Sunday Morning on the Farm

Not all worship happens inside church buildings on Sunday mornings. Worship can mean a religious ceremony or service. Worship can also mean, simply, a feeling of reverence. Worship, in its best sense, is communion with the Holy Spirit, feeling connected to God.

On a bright spring morning, it’s hard to feel that kind of connectedness inside a stuffy church building, sitting on a hard pew, surrounded by other people. On a bright spring morning, worship might more authentically happen amongst a field of buttercups, towering sycamore trees, or alongside a trickling mountain stream.

My Sunday mornings are usually spent on my farm. The mountain ridge facing my house is my cathedral. The trees towering over me diminish any troubles or dilemmas I think might overwhelm me. The breeze softly and almost silently blowing through the meadow between my home and the ridge refreshes my body and soul.

I can have quiet here. I can have peace here. I can let go of all troubles and dilemmas and simply be. I can wander through the forest or the meadow and feel part of all of nature, no more significant or insignificant as any other part of nature. I can get in touch with who I am, stripped of all artifice.

Wisdom surrounds me. I have only to look around me for lessons that speak to me in messages both personal and universal.  On a spring day, new life springs up from a ground thought cold and dead only a few days previous. Daffodils and tulips appear in unexpected places, as surprises from the divine. Dogwood trees produce blossoms from branches remembered from seasons past but forgotten in their off-season commonplace familiarity.

Essential worship takes place when we are fully ourselves and fully in tune with the world around us. And in my cathedral of sycamore trees soaring over a grassy meadow, I am more truly worshipful than in any other place on earth.

Cynthia Coe is the author of Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony with the Everyday World Around Us. For news of upcoming publications and for blog posts, please follow this blog or her author page on Amazon.  

Earth Day 1970 – Shock and Awe

When I was a third grader at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Kingsport, Tennessee, I participated in the very first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. Lest you think events like Earth Day don’t impact children and youth, this very first Earth Day opened my eyes to why we all need to take care of the one home we all share.

I remember the bright blue and green posters hung along the halls of my school, but what I remember most is the short field trip we took that crisp and sunny April day. It was a field trip of only a few city blocks, but it shocked me into realizing how badly people in my community had trashed our natural environment.

Passing neat brick houses and well kept yards in our small city, we stopped by a creek running through the neighborhood. Trash covered every single surface of both banks of the creek. It was appalling, disgusting, shocking. I remember my friends and I were frightened, as well. Thousands of the old “pop-top” aluminum can lids littered the banks of the creek, and we were afraid to take a step, knowing how these razor sharp lids could easily take off a toe or a finger.

It was a moment of personal experience for the care of the earth. I lived in a chemical plant’s company town, and we knew the smokestacks belched out toxins we all breathed in. But the company paid virtually everyone’s paychecks, and there was nothing we as third graders could do about this powerful source of pollution. But the trash covering the banks of the creek running through the middle of town was a sin of a personal nature – every single one of us could take actions to keep trash out of the creek and off the ground.

Decades later, in writing resources to lead children and youth in creation care, I came across research saying that “shock” tactics such as this field trip to the creek are not necessarily effective in promoting environmentalism. Research shows that developing a sense of awe and wonderment for the beauty of nature is much more helpful. If a child learns to love one small bit of the natural world, he or she will likely grow up to love and want to take care of all of nature.

I think it takes both shock and awe to learn to take care of the earth. We all need a kick in the tail occasionally to get us to face difficult situations. But children also need time and space to play, have fun, and become comfortable in the natural world.

Many of us growing up in the late 1960’s and 70’s had that blissful, unplugged time and space in nature to develop this sense of awe and wonder. I spent hours upon hours using a magnolia tree in my backyard as my own personal “fort” – a play activity enjoyed by children all over the world since time immemorial.  One of the most fun times I had as a Girl Scout was setting up our very own “camp” – carving out our own special place in the forest for our small band of girls, setting up seating areas and tables, making it feel secure and comfortable. We experienced the magic of playing outdoors in an unstructured environment, with little supervision, allowed to let our imaginations run wild.

I hope children you know will get to have a magical time in nature, too. I hope all children will get to play in the woods and use their imaginations to turn tree stumps into chairs and tables and turn magnolia trees into comfortable playhouses. I hope we all, someday, live in world where the environment gives us a sense of awe, not shock.

Cynthia Coe is the author of Wild Faith: A Creation Care Curriculum for Youth and Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony with the Everyday World Around Us. For news of upcoming publications and for blog posts, please follow this blog or her author page on Amazon.  

 

Good Friday in the Garden

This is an excerpt from my book, “Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony with the Everyday World Around Us,” now available in paperback and Kindle at http://amzn.to/2rjWSnU.   

The Garden is where Jesus was buried and resurrected to new life.  This is what happens in a garden.  The dry, seemingly lifeless seeds from the harvest of the past are buried in the earth.  We wait for something mysterious to happen under the earth, out of sight, and fueled by water and air.  Then we rejoice in the new life that springs up in front of us, growing into a beautiful flower or nutritious fruits or vegetables that will give us joy and sustain our very lives.

What happens in the Garden IS the story of the Christianity.  Death becomes new life, despite a seemingly hopeless state of affairs at the beginning of the process.  We proceed in faith that something will happen despite our inability to see anything hopeful happening at all.  How this all happens is mostly a mystery.  But eventually, a tiny sprout of new life pokes through the soil.  This new life is fragile and might wither.  But with careful tending and protection of this new life, the plant will grow tall and strong and give us the life-sustaining nutrition we need so much.

By resurrecting in a Garden, perhaps Jesus shared with us his best teachable moment.  Perhaps Jesus wanted to draw our attention to the garden, once and forever, urging us to look – really look – at what happens in the garden.  In his resurrected form, Jesus was first thought to be the gardener.  Perhaps the role of the gardener – the cultivator of God’s creation, an expert on the process of gardening, someone who pays attention to what is going on in the natural world – is a  role we might explore as we seek to cultivate and grow our own spiritual lives. 

We often feel most at peace in the garden. Perhaps it is this peace that Jesus sought in the Garden of Gethsemane before his death on the Cross.  Perhaps it was the awareness of all life – ending, beginning, and continuing on, through all our human births and deaths – that consoled Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane or helped him confront worldly temptations in the wilderness, immediately after his Baptism and in preparation for his public ministry.

This peace in the garden and in the wilderness is something we can have in our own world today.  This peace is often right outside the door, a place of solace and quiet available at all times.  The natural world can also be a place of spiritual growth and development of wisdom, if we only step outdoors and pay attention in quiet and solitude, listening to God with our hearts. 

Easter Blessings, Cindy

Cynthia Coe is the author of “Earth our Garden Home: Creation Care Lessons for Children” and “Wild Faith: A Creation Care Curriculum for Youth,” both available in paperback and Kindle editions. Considering Birds & Lilies is now available at http://amzn.to/2rjWSnU. All of my books are included in Kindle Unlimited.

 

Considering Birds & Lilies – An Excerpt from my new book

My new book, Considering Birds & Lilies, is now available in paperback and Kindle editions at this link: http://amzn.to/2rjWSnU.

“The kiss of the sun for pardon,

The song of the birds for mirth,

One is nearer God’s heart in a garden

Than anywhere else on earth.”

From “God’s Garden,” Dorothy Frances Gurney

How many of us have found peace, serenity, hope, and a sense of God’s presence in a garden or in a place of beauty in the wilderness?  This sense of spirituality while spending time in nature is nearly universal among humans, both in times past and in our own time.  We often hear friends and neighbors say that the mountains, a beautiful canyon, a vegetable garden, or a forest filled with trees and wildlife is their “church.”  Even those attending church regularly may express a need to go on a hike, work in the garden, or just relax in their backyard as a spiritual need which the walled-in church building cannot meet.

The spiritual need for time in nature is real. Humans feel better, think better, and are emotionally and physically healthier after spending time outdoors.  Time in nature is good for us.

As Christians, our stories are deeply intertwined with nature.  The Bible begins in a peaceful garden where all is right with the world (for a time), then follows Moses into the wilderness as he encounters a burning bush, then on to the ancient Hebrews wandering in the wilderness and encountering God’s grace for survival.  They arrive in a fertile land of milk and honey and seek to establish a home.  After a time of exile, a time in a valley of dry bones, John the Baptist arrives out of the wilderness to announce a new era of good news.

Jesus quickly retreats to the wilderness of the desert as he begins his public ministry and often retreats to a quiet place in nature for reflection, prayer, and time with God.  His final evening as a free man is in a garden, and his resurrection takes place in a garden as well.

Despite these deep links with nature, modern churches have all but lost their connections with the natural world.  Look inside most churches, and the only greenery you will likely find are flowers placed near the altar.  There might be a little-used outdoor chapel on the property.  A couple of flower beds may be part of the typical mowed and artificially fertilized landscaping.  Otherwise, the church property may show no sign of connecting – much less embracing – the natural world that feeds us spiritually and physically.

Time in nature is for everyone.  No matter how athletic, outdoorsy, or comfortable with dirt and insects you may be, you can find a sense of peace while spending time in just a part of the natural world.  You might find this sense of peace while hiking the Appalachian Trial, but you can also find a sense of peace and spiritual comfort in your backyard garden or city park.   Nature speaks to everyone, wherever they are.

Copyright 2017 Cynthia Coe.  All Rights Reserved.

This is an excerpt from my upcoming new book, Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony With the Everyday World Around Us.  Follow this blog or follow me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/sycamorecove/  for news of promotions and upcoming releases. 

Blessings, Cindy

Wild Faith – About This Book

Making a direct connection between spirituality and the natural world is new for some of us.  And sometimes, we need a field guide when discovering or exploring a new feature of the natural world.

In my book Wild Faith, I’ve tried to provide a practical, “hands-on” field guide to exploring the deep connection between spirituality and nature.  For some people, this connection is obvious.  For others, you might have suspected that going outdoors and finding spiritual peace must be connected somehow, but you might have not quite put your finger on how nature and spirituality is connected.  For yet others, you might have previously thought of “spirituality” as something you only did in church buildings or via other more “traditional” routes.

While working on this book, I discovered that the connection between nature and spirituality is actually quite ancient and well established.  Moses found his calling while out in the wilderness by himself.  Jesus went out for a wilderness experience in the desert immediately after his Baptism.  Early Christians, the “Desert Fathers and Mothers” found deep spirituality by leaving the cities, leaving their church communities, and going to live in the wilderness by themselves or in small communities of like-minded spiritual seekers.

I’m currently working on a book about this deep connection between nature and faith – and how it is more relevant today than ever.  But in the meantime, I invite you to take a look at Wild Faith, a collection of prayers, liturgies, meditations, and activities to help you lead young people in discovering the link between faith and nature for themselves. 

To download the Kindle edition of Wild Faith, please go to: http://amzn.to/2fyTiy5 .  (If you don’t have a Kindle e-reader or tablet, you can download the Kindle to your laptop or other device; it’s free as well, easy, and quick.)  A print edition of Wild Faith is also available of this book and available through Amazon, B&N, and other distributors. 

Please visit my website, www.sycamorecove.org and “like” my Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/sycamorecove/ . 

Blessings, Cindy

Spirituality in the Wilderness – A Practice of Early Christianity, More Relevant Now Than Ever Before

In my book Wild Faith, I encourage people to get out in the woods to work on their spiritual lives.  Seemingly, this is a rather new idea.  In my years of teaching Christian formation, most programs I encountered involved “programs” set up inside church buildings.  With the exception of church camp programs, the idea of simply going outdoors by yourself is not one of the spiritual disciplines the church has encouraged in recent times.

But in reading up on the history of ancient spiritual practices, I find that going outdoors to be by yourself in relative silence is actually a very old and revered spiritual practice.  In fact, the early Christians who were most serious about their spiritual lives were the “Desert Fathers and Mothers” who left the city, went out into the wild, and lived very simply, quietly, and either alone or with a few other similarly-minded souls.

As I work on an upcoming book on Faith & Nature, I’m wondering if this practice of going outdoors by yourself for “alone time” will become more the norm than the exception of Christian spirituality.  With all the constant, unrelenting disruptions and interruptions of all our devices, I’m wondering if all of us need a little time in nature (if not the wilderness) to clear our minds, relax, and unplug.

Here are some of the books I’ve just finished reading as I write this new book:

Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers.  This little book is an oldie but a goodie.  As always, Nouwen says a whole lot with only a few words.  Highly recommended.

Brett Webb-Mitchell, School of the Pilgrim: An Alternative Path to Christian Growth.  This book tells of the history and nature of pilgrimages in Christian spirituality, with vignettes of his own pilgrimage experiences.  Excellent.

Peter H. Gorg, The Desert Fathers: Saint Anthony and the Beginnings of Monasticism.  I read this for a nice history lesson on the Desert Fathers and Mothers.  It’s a good little paperback for church history nerds.  (Translated from the German, and no my computer doesn’t do umlauts.)

Belden C. Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality.  It took me a long time to get through this book.  It is excellent, but it is slow going.  The author combines his primary topic with a parallel story of his mother’s slow death in a nursing home, which I wasn’t expecting and (quite frankly) didn’t appreciate.  As a mountain girl, I did appreciate Lane’s inclusion of the forests and mountains in his discussion of “fierce landscapes.”  This book would be terrific for a seminary course on this subject, but for more casual readers, I really liked Lane’s Backpacking with the Saints quite a bit better.

Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island.  I read this for devotional purposes, but I found it had quite a bit of wisdom on spirituality in nature as well.  Isn’t it funny how we often stumble upon exactly what we need to read, without even trying?

Stay tuned for news of my new book!

Blessings, Cindy