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Readings:

Exodus 14:10-31, 15:20-21

Psalm 114

Romans 6:3-11

Luke 12:1-24

Reflection:  The First Fruits of Resurrection

When the women came upon Jesus’ tomb, they were prepared to find a dead body, carrying with them spices to treat the decaying corpse.  But when they didn’t find Jesus’ body there, they were reminded that Jesus had told them he would die and later be resurrected.  We can also hear tales of resurrection, but when we see death, be easily overcome by it.  We mourn, sob, lament.  They had been mourning for 3 days and assumed they would continue to do so.  But upon realizing Jesus had been raised from death into life, the women turned quickly to rejoicing and proclaiming this good news.

Like those women, we lamented on Good Friday the many ways we have actively and passively taken part in the degradation of the earth and its peoples.  We cried tears, sat in the muck and mire of devastating facts, and lifted up our voices to God and Christ for mercy.  We can find ourselves wallowing in those facts and find change an impossibility as we prepare spices for the earth’s dead body.

However, like the women, we are called to heed the reminder that creation renews itself.  We pave over the earth, but flowers still push through its cracks.  Without any work on our part, trees bloom every Spring.  God’s grace continues to flow through creation.  Creation speaks back to us, keeps us in our place.  The restorative power of God brings new, unexpected life to even the most parched patch of earth.  Upon experiencing this good news of God’s renewing grace, we must turn from mourning toward proclamation and participation in new life.

That we even recognize signs of new life is because they contrast with the persistent brokenness all around us.  Jesus’ new life is simply the first fruits of resurrection, of the new kingdom that God is bringing to fruition in the world.  Paul wrote to the Romans, “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”  As witnesses to Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are to continually understand and die to our ways of destruction, so that we may walk in ways that lead to new life.

We ought never forget that seeds of God’s creative power have been placed within us for that new life.  And we are called to exercise our creative power in the world.  This does not mean we have the power to enact every wish we have for the world, but that God works in those seeds inside of us.  We may be just one little seed, but we hold hope in our God that we have fallen on good ground, that rain will come, and we will blossom into new life in the world.

And God wants every part of us.  Our whole selves – body, mind, and spirit – have been planted in creation.  And so our work should take root in creation.  God wants all of us – for the sake of the restoration of all creation.

Practices:

Celebrate signs of new life around you by eating a meal outdoors or singing joyful songs about creation like the “Johnny Appleseed” grace or “Hymn of Promise.”

Consider how you might nurture the seeds placed in your care for the good of creation, or how you might give yourself more fully to the flourishing of all creation.

Prayer:  Hymn of Promise

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

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Readings

Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14 •  Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19 •  1 Corinthians 11:23-26 •  John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Reflection: Whose Feet Do You Wash?

“And above all, we give thanks that on the night before Jesus was handed over to suffering and death, he gathered his disciples and took bread…”

So begin the words of institution that mark the sacred table around which many Christian communities gather weekly, monthly, or even occasionally. This cadence is etched into our hearts as an integral part of our life together as a community: it is the ultimate symbol of the love and the moving spirit that keeps us together. And of all days to hear again this story in our scriptures, one would expect it to be today; after all, tonight is the night before Jesus is handed over to suffering and death. But we do not hear these words in the gospel. Instead, we glimpse Jesus washing his disciples feet, and telling them that they “should love one another,” just as Jesus has loved them.

Today’s gospel passage begins Jesus’ “farewell discourse,” where he prepares his disciples for his impending death.  This is a preparation for how to go on living after he has died, and how life will continue on without him.

He begins this discourse by washing his disciples’ feet and commanding them to love each other as he has loved them.

Take a moment to let the profundity of that simple action sink in: Jesus washes his disciples feet. Picture for a minute your own feet: we hardly ever look at them, or acknowledge them except for their sometimes usefulness; when we do acknowledge them at all, it is often with a hint of disdain. Feet are dirty and smelly, because for many of us, they mark the physical space where our bodies meet the hardness of reality—rough roads and dropping arches, not to mention bunions or calluses won from long days on our feet, or the occasional hangnail that reminds us that the littlest things can pierce us deeply when they affect every move our bodies make. The disciples’ feet would have very much the same, and though the circumstances of their lives might have been different, the reality of their feet would be accessible to us: roughness, perceived ugliness, downright brutal interaction with the world.

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.” (John 13:3-4)

And Jesus, when preparing his disciples for life after him, wraps a towel around his waist, kneels before his students, pours warm water, and washes their feet. How intimate! How tender! And how real it is! This, this!—is a love that moves mountains, a love who did not consider divinity something to be exploited but emptied itself and was born in human likeness (Philippians 2:6-8). This love is a love so great that even death could not hold it. This is a love that heals the most painful edges of our lives and makes the entire world whole.

Too often, we equate love with a weak sentimentality—we let ourselves think of love as either godly or profane, or in its greatest human form, a kind of deep attraction.  We forget the power that resides in the words, “I love you.” Moreover, we forget what it means that Jesus commands us to love as he has loved us.

When we forget that love is messy, we settle for a love whereby we claim to love our neighbors but allow them to starve or, worse, turn a blind eye to the reason why they starve. We squabble over national or local economic policies while the working poor buy their groceries at the corner convenience store… and we call our dollar donation at the supermarket checkout “charity.”  We convince ourselves that this is “loving one another as Jesus loved us.” Because it’s too difficult to acknowledge that when we buy our groceries, we do so as a part of a larger economic whole: a whole where we benefit at the expense of others, even when those others are half a world away. Because it’s difficult, even angering, to imagine that our very ways of being—how we consume, how we discard—can and does contribute to the destitution of two thirds of the world, we choose not to acknowledge that to love the world is to make a decision radically at odds with the way we live now.

Love is difficult business, because it makes us question who we are.

To love one another as Jesus has loved us, as we prepare ourselves for Jesus’ suffering and death tomorrow, means that we must wash one another’s feet.  It’s difficult to imagine what this looks like, when all we have to offer us hope are political stump speeches, and when world economies are so complex that we can barely keep up with the news programs that attempt to explain them. To see with our own eyes what love means, I cannot begin to tell you.

But I can tell you what it might feel like…

It feels like someone else’s rough foot, held tenderly in your hands: someone’s unaffordable electricity bill, or a North Nashville community’s creeping landfill site, or women whose only perceived means of self-sufficiency is prostitution.

It feels like warm water, flowing over the cold edges of someone else’s toes: a stranger’s tears spilling onto your shirt when their house is repossessed, or building houses after the floodwaters subside.

It feels like the soft healing oils gaining heat between your hands and another’s vulnerable, tender feet: the swelling pride of voting for bills that provide a better access to education for all children, or volunteering at a summer reading program.

And it feels like admitting that some problems are too big to be tackled in one day, but that a steady faithful community can make small steps toward hope. It may be simple, and it may be a far cry from healing the broken economy and the systems of economic depravity that keep some people poor and other people prosperous, but it’s a start.

So why don’t we hear the story of the Eucharist in today’s gospel? Well, I think we do hear it—instead of a Eucharist of bread and wine, we see a Eucharist of water and oil. It is a reminder that we do not only gather around this table, but that we gather around each other, pour warm water, and wash each other’s feet.

And we believe that it is possible because Jesus commanded us to love one another as he has loved us. We believe it is possible because Jesus shows us that it is in serving that our lives are transformed. We believe that it is possible because Jesus, on the night before he was handed over to suffering and death, showed us what it means to love one another as he has loved us.

Scripture

Liturgy of the Palms: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 •  Luke 19:28-40

Liturgy of the Passion: Isaiah 50:4-9a •  Psalm 31:9-16 •  Philippians 2:5-11 •  Luke 22:14-23:56

Reflection

Today, on Passion/Palm Sunday, we witness Jesus’ fateful ride into Jerusalem. His triumphal entry into the holy city is a time for celebration. The disciples line the streets—they take off their cloaks and lay them on the ground along Jesus’ way—and they shout, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” So great was the joy that, when asked to silence his disciples, Jesus replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” And I can’t help but wonder if, just maybe, the stones were indeed crying out, and the people there simply didn’t have ears to hear.

But the celebration was short-lived. In his words and deeds, Jesus proclaimed a new reality. He proclaimed a reality in which all would have access to wholeness, to the abundant life that is God’s desire for creation. He proclaimed an economy in which the poor would no longer be poor; a community in which all would be beloved; and an empire in which Caesar would no longer be emperor. But the implications of this reality were not acceptable to those in power—for the poor to escape poverty, the rich must cease to be rich; for all to be equally beloved, those with special privilege must cease to be privileged; and for Caesar to cease being emperor, well, anyone who would suggest such a thing must be a traitor. And so Jesus was executed as a traitor to the Roman Empire. And, as the sky darkened and Jesus breathed his last, I can’t help but wonder if the stones were crying out then, too.

Today, the stones continue to cry out—and not only the stones, but even the mountains. And today, they lament not only the death of Christ, but also the death of their kindred. The National Memorial for the Mountains identifies over 470 mountains in the Appalachians that have been destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining, and the destructive process continues, not only leveling mountains and destroying habitats, but also polluting waterways and making affected areas more flood-prone. Many of us are unwittingly connected to this horrifying practice. In Nashville, NES uses coal from a mountaintop removal mine. The mountains cry out, and few of us have ears to hear. We inadvertently support companies that destroy mountains to feed our energy addiction.

At the cross, we are confronted by the tragic nature of the reality in which we live, which is often governed by injustice, suffering, and violence; sin, death, and evil. For the crucified Savior, there is little we can do but mourn. But, by God’s grace, we can work to save other innocents from the same fate. Likewise, there is little we can do for the mountains that have been destroyed but mourn. But we can work to prevent other mountains from meeting the same fate.

As we look forward to the resurrection, we see a glimmer of hope. But today, we mourn, and the mountains cry out.

Practices

1. As the disciples celebrated Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, celebrate the arrival of spring. When you pass pear trees, dogwoods, and other blossoming trees, stop to admire the beauty of creation and to give thanks to God for the renewal of life.

2. As we mourn the crucifixion of Jesus, take a moment to pray for mountains that have been and are being destroyed, as well as all of God’s creatures that are affected by the destruction.

3. Join the fight against mountaintop removal. For Tennessee Residents, visit LEAF to find out what steps you can take to help pass the Scenic Vistas Protection Act to make mountaintop removal illegal in TN.

Prayer

O God of joy, we rejoice in the rebirth that accompanies spring.

O God who suffers with us, we cry out and mourn the passion of Jesus. We weep for his suffering, the unjust suffering of others, and the suffering of all creation.

O God of hope, we yearn for the day when you will finish the work of redemption that you have already begun.

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Scripture

Psalm 126

1When the Lord brought back those who returned to Zion, we were like those who dream.

2Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”

3The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

4Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb.

5May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

6Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.

Reflection

Lent is supposed to be a time of mourning. It is a time of tears, as Christians confess personal sins and, just as importantly, our participation in systemic evil. Just like the people of Israel who had been carried away to Babylon, we recognize our bondage to the evil systems which rule over us.  Environmentally speaking, this means we must confess our captivity to consumerism; we are in bondage to the burning of fossil fuels for transportation, to the use of non-biodegradable plastics on almost everything we buy, to the purchasing of food produced with pesticides, etc.,  just as surely as the Israelites lived in bondage to Babylon. We can no more exit our self- and environmentally-destructive economic system than Israelites like Daniel could have stopped serving the governmental system which held them captive.

The reality of our captivity seems pretty obvious to us, at least if we’ve spent much time thinking about it. What might be less obvious to us Christians is that we are also in exile from the land of God’s promise. We are not exiled from a specific geographic location, but, what is perhaps worse, we are exiled from creation itself. Think about your typical day. For those of us with cars, we do most of our traveling in air-conditioned vehicles. When we arrive at our destinations, we enter air-conditioned buildings, often with few windows. Even for people who walk, our cities have become vast concrete deserts. There might be sparse ornamental vegetation, in nicer areas, but in many places cockroaches and a few weeds are the only creatures that can survive there, save the rats. Just as the people of God were exiled from Israel, from the land which told them of God’s loving faithfulness, now we are exiled from creation itself.

But if we are in exile from creation and bondage to an environmentally destructive economic system, what hope do we have? What can we possibly do about our predicament? No doubt some action is appropriate; even in these barren circumstances we must sew some kind of seed for the sake our own survival. But perhaps the first action we must take is to mourn our desperate situation and to admit that we are profoundly in need of God’s salvation. We must weep out our need for God’s help, asking God to “restore our fortunes”  These tears accompany our efforts; they water dry ground as we re-plant prairies with native grasses or as we establish urban gardens in degraded soil. We remember that God has saved us from captivity and exile before. It is not out of despair but out of hope that we mourn; our hope is that

“those who sow in tears [may] reap with shouts of joy, [and] those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.”

Prayer

Loving Creator,

We are nearly overwhelmed by the condition we find ourselves in, exiled from the beauty of your creation and captive to a way of life that is destroying the earth. In our privileged position, it’s easy to turn our backs on this truth. It’s easy to buy one more shirt, to watch more tv, to eat or drink too much, or to participate in any one of a thousand means our culture offers us to avert our attention from this dreadful, threatening reality. Help us not succumb to these temptations; deliver us from evil. Help us face our world’s environmental crisis and respond as you surely must respond; help us to mourn, for love for you demands suffering with your suffering loved one, the creation. But we ask for more than this. Make our tears worth something by using them to “restore our fortunes”, to “bring us back from captivity”. Then, with the children of Israel, we will proclaim “the Lord has done great things for us”. As you have delivered us before, let your children once more be filled with joy.

Lenten Practices

1.  Familiarize yourself with the environmental health of your locality. What’s the air quality like? How clean is the water? What are the endangered species in your area? A few websites that might be helpful include:

2. Plant something. In rainy springtime, planting is itself an act of profound faith. One never knows what  frost may come or if the ground will even be able to sustain life. But farmers, and most of us unwitting consumers, depend on the fact that some of those seeds will grow into the food we need.

3. Spend some time in a place where environmental restoration has happened. It is hard to pray in remembrance of deliverance, as this Psalm does, if one has never experienced it.  Urban community gardens are especially hopeful examples.

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Daily Devotional Readings for March 14, 2010 (PCUSA)
Genesis 48:8-22; Romans 8:11-25; John 6:27-40; Psalms 42; 32

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35

Devotion:

Like Joseph, who rebelled against his father’s wish to see his second born son become greater than the first-born, we often falsely believe we know the right and proper order of the world.  Born into the “First World,” many of us believe we have the right to our lives of abundance.  Our privileged status in the world gives us claim to a greater portion.  Though many of us dare not speak these words aloud, our actions reflect this belief.  We squander the things we own; knowing that there will always be more and forgetful of those whose portion grows smaller.  We often fail to see our connection to the whole, believing instead that we are solitary beings, only responsible for ourselves.  Yet, if we think we are entitled to our portion, we have failed to hear God’s challenge to live differently in the world.

Rather than being liberated by God’s promise of eternal life as read in John 6, we have become enslaved to our consumerist lifestyles.  Though we may long for stability, for things that do not perish, we settle for the perishable.  Even things that have stood the test of time are discarded in favor of the new and fashionable. Fooled by our culture into believing nothing is everlasting, we secretly do not believe that God’s life, love, and grace are sustaining.  Christ’s promise to be “living bread” is lost on those of us who rarely feel the real pangs of hunger.

Binding ourselves to continual death rather than life, we enslave the rest of creation as well.  Our consumptive practices are cause for the whole creation to cry out against us. Paul reminds us that creation is groaning, longing to be free from the bondage we have enslaved it to.  Unaware of our place within creation and oblivious to our responsibility for others, we fail to hear God’s call to justice.

As global markets expand, we are reminded again and again that we are interconnected, interdependent beings.  Our (unearned) privilege in the web of creation should entice us toward contemplative lifestyles and thoughtful action.  No more entitled, no more blessed, no more righteous, we must learn to find our place within this web, striving for peace and justice in the whole.

Practice:

  1. Becoming prayerfully aware of the often taken-for-granted resources in your life.  For example, thank God for water each time you turn on a facet and then pray that soon all people will have clean water.
  2. Count the number of disposable objects you use in your daily life (i.e. water bottles, coffee cups, paper towels, soap dispensers). Consider whether you can opt instead for more durable, sustainable objects.
  3. At your next trip to the grocery or convenience store, buy goods that are the least “packaged” or have used ecologically friendly packaging (paper, cotton, or glass as opposed to plastic)
  4. Consider donating to TVA’s Green Power switch, helping Tennessee raise funds to become more energy efficient through renewable energy sources.

Prayer:

Lord, create in us hearts that thirst for justice and hunger for peace.  Remind us daily of our part in your web of creation and keep us mindfully aware of our tendencies toward isolationism and individualism.  Allow us to perceive the groaning creation and create in us hearts that groan with others.  Help us to hold onto the things that give life, and let go of the things that bring death to us and to others.  Allow us wait patiently for your grace and yet live for your Kingdom now.  Amen.

Isaiah 55:1-9 Psalm 63:1-8 •  1 Corinthians 10:1-13 •  Luke 13:1-9

“Listen, so that you may live.”

God offers abundant life to us all.  “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!”  However, we sometimes choose un-life, life “lite,” almost life.  In our desire for “more,” we end up choosing less.  Obsessed with making fluffier, identical loaves of bread, we bleach flour of its nutrients; in making “more” grain to make “more” bread, we genetically modify our wheat.  “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”  Instead of giving our money for bread “lite,” God calls us to feast and delight ourselves in “rich food.”  Instead of relegating the labor of creating “almost bread” to lab technicians and machines, perhaps God calls us each to seek the satisfaction that comes from our own labor.

The passage from Isaiah does not simply commend us to make better decisions at the grocery store, to make our own bread or grow our own gardens.  God beckons us, “Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.”  Abundant life does not simply come from a good loaf of bread, but rather comes from intimate relationship with God, which God establishes in holy covenant with us.  Only in deeply listening to God will we hear the promptings of the Holy Spirit, as we attempt to live in harmony with the rhythm of the seasons and in caring relationship with our sisters and brothers.

Until we invite God’s ways and thoughts into conversation with our own, we will continue to wallow in our “almost life.”  We will continue to eat bread which leaves our bodies wanting, which leaves our fields wanting.

As Derek noted last week, the whole of creation is hoping, groaning, left wanting – for its own fulfillment.  As in Jesus’ parable of the young fig tree which had not yet borne fruit, we heed the words of the gardener to wait awhile longer while he puts manure down.

While we hope for God’s fulfillment of God’s purposes in creation, we listen intimately to God, we celebrate those places where we see glimpses of that fulfillment (in mature trees bearing fruit, in loaves of nutritious bread), and we do the good work to which God calls us.  We lay down the manure, we advocate for grocery stores to be built in “food deserts,” we build community gardens.  All this, so that we may echo God’s words, “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!”

Practice

We hope that you are finding the nourishment you need to continue the practice(s) you have taken up these 40 days of Lent, and we pray that your practices are nourishing you and your relationship with God and others.

Some new ideas for practices to take up this week, or later on:

  • Create your own “manure” of sorts, by saving your kitchen’s fruit and vegetable waste, grass clippings, and leaves, and beginning a compost bin.  Compost bins need not be complicated, expensive, smelly, nor must you have outdoor space (you can buy boxes of worms to do the job for you inside!).
  • “You that have no money,” try out dumpster diving.  Make a dash to the grocery store, bakery, or restaurant as they’re closing and taking out the trash (or any other time), and check out the bags stuffed with just-expired items.
  • Advocate for grocery stores to be established in food deserts.  Food Security Partners of Middle Tennessee (link to the left) is running a campaign called “Re/Storing Nashville.”  There, you can share your own “grocery story.”
  • Buy a loaf of nourishing bread at a local bakery such as Great Harvest.
  • Start a garden where you live, or help out with a community garden.  They’re popping up all around Nashville.

Prayer

(from The Evangelical Reformed Churches in German-speaking Switzerland, 1972)

Lord, you love life; we owe our existence to you. Give us reverence for life and love for every creature.  Sharpen our senses so that we shall recognize the beauty and also the longing of your creation, and, as befits your children, treat our fellow creatures of the animal and plant kingdoms with love as our brothers and sisters, in readiness for your great day, when you will make all things new.

Amen.

Authored by Jessica Bridges on behalf of Eco-Concerns

Readings for the First Sunday in Lent:

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

Romans 10:8b-13

Luke 4:1-13

The Spirit and the Wilderness

Lent comes to us as gift that we would seldom purchase. Most of us have aversions to wandering, to solitude, and to self-denial. It is in these places that we often come face to face with the demons in our lives and to avoid them we press on, keep moving, consume more.

Yet the wisdom of the early church and the work of the Spirit meet us in this place and call us into the wilderness. Though most of us are not preparing for Baptism, there is a profound humility in taking time to reflect and prepare to receive anew the hope of our faith.

Ironically, we do not find this hope of liberation in our experiences of success or the Enlightenment notion of inevitable progress. We do not find it in what we possess. Rather there is something in our surrender to the Spirit’s leading and in moments where we are more mindful of God that puts us back in touch with the created order of things.

There is a deep connection here. The Spirit leads Jesus to the wilderness in our Gospel lesson and never leaves him. Today, when we loose touch with the Spirit it may take an encounter with the wilderness to remind us of God’s presence. The image below comes from such a time in my own journey. I was traveling the country and my companion had to return home after the end of a long-term relationship. I found myself alone and so drove North on the Pacific Coast Highway, unsure of what lay ahead. What I found was a profound experience of my small statue before the very large God of the Redwoods. Yet somehow as I was amongst those trees I felt at home and knew that we shared a common hope. I was connected.

What is important here is that we are never alone on this journey. Yet we must be intentional through our practices about remembering this. We are a part of a web that we did not create that is with us even amidst the wilderness. May God’s Spirit move among us in this season helping us to sense our connection as we wait in hope.

Sun through the trees in the Redwood National Forest ( 2007)

Practice

For Ash Wednesday we invited you into traditional practices of Almsgiving, Prayer and Fasting to help us prepare for Easter. We hope you have had the opportunity to choose a practice that you will sustain during this season. Each week however, we will offer a few additional practices that you might take on for a shorter length of time. May these be suggestions of how you can draw closer to God and to creation during this season.

A Sabbath Walk in the Woods

Consider making some time this week to take a walk in the literal wilderness that is around us. Go for a hike in Percy Warner Park and listen to the birds and sit for some time in silence. If that journey is too far (9 miles from campus or so) consider making some time to go to the “edge of the wilderness” and find a quiet spot on campus to spend a few minutes outside. Listen for how you hear and experience God when you can sit apart from the pace of life. What sense of connectedness do you long for?

Prayfulness

As you move through this week we invite you to keep the spirit of this prayer in mind. May it serve to remind us that we are indeed connected, even to and in the wilderness of life.

A Prayer for the Wonders in Nature

Thank you God,
for the sand and the stars,
for the oceans and the mountains,
for all the living creatures
whose spirit is somehow connected to my own.
Thank you for the forests and the flowers,
for the fertile soil
and the power to grow.
Thank you for life’s rhythms,
the seasons and the phases of the moon,
for the sky above me,
and the soul within me.
Thank you God for placing me
in a world so vast and majestic.
Everywhere I turn I see a sign
that leads me straight to You. Amen.

~ Rabbi Naomi Levy, from her book, Talking to God

Authored by Eric Burton-Krieger on behalf of Eco-Concerns

Readings for Ash Wednesday:

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12

Psalm 51:1-17

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Remembering our Finitude, Finding a Source of Hope

Remember, from dust you have come and to dust you shall return.

Ash Wednesday marks the start of the season of Lent: a time of almsgiving, fasting, and prayer to ready ourselves for the coming of Easter.  It is a solemn time, for we are reminded of our finitude.  We are reminded that, as finite creatures, our actions and intentions often amount to little.

In this short period of time we have on Earth, we want to be useful and helpful.  Especially when we see the devastation that our Earth endures, we want even to save the world.  Yet, more often than not, we become impediments to the world’s restoration: our best efforts fail or become diverted from their purpose.  Or worse, when faced with the contradiction of our best efforts and our inevitable failures, we begin to lose hope.

Becoming “stuck” on the bigness of it all, we lose our ability to become present in the moment.  We forget that our Christian practice is–even in its best iterations–not meant to “save the world.”  Rather, our Christian practice is one of loving the world.  Our mission is not to save the world, but to love it as Christ has loved it.  From seed to tree, from mountain top to ocean current, part of what it means to be Christian is to love the world that God creates anew each day.

Ironically, we find that, in loving the world, little by little, we become unstuck from its bigness and can instead focus our practice on the seemingly insignificant things that do matter.

In today’s Gospel reading, we hear Jesus telling his followers to be private in their almsgiving, fasting, and prayer.  We hear Jesus telling us not to become caught up in the outward appearance of our spiritual practices.  Do not blow trumpets, calling attention to yourself and your own goodness, but quietly and steadfastly bear witness to the goodness of God’s justice that is coming.

And we know that it is coming.  On the other side of Lent, we know the joy of Easter that simultaneously promises and participates in the coming of God’s Kingdom.  Knowing that we come from dust and to dust we shall return does not stop us from proclaiming the exuberance of the resurrection.

But let us not get ahead of ourselves: though we look forward to the resurrection, let us not forget that we must be present throughout the slow season of Lent, or that we must also bear through the Cross on Good Friday.  Recalling that we shall return to dust reminds us of our finitude, but also of our context.  The basic and mundane contexts of our lives is where transformation takes place.  In the dust and dirt of our existence, we see hope for the restoration of the world.

Practice

Part of the season of Lent includes practices that help prepare us for Easter.  Some of us fast from some luxury such as meat, chocolate, sodas, or alcohol; others of us take on practices such as calling our families more often, giving to a charity, or embarking on disciplined prayerful contemplation.  Perhaps you have already decided what you will practice this Lent; perhaps you have not.

Almsgiving, praying, and fasting are traditional forms of Christian practice.  Viewed through an ecological lens, these practices take on new meanings.

Here is a brief list of suggestions.

Almsgiving

  • Pay carbon offsets to your local power company to encourage more sustainable forms of energy.
  • Reduce your dependence on material goods (and the stripping of natural resources that their production requires) by donating up to one half of your wardrobe to Goodwill, either all at once or a few items each week.
  • Join a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) group to support local farmers, while at the same time getting fresher, more seasonal vegetables to your table.
  • Become a member of an environmental advocacy group, either through donating financially or by volunteering your time.
  • Donate your Saturdays to a community garden.

Praying

  • Practice daily devotional readings, searching for ways that the Scripture may enhance, deepen, or illuminate how you see the Earth and your relationship to nature.
  • Seek out daily activities that can become occasions for prayer: driving your daily commute without heat or air to cut down on the amount of gasoline used, doing the dishes with less water, brushing your teeth without the sink running: to come to understand this activity’s intricate connection to the environment.
  • Pray for the restoration of the environment, particularly that mountaintop removal be stopped and that God’s mountains and the people who live on them recover from decades of destruction.

Fasting

  • Cattle farming and other commercial forms of meat production often use more resources (such as water) than farming beans or vegetables.  Fasting from meat during the season of Lent can have a great impact on the amount of resources being used to bring your meal from the farm to your table.
  • Find ways to cut back your daily commute: carpool one day a week, or walk or bike to your daily activities (where possible).
  • Reduce the number of times per week that you and your family eat out.  Fasting in this simple way also means that you take on making more meals at home.  Becoming committed to more home-cooked meals may also increase one’s appreciation for the work involved in sustaining our bodies.
  • If you do go out to eat, bring your own reusable tupperware–fast from the environmentally harmful clamshell containers that have become a staple of our dining culture.
  • Start a carbon-fast at home: replace incandescent bulbs with CFL bulbs, either all at once or a few each week.
  • Fast from buying bottled water.  Instead, reuse your most recent plastic bottle for the 40 days of Lent.

Prayerfulness

We invite you to take this simple prayer* with you throughout the week.  May it remind you that the ground, praised as holy, is the same ground to which we as mortal creatures will return.  It is the same ground to whose restoration our daily practices witness.

Holy is the soil we walk on,
Holy everything that grows,
Holy all beneath the surface,
Holy every stream that flows.


* Prayer written by Edmund Banyard (quoted in Earth Gospel by Sam Hamilton-Poore).