Monthly Archives: April 2016

Reflections on Earth Day

I am resting today from a very full weekend. On Saturday we celebrated Earth Day with a large event. It began with a “Walk for all Species,” a beautiful parade which included a number of  bird puppets, each held aloft by three people walking abreast– one holding the head and the other two the wings. There were also children in animal costumes, a couple of dogs, a baby tree, and a large banner of a caribou with a sign advocating protection for the Arctic Refuge. The parade was led by a woman wearing a straw hat with spruce boughs, cones, and bits of birch bark representing the boreal forest.   It was a warm, sunny day and spirits were high.

The walk ended at a downtown church, where 17 organizations had set up tables with colorful displays about local food, recycling, political action, soil and water conservation, and much more. Under the banner “Interfaith Climate Action” I had set out a collection of statements from many different religious organizations concerning their response to global climate disruption, material from Interfaith Power and Light, a copy of Laudato Si, the Papal encyclical, and the Green Bible.  A f/Friend agreed to tend the table so I could participate in the simultaneous program in the sanctuary.

After I had helped set up the space, read the Mayor’s Proclamation about Earth Day, and walked with a sandhill crane puppet, I put away my lists and settled into a spot in the sanctuary right in front of the podium. We had lined up speakers from many different faith traditions, including Alaska Native, Buddhist, Catholic, Jewish, Episcopal, Muslim, Unitarian Universalist, Presbyterian, Baha’i, Lutheran, and Quaker. Except for when I got up to read the Quaker statement, I stayed in my spot and held each speaker in the Light. I hadn’t really planned to do that. In fact, in my early thoughts about the event I had envisioned myself in more of a speaking role. But I felt “in the place just right” as I listened deeply, amazed by the boldness, clarity, and similarity of the statements calling for people of faith to be good stewards of the earth and take action in reducing carbon emissions.

In reflecting on the event today, I am reminded of the story of Mary and Martha in the Bible, where Martha worked in the kitchen and served the guests while Mary sat and listened at Jesus’ feet. There were moments during the program in the sanctuary when I wondered if I should go and help out where others were working at the tables.   But I stayed firmly planted in my role of prayerful presence. Sometimes we just don’t know in advance what we will be called to do in a particular situation, but I believe if we stay open to Spirit’s guidance we will be rightly led.

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Opportunity

I love the Quaker use of the word “opportunity.” I first heard it some twenty years ago when Allen Oliver, a traveling minister, suggested that I approach a person with whom I was in conflict by requesting a “personal opportunity.” He said this person would know what it meant. I didn’t, but I learned that there was a tradition among Friends for one to seek silent worship with another in their home, and that the tradition is mostly upheld by Conservative Friends today. In our Meeting, when there is conflict between Friends we typically use terms like “listening session,” by which we mean that the two parties, often with a third person who serves as a prayerful presence, meet together in worship to listen to each other and to Spirit.

Being a word lover, I looked up the origin of the word “opportunity.” Its Latinate roots are ob, to + portus, harbor: “blowing toward the harbor.” An opportunity, then, is a suitable occasion or time. That seems innocuous enough. However, I suspect that, like the term “elder” among Quakers, the term “opportunity” may have taken on a tone of judgment, so if someone requested an opportunity with another, that other would say, “Uh, Oh. What have I done now?”

So how do we create, both in our interpersonal relationships and in our meetings, the space within which deep, non-judgmental listening and authentic speaking can happen? Can we invite the winds of Spirit to blow us safely to the harbor?

The WOW factor

Each year at this time I am amazed at the quality and quantity of light. Although the ground is still shedding its snow cover, revealing splotches of muddy earth, the sky is full of brilliant sunlight. When people in other places ask me how I survive the cold and the dark here, I try to explain the annual cycle. They nod and their eyes glaze over as I tell them that the amount of available light changes at the rate of plus or minus f 6-7 minutes a day. Right now we have more than 15 hours of light, and it will keep increasing until June 21. By then we will be used to the never-ending daylight. But right now I am still amazed when I walk outside after an event in the evening and say, “Wow, it’s still light!”

There’s another story that accompanies this amazement. We are also experiencing warmer than normal temperatures for this time of year. This means that the trees may leaf out a full two weeks earlier than usual. I love what we call “green-up,” the vibrant new life, but I also worry that these warmer temperatures are the result of global climate disruption.

How do I hold both emotions at once? Amazement and concern. I think we need both. When I look at a glacier or a sunset, I want to say, “Wow! and to appreciate the transitory beauty of the moment. That’s my heart space. My head tells me that the glaciers are retreating, the waters are rising, the woods surrounding my home may be dying, the permafrost is melting, and more. But just for this moment, let me feel the joy and love the world.  I love the following poem by Mary Oliver.

Messenger
by Mary Oliver
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

Prayer Posture

 

When I was a child I was taught to kneel by my bed to say my prayers at night. At other times, like in church, I learned to sit with my hands folded and my head bowed as the pastor prayed. Images of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane typically show him kneeling next to a rock with his hands folded and looking up. In another situation, described in Matthew 26:38-39 we learn that “he fell with his face to the ground and prayed,” in one of Islam’s prayer positions. Another prayer position I learned later in life is a standing posture with arms outstretched and looking up, the way popular culture depicts Native Americans praying.

I read somewhere that it’s not the body’s posture but the heart’s attitude that counts when we pray. That may be true, but I have done enough yoga, tai chi, and Japanese tea ceremony to know that body posture also matters. When I am doing a posture or movement correctly there is an energy flow. I don’t have the language to describe it, but I can feel the difference when the yoga teacher repositions me during practice.

This morning I began a new yoga class, returning to a practice I have done off and on for many years. The teacher spoke of integrating body, mind, and spirit. I felt opened and awakened. I’m not sure what this has to do with prayer, really, except that it opens the channels to allow for communication with the divine.

In settling into waiting worship I often pay attention to my posture. Sitting in a chair is not the optimal position for prayer, or worship, but it can happen. I lengthen my back, put my shoulders back and open the chest (opening the heart), feel myself suspended from above, and plant my feet firmly on the ground, if possible.

I once sat in on one of Marcelle Martin’s classes on body prayer at Pendle Hill. I don’t remember the exact movements, but I remember how liberating it felt to pray with my body in different positions. I think the Muslims understand this, as there are 5 postures for daily prayer. It seems traditional Jewish practice also included different postures, including the prostrating one. I don’t know enough about those different postures to know if they represent different attitudes of prayer, e.g. gratitude, supplication, praise (thanks!, help!, wow!, as Anne Lamont puts it), but in my own practice I will try to mindfully consider what positions or movements reflect those attitudes.