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Worshipping God the Creator: two quite diverse stories

Thursday August 11 2016

Worshipping God the Creator: two quite diverse stories

Lorna, 40, is a career counselor.

I grew up in the suburbs. We moved all the time. I was never encouraged to be in nature. I was actually afraid of nature, wild animals, that kind of thing. Until recently, I had never been camping. I always associated it with being cold, wet and uncomfortable. I think I was afraid of it.

Nature and my physical surroundings were never a part of my awareness. Until only recently, I didn’t know the names of the mountain ranges on either side of the city where I live. I am now much more aware of the details of nature. The physical world has become a source of comfort to me. I’m much more aware of God’s presence in nature. I wonder if this comes from a proximity to death as I grow older.

I came to Christian faith in my teens, and my faith was somehow disembodied. Now I have more of a sense of God’s presence in my surroundings. More recently there’s been a parallel process of coming into my body. My awareness of God’s presence in nature is in response to a need I feel to experience God more tangibly.

I can look at a tree and feel comforted, be reminded to pray. When I look at the tree, there’s simplicity. Nature speaks to me of my desire to consume, to comfort myself by buying something. I’m finding I would rather look at the view of the tree than spend the same time shopping.

Every year I see new things in the seasons. Dogwoods. Cherry blossoms. The way they fall on the ground. Kierkegaard says we need to learn from the sparrow, because God cares for each one.

I’m more aware of the moon. When I look at the moon, it feels relational, like God’s gift of presence and comfort. I’ll always be a talker and will want lots of relationships, but it’s like I’ve found this whole other sense of comfort that helps me connect with myself. Nature is outside of me, but it connects me to myself. Connecting with nature has given me a developing sense of self, an inner life.

I can be very self-critical and unforgiving to myself. I beat myself up as a Christian that I don’t pray enough. Then I look out the window, and the tree ministers to me. Nature communicates grace to me somehow. Nature says, “It’s this simple. God is this present.”

Penny’s Story: Penny is 39.

I live near a lake. It’s two and a half miles around the lake. I walk it. I run around it. There’s an old fir grove around the lake a ways from my house. The trees stand really straight and beautiful. One day when I was walking by, I felt a presence. I felt it beckon to me, but I was afraid. I started to cry. Later I began to notice something happening to me when I’d get to that place. Once I heard a voice, “You must be empty to be filled.” Once I gained an insight about light and dark.

I’ve named the place “The Brotherwood.” The brown bark makes the trees look like monks. It’s a holy place, a place I pray and am quiet, waiting to hear. I bring concerns there. If I’m sad, it’s the first place I go. If I’m happy, I go there. Those trees are my praying community. As I run around the lake, I see the trees praising God, their branches lifted up.

One time I took a friend there, and we lay on the ground and talked. It seemed afterwards that every place I touched in those woods was alive.

People talk about the energy in cathedrals. I do believe there are holy places, and I stumbled onto one. Or maybe my heart was open and I was ready.

 

This is the eleventh post in a series on worshipping God as Creator. Earlier posts:
     Nature calls us to worship         
     The Creation invites us to join in praise         
     The Bible and Creation         
     Some thoughts from midlife interviews         
     The good creation         
     Creation care         
     Voluntary simplicity           
     Voluntary simplicity in action         
     Bill's story        
     Co-creators with God         

(Next week: a quotation and some relevant scriptures. This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column.)

Worshipping God the Creator: Co-Creators with God

Friday August 5 2016

Worshipping God the Creator: Co-Creators with God

Expressing creativity through art, music, gardening, and a host of other avenues is another pathway that can help us connect with God the Creator. And at the same time, allowing ourselves the time and energy to enjoy God’s creation can help our own creative juices flow. Just like in the area of simplicity, many people have told me that they experience a vibrant ebb and flow as they enjoy the creation God made and as they engage in creative activities themselves. One feeds on the other.

Last week’s post on this blog presented Bill’s story. He talked about the way that the creation speaks to him about God’s call to each of us to be creative. As Bill said, we are created in God’s image and God is creative. Bill believes that we are all called to be co-creators with God.

Some may object to the term “co-creators.” Clearly, we are not equal partners with God in creation. God created and continues to create in a way that is totally different than anything we can do. God creates out of nothing. We take what God has already created, and we create something using already-existing forms and objects.

In addition, God sustains the universe in a way that is completely beyond our comprehension and completely different than anything we could do to care for creation. “In him all things hold together,” the Apostle Paul writes in Colossians 1:17. As much as we might like to exaggerate our own significance in moments of grandiosity, no human being can make that kind of statement about himself or herself.

I experience great joy and a sense of noble challenge when I think of myself as a “co-creator with God.” I love the high call to be a partner with God in creating something that reflects God’s beauty, love, and truth. At the same time, I know I am definitely a junior partner in the endeavor to express God’s creativity in human artistry.

I started writing fiction in my early forties. The ability to imagine people and events filled me with awe. Truly I felt like a partner with God, making something where nothing had been before. I didn’t create the words I used to write stories, but I dreamed up the plots and characters out of nowhere. The exhilarating sense of oneness I experienced with God as I wrote fiction has spilled over into many other areas of life.

For me, writing is a significant creative outlet, whether I’m writing a book, article, blog post or email to a friend. In addition, mundane daily activities can call forth my creativity in a way that mirrors God’s tender care for creation: fixing a delicious and attractive meal, setting a table with attractive dishes and flowers, arranging a room, or choosing flowers for an outdoor pot. I remember reading Edith Schaeffer’s classic book Hidden Art many years ago. She talks about the artistry that can be expressed in homemaking. Her ideas felt overwhelming to me as a young woman. Now they make sense.

I’m amazed at the number of people I know who enjoy making creative photo albums for their families. I’m also amazed at the number of people who have significant artistic talent for drawing and painting. When I was an associate pastor at a church in Seattle, every year at Pentecost we had a “Festival of Gifts” at our church. People brought all kinds of artwork and crafts to show. The variety was amazing. One year a family brought a kayak they had made. The wife does quilting, and a quilt square decorated the front of the kayak, deeply embedded in multiple coats of varnish. One person made soap. Someone had etched interesting designs on drinking glasses. One person made little angels as Christmas decorations. One father had made a life-size sculpture of himself and his son, cut out of plywood. People also brought embroidery, quilting, needlepoint, pencil sketches, watercolors, paintings, and collages.

All of these expressions of creativity require slowing down enough to pay attention to something other than the rush and demands of the consumer lifestyle. All of them require standing apart from the pressure and fast pace of so much of life, in order to focus on this immediate expression of beauty. In order to connect with God the creator by being creative ourselves, it is essential that we embrace simplicity in some form. The themes described in this series of blog posts – simplicity, creative expression through artistic endeavors, and enjoying the creation made by our loving Creator – are all intertwined. They build on each other.

This is the tenth post in a series on worshipping God as Creator. Earlier posts:
     Nature calls us to worship         
     The Creation invites us to join in praise         
     The Bible and Creation         
     Some thoughts from midlife interviews         
     The good creation         
     Creation care         
     Voluntary simplicity           
     Voluntary simplicity in action         
     Bill's story         

(Next week: two more stories about people's experience with Creation. This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column.)

Worshipping God the Creator: Bill’s Story

Wednesday July 27 2016

Worshipping God the Creator: Bill’s Story

 Bill, 35, is an urban planner who works for an architectural firm.

I am fundamentally at home in nature. I grew up spear-fishing for flounder with my dad, riding bikes a lot, hiking in the mountains with my Boy Scout troop. From an early age, looking at the stars, when I would let myself experience it fully, it felt overwhelming. You just can’t take it all in.

I enjoy the seasons. I’m just starting to get a sense of age and cycle and process in my life, and seeing it in nature is comforting somehow.

There were a lot of difficult parts about my life growing up. I was sort of a mournful kid. Fall was my favorite season because it felt mournful, so I was comforted by fall. Fall helped me tune into my own nature.

As I’ve gotten older, the meaning of spring has become more real. I’m crazy about spring. I like the freshness, everything budding out. It’s exciting to me, and it connects me to my emotions somehow, where it didn’t in the past.

I’ve started gardening. I love the rhythm of it, seeing stuff come out of the garden. It’s a non-verbal thing, a connection with nature. It’s ordinary and yet not ordinary.

Nature has always been pretty important to me, but I’m experiencing it now in a way that’s somehow more present. In gardening, the sense of planning, designing, bringing it along -- there’s something very rooted about that. It’s not directly about God, but it feels like I’m tuning in with spirituality and my home and where I live.

The universe is huge. I see God in the hugeness. Our smallness is both spacial and temporal – we’re   such a small piece of the puzzle.

The creation also speaks to me about the co-creativity of humanity. We’re created in God’s image and God fundamentally is creative. In many ways, that’s an exciting frontier of faith for me. Creativity is a huge gift to us. You can see God’s creativity in people, but one of the most accessible ways to experience God’s creativity is in creation.

I’m an urban planner, and I’ve loved maps all my life. Now I’m thinking about what goes onto maps. My firm is designing a large project, and I’m thinking about the wetlands and the topography, how best to develop it. How do we turn this landscape into a place for humans in a way that is respectful of the way God made it?

Urban design ties into environmental policy and the political process in caring for God’s creation, trying to be responsive to God’s creativity. It’s such a profound change in how we look at the world. So many pieces can come into play as we try to care for the environment. We Christians have focused our theology and our attention on humans and on God. We haven’t taken the creation into account as we should have.

 

This is the ninth post in a series on worshipping God as Creator. Earlier posts:
     Nature calls us to worship         
     The Creation invites us to join in praise         
     The Bible and Creation         
     Some thoughts from midlife interviews         
     The good creation         
     Creation care         
     Voluntary simplicity           
     Voluntary simplicity in action         

(Next week: "Co-creators with God?" This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column.)

Worshipping God the Creator: voluntary simplicity in action

Wednesday July 20 2016

Worshipping God the Creator: voluntary simplicity in action

Some years ago we offered at class at our church on the book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, by Ronald Sider. In the 1997 revision of the book, Sider makes many connections between world poverty and environmental degradation, because it is usually the poor who suffer the most ill effects from the impact of pollution. About six months after the class, one woman who had attended told me about the great impact the class had on her.

Before reading the book, she had no idea of the extent of world poverty or its connection to pollution. After the class, she prayed a lot about how to respond. God led her very clearly to take the bus to work two days a week instead of driving, as she had been doing. She figured out that by taking the bus she saved 2500 miles a year of wear and tear on her car, which reduces both pollution and the carbon emissions that cause global warming. She had to change busses in downtown Seattle, and she found that she often bought birthday cards and other small items downtown as she waited for her next bus. This saved her additional miles she would have driven on her car. She could read and pray on the bus, which proved to be a big bonus.

What struck me the most about my conversation with her was her joy. She had learned about God’s care for the poor and for the earth, she had prayed about it, and God had led her to do something that reduced pollution and freed up money, which can be given away. Riding the bus wasn’t something she felt she ought to do. It was something she wanted to do because God led her to do it. It was an act of devotion to God, a way to embrace God’s priorities in the world. It had meaning to her because it connected her to God’s priorities and her own values.

So many people in recent years have talked to me about the movement in their lives towards experiencing each moment as a gift from God, truly being present to the grace in the small things of life. This involves appreciating the people we are with, paying attention to what we are doing, and noticing the blessings of warmth, beauty, and tenderness when they occur in people or in nature. Many people call this attitude “mindfulness.”

To the extent that we embrace consumerism, we are forced to speed up the pace of our lives in order to earn more money to support our lifestyle. We also have to take the time to care for all our possessions. Voluntary simplicity enables us to slow down and experience spaciousness of time and place. Simplicity can help us live more mindfully.

A best-selling writer on simplicity, Cecile Andrews, talks about the fact that our sense of scarcity makes it hard for us to be mindful. We are anxious about time and money; we worry that we won’t have enough of either. Our fear of scarcity impacts our whole life and makes us move quickly and frantically. She writes:

To live mindfully, to appreciate your time, you have to move slowly. There’s nothing more difficult for Americans, and we have gotten worse in the last twenty years. Court reporters find that we talk faster. We walk faster, our movies are faster. MTV is the perfect example. Just when you start to focus on an image, the camera moves on.[1]

Those words were written 17 years ago, when MTV was fairly new. Just think how much faster images move today. Andrews advocates saying the words, “slow down,” almost as a mantra, and she believes that slowing down and practicing mindfulness is a prerequisite for developing an attitude of thankfulness.

This is the eighth post in a series on worshipping God as Creator. Earlier posts:
     Nature calls us to worship         
     The Creation invites us to join in praise         
     The Bible and Creation         
     Some thoughts from midlife interviews         
     The good creation         
     Creation care         
     Voluntary simplicity           

(Next week: "Bill's story." This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality. Illustration: Winter day in Queenstown by Dave Baab. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column.)

[1] Cecile Andrews, “The Spirituality of Everyday Life,” inSimpler Living, Compassionate Life, ed. Michael Schut (Denver: Living the Good News, 1999), p. 38, 39.

Worshipping God the Creator: voluntary simplicity

Thursday July 14 2016

Worshipping God the Creator: voluntary simplicity

As we slow down to experience the joy of this moment in this particular place in God’s creation, we understand more deeply God’s call to be careful stewards of all that God made. Part of that stewardship needs to be a reevaluation of the way we live in our consumer society.

Day and night the beauty of nature speaks to us of God’s greatness and calls us to praise and prayer. Day and night our consumer culture is also speaking to us, but the message is very different.

“More is better.” “If you are feeling sad, discouraged, or sexually unattractive, you will feel much, much better if you buy something.” “Shop ’till you drop.” These messages are pervasive. We encounter these voices in advertisements, TV sitcoms and talk shows, movies, magazines, newspapers, shop displays and throughout the online world.

Our consumer culture seriously gets in the way of faithful stewardship of creation in a variety of ways. Possessions cost money, and many of us have to work harder to pay for our many things. The extra time spent working makes us hurried and scattered, much less able to be intentional about the way we live. Possessions have to be shopped for, maintained, repaired, and housed, which requires time and effort that might have been spent doing something more restful and spiritually restoring. Everything we buy had to be made somewhere and then transported to us. The factories that make things and the trucks that transport things are often serious polluters.

Richard Foster is very blunt in describing the seriousness of the consumer messages from our culture: “Our need for security has led us into an insane attachment to things. We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic. It is psychotic because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy.” Foster believes we get sucked into consumerism because “we lack a divine Center.”[1]

One Christian response to consumerism is voluntary simplicity, choosing to live below the level of affluence that we can afford, for the purpose of slowing down consumption, living more intentionally, and striving to be more connected to what God desires for us. Many people who choose voluntary simplicity have a strong commitment to honoring God as creator, because living more simply serves both the earth and the poor of the world. Voluntary simplicity has a particular appeal at midlife as we desire to strip away the extraneous possessions, commitments and values in our lives and embrace what really matters to us.

Voluntary simplicity is not another “should” or “ought.” People who practice simplicity express enthusiasm for the joy they have experienced in embracing a different set of values than the ones promoted by our culture. They talk about the beauty in the words “less can be more.” To understand the joy of simplicity, think for a moment about the difference between a huge bouquet of flowers and a single rose. Sometimes the huge bouquet is appropriate, but sometimes the single rose is the best option because it is more restful, and its beauty is not obscured by a lot of other flowers.

Our culture tells us that huge bouquets, composed of a wide variety of different flowers, are always best. We live, in effect, so surrounded by huge bouquets that we are overwhelmed by them. Simplicity offers a kind of beauty that is spare, clean, pure, and straightforward.

As we begin to see more clearly the sickness of living by consumer values, the beauty of nature can be a source of soothing balm. If I go shopping, I am constantly faced with my desire to possess, and I have to fight against the lust for things that lies just below the surface of my soul. If I walk in some upscale neighborhoods not far from my home, I find myself lusting after huge homes and beautifully manicured gardens. If I go for a walk in a park, however, I can focus on the ducks on the lake, the clouds in the sky, and the wind on my face. There is no way I can possess those things, so I am briefly free from all the seductive desires that sweep across my mind.

Simplicity and looking for God’s hand in creation can reinforce each other in a life-giving ebb and flow. Embracing simplicity can help us slow down enough to hear the voice of creation calling us to draw near to the Creator. At the same time, slowing down enough to appreciate nature can help us desire to simplify our lives and focus on what is really important to us. These complimentary forces can be very helpful and encouraging.

This is the seventh post in a series on worshipping God as Creator. Earlier posts:
     Nature calls us to worship         
     The Creation invites us to join in praise         
     The Bible and Creation         
     Some thoughts from midlife interviews         
     The good creation         
     Creation care         

(Next week: a wonderful example of the joy of voluntary simplicity. This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column.)

[1] Richard Foster, “The Discipline of Simplicity” inSimpler Living, Compassionate Life, p. 182.

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