A few years ago I led a retreat at a place called Casa del Sol, (House of the Sun), at Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, New Mexico. The retreat was called, “Celebration of Creation,” and focused on sacred texts from six of the majors faith traditions, which celebrate the presence of the Divine in the sacred landscapes of our earth. We went in chronological order, beginning with quotations from the Bhagavad Gita, one of Hinduism’s sacred texts. We then looked at sacred texts from Native American writings, and even went on a field trip to what is considered the most ancient sacred place in the United States, Chaco Canyon.
We looked at texts from the Hebrew Bible (also shared by Christians). Then texts from the Zen Buddhist tradition. We looked at sayings of Jesus from the New Testament, as well as some of the Christian mystics. Finally, we looked at texts from one of the most famous Muslim poets, Rumi. Indeed these six major faith traditions all echoed the same deeply held belief: that the earth is sacred, and that when we immerse ourselves in the mystery and miracle of God’s creation, we celebrate the Creator of all.
Today is my day off, so my husband and I did our usual seventeen mile bicycle ride around Newport. It is a glorious day. The sunlight is dazzling. The wind was fierce, something you notice a lot more when you are on a bicycle! For the first half of our ride we rode into the wind, or you could say against the wind, but when we hit the halfway point at Brenton Point, the wind was at our backs. In every language I know the Word for Spirit is the same word as Wind and Breath! In Sanskrit is is Prana; in Hebrew it is Ruach; in Greek it is Pneuma! Nothing helps me to understand the Spirit more than riding my bicycle! The stronger the wind, the harder I must struggle to peddle, so the heavier I must breathe! But when the wind is at my back, it is as though the Spirit’s hand is whisking me along into her flow, with very little effort on my part.
We just got back from a trip to Southern California and Hawaii: two of the most gorgeous natural landscapes on this sacred earth. Yet as I ride my bicycle around Newport, I feel that in its own way it is just as beautiful as any of the amazing places I have visited in my travels. Each and every day, as I immerse myself in the beauty of our sacred earth, I feel deeply blessed. It is as though God is shouting at me: “Here I Am! Notice! Pay attention! Appreciate! Celebrate! Honor Me in All of It! Treat it as sacred. It is My Presence, My Body, My Incarnation!
During my daily bicycle ride, I pray. I pray for my long list of family and friends, for those suffering or grieving, lost or despairing. I also pray in gratitude and thanksgiving for all that is right in this world. Mostly, I Notice! I pay attention! I see God’s presence in all of it!
In the brown-skinned fishermen, exuding a deep inner peace as they stand on ancient rock cliffs, casting their lines into the sparkling sea. In the older couple walking the dirt path, holding hands, the tilt of their heads toward each other. In the families with young children, picnic blankets spread with toys and food, a toddler’s eyes following the bird’s flight against vivid blue.
In the Navy man in full uniform, getting up from a blanket he had spread on the ground, and folding it neatly, probably headed back to the navy base. In our dogs, swimming back and forth, back and forth, raising their heads to the sky, exultant in frothy waves.
And I wonder: is there a connection between those who spend time immersed in this sacred earth and the way they treat others? I cannot imagine any one of us doing anything to harm this landscape in which we revel. How could we ever mar any part of it? I remember reading that Jesus spent approximately 95% of his life outdoors. I can imagine it was similar for Moses, Muhammad, the Buddha. But the same study said that for most of us in “industrialized societies” today it is the opposite: over ninety percent of our time is spent indoors. How has this changed us? Research has shown that immersing ourselves in nature calms us, and reduces stress. But I would say it also improves our interactions with others. For when we realize that we are intimately connected to all things, that all that we encounter reveals God’s presence to us, then how can we not treat everyone and everything with reverence? In her book The Color Purple, Alice Walker writes, “I think it pisses God off if you walk through a field of purple flowers and do not even notice!”
This day, may you see God in all that you encounter,
and may you reflect God to all you encounter,
Pastor Linda Forsberg Copyright August 4, 2014
Photos: Casa del Sol; Chaco Canyon; Bicycling in Nova Scotia (I did not have a photo of us bicycling in Newport!); Na Pali Coast, Kaua’i, Waimea Canyon, Kaua’i, Fort Adams State Park, Newport; Sylvie at the beach; Wildflowers in a field, Glacier National Park