Psalm 57: 7-10, Psalm 98: 4-6, Ephesians 5: 19-20a, Luke 15: 25
What music and what groaning do we hear in creation today that we might not have heard before? How might the church sing a new song for the sake of creation?
I heard an amazing story this week from a new CBC series called ‘Faces of Ottawa’, somewhat ironic given that it was a radio interview. She began the series with a gentleman who has been playing his saxophone near the off ramp at Fallowfield and Hwy 416, something he said he has been doing for almost 7 years now. He does this almost like a spiritual discipline every morning to greet the dawn, listening for the sounds of nature’s morning, joining in with his own harmonies of jazz and rock on the sax and hopefully touching some of the folks whizzing by in their car. He plays his sax for 4 hours everyday as a way to feel peaceful and connected to the world. What a strange intersection of place, time and musical styles that this man has chosen to express his joy to the world like some modern psalmist finding his own way to “break forth into joyous song and sing praises…..with the lyre, the sound of the melody, with trumpets and the sound of the horn” ( I think that could easily include the sax!)
As we begin the Season of Creation this fall, I invite you to bring to your own mind and hearts the songs and the sounds that bring your heart joy, that stir in you a connection to the wider universe, especially those sounds found in nature, those sights and sounds that you would want to share with the next generation. There is a new phrase that has been added onto our United Church Crest in Mohawk which reads “All My Relations”, so I hope we can expand our consciousness of who all our relations are.
Richard Wagamese, the well-known Ojibway storyteller, novelist and poet who died only a few years ago shared this insight in his book of meditations called “Embers”, ideas that came to him when he meditated every morning in the dawn’s first light.
“I’ve been considering the phrase “all my relations” for some time now. It’s hugely important. It’s our saving grace in the end. It points to the truth that we are all related, that we are all connected, that we all belong to each other. The most important word is “all.” Not just those who look like me, sing like me, dance like me, speak like me, pray like me or behave like me. ALL my relations. That means every person, just as it means every rock, mineral, blade of grass, and creature. We live because everything else does. If we were to choose collectively to live that teaching, the energy of our change of consciousness would heal each of us – and heal the planet.” Embers, Pg 36
There seems to be some evidence of this change in consciousness globally when we hear of the outpouring of concern and offers to help with stopping the fires that are burning down the Amazon Forests at an alarming rate, threatening further the world’s climate. The collective expression of shame and horror has spread across the globe and actions of solidarity are now being taken as seven South American countries along with South American Indigenous leaders have committed to help stop further destruction of the forests, showing real concern for the suffering and loss of trees, plants, animals, birds, insects, amphibians and thousands of species, many threatened with extinction.
At this present time we are seeing the images and hearing the stories of the devastation from hurricane Dorion in the Bahamas, along the American coast and now swirling over Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, perhaps affecting the homes of friends and relatives that we know have hunkered down during the storms passage and in the aftermath. We are learning to better empathize not only with the human toll, the loss of building and material infrastructure, but we also are paying more attention to the affects on the animals, insects and birds and the devastation of their habitat.
As the climate continues to change as a result of human activity and consumption, we are needing to grow more and more in our sensitivity to all of life on this planet, to take more seriously our connectivity to all of life, even the smallest species that we share this earth with and with whom we affect with our behaviours and excessive consumption.
And so I invite you to come in your imagination to the edge of a forest that you love, a lake that stirs your heart, a meadow path that invites you to wander, a mountain vista that takes your breathe away, a bird cry that pierces your heart and begin to see and to listen for the sights and sounds of nature that give your life meaning and purpose and perhaps joy. Let us be led in our reflection by the well known poet Mary Oliver from her book of selected poems called Devotions:
Oh do you have time
for just a little while
out of your busy
and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles
for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,
or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air
as they strive
not for your sake
and not for mine
and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude –
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,
do not walk by
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.
It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.
Meadowlark Sings and I Return
Meadowlark, when you sing it’s as if
You lay your yellow breast upon mine and say
Hello, hello, and are we not
Of one family, in our delight of life?
You sing, I listen.
Both are necessary
If the world is to continue going around
Night-heavy then light –laden, though not
Everyone knows this or at least
Or, perhaps, has forgotten it
In the torn fields,
In the terrible debris of progress
Or perhaps your remembrances of your special places in nature stir in you some grief or bring to your mind a story you need to tell of how your world has changed:
From This River, When I Was a Child, I Used to Drink
But when I came back I found
That the body of the river was dying.
“Did it speak?”
Yes, it sang out the old songs, but faintly.
“What will you do?
I will grieve of course, but that’s nothing.
“What, precisely, will you grieve for?”
For the river. For myself, my lost
Joyfulness. For the children who will not
Know what a river can be – a friend, a
Companion, a hint of heaven.
“Isn’t this somewhat overplayed?”
I said: it can be a friend. Companion. A hint of heaven.
One of the great joys and responsibilities of having a grandchild now is finding the opportunities to teach my granddaughter Winnie to listen for the sounds in nature, to feel its beauty and danger. It’s not enough just to teach them through countless children’s books, Dora the Explorer or through her parent’s iPad, but I want to share what I appreciate in nature as I did with my own children. So this summer I was able to hold her on my lap as we dangled our feet in the St Lawrence River trying not to let her wriggling body slip onto the moss covered rocks, to notice the gulls gliding over the currents of wind, the clouds of black cormorants, new to our region, to listen for the hum of the cicada in the trees, to notice the bumblebees visiting the purple vinca, and to notice the foreign looking scat, signs left by a raccoon or a fox perhaps. I doubt she will hear the haunting song of the whip-poor-will as I did as a young girl which evoked such mystery of the darkening forest at night, but I will show her the now rarer sighting of the monarch butterfly and where it breeds and hope she will experience the cry of the loon as the day fades into twilight or in the quiet of the night, and not just on the nature app of the cell phone, but in real life, real time, real space.
Mary Oliver writes too of her connection to the loon:
Not quite four a.m., when the rapture of being alive
Strikes me from sleep, and I rise
From the comfortable bed and go
To another room, where my books are lined up
In their neat and colourful rows. How
magical they are ! I choose on
And open it. Soon
I have wandered in over the waves of the words
To the temple of thought.
And then I hear
Outside, over the actual waves, the small,
Perfect voice of the loon. He is also awake,
And with his heavy head uplifted he calls out
To the facing moon, to the pink flush
Swelling in the east that, soon,
Will become the long, reasonable day.
Inside the house
It is still dark, except for the pool of lamplight
In which I am sitting.
I do not close the book.
Neither, for a long while, do I read on.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in chapter 5 he offers this wisdom to his community of faith centuries ago but still relevant today: “So be careful to live your life wisely, not foolishly. Take advantage of every opportunity because these are evil times. Because of this, don’t be ignorant, but understand the Lord’s will. Don’t get drunk on wine, which produces depravity. Instead be filled with the Spirit in the following ways: speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; sing and make music to the Lord in your hearts.” Vs 15-19
Before it is too late, we need to take more seriously that this is the season of creation, when creation is speaking, the time when we humans need to learn to listen again, to listen more deeply still for the spiritual songs that nature’s creatures are singing out to our Creator God and to us if we are attuned to hear as they sing out their gratitude for the simple joy of being alive. If we listen, we just might find the new song that is rising in our hearts as well that may save us and the world.
The Other Kingdoms by Mary Oliver
Consider the other kingdoms. The
trees, for example, with their mellow-sounding
titles: oak, aspen, willow.
Or the snow, for which the peoples of the north
have dozens of words to describe its
different arrivals. Or the creatures, with their
thick fur, their shy and wordless gaze. Their
infallible sense of what their lives
are meant to be. Thus the world
grows rich, grows wild, and you too,
grow rich, grow sweetly wild, as you too
were born to be.