Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection May 31, 2020
"Earth Blooms!" by - Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
As everything around us blossoms (including my pear tree), I thought it might be appropriate to sing a hymn to creation, especially during these hard times of isolation and so much sickness. We can still enjoy the flowering happening in our back yards and in our neighborhoods.
Throughout the expanse of time, God has used the earth to produce an incredible diversity of creatures and awe-inspiring scenery. As far as we’re concerned, earth is without parallel and is God’s masterpiece. We are, according to Paul “God’s handiwork” - God’s great work of art. (Ephesians 2:10)
Since all creatures and all of creation come forth from the same source, from the majestic creativity and awe-inspiring artistry of God, then we’re bound to everything created. We’ve come forth from the earth through the power of God. There exists, therefore, a great web of kinship resulting from our common origin. We belong to the great family of everything. We belong to the earth. Nature truly is our mother.
I believe that if we wish to grow in holiness, we must grow in our love for all creation. I’m riveted each spring by the blooming of the azaleas and the magnolia trees next to our church. The plethora of blossoms truly sing out to God in and through their beauty.
If we but had the ears to hear I suspect we’d be amazed at the songs being sung outside the windows of our homes. I believe the author of Psalm 98 got it right. “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises … Let the waters clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the Lord.”
This current time of isolation may be the right time to listen more deeply than we normally do. The earth and its richness is constantly singing praise to God. But we are often deaf to these praises. My many years as a Franciscan alerted me to the songs of creation.
Jesus was enraptured by the lilies of the fields and the birds of the air. He used them to teach us. I wish I knew birdcalls so I could recognize the types of birds singing as I walk around my neighborhood.
There was a time in the early 1980’s when I tried to learn the various bird calls. I listened to tapes of calls but after a time the birdcalls all ran together in my mind. Not long ago, my dear Vinal, bought me a book of bird calls, which I’ve used at least once in a Sunday service. I’ve used this book on various occasions to learn the more common bird songs. I love walking my neighborhood as I get captured by the song of a bird, high in a tree.
In a book by the Episcopalian minister, Tilden Edwards, Embracing the Call to Spiritual Depth, he writes: “the very essence of holiness, of participating more fully in … the wholeness of God, often includes an intimate life with nature … (and) the sign of a fully merciful heart is when it burns with love for all creation.” It would be good to re-read that last sentence!
What I’ve discovered in my own life is that we need to be pulled out of ourselves, to be pulled out of our self-centeredness. Often, because of anxiety, because of fear, because of pain, we become focused primarily on ourselves.
This is obvious to me and, probably obvious to us all during these many weeks of self-isolation. We truly need each other. When we are cut off, as we are currently, we become shadows of our true selves. Our souls struggle to stay healthy as we rightly practice social-distancing. Something vital within our hearts loses its power when we are cut off from contact.
One way I’ve found to break the devastating grip of isolation is to be pulled out of myself by something in the natural world. The song of a bird, the sight and scent of a flower, the purring of a cat (Molly Marie purred incredibly - bless her!), the enormity of a clear night sky - these and many more experiences of nature pull me out of myself into the peace and beauty of the natural world.
As the psychiatrist and spiritual writer Gerald May noted in his final book, The Wisdom of the Wilderness: “In our modern, highly developed culture, nearly all of us are estranged from our true nature, and consequently, from the nature around us.”
It’s possible, with God’s grace, for us to seek healing from our estrangement with nature. It’s possible to feel intimately united with the natural world. It’s possible to embrace creation as God wishes us to embrace it.
In my home office, I have a bird’s nest that I found on the ground some years ago. I even used it in a long-ago sermon. I don’t know what type of bird’s nest it is but it serves as a lovely way for me to feel more united with our feathered brothers and sisters.
The nest reminds me of what Jesus teaches us in Matthew’s Gospel: “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them … Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” (Matthew 6: 26, 28)
Jesus knew how the beauty of nature brings us back to the Creator. The entire earth cries out in praise to the One Who Made It. This song of creation is the most beautiful song ever sung. If we fail to listen to it we’ll be diminished and depressed. If we fail to get swept up in its majestic chorus of praise, we’ll have failed a fundamental task given by God. Time for a walk!