About waymarkers

Mary lives in Seattle, Washington (USA) with her husband and four children. She has traveled to Iona many times, both on personal pilgrimage and as a retreat leader for vocational discernment retreats for university students and transformative travel experiences for women. Her 20 year-personal studies of Celtic Christian spirituality informs her Masters in Theology and Culture with a focus in ecotheology from The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. She also received a specialization in Thomas Berry's Universe Story from Yale University. Currently her field practice is that of a Forest Steward for one of Seattle’s south end urban forests; she is chairing the restoration process of these woods to provide urban youth and families with a safe and welcoming forest in which to recreate. http://www.cheasty.org/

Rewilding Prayer: How Caim Invites Protection for All of Creation

Rewilding Prayer Caim

This week my youngest son started pre-school. And while his mornings will be spent within woodland walls and upon forest floors at a nature preschool, both he and and I were experiencing a deep anxiety around this fundamental shift in our daily rhythm together. I awoke early on his first day of school for a time of meditation and prayer practice on our behalf and for personal preparation.

My spiritual practices come from the Celtic tradition. The Scottish Highlands are in my blood through my maternal line and I grew up with a father who worshipped in the many steepled sanctuary of the mountains. Seeing the natural world as sacred, a fundamental feature of Celtic spirituality, is written into my DNA; it is a cellular response for me to see the numinous within nature. So on this particular threshold morning, I began with an embodied, ritualized form of prayer, the Celtic circling prayer.

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Circling prayers, also known as Caim prayers (from the Irish gaelic meaning ‘protection’), are used to create a ring of safety around one’s self and their beloveds. It is a way to pray within the physical dimension as it requires the body to actively participate in the supplications of the heart. When one participates with and prays a Caim, the invocation begins with an arm extended outwards, pointer finger set towards the ground tracing the shape of a circle. This intentional act creates a sacred sphere, a space within which the pray-er invokes the protection of the divine. When I pray a Caim, I extend these boundaries beyond my personal reach to include my whole house, my neighborhood, the community in which I live, and the world at large. I encircle a space much larger than myself as a way to include the vast and diverse community of life of which we are fundamentally a part.

By extending the Caim protection beyond my person to include the plants, trees, birds, and other wild-life, I am doing something different than invoking a defense against that which is forbidden, dangerous, or out of control; instead, I am inviting that wild world in, bringing the more-than-human community of life into revered relationship and attunement. I am inviting a way of seeing the wild as wonderous, and in the most ancient of meanings, seeing myself within its ward. Encircling prayers that cast the boundaries beyond our domesticated borders initiate a way of moving through the day that is expectant of mystery and magic as the whole of creation is considered to be within the Caim circle. In this way, Caim becomes an eco-centric way of praying.

And so I prayed a Caim the morning of my son’s first day of school, which would be situated on the wild edges of an urban parkland. I chose a prayer befitting the day, knowing where my son would be. This prayer of blessing is one of the earliest known Caim prayers that is attributed to St. Columba, founder of the Iona Abbey:

“Bless to me the sky that is above me, Bless to me the ground that is beneath me, Bless to me the friends–furry, feathered, or fronded–who are around me, Bless to me the love of the Three Deep within me and encircling me and the greater community of life. Amen.”

(emphasis my own personal eco-centric addition)

I said these words as I circled, intentionally creating an expectation for the sacred wild to be within our midst this day.

Here is where this day’s prayer practice became quite extraordinary. We are fortunate to be able to walk to this sweet outdoor school, but every step away from home towards this new experience was causing my son anxiety and tears. Our route leads us through a wondrous three city-block sidewalk that has mature chestnut and maple trees planted on either side of the path that creates a wooded passage; we have since named it the Tree Tunnel. While walking along this way, a squirrel appeared before us on the sidewalk. While that is not uncommon, we did expect the normal behavior of it scampering up a tree as we drew closer. However, this squirrel did not. Instead, it carefully and slowly approached myself and Cannon who was seated in his stroller. With a steady gaze directed at Cannon, the squirrel continued straight up to him and gently put his paw upon my son’s foot. The silence that surrounded these two beings was sacred, a holy moment marked by their communion. This is interbeing, what Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh talks about as that recognition of the connectedness of all life, a way of being that must be reclaimed and protected now more than ever. This is Caim.

After a full minute’s pause, the squirrel scampered away, and Cannon turned to me with a rapturous face, exclaiming his empowered readiness to go on to school where the squirrel would be to watch over him, protecting him until my return.

Every day thereafter this week, that squirrel has been awaiting Cannon in the Tree Tunnel and the same ritual ensues. Squirrel appears before Cannon and as we slow to a stop, it approaches him and places his paw upon his leg. Cannon quietly receives this blessing from the wild, a lesson he is too young to have yet unlearned. He inherently knows that nature is not something from which we need protection against, but a relationship in which to be cherished and engaged, a relationship that is within our sacred circle.

 

Rewilding Practice

Find a place outside where you can practice in the embodied form of the Caim. Back yards, front gardens, public parks, and even sidewalks will do!

Center yourself by taking several deep breaths, tuning in to the sounds of the natural world all around you. You will likely hear human-made sounds too. Don’t ignore the anthrophony. Instead, receive these sounds as an invitation to include them in your Caim too.

When you feel ready, position your body facing north. Breath deeply and feel the air within and around you. Stretch out your arm in front of you with your pointer finger extended and pointed to draw a metaphorical, expansive circle that includes the natural world. Slowly turn your body in a clock-wise rotation–going from the cardinal direction north, to east, to south, to west and back again to facing north while saying this simple encircling prayer, adapted to include the greater community of things with whom we live:

  • North, “Circle us Spirit, Keep protection near, And danger afar.”
  • East, “Circle us Spirit, Keep light near, And darkness afar.”
  • South, “Circle us Spirit, Keep peace within, Keep evil out.”
  • West, “Circle us Spirit, Keep hope within, Keep doubt without.”
  • Back at the North can finish your prayers with:
    May you be a bright flame before us,
    May you be a guiding star above us,
    May you be a smooth path below us,
    And a loving Guide behind us,
    Today, tonight, and forever.

Amen.

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Trials and Trails that Wound: How We Learn from the Dragon

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We are coming into the season of Michaelmas, the ancient festival time of St. Michael who is connected to myths and lore around harvest abundance and more prominently, dragons. St. Michael is an archetypal representation of our inner light and courage that is called forth when scarcity is nigh. This scarcity and its corresponding fear is our dragon, one that we all must meet.

Since the birth of my fourth child, Cannon, and the years in his wake I have found I’m asking how I befriend the dragon–the one that lives in the dark woods of our innermost journey, the one that can claw and snatch. It feels that within the realm of the feminine, there is an invitation that goes beyond conquering to that of kinship. I spoke about this idea at my graduation ceremony, very much having this archetypal myth in mind.

Yes, dragons and the dark woods within which they live, can scar us. But instead of killing the beast in return, can we learn to ride the dragon, and see our scars as sacred?


Learning from the Dragon’s Fiery Fury

We each accepted the call to come here, and with this acceptance in many ways we disappeared from the world, descending into the mysterious, archetypal dark wood. This is the stage of the journey where the epic work of self-reflection takes place with the purpose of renewal and discovery.

This is the time of tests and trials, which serve as fortifiers as we learn to rely upon companions as well as our own developing abilities to move to and through suffering. This requisite stage brings one into the darkest chamber of the heart, a place filled with trauma and treasure, a place through which one must trod to manifest the deeply held desire for transformation.

This is the stumbling along the hard, dark path-time. The descent is disorienting, destabilizing, and in a word: deconstructing. This isn’t just the stuff of legends. This is life well-lived, and it is a quest of meaning-making and discovery. And like any good transformative adventure, there are dragons.

Joseph Campbell would say that this is the part of the journey when dragons emerge from the shadowy wood and must be slain…but this isn’t the way at The Seattle School. Here we have gained knowledge and tools to encounter the dragon. How will we engage its various forms, listen to its terrifying tales, and learn from its fiery fury? For only when we begin to reconstruct together new ways of being through the recovery and discovery of lost pieces of ourselves will we find that the dragon actually becomes a vehicle towards our well-being: here we learn how to train, and ride, dragons.

But first we must find the unknown path, an endeavor that requires much.   This is the way of walking through the woods—an arduous journey winding through unfamiliar territory, trying to find the way through, all of which requires endurance, stamina…and inevitably, brokenness. Our brokenness becomes the path back into being.

Here in the dark woods, we trip and fall—scraping, breaking, bruising our way through the requisite phase of finding.

This is the sacred Holy Saturday time where the woods keep silence and watch.

I thought that I met my dragon when I began the work of confronting my story four years ago in the first year foundational course Faith, Hope and Love…the thing that I would primarily fight and wrest…and while that did indeed occur, it proved itself to be more of an entrance to an even darker wood, a longer labyrinth, and one that demanded that I find out who I truly am when the demands of the journey turn treacherous. This is what I now know: the forest forms you.

In the dark of my winter term of my first year at The Seattle School, I became pregnant with our fourth child. This pregnancy proved near fatal for both me and my then-baby who, born too early, was dangerously close to death. As I lay in my own liminal life-shadow, he needed resuscitation, and was placed in NICU for weeks.

We lose much of ourselves during our passage through the dark—in many ways this must occur for the gifts of the transformation to have space to become. 80% of my blood was lost during the emergency birth and replaced with other people’s blood during my reconstructive surgery, creating a much longer and more wearisome journey back to health.

Shortly after I was learning to live with my new wounds, my husband got mono and could barely get out of bed for a month. Then he lost his job and the security of our family’s primary income. By now I remember wondering when this wandering would end—every hard and painful path seemed to be dropping out from underneath us to reveal yet another rocky road.

One dark summer night, with only the street lamp assisting with light, I was harvesting my lavender, hustling it to help put food on the table. While wielding a brand new scythe—and not fully present to its power—I cut a significant portion of my finger off and ended up back in the ER only to begin another long, slow and painful journey to healing. This pain, this part of the dark woods, taught me deep truths about regenerativity—especially as I witnessed my finger literally grow back. Hope indeed is forged in the forest.

I have had to ask the question and face the answer of who would I become after facing such fierce dragons who seemed to cut and jeer in the face of my becoming. How could I befriend the foe and their fire?

It has been said that the wise one limps. You will know wisdom not by one who walks upright, whole, and strong, but one who walks humped and slumped, scarred by the trials and trails that wound.

We gather today, robed with honor, distinction, and wisdom. These robes would say to the world that we are now wisdom-bearers. Ones who have risked much for priceless gain. These robes become your story to steward, not to hoard. May these hoods continue to call forth courage, for this dress required a fight with dragons that will forever remind us of what we have been through, the deep woods through which we have come.

Keep alive the memory of the woods for they have proven to be the greatest of teachers. For deep roots are reached through the forest. And don’t forget the dragon’s fire, fashioned now into foresight. Don’t let it slip from your heart, for that which wounded us has also healed us.

Lest this become a tale forgotten, finger your scars as a reminder of your journey in the case the limp you now bear does not.

May you learn to love your limp and see your scars as sacred as you leave this place, wise from your time in the woods.


Watch the video of Mary DeJong delivering this script at the 2017 Seattle School of Theology & Psychology Commencement ceremony here.

Guidance & Wisdom from the Sacred Wild

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I feel like I’ve been walking towards today for years. It was four years ago that my work with Waymarkers was put in the vault as I left to pursue my Masters in Theology & Culture with a focus in eco-theology from The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology.

This journey took me through some of the most wildest of woods where I was taught again and again of the revelatory quality of the natural world, and that the woods are indeed the wisest of teachers. I reflect on themes experienced in these last years during the commencement speech I was asked to give during my graduation ceremony.  You can listen to that here.

Today feels like an emergence from the woods. In many ways I feel like there are open vistas of hope and opportunity before me, inner-landscapes that demanded the requisite journey through the woods. Today I offer my work of Waymarkers anew, infused with the theory, theology, and practice gained in the last four year. Waymarkers is a sacred guidance venture that provides support and frameworks for cultivating connection and communion to and through the natural world.

Waymarkers’ hope is to guide others toward a holistic and harmonious inter-connected life with the more-than-human world through restorative rewilding rituals and pilgrimage practices that recover a way of seeing the sacred in the soil, the stars, and, even in our neighborhood streets.

With Celtic spirituality and sacred ecology providing the framework, Waymarkers offers guidance and support for those who are ready to respond to the call to wander into the sacred wild, seeking wisdom from our interrelated web of life. Without this kind of spiritual formation, there can be no authentic ecological consciousness, because there can be no true sense of the interdependence of all things. We must see the natural world as a sacred Thou, no longer an objectified It. Cultural historian Thomas Berry eloquently insists that “the world is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.” To participate in this communion is sacramental, and the elements are all around us, awaiting our participation in our backyards, neighborhoods, our cities and parks, and the hinterlands beyond.

We are placed with a purpose. To not know this is to be without waymarkers, to be displaced.  Waymarkers will journey with you to a way of belonging, to a renewed sense of solid, sacred rooting in the land where you live.

Let’s journey together and discover the wisdom that is rooted in the woods, and wind our way to a place of belonging!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Iona: Getting There Well

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The journey itself to Iona makes this place unique; it is long, quite complicated and even relatively uncomfortable for the urbanite who is accustomed to quick and easy travel. This distance provides the perfect pilgrimage process, for it truly requires a removal of oneself from all that is familiar and supplies a lengthy trek-full of obstacles, no doubt! Once there, one finds a sparsely populated island, with almost no cars and a large abbey, whose structure appears to have dropped from the heavens onto this topographically small and relatively insignificant place.

 

Sheep outnumber the residents and the sunlight plays on the hillsides in the most magical ways. One senses almost immediately Iona is indeed a “thin space” – that brushing up against the Divine is inevitable.

It takes time to get to Iona. To start your pilgrimage preparations, think about the itinerary in two parts: TRAVEL TO OBAN and OBAN TO IONA

By Train

 

Trains travel regularly from Edinburgh (Waverley Station) and Glasgow (Queen Street Station) to Oban. This spectacular journey (one of the top rail rides in the world!) takes approximately four hours and the train terminal in Oban is next to the ferry terminal for the Isle of Mull.

Rail Enquiries:
Tel: 08457 484950.
Scotrail (Trains)www.scotrail.co.uk

By Bus

Buses depart from Edinburgh (St. Andrew Square) and Glasgow (Buchanan Street Station) and go directly to the Station Road stop in Oban. The route takes approximately four hours-make sure to pack a snack!

Bus Enquiries:
Tel: 08705 505050 or visit www.travelinescotland.com
Scottish Citylink (Coaches)www.citylink.co.uk

 

About

By Car

From Edinburgh take the M9 to Stirling, then the A84/A85 to Oban.
From Glasgow take the A82 up the side of Loch Lomond to Crianlarich, then the A85 to Oban.
If you are travelling from the north of Scotland the A82 will take you from Inverness to Fort William, then take the A828 to Oban.

Disabled Passengers

For assistance on the railway ring Scotrail (Tel: 0845 605 7021).

 

Recommended accommodations for your overnight in this seaside town

Oban Youth Hostel

www.syha.org.uk/hostels/highlands/oban.aspx

Harbour View Guest House

A lovely and affordable B&B in Oban within walking distance from the train and ferry.

Dilys McDougall at dilysmcdougall@aol.com

Tel: 011-44-1631-563-462
Harbour View
Shore Street
Oban, Argyll
PA34 4LQ

Ferry Service to Mull

 

The ferry from Oban to Craignure on Mull takes forty minutes. Walk on passengers should arrive within an hours time of departure, and make sure to give yourself time to pick up a fresh seafood sandwich at a local fish monger booth near the ferry-delicious! Cars need to check in at least thirty minutes before departure and advanced tickets is strongly recommended during the summer season and public holidays.

Ferry enquiries: contact the ferry operators Caledonian MacBrayne (Tel: 08705 650000) or visit their website www.calmac.co.uk

Across Mull

Tour buses will pick up passengers in a lot just off of the ferry departure area and bring them to the ferry terminal at Fionnphort; these bus times generally coincide with the Mull and Iona ferries. There is a sweet little gift shop and restroom facilities to visit-if there is time before the bus departs!

 

About

 

It takes approximately one hour to drive across the Ross of Mull from Craignure to Fionnphort, where the ferry leaves for Iona. Visitors cars are NOT allowed on Iona, but there is free car parking at the Columba Centre in Fionnphort, minutes from the ferry terminal.

For bus enquiries: Tel: 01631 566809 or visit www.bowmanstours.co.uk orwww.travelinescotland.com or Tel: 01546 604695 or Email: public.transport@argyll-bute.gov.uk

 

Ferry to Iona

The bus will drop you off at Fionnphort. There is a ten minute passenger (walk-on only) ferry that crosses the Sound of Mull landing at the pier in the village of Iona. In the Winter some ferries need to be reserved the day before travel.

Telephone the CalMac Craignure office on: 01680 612343 or visit www.calmac.co.uk/destinations/iona.htm

Disabled Passengers

For assistance on the ferry ring your departure terminal: CalMac Oban (Tel: 01631 566688) or Craignure (Tel: 01680 612343).

You have arrived to Iona, the place that has called to you! Savor your arrival.

 

Emergence

This is merely a note to awaken you to what is emerging here at Waymarkers. I graduated with my Masters in Theology & Culture from The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology and a specialization in Thomas Berry’s Universe Story from Yale University this past June. In these past years, my studies, research, and writing have all reached towards Waymarkers in some way, shape, or fashion, wondering about how my learnings would integrate into my work that shows up in the world wide web through Waymarkers.  These summer months have seen this wonderings become more clarified, and these emergences will begin to show themselves through a new website and offerings, expanded writing themes beyond that of pilgrimage, and engagement with theories around ecotheology, sacred ecology, and a reverence for creation as the dwelling place for the divine.

I hope this is enough to pique your interest and that you will feel invited to journey along with me upon paths that will take us deeper into the wilds where Creator can be heard speaking through all created things.

Seminary Musings: Connected to the Other through the Stars and Soil

ImageFriends,

On this Day of Epiphany, and before my next term at school holds my time hostage once again, I wanted to take a moment to share some of the emerging thoughts that have been personally prominent these past few months.  As we take time today to reflect on the legendary Three Wise Men, kingly magis who had deep knowledge of the links between the Divine and the cosmos, may we too ponder how we invite our celestial neighbors to inform our sense of awe of the Grand Story in which we continue to participate. 

I returned to seminary with an understanding that I needed a framework of academy and community to speak into inklings and intuitions that I have based my vocational experiences upon.  My work of the last 10 years has been based on ideas that promote living on behalf of the Other and the Future as a way of delving into a meaningful life that furthers the peace of heaven on earth.  These reflections have led me to actively engage our urban neighborhood in a call to see our local urban forest as both “other” and the future in that there has been a traditional treatment of this land that is akin to oppression, misalignment, marginalization and fear.  My hunch over the last many years has drawn connections with how we treat our native landscapes and how we treat one another.  It is no longer a surprise that this particular Southeast Seattle forest is also one that is stymied by outdated models of conservation and policies that have prevented and prohibited access by the City’s most diverse and traditionally underserved community.

This is all to say, the intersection of urban place, the environment, and how this all informs our spiritual identity has been driving my academic pursuits, and will continue to be the lens from which I look at my learnings and studies.  I would like to share with you all my “Theological Anthropology” paper that was assigned for one of my courses last term.  Yes, this is a vulnerable display of my academic blunderings, but my desire is to stay transparent with my Waymarkers community in what I’m learning, and where, I (and this on-line community) is heading in the future.  I would love to hear your thoughts and reflections on this paper!  With that, please do read on with great grace for my professional attempts.  Perhaps a bringing along cup of tea would assist in the softening of the reading!  And may this be an invitation for us all to be like the Three Wise Men, and continue to look up to the stars as guidance for our journey on the soil of this good earth below.

 

 

 

A Theological Anthropology: Loving Your Neighbor Well Through the Land

  

Different faith traditions from all over the world uphold the basic tenants of The Golden Rule or the ethic of reciprocity.  Echoes of this wise code, from Hinduism (“Treat others as you would yourself be treated.”) to Native American spirituality (“Live in harmony, for we are all related.”), carry a similar semblance of the demand that people treat others in a manner in which they themselves would like to be treated (Princeton University, Ethic of reciprocity, n.d.). The intrinsic morality that is bound in this maxim, as delivered by YHWY in Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD,” contains essential attributes of the way humanity is called to live in connection with the Creator through kinship with others on this planet.  The triune nature of the Trinity makes God’s self known through diversity in relationships with the other and revelation through Nature, and subsequently models and informs how one lives wholly and well in intentional relationship with other people and things.  It is through the mutual respectful engagement of all living things—be it neighbor or nature—that a justice-oriented response to living occurs; one that discovers and responds to the goodness of God through the integrated presence, and subsequent love, of the other and the natural world. 

The Western Judeo/Christian ethical standard to love one’s neighbor as one’s self demands that one exists fully and well when in relationship with human beings and other living things for it is in the exposure and experience with others that God is encountered.  With the call to love one’s neighbor as much as one’s self, there is an inherent challenge to enter into a degree of relationship that removes the other from a place of isolated alienation to a place in the community, even to the extent of being the one who literally lives next door.  By use of the glaring call within Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:29, Guitiérrez (2000) courageously claims that love for God is activated by loving the neighbor, particularly the wounded or needy (p. 149).  Guitiérrez dares people of faith to see the neighbor as someone other than the like-minded person with whom one shares similar dreams and passions, and adjacent real estate in a suburban cul-de-sac.  He states, “The neighbor is not the one whom I find in my path, but rather the one in whose path I place myself, the one whom I approach and actively seek” (Guitiérrez, 2000, p. 153).  Based on an intentional relocating of the other, or relocating to become neighbors to the other, one can shift objectifying macro-perceptions to the personal, integrated stuff of one’s very own lives, and lean into the dynamic lifestyle of transforming Other to Neighbor to Self where the self-preservation with which one is born is willfully desired for all who live and exist.  

This justice-oriented approach of integrating the other into one’s daily life finds theological grounding in Jürgen Moltmann’s (1993) ecological doctrine of creation.  The monotheistic standpoint of God resulted in a historical perception of a God that was disconnected from the created world, but maintained a powerful presence as ruler and owner of all therein.  Moltmann (1985) states, “As a result, the human being—since he was God’s image on earth—…was bound to confront his world as its ruler” (pg. 1).  As dominator, the human being could be excused from a relationship with all of creation and move into roles of objectifier and oppressor.  This role as ruler, which again allowed the human to relate to a monotheistic God, justified actions against anyone other-than-himself and an exploitative use of the earth and its resources.  This way of understanding God clearly has ill effects on the globe and its community; therefore Moltmann (1985) offers a Trinitarian perspective of God that binds all of humanity and creation in a relationship created for the common good:

If we cease to understand God monotheistically as the one, absolute subject, but instead see him in a Trinitarian sense as the unity of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, we can then no longer, either, conceive his relationship to the world he created as a one-sided relationship of domination. We are bound to understand it as an intricate relationship of community.

(p. 2) 

The Trinitarian nature of God provides a relational model that mandates a knowledge and understanding of the other, and a relationship that results in a bond from stranger to that of neighbor.  

This transformational process is made available because of the incarnational nature of God and the Christian’s call to embody Christ.  The nature of God is relational as seen in the Trinity; therefore we are bound to understand God in relationship with community.  Barsness (2006) understands this relational encounter as hallowed when he states “Our relationships must be held sacred, for it is the nature of God to reveal himself incarnationally” (p. 45). It is in relationship with others, where Christ is embodied, and where humanity becomes the Imago Christi.  So, when care is extended for others, it is Christ caring; when forgiveness is offered, it is Christ forgiving; when reconciliation is engaged, it is Christ healing and reconciling through the embodiment of the human experience.  To dispense God’s healing and wholeness through encounters with others, to be present to their pain and needs requires a physical presence to those wounded places and people.  Martin Buber (1970) would say, “God is present when I confront you. But if I look away from You, I ignore him. As long as I merely experience or use you, I deny God. But when I encounter You I encounter him (p. 28).  It is in this call to the genuine encounter with another human being or life with nature (Buber, 1970, p. 57) that Moltmann’s (1985) doctrine of creation and Guitiérrez’s (2000) liberation theology weave together into a critical challenge for humanity in the 21st century; the future of fecund life on this planet will be determined by the ability to extend justice and love for neighbor to include the rights of the earth and the greater community of things with whom life is shared on this planet.  Indeed, to be an image-bearer of the Imago Christi involves loving respect for all of God’s creatures.

Moltmann (1985) states, “The dignity of human beings is unforfeitable, irrelingquishable and indestructible” (p. 33).  To see the human in a state of inherent goodness transforms how one views the other and has vast implications for how relational engagement ensues.  To stand with an understanding of created dignity invites one to seek out the Divine in one another; we are challenged with the beauty of truly encountering the Imago Dei in others in our neighborhood.  Furthermore, this posture of dignity has implications for the planet and beyond.  Aquinas says: “God wills that humans exist for the sake of the perfection of the universe” (as sited in Fox, 2011, p. 28).  This same inherent goodness can be applied to the natural world, which also participates in worship and adoration of the Creator God.  Aquinas also stated:

Because the Divine goodness could not be adequately expressed by one creature alone, God has produced many and diverse creatures so what is wanting in one in the representation of divine goodness might be supplied by another.  Thus the whole universe together participates in the divine goodness.  (p. 28)

This is a celebration of the diverse order of created things and underscores the importance of a relational view of the diversity of the Trinity.  This perspective also recovers a sense of the sacred in local neighborhoods and the greater landscapes beyond by acknowledging the inherent goodness and revelatory means of Creation.  However, implicit in the genuine encounters available with the other on a sidewalk or forested trail, is the need to rediscover the vastness of God’s immanence beyond our world.  There is a need to recover a sense of this grand divine cosmos, a whole in which all of humanity participates as image bearers of God.

The Imago Christi participates in this elaborate perspective as well.  Cultural historian and spiritual ecologist Thomas Berry (1987) is explicit in placing his vision in the lineage of the Cosmic Christ, which is written of in John’s Gospel (Christ as the ‘light in all things’).  He writes:

If Saint John and Saint Paul could think of the Christ form of the universe, if Aquinas could say that the whole universe together participates in the divine goodness more perfectly and represents it better than any single creature whatever, and if Teilard could insist that the human gives to the entire cosmos its most sublime mode of being, then it should not be difficult to accept the universe itself as the primordial sacred community. (p. 38)

 

This is a clear and grand picture beyond the anthropocentrism from which the Christian consciousness needs to depart; a move in this direction not only affirms the dignity of humanity, but that of the other, which includes the vast and great cosmic community of which our planet is a part.  This is a bold movement from seeing God as the absolute subject, which increasingly stripped God of his connection with the world (Moltmann, 1970, p. 1).       

The effects of a monotheological thought regime has wreaked havoc on the marginalized and on our planet.  In fact, it could be argued that geoengineering (the intentional large-scale modification of the earth and weather patterns by dominating humans) schemes have become uniformly disastrous as we see the heart-wrenching effects of damming and deforestation on our planet and within our communities (Jenson, 2013, p. 11).  McFague (2002) provides a helpful theological framework of traditional models of the God-world relationship and why these models result in thought patterns and behaviors that are detrimental to the earth, the greater community of things, and ultimately, even personally.  She suggests a critical shift to the agential model by asserting that the world is God’s body (p. 40).  To understand this in light of Buber’s (1970) life-with-nature relational sphere allows one to fully accept and engage the natural world as revelatory (p. 58).  While Buber would have understood this relation to be with individual animals, rocks, or elements, this intentional awareness of the potential of a genuine encounter with the natural world is evidenced when he writes, “something lights up and approaches us from the course of [its] (the tree) being” (Kramer, 2003, p. 52-53).  During an I/Thou encounter with a natural thing, there is the unique particularity of the thing that “speaks;” this is relational evidence that the created world emanates from the Creator.  The resulting effect of Buber’s (1970) relational sphere with the natural world and McFauge’s (2002) agential model offers freedom to live fully and transformational into local neighborhoods, thus affecting global trends. 

            To divorce God’s presence from the created world has had profound effects on the human and community experience.  The resulting disconnect from nature can be seen the world over; while it is evidenced in the power-over posture that has resulted in geoengineering sciences, it is also evident on local levels in how traditional cities have been designed with little access to Nature in mind.  “People with less access to nature show relatively poor attention or cognitive function, poor management of major life issues, poor impulse control,” says Frances Kuo, a professor at the University of Illinois, adding that humans living in a neighborhood stripped of nature undergo patterns of social, psychological, and physical breakdown similar to those observed in animals deprived of their natural habitat. “In animals, what you see is increased aggression, disrupted parenting patterns, and disrupted social hierarchies” (Louv, 2013, n.p.).  One cannot live the designed life of wholeness and health without engaging the natural world.  There is a profound link between how one engages creation and subsequently treats the other, and their neighbor.

The resulting negative psychological implications of removing access to nature in urban communities has been noted and strong voices are now coming to the table to encourage urban leaders and designers to re-imagine how to integrate natural and wild landscapes into cities and neighborhoods.  Richard Louv (2013), the author of the renowned book Last Child in the Woods, also contests that genuine encounters with the natural world will have profound effects on our communities on neighborhoods.  Note his list of the seven comprehensive effects of access to nature on communities: improves psychological health, may help reduce domestic violence, natural playgrounds may decrease bullying, encountering other species help children develop empathy, greater biodiversity in cities can increase social and family bonding, and more nature in one’s life can offset the dangerous psychological impact of climate change (Louv, 2013, n.p).  There is something physiological that occurs within the human when exposed to the unpredictable environment; the body, mind, and spirit positively reacts when experiencing the earth beneath their feet and the euphoric effects impacts not only the individual, but also the community for good.  Creation is designed to be revelatory and provides not only the environment for a genuine encounter with God, but also is the context for where people engage others in a sacred space of dialogue.  Jones (1985) speaks to this socio-wilderness dynamic when he says:

Without the occasional abrasive brush with the unexpected, human life soon becomes a mere matter of routine; and, before we know where we are, a casual indifference and even brutality takes over and we begin to die inside. The shock breaks open the deadly ‘everydayness’ that ensnares us and brings something awesome and terrifying to our reluctant attention: the believer’s name for that ‘something’ is God. (p. 84)   

Clearly, there is something of the essential goodness of God that is bestowed on God’s creation for the effects of natural environments to have such profound effects on a person.  To not have exposure and experience with nature can lead to the brutal posture that objectifies and exploits the other.   To see the inherent goodness in nature and its intended presence in the lives of humanity leads to a therapeutic stance that acknowledges how the surrounding landscapes can participate in the healing and wholeness of individuals and communities.  The mysteries of God will be better accommodated when we recalibrate God’s creative landscape to include planet earth and every creature that lives here.

Our neighborhoods are never singular communities, but are actually a mesh of myriad overlapping networks. We all belong to many different communities, from the diffuse (i.e. a professional association, or an online message board), to the intimate (i.e. a family, or a group of friends).  In consideration of the paramount impact of how a landscape informs an individual and how they connect to the other in their community, there is an emerging theory called “Placemaking” that aims to create a balance of uses in public spaces that serve the many communities at once; in this way a landscape can serve as a therapeutic response to the needs of a neighborhood.  A single place can’t do everything at once, so “Placemaking” prompts us to look for convenient and clever ways to make limited space serve multiple functions.   De Botton and Armstrong (2013) have suggested that by balancing ones need with those of the people by which one lives, one finds their place, literally and figuratively, within a community of neighbors.  By inviting the presence of a place to participate in the lives of communities for a common good, there is an acknowledgment of something profound and beyond human-limitations that is unleashed: God moves back into the neighborhood!

 The challenge of loving and caring for one another well in the 21st century requires one to recover a primordial sense of the vast mystery of God and apply that energy to paying attention to the earth.  Our love of neighbor needs to be extended to the greater community of things on this planet and our neighborhood needs to considerably broaden to include our universe as well.  Historically anthropocentric views have concerned Christians with the redemption of this world alone, and have disconnected the very nature of a connected, covenantal God with the diversity of his inherently good creation.  Nobel Peace Prize two-time nominee Ervin Lazlo (2011) attests that “seeing ourselves as separate from the world fuels selfish and irresponsible tendencies: we are only responsible for ourselves, and not for ‘foreigners,’ ‘competitors,’ and ‘others’” (p. 117).  In bringing the care of the earth into the folds of reconciliation, there is acknowledgement that human-centric modern history has caused great harm to marginal people groups, and environmental injustice to a host of living beings on this planet, as well as a severe disconnect from the goodness with which the earth was designed, and how that endowed goodness was created to participate in the whole person and health of a community.

In returning to a grand sense of awe before the God of the Universe, God’s relationship is placed with humanity into the context of billions and billions of galaxies.  This profound placement of the Great Mystery has immediate effects on how we engage and encounter the other and all living things.  “The experience of our connection with each other and the universe would inspire solidarity among people and empathy with all life on earth” (Lazlo, 2011, p. 124).  While God is intimately present as one’s neighbor on the front porch, to allow God’s cosmic vastness and presence in creation will inspire a critical mass that espouses values of sustainability, peace, and personal and social responsibility.  In this way, the embodied life of God is seen on earth.  The wisdom of the ethic of reciprocity, or The Golden Rule, unleashes love and empathy for the other and transforms all life on earth into one’s very neighbor. 

 

 

References

 

Barsness, R. (2006). Surrender and transcendence in the therapeutic encounter. Journal of

       Psychology and Christianity, 25(1), pg. 45-54.

Berry, T. (1987). The earth: A new context for religious unity. In A. Lonergan and C. Richards (Eds.),

       Thomas Berry and the new cosmology. Msytic, CN: Third Publications. 

Buber, M. (1970). I and thou. New York, NY: Touchstone.

Chaney, A.J.B. (n.d.). Ethic of reciprocity. Princeton University. Retrieved December 4, 2013, from

       www.princeton.edu/~achaney.

De Botton, A. & Armstrong, J. (2013). Art as therapy. London: Phaidon Press Limited.

Fox, M. (2011). Some thoughts on Thomas berry’s contributions to the western spiritual tradition.                                                                       In E. Laszlo & A. Combs (Eds.), Thomas berry dreamer of the earth: The spiritual ecology of

 the father of environmentalism (pp. 16-31). Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.

Gutierrez,G. & Nickoloff, J.B. (2000). Gustavo Gutierrez: Essential writings. New York, NY: Orbis.

Jensen, D. (2013, September/October). Dead end: on killing the planet in order to save it. Orion

       Magazine. 32(2), 11-12. 

Jones, A. (1985). Soul-Making: Desert way of spirituality. San Fransisco, CA: Harper and Row.

Laszlo, E. (2011). Berry and the shift from the anthropocentric to the ecological age. In E. Laszlo & A.

Combs (Eds.), Thomas berry dreamer of the earth: The spiritual ecology of the father of environmentalism (pp. 16-31). Rochester, VT:            Inner Traditions.

Louv, R. (2013, November). A momentous week for the children and nature movement: Big pediatric

       and public health news and a boost from the interior. The New Nature Movement. Retrieved from http://blog.childrenandnature.org/.

Love, R. (2013, August 22). Restoring Peace. Psychology Today. Retrieved from

 http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/people-in-nature/201308/restoring-peace.

McFague, S. (2002, March 13-20). Intimate Creation. The Christian Century, 36-45.

Moltmann, J. (1985). God in creation. Norwich: SCM Press Ltd. 

 

 

 

 

Connected Colors-A Gift from the Garden

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Connected Colors-A Gift from the Garden

This week has provided space for some much needed self-care. Seven weeks into my first term at The Seattle School and we have a week “off” to read, write, reflect and rest.

With most of my reading already caught up, I was all too eager to get my fingernails dirty and be outside! My spirit rejuvenates in the soil of my garden. It is where I get connected and find connectedness. It is where I engage awe and wonder in ways that only the natural world can provide. As I wrestled overgrown perennials and dug deep into the damp earth to plant promises of spring, I was struck with the diversity of color that still surrounded me, even as Autumn begins to shed her vibrant hues.

My youngest and I collected a rainbow today. And the colors gave me hope, that even whilst Winter is soon upon us (and my studies will require my attendance once again), there is sheer, inherent beauty in what we are created to be! There is connection and cohesiveness in creation, and we are a part of this great created community of things!