth, and set the time for each nation to exit and the exact place where each nation should dwell. God did this so that human beings would seek, reach out for, and perhaps find the One who is not really far from any of us— the One in whom we live and move and have our being.  As one of your poets has put it ’We too are God’s children.’

September 7, 2014        

The Spirit in Creation: Forest Sunday

The Spirit is not really far from any of us, Paul tells the council of the Areopagus (such a great word, sounds like Sesame St. Snuffalopagus) – The Spirit is not really far from any of us, he say, the One in whom we live and move and have our being.
This month in worship we plan to experience that Spirit in Creation. Each week we dedicate a part of our new worship space with and to that Spirit in Creation. Each week we will stand to sing in awe before that Spirit in Creation. Each week, we will pray to and within that Spirit in Creation, the One in whom we live and move and have our being.
Let me ask you this morning where you most often have experienced the presence of that Spirit in Creation?

When I was a young guy, I was privileged to live in a neighborhood where I could play outside by myself. We lived in a Cincinnati community within 5 blocks of McFarland Woods and I could go there by myself to explore the woods. I would bring home snails and crawdads and anything that appeared when I turned over rocks in the woods or the creek.
I was not often conscious of the Spirit in Creation there, but I was often conscious of the joy of exploration, the beauty of the trees, the sounds of the creek and the woods, the coolness and the smell of the air. And to me today, that’s close to or analogous to experiencing the presence of the Spirit in Creation.

I have most often in my life experienced the presence of the Spirit in community, with groups of people, experiencing the oneness of connection, the power of grace, and the wonder of God’s love.
Alone, I have experienced the Spirit in personal prayer and meditation, and also spontaneously in the beauty of Creation. We who live in this beautiful country have a long tradition of recognizing the Spirit in Creation as a powerful force. In the 1830’s Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered a series of talks that formed the foundation of American Transcendentalism.

Emerson and Henry David Thoreau and others taught that the deepest truths are known through intuition, not through reason. They felt that one of the best ways to connect with that intuitive feelings was through awe in nature. I re-read Walden by Thoreau this summer and enjoyed again his reverence for Walden Pond and his observation of nature.
Emerson wrote, “Standing on the bare ground, my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space, all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball. I am nothing. I see all. The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me. I am part or particle of God.”

Darwin reports a similar experience in his autobiography, “In my journal I wrote that whilst standing in midst of the grandeur of a Brazilian forest, it is not possible to give an adequate idea of the higher feelings of wonder, admiration, and devotion which fill and elevate the mind.” (quoted in The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt, chapter 22.)

Awe acts like a kind of reset button. It makes people forget themselves as we feel small in the vastness of Creation of which we are a small part. Our petty concerns shrink as we look out at acres and acres of forest from the vista of a stop on the mountain of the Appalachian Trail. Awe can ease the pain of a broken heart and help us to know that we are part of something huge. Awe opens us to new values and possibilities in our life. Awe is – or can be – where true prayer begins.

We begin this season remembering with awe the Spirit in Creation of the Universe. When Paul spoke to these people in Greece in the first century, this is how he aimed to reach them as well, talking about the Spirit that created all of nature. Today we worship conscious of the forests and trees that literally give us breath, which is the same word in Greek and Hebrew as the word of Spirit.

As you come to the altar this morning to receive the grain of life and the fruit of creation, I invite you to notice your breath and give thanks. Taste the bread and juice as a symbol of all food, all sustenance of Creation. And this week and this month, I invite you to notice from time to time the ways in which you interact with the Spirit in creation in your everyday life. Pay attention to the air you breathe, the trees outside your window, the food you eat. At each moment of recognition, say a short word of gratitude.     This is who God is, the Spirit through whom we live and move and have our being, the force that breathes in us when we’re not even trying, the force that cleared the air last night with a sweet breath of rain, the Spirit that is behind the creation of all the ancient forests that give us breath.     This is God’s good news.

Communion hymn 2270 We Are Standing on Holy Ground