University Congregational Church
Sept. 17, 2017
“The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life: Nature”
Behind my mom’s house in Hutchinson is an alley. It is a dirt alley that spans the block east to west between the houses on 11th street and 12th street. These are homes built in the early 1900’s. My grandparents lived on 11th street for many decades and my mom has lived across the alley and down a few houses for more than 50 years. As a child, the alley between their houses was a familiar, well-traveled jaunt for me. There were garages and gardens; rain puddles and the driest of dust; well-worn ridges and smooth, level areas. There were animals – the usual suspects like dogs and cats – and some other things like skunks and spiders.
The alley was a place of intrigue… a familiar but ever-changing microcosm of my world. I had to walk it in all kinds of weather, times of day, and circumstances. More than a few times I raced down the alley in fear of the dark. A couple of times I cried from a skinned knee and looked before and behind me for which house was the closest – the one from which I came or the one I was going toward.
Behind one particular house there was a hedge row of humongous evergreen trees. This was the most precarious place along the alley. It was the place where spiders could build secret webs unnoticeable at dusk and dark. Walking into one of those was not a pleasant experience. Worse, you never knew what was hiding under those evergreen branches. They were deep and dark holes filled with dangerous dragons, scurrying gnomes, night creatures too terrible to mention (at least that’s what I always imagined as I hurried past this part of the route). My papa told me that the hedges were where the skunks were before they sprayed him late one night. He had to take a tomato juice bath to get rid of all the stench.
But the alley was also a place of delight. I remember skipping down the alley on my way to school in the mornings and toward home in the afternoons.
• Old Mrs. Blackford had a lilac hedge that spanned the entire length of her backyard. I still love the smell of lilacs!
• Mrs. Shulda usually had a garden along the back side of her yard and it attracted butterflies.
• Mr. & Mrs. Travalino were Italian immigrants who spoke with heavy accents and hung their laundry out to dry.
• Our pet cemetery was also along the back of the alley by our house. I could stop to remember one of our kitties, Charlie, and his fluffy warm fur, while at the same time scooping up our next cat and carrying her into the house.
Last Wednesday, I returned to the alley. The neighbors have changed and the houses sport different colors, but this tiny part of the world still smells the same. My mom planted zinnias again this year and they are in full glory. I spent some time smelling them and being delighted by the butterflies alighting and flitting away. The bright yellow, magenta, florescent orange blossoms are set off by the leafy bright green leaves. I was absolutely enchanted by the memories. It only took seconds for me to transform into a wild child kicking up the dirt and taking in all the sights and sounds and smells of this place.
We’re continuing on this week with the series about being “re-enchanted in our everyday lives”. Today’s enchantment emphasis is on nature. I would venture a guess that most of us find deep spirituality in nature related things if we stop and take notice. The psalmist echoes ancient words that teach us humans for centuries have been moved by the creation…
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the LORD has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of every human being.” Job 12:7-10
Our natural rhythms of life are found with plant and animal life, with changing seasons of the year, and with the ebb and flow of water. We have a natural kinship with all natural things. The challenge spiritually is that we take time in our lives to literally stop and “smell the flowers”. When we do, we can become re-enchanted and re-newed with spiritual inspiration and insight.
Stephen Colbert, of late-night comedy, gave an interview recently which was a surprising look into his very soul. “Faith ultimately can’t be argued, faith has to be felt,” said Colbert. “And hopefully you can still feel your faith fully, and let your mind have a logical life of its own. They do not defy each other, but complement each other, because logic itself … will not lead me to God, but my love of the world and my gratitude to it will.”
In his book, Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life, Thomas Moore writes about three aspects of nature that bring spiritual renewal – water, trees, and stone. I want to touch briefly on each of these. Other elements of nature bring spiritual healing and renewal as well, and I encourage you to explore the many opportunities to get outside and be inspired!
According to the Greek philosopher Thales, everything is water. Scientifically, we know that is not fact. However, water is not just H2O but an “essential part of our souls – fluid, deep, changing, cleansing, amniotic, nurturing, and threatening. To know water intimately is to know something about ourselves and to appreciate the presence of water as a means for increasing the life of the soul,” writes Thomas Moore.
The Greeks imagined that the oceans are divine. Consider that the ocean is a bountiful source of fish, transportation, and recreation. They are also a main place for contemplation and other aspects of spiritual life, not to mention baptism itself. A great ocean creates a great soul in people. We are born from water; the tides themselves echo within us. Sit by a body of water for a time to consider life and its meaning.
Along K96 just west of Wichita is a tree. You know the one from that simple definition. It is commonly called “the wishing tree”. This lone tree on the south side of the highway has captured our imaginations and our hearts. Last year the tree suffered damage from a Kansas storm. Volunteers made a Facebook page and raised funds to get this tree some chainsaw TLC and try to preserve it. Why so much fuss over one tree?
For years, people have driven by and honked, passed near and made wishes, gazed at it, sat under it, put flowers and signs underneath it, taken photographs of it, painted it and just admired it.
The “Cosmic Tree” appears in religions, mythologies, paintings, and dreams all around the globe. Trees are tall and branching; they are nature’s doubles of humans. Trees can form archways of welcome – like Oak Alley Plantation has near New Orleans. Many forests have cathedral trees – tall, gothic congregations of trees. Have you walked in the Red Wood forest? It is a spiritual experience on its own. People want to meet, have picnics, and get married under trees. It is as if trees are not only material objects, but have bodies, souls, and spirits themselves.
Gautma Sidhartha sat beneath the bodhi tree, determined to remain at its base until he was enlightened. There he became the Buddha. Jonah from the Hebrew Bible tradition sat under a withering tree to pout. Abraham welcomed angelic visitors under the shade of a tree. Jesus was crucified on a cross made from a tree. Olive tree ornaments and crosses have been made ever since to commemorate his death. In the ancient stories of the Sumerian Dumuzi and Inanna, Dumuzi is described as the palm tree opening into fruit. In fairy tales, the answer to the riddle of life is often found in the forest – the place where trees congregate and cast their spell.
Along my alley was a very special place – my papa’s woodshop. He was a contractor and builder. On the door of his woodshop was a sign that said “dog house”. It was to the shop he retreated when he needed a break from the house. It was in the shop that he designed and created furniture, my grandfather clock, and many household objects. 27 years after his death, my mom asked me to go into the shop and choose what I wanted from the tools and boards and nails left. I walked around the huge shop and saw the table saws, the nail caddy, a few tools, and the scraps of wood. I went into the house and got an empty container and I bent down under his table saw and I filled the container with sawdust. It was the smell of him that I wanted. The sacred smell of wood memory.
At first I was surprised that Thomas Moore wrote a section of his re-enchantment book about the spirituality of stone. He says, “Stone has been known forever to be magical, to have powers to heal, guide, house divinity, and mark paces of burial. Altars are usually of stone, as are temples, oratories, and sometimes houses.”
I once had a hot stone massage. It was truly a spiritual experience! And I began to think about stone and where it is used and how it speaks.
• In burial monuments, stones evoke eternity.
• In bank buildings, they speak of solidity and security.
• At Stonehenge, we experience mystery and the deep spirituality of our ancestors.
• Stone walls around churches and cemeteries are historical and, in some places, cared for over the generations by families.
• Rings and other jewelry hold precious stones and each have special significance.
Built into the high stone cliffs rising on the Welsh coast is a church I have visited several times. It is St. Govan’s, a church built there from the cliff stone and built into the stone to hide it and the worshippers from those who might cause harm. The majority of the chapel was built in the thirteenth century, although parts of it may date back further to the sixth century when Saint Govan, a monk, moved into a cave located on the site of the chapel. The building is only accessible from the cliff top (and you cannot see it from the top), by climbing down a set of 52 stairs carved into the stone. Each step is a spiritual journey itself as you take rough stone stairs along the cliff face and down into the chapel. Inside the chapel are stone benches and a stone altar, under which some say St. Govan himself is buried. As the waves of the ocean crash onto the cliffs below, you know that you are in a holy place.
This week, I invite you to follow the psalmist out into nature. Find that special place where you can commune with God. It could be under a tree, wading in a pond, or rubbing a small stone in your pocket. Listen. Listen for the voice of God in the creation and you are re-created, and re-enchanted with life and hope.
Moore, Thomas. “The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life”. HarperCollins. 1996.
Sojo.net “Stephen Colbert on Why He is a Christian”.