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Advent Practices: Considering Our Earthiness (Week Four)

This is the fourth reflection in a weely series I am writing for Patheos on practices for Advent to nurture our intimacy with creation:

When despair for the world grows in me . . .
I come into the peace of wild things . . .
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
-Wendell Berry, excerpted from “The Peace of Wild Things”

If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you, / You are surely lost.
-David Wagoner, excerpted from “Lost”

In the scriptures for this fourth week of Advent we hear in the gospels that Joseph is told in a dream to care for Mary who will give birth to the holy presence. The story of Advent and Christmas is essentially about God becoming enfleshed in the earthiness of the world. God enters creation and blesses our embodied lives. We are called this fourth week to consider the element of earth as an invitation to greater intimacy with nature and to remember our own earthiness. In Cherokee tradition, earth is connected to the hour of midnight and the season of winter. We were created from clay and we will one return as dust and ash. My mother died in the season of autumn and I found my daily walks through fall and winter to offer me tremendous solace as I witnessed the world descend into her own place of stillness and rest. Winter embraces the land, and trees surrender their leaves in an act of holy supplication, extending their arms upward in prayer. I see in those bare branches, the beauty of things brought back to their essence.

I invite you to reconsider some of our traditional religious categories this week. What if we honored creation as the original icon revealing the face of the Holy One to us? What if the seasons could be a sacred text, as the poet William Stafford writes a “scripture of leaves”? How might tending to world’s own rhythm of rising and falling reveal new dimensions to our own journeys?

What if we gave reverence to the forest as the original cathedrals?  In Muir Woods of Northern California, there is a grove of ancient redwoods called Cathedral Grove because of the awe their size and ancient presence inspire. And yet it is our sacred spaces which emulate the silence and luminosity of great gatherings of trees rather than the other way around.

Last week I described a story from the Russian Orthodox tradition about a young man who comes to Fr. Seraphim to learn about prayer of the heart and what he learns from the ocean. He is also sent to meditate like a mountain, learning stability of posture and grounding, and the experience of calmness and stability. Then he was sent to meditate like a poppy taking his mountain wisdom with him. From the poppy he learned to turn himself toward the light and to orient his meditation practice from his inner depths toward radiance. The poppy also taught him both uprightness and the ability to bend with the wind. And while the mountain taught him about the eternal, the poppy taught him about the finitude of our days as the blossom began to wither. He learned that meditation means experiencing the eternal in each fleeting moment.

As we prepare to celebration God’s birth into the world in a few days, and perhaps sing the words “Let Heaven and Nature Sing,” let us respond to earth’s song calling us back to intimate and loving mutuality. This year let our preparation for Christmas be one of wonder and delight in the ways we can foster earth’s fruitfulness. Let us respond with open hearts to creation’s invitation to radical care.

Follow these links to find the rest of the series:

Week One — Tending Creation>>

Week Two — Following the Fire>>

Week Three — Water’s Wisdom>>

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