Sermon Text: Green Time
I was reminiscing this week with the Light of My Life. (If I forget she's the Light of My Life, she reminds me.) It was our anniversary, so we were reminiscing.
At Christmastime 1975, I took her to my hometown for the first time. It's Williamson, New York, up on the shores of Lake Ontario. I was showing her around. We drove past the place many of us kids used to go sledding or tobogganing. I pointed and said, "That's where we used to sled. It's called Herbert's Hill."
She snorted...derisively. I said, "What?" She said, "That's not a hill....that's a PIMPLE."
The next day she took me to her hometown for the first time: Corning. She looked out the car window and said, "THOSE are hills, sweetheart!" And I had to admit she was right.
I love the southern tier. I love the hills and the woods and the rivers. I hope you realize we live in a gorgeous part of the world. New York State has the Adirondacks, Lake Ontario, the Finger Lakes, and the hills of the southern tier. I've lived in four states....this is the best. I really love it.
This past week, I was finishing up my morning walk. I rounded a curve and came into the woods where our house is. And all of a sudden, I was struck by green. The trees had all leafed out fully. It was lush, rich, deep green.
I'm not sure why, but it sort of overwhelmed me. After a long winter of bare trees, now this thick cover. It was not just green, it was the essence of greenness. It raised my mood, and I felt grateful. In fact, I still feel thankful. I guess I'm one of the Forest People, one of the little gnomes of the woods.
And here in church, we begin the green season. We have put away the golden banners and vestments of Easter. And now we resume what's called "Ordinary Time," the "nothing special season," the many Sundays after Pentecost. Green is our color, the green of creation.
You know, sometimes Christianity has missed out. Creation is the first item in the Creed: "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth." The earth is the Lord's, for he made it. But Christianity has often more strongly emphasized original sin, and the need for redemption.
Sadly, Christian authority has too often fought against the appreciation of the natural world, and natural human nature, and the exploration of the world through science. The Church silenced Galileo for announcing, on the basis of his work with a telescope, that the earth orbited the sun, and therefore the earth is not the center of the universe. This struck church authority as a conflict with the Bible. Other Christians have resisted Darwin's findings about evolution.
I think this is misplaced. The order we find in nature should encourage us to deeper study. The natural world will not lie to us. We should talk less often about original sin, and more about original blessing: creation. The beauty of the earth is the first gift, and the second gift is life itself. Original blessing should outrank original sin.
Rachel Carson was a marine biologist, conservationist, and writer who lived from 1907 until 1964. Her writings advanced the global environmental movement. She wrote a passage I found powerful enough to learn by heart:
Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of birds, the ebb and flow of tides, the folded bud ready for spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature -- the assurance that dawn comes after the night, and spring after the winter.
I almost want to say, "The Word of the Lord" as I finish those words. Seems to me those words are worth reading on the first Sunday of the green season.
I am blessed to live in the woods, surrounded by trees and birds and coyotes and deer and bears. All of us are blessed to live in this beautiful part of planet Earth.
For centuries, poets and philosophers have praised the benefits of a walk in the woods. It now turns out there is science behind nature's positive effects on the brain. Evidence from biology, psychology, and medicine now supports the principle of human life that says we need natural settings, and they heal us.
Even city dwellers who are far from what we'd call the country can benefit from walks in beautiful parks. There is a movement called "forest bathing," dedicated to increasing the time people spend in natural settings.
People who are devoted to spiritual discipline talk about "desert spirituality", which is austere, solitary, and based on fasting and self-denial. I've come across something called "garden spirituality," which affirms life and celebrates simple pleasures. I can't speak for you, but garden spirituality speaks to me.
Medieval Christian and Buddhist monks studied trees, stars, birds, and flowers as a way of knowing the mind of God. St. Bernard, a French monk of the 12th century, wrote: "You will find something more in woods than books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from spiritual teachers."
Sometimes I think the Native American religious tradition does much better with this than our own Christian tradition. Chief Seattle of the Pacific Northwest, back in the 19th
century, challenged the whites who were taking over the places his tribe had lived for centuries.
He said, "Teach your children what we have taught our children --
that the earth is our mother.
Whatever befalls the earth
befalls the sons and daughters of the earth."
I'll give the last word to Edna Jaques. She was a popular Canadian poet and writer of the 20th century. Here is a little poem she wrote:
Go out, go out, I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracles of the earth
With all the wonder of a child.
And welcome to the Green Season!