Rev. Dr. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, Westworth United Church, September 7, 2014
Gen 2:4b-9; Acts 17:16-28, Psalm 139:1-18
Cautiously, I climbed the slick, marble steps, dangerously polished by centuries of feet—heavy feet that climbed in fear or hope of verdicts that would be reached by the Council of Elders. The Athenian Council would hold court on matters of city policy, philosophy, criminal accusations and religion on top of what was called the Areopagus, or, as is translated into English, Mar’s Hill.
St. Paul’s feet helped polish these slick steps as he was brought up and called to account for his babblings about foreign gods. To stand on the very stones on which our ancestors in the faith most probably stood, is an incredible experience—unfamiliar to us residents of the New World. To feel, to see, to engage in a tangible experience of our faith that is unseen sends out strange roots of reality that move the heart in surprising ways.
As I stood on top of Mar’s Hill—on top of the Areopagus—I found my heart beating a little more quickly, as I heard Paul’s words reflected off the marble rock: “This unknown God to whom you have built an altar is the God who made the world and everything in it. It is this God in whom we live and move and have our being.”
These words of Paul have had a tremendous impact upon theologians and laity alike across the centuries. We do not exist on our own. Rather, our very breath, the flow of our life-blood, our love and our rage, our very being exists within God. This is what it means to live in God. It is impossible to live outside of God. The psalmist assures us that, even in our darkest moments, even in our darkest thoughts, God is there. All that we are, with our quirks, our personalities, our passions, has been created by God, for it is in God we live and move and have our being.
I am most conscious of living in God when I am immersed in joy, in love, or in nature. The moment I step out of the car into the woods and breathe in the oxygenated air, I can release myself into God’s gentle embrace. There, under the green canopy, I am soothed by the forest’s healing balm, buoyed by chickadees, gladdened by dancing spirits on water and rock, strengthened by trees solidly rooted, yet bending in the breeze.
Our wondrous creation is perhaps our greatest teacher. In Bolivia, they speak often of Pachamama—Mother Earth. They were the first country to give Pachamama human rights, for they believed that the earth deserved the same respect as humans. They believe that the Creator lives as Spirit not only in humans, but also in the earth. They believe that we can learn from Pachamama. Our Bible seems to agree. The second creation story in Genesis suggests that trees, in particular, can teach us knowledge about good and evil. As they reach for the heavens, pointing to the author of all creation, trees can help us understand what it means to live and move and have our being in God.
On this Forest Sunday, let us listen to the lessons of the trees through a book by Nancy Pinnell entitled, “How to be a Tree.”
How to be a Tree –Nancy Pinnell
A tree is one of great worth.
Never let yourself believe any less than this.
You belong here;
You are born of the earth and the skies.
your roots deep within the mother,
holding you firm and bringing you sustenance.
your branches heavenward,
embracing the sun and the rain which also nourish you.
Inhale life into your limbs.
Exhale life into the world.
Better to bend than break.
Do not let scars and wounds define you.
Understand these things
but know that they are not who you are
Know when to let go.
Do not cling to that which needs to fall away;
it will only hinder you.
With the raindrops that glisten on your branches
the breezes that dance through your leaves.
in your frosted splendour.
Show your true colours.
Let autumn be your teacher.
Move and change in nature time.
Your essence is not of clock and calendar time.
Know that there will be solstices of the spirit.
Learn when to rest and when to give forth
Embrace the wintry leafless times,
the new budding times,
the flourishing fullness times,
the colourful ending times.
Know that, no matter what happens,
your connection to your mother the earth,
the Great Creator and the Energy of the Universe can never be severed.
You are a part of it all.
As the branches rustle in the breeze, they whisper to us, “We are all wondrously created and related, human to tree, rock to lake, mountain to sky. For in God, our Creator, we live and move and have our being.
“I thank you God for this most amazing day,” writes e. e. cummings, “for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.”