Saturday, 28 April 2007

Is it now Summer?

So, it is 28 April 2007:
The blue bells are in full flower
Fields of oilseed rape are in full bloom
Field beans are in flower
May blossom is out
I've only mown the lawn once so far this year
It hasn't rained properly fer several weeks
The temperature is nearing the mid twenties
Where are the beautiful April showers, hail storms and cumulus clouds we used to get at this time of the year?


Bridging Christianity and Animism (Part 2)

One of the most inspiring articles I have read in the past few years was by Mark I. Wallace (Associate Professor in the Department of Religion and member of the Interpretation Theory Committee and the Environmental Studies Committee at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania). It was called The Green Face of God: Christianity in an age of Ecocide and can be found at Cross Currents Magazine. This brief extract from some text on his website highlights his thinking of the way in which environmental issues and Christianity can be viewed through a different perspective of the Holy Spirit.
If Christianity is both disease and cure in regard to the ecocrisis, then what role can the ancient earth wisdom within Christianity play in making our respective bioregions vital places in which to live and work? Theologically speaking, I believe that hope for a renewed earth is best founded on belief in God as Earth Spirit, the benevolent, all-encompassing divine force within the biosphere who continually indwells and works to maintain the integrity of all forms of life. The Spirit is the enfleshment of God within every thing that burrows, creeps, runs, swims, and flies across the earth. The Spirit is the promise of God's material, palpable presence within the good earth God has made for the sustenance and health of all beings. God continually pours out Godself into the cosmos through Earth Spirit, the driving force within the universe who brings each thing into its natural fruition. In this sense, God is carnal: through the Spirit, God incarnates Godself within the natural order in order to nurture and protect every form of life. The Holy Spirit, therefore, is an enfleshed being, an earthly life-form who interanimates life on earth as an outflowing of God's compassion for all things. The Nicene Creed in 381 C.E. named the Spirit as "the Lord, the Giver of Life." In this book, I will try to make sense of this ancient appellation by reenvisioning the Holy Spirit as God's invigorating corporal presence within the society of all living beings.

I will outline some of his thinking in a following post. I am surprised that in all my years of church life I had never come across any thinking that made a connection between the Holy Spirit and the life energy that flows through all living things in such a context as this. As Mark points out:
In the main, historic Christianity understands the divine life as a Sky God. In nursery rhymes, sermons, hymnody, iconography, and theological teachings, God is pictured as a bodiless, immaterial being who inhabits a timeless, heavenly realm far beyond the vicissitudes of life on earth. Of course, in the person of Jesus, God did become an enfleshed life-form in ancient history. But the incarnation is generally understood as a long-ago, punctiliar event limited to a particular human being, namely, Jesus of Nazareth. Sadly, for many Christians, the incarnation of God in Jesus does not carry the promise that God, in any palpable sense, is continually enfleshed within the natural world as we know it. Rather, for the better part of church history, the divine life and the natural world have been viewed as two separate and distinct orders of being. Occasionally, God may intervene in the natural realm in order to achieve some other-worldly objective -- as in the case of sending Jesus to earth in order to redeem humankind from its sins. But occasional divine visitations do not entail the continual coinhabitation of God in the earth. Indeed, the majority theological judgment is that any suggestion that God is somehow embedded in the earth smacks of heathenism, paganism, and idolatry. Whatever else God is, God is not a nature deity captive to the limitations and vagaries of mortal life-forms. God is not bound to the impermanent flux of an ever-changing earth. God cannot be regarded as existing on a continuum with creaturely life-forms. It is for these reasons, according to majority opinion, that biblical religion forbids the fashioning of graven images as representations of the divine life: God is not a bull or a snake or a lion. On the contrary, so the majority argument goes, God abides in an eternally unchanging heavenly realm where suffering and disappointment are no more and every tear is wiped dry.

To me, God is in the earth, in the plants and trees, in nature around me, in the earth and in me. It is through them that I touch the Divine.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Bridging Christianity and Animism (Part 1)

Stephan Harding in Animate Earth>, Green Books 2006, writes:
We need to sense that every step is taken not on, but in the Earth; that we walk, talk and live our lives inside a great planetary being that is continuously nourishing us physically with her miraculous mantle of green and her luscious swirling atmosphere, a being that soothes our psyches with her subtle language of wind and rain, with the swoop of wild birds and with the majesty of her mountains.

...we can cultivate our sense of belonging to Gaia: we can do this be developing a deep love of place. The soul of a place, when entered into with deep interest and concern that love entails, contains the quality of Gaia as a whole being.

I have just finshed reading this book and I am now finding myself at work listening to a CD version of The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Although I find some of Tolles ideas a little beyond my reach and acceptability I was surprised at how much he referred to Christ and added a tiny bit more substance to the gap I am trying to bridge between animism and Christianity.

Can you have a Christian animism? My question to the church is also why in all the years that I have been in attendance have I not heard once any kind of message that attempts to explain my deep sense of connection to the Earth? Can the Bible message be taken from its so literal and word for word interpretation into something that allows so much more freedom of expression the realm of the mystical and unknown? To somewhere that allows me to begin to understand it in a way that is free its often seemingly depressive narrow-mindedness and intolerance of alternative ideas. I cannot now just sit back and accept what the church tells me for I need to find MY journey, which I believe has not been allowed to develop.

A few things from Tolles CD stood out which I noted down (hopefully correctly!). They need further thought, but I liked the ideas:
Felt one-ness of being: connectedness with something greater: essentially you, but yet much greater than you.

Everything has 'being'. Even stones have rudimentary conciousness otherwise it would not 'be' and its atoms would disperse. Its conciousness is God's essense expressing itself in form.

Christ is essense - indwelling Divinity.

I will continue my exploration of this in Part 2 and explore how an alternative view of the Holy Spirit gave me a fresh insight into exploring Divinity and the environment.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Touching Dewdrops

Early morning seas of gold
The oilseed wakes to my touch.
Flowers, yellow, reflect the sun's brightness
Holding drops of sparkling dew
Fresh coolness runs through my fingers
Leaving the delicate hope of pollen.

Places of Oldness

Whilst cycling past an isolated patch of hedgerow, between a road and some houses near Harpenden today, the phrase 'Places of Oldness' appeared in my thoughts.

There must be many places of countryside that get isolated by mans construction of roads, houses or other develoments. Patches of land that may seem tiny and insignificant, with a few trees, brambles, ivy, a depository for litter and rubbish and perhaps relics of the past like fences or the odd evidence of human activity (an old shed, discarded farm machinery etc.). Places that become untouched by man - ignored, often seemingly inaccessible, left to nature to develop into a small wilderness. They may have been part of an ancient wood, or hedgerow. Or perhaps they have even developed by themselves. Places that are seemingly worthless, difficult to clear, mow or just a waste of time to manage. They may form a convenient boundary for some, or may just be a shelter for the odd rabbit and pigeon.

Surely these places must somehow have so much value to our rural heritage, let alone as a home to wildlife. Any patch of wild nature will surely contribute just a tiny bit of oxygen to our air and greenness to our concrete, tar and brick. We may overlook these places as worthless but surely they hold memories of the past and are connected to our heritage and to the people who once worked the land. Such Places of Oldness are everywhere. They could be almost every roadside hedgerow or overgrown part of the garden. They are places that we have given over to the passing of time. They don't fit into our modern lifestyles and yet they are all around us.

Take a walk and you will inevitably find such a place. Think about how the landscape has changed around the place, how has it been affected, how has nature taken over and how does it now manage that place? Give thanks to your Place of Oldness. You may have been the first person to touch a tree in it, or to even acknowledge its presence. If you look closely, a place like this can hold as much beauty as a glorious picture postcard view. You just have to change your perspective. Reduce your field of view and focus in on what is litterally in front of your eyes.

Magic Bluebell Carpet

A cold winter's wood
Leaves, brown and damp on the earth
The memory of green, lingers in dormant branches
Rain and frost lie, undisturbed
Beneath the cold winter's trees.

From under the song of the blackbird and robin
From under the call of the owl and pheasant
From under the blue sky and stippled green leaves
From under the murmer of a breeze on warm spring day
From under the buzzing of flies and rustle of mouse
A magic carpet of green bursts onto the earth
And a wave of blue rides over the woodland floor
And the air is filled with the scent of Spring.

Monday, 16 April 2007

A muddy 'what if' moment...

So, as I was merrily walking past some bluebell woods near Offley yesterday, I remembered the thought I had a few weeks ago which left me wondering whether a mud wrap or similiar would do my hands any good (I have had odd problems with carpal tunnel syndrome and RSI this year - which I am successfully treating through self-help - more in a blog later perhaps).

It was hot and sunny. I spied a large puddle at the edge of a field. Tractors and walkers had passed through it so it had been churned up a little. Hmmm, I thought. Mud. Hands. I wonder what if.....

The water was warm and my hands stirred up the soft cool depths. It wasn't as smooth as I expected due to many leaves in the mud, but it felt OK. I covered my hands and wrists in the soft warm oozy brown mix. It felt good. I walked on, swinging my arms in the warm breeze. They felt cool as the water evaporated and the mud dried. I felt the mud harden around my hands and I felt this was an interesting experience. I was slightly concerned about what I would do if I met anyone along the footpaths as they are well used and I did feel a little like a monster from the deep or someone with a very bad skin condition. Fortunately, I was alone, though as I approached home I did wash off the remaining mud with the remains of my drinking water.

I had worked my hands very hard this past weekend building a fence for the garden and had expected to suffer today, but I didn't have many problems. Perhaps the mud helped. Perhaps it didn't. But I feel a sense of satisfaction at doing what I did. I'd do it again, perhaps barefoot next time too...!

Barefoot Spring

Having discovered the joys of walking barefoot last year through some local woodland, I had eagerly been awaiting the chance to go out this spring. I would have liked to have done so on Dartmoor last week, but the risks of tick bites and lyme disease are all to real and so I had to keep my boots firmly on. The other day I was pushing a sleeping Emily in the buggy up by Putteridge College and, as the weather was warm and sunny, so an opportunity presented itself. It was wonderful to walk along the large expanse of short grass beside the college drive and up into the woods having cast aside my walking boots and socks. The grass was beautifully warm and the earth dry. While in the woods there were many changes in textures from the crisp oak leaves of last autumn to the soft crumbly leaf mould at the base of a recently naturally-fallen silver birch - I just sank ankle deep into a wonderful warm and moist 'compost' that had buillt up over the years which had now been uplifted by the birch roots. It was sad to see the birch on the ground, already half sawn up by a chainsaw. The tree was probably around 170 years old judging by an approximate ring count.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

The Dance of Butterflies

Blanchdown Woods, Tavistock, Easter Day.

I walk down a forest track with tall conifers surrounding me. The sun is warm on a bright spring afternoon. Peacock butterflies are all around - only one or two in sight at a time, but the woods seems full of them as I walk through the trees. I come across one on the gravel, another flies near it and they both rise spiralling upwards to the sky together and disappear out of sight. I find a place to sit and watch one sunning itself on the gravel road - sitting facing way from the sun with wings outstretched towards the warmth giving sun. It sits for many minutes before flying off into the trees. Others fly by me, I can hear them fluttering as they pass by.

On My Dartmoor Stone

Last weekend, Easter Saturday, I had the chance to visit 'my stone' on the edge of Dartmoor near Burrator reservoir. It is a fairly inconspicuous and unassuming stone - most of it is probably buried in the granite and peat moor. It is just a wide, circular dome-shaped stone, only rising about a foot from the surrounding grass, and it is just a good shape upon which to stand, sit or lie. It is immediately surrounded by sheep-grazed grass and single standing pines, with denser conifers behind it and a view up to a nearby tor in front. Nothing amazing, but it is a place which I have visited over several years.

My pilgrimage to the stone was about an hours walk from where I had left the car.

It was a cool morning with the promise of a warm sunny spring day. There was a moderate haze that obscured the distant views. The larches around the stone were tinged with the green of new growth and gorses were in full flower. I sat and listened with my eyes closed: skylark, chaffinch, crow, woodpecker and other small birds in the pines. There was only the faint gentle mumer of the wind in the trees - almost imperceptible - like a slow wave of sound moving across the forest. Sometimes it would be good to be in the wind in a place like this and hear the wind totally naturally - without hearing the sound of the wind around your ears and head which can make up much of what you hear. No human sounds, or perhaps just a faint few voices from distant walkers, but none passed my sight in my time here. A couple of aeroplanes up high; and the buzzing of flies.

I welcome my soul to this place
I welcome my soul to the sun
I welcome my soul to the breeze
I welcome my soul to the trees
I welcome my soul to the grass
I welcome my soul to this stone
I welcome my soul to this place.

I lay down on my stone and put my ear to it. What would I hear? So close to the ground, I could sense its depth, its blackness, its coldness, its infinite connection to the earth beneath.

Looking closely at the surface of the granite stone was fascinating. A world of moss and lichens on the weathering granite - with tiny patches of black (mica) glistening like small gemstones in the speckled white stone (quartz). I notice the small and black spherical lichens around a few millimeters or less in size. Some lichens elements were even smaller (I must revise my botany too!). All forming a microcosm of life on the rocks surface.

My stone and I enjoy an hour together, just experiencing peace and presence in the landscape.

***

There is so much I could draw in the landscape but, when I am only here one or two days a year, having a decent walk and just enjoying exploring always seems to take priority.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Landscape Meditation

These are notes about a meditation I performed in May 2006 whilst up on my favourite hill, Croft Ambrey, in Herefordshire. I think I had driven up from Bedfordshire in the middle of the night and walked up onto the hill in the early light of the morning. I found myself in sunshine on the top of the hill, on a grassy bank, beside a hawthorn tree. I made brief notes afterwards about what I had thought and did at the time and I have rewritten them here as an outline. They could be used as a guide to performing an outdoor meditation anywhere.

WELCOME
Find a place in which you want to perform the meditation. Approach it with a welcoming heart and make yourself comfortable. Take a few minutes to take in the landscape: view, trees, sounds, smells etc. What is the weather like? Warm, cool? Clouds? Listen to sounds: birds, animals, breeze, distant human activity. You have come to a place. This is now your place of being. Go and look for something that inspires you in the place: twig, flowers, stone etc (but don't necessarily touch it). Breath in the air - the earth has given you this as a gift.

ASK
We all have questions. Be open, think about what you seek inspiration or guidance for - not direct petitionary prayers. Ask to be shown something. Use landscape features as a guide e.g. path (for direction, distractions, clarity, journeying, following...)

RECEIVE
Take a closer look around you at an element in the landscape and focus on it more deeply:

Tree
Notice its leaves, bark, branches... How is its shape formed? How do the branches exist in three dimensions (why don't they keep touching?). Look for patterns. Feel leaves: textures, how they interact with the light - patterns, shadows, colours; they give life, soft, delicate (even if tree thorny) Any insects? Think about stability, firm foundations, roots, soil, age, belonging in the landscape, strong, immovable (yet can be cut down by man in afew minutes). Fragility of life - we can take it away. Photosynthesis. Without plants humans would die. Size, shape, alone or with others. Shadows. It is rooted to one spot yet we are free - free to run, jump, lie down in grass. Do that! Feel the dew, wet. Look for other plants or evidence of animals, insects (sheep, rabbits, swuirrels, mice, butterflies). RUN AND PLAY: allow and feel the freedom (if safe to do so). Just BE. No phones, TV or computer, or perceptions of what people may think of you.

GO FORTH
How will you leave the place? Emotions: happier, sad, indifferent. Your choice. Would you take anything - or just everything as you found it. You have freedom to go in whatever direction you want - but you will most likely retreat to the security of what you know or are responsible for (home, work, family). What is freedom, or the ultimate freedom? Go out again to find something that inspires you. Is it easier? Has you view changed about what you see around you?


Monday, 2 April 2007

I live in the Song of the Wind

Last Saturday morning I was up early and walked out from home before breakfast for some exercise. I stopped in a place where the footpath passed through the edge of piece of woodland. It was a sort of misty/hazy morning, Grey, with the hope of later sunshine. There was a decent wind and the air was cold, but spring-like. Often I can go out and not feel or sense anything, but today I sat in the shelter of a hedge and listened to the wind in the trees above me. It almost felt to me like a 'thin' place, as the Celts would have called it - place where the real world seems to give way and you sense another. I could hear a skylark singing high in a nearby field, a blackbird or robin singing too in the wood. But above all I was surrounded, high above and all around, by the waves of the wind. The leafless branches swayed in the tall oak trees anad I sat, listening, sheltering, being... and the thought that came to mind was that I live in the Song of the Wind.

* * *

The hedgerows are alive with Dogs Mercury, Violets and Primroses. Cowslips and Greater Stitchwort are coming into flower. I was amused, after my thoughts previously on litter, to come across a sight for which I wish I had had my camera on me. Whilst walking along a roadside near Cockernhoe, with the steeply banked verge towering above me, to see high up and against the sky, three snails eagerly devouring the cardboard off an Asda orange juice carton lying on top of some grass.