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Every week, readers write to me and share how The Cottage inspires them — to continue on in these difficult days with honesty and heart, to keep on a journey of faith, and to find grace in the ordinary.
Inspiration isn’t magic. It involves nurturing creativity, imagination, and insight. And that’s what The Cottage is all about — to be a place where we encourage one another, learning to be good companions on the way, find hope amid the gloom, and live more fully and justly in this hurting world. There’s so much bad news. We all need to be emboldened to goodness.
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From September 1 to October 4, Christians around the world mark the Season of Creation, a relatively recent development in the liturgical calendar.
The practice began in 1989 when Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I proclaimed September 1 a day of prayer for the environment. In 2000, a Lutheran congregation in Australia developed a four-week celebration of creation — and the idea spread throughout that nation and beyond. Eventually, the Vatican picked up the practice and the World Council of Churches promoted the new liturgical season.
During these weeks, Christians are urged to recognize the theological centrality of God the Creator, Creation itself, the human vocation of caring for Creation, and doing justice on behalf of the Earth and all of her inhabitants.
Sunday Musings this month explore the lectionary texts with “green” eyes, reading biblical texts with our spiritual imaginations attuned to creation, the earth, and nature.
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’“ God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:
This is my name forever,
and this my title for all generations.
Great Spirit God,
we give you thanks for another day on this earth.
We give you thanks for this day
to enjoy the compassionate goodness of you, our Creator.
We acknowledge with one mind
our respect and gratefulness to all the sacred cycle of life.
Bind us together in the circle of compassion
to embrace all living creatures and one another.
— Ojibwe Evening Prayer
When I lead conferences to help church folks understand generational changes regarding faith, one comment comes up at nearly every event — that young adults seem more invested in spending time in nature than in church. Several surveys have discovered that observation is generally true, and it is particularly the case in regions with great natural beauty. A 2015 Baylor University study discovered that places with “more beautiful weather and scenery have lower rates of membership and affiliation with religious organizations.”
Such comments aren’t usually just observations, however. They are often complaints or criticism, bemoaning the lack of commitment on the part of those who skip religious services in favor of hiking or kayaking or biking on the sabbath. It can be hard not to criticize the critics, because I have a lot of sympathy with those greeting the sunrise on a mountaintop or by the ocean.
Sometimes I reply to these skeptics with a question, “Where did Moses find God?”
Today’s story from Exodus is one of the most important in the entire Hebrew Bible. In it, Moses meets God, is given the commission to liberate God’s people from slavery, and receives the revelation of the sacred Name.
None of this happens in a temple or a religious building. The setting is the wilderness, the “desolation” — a mountain, a burning bush, holy ground. This encounter is unimaginable in a city, a comfortable, settled place. Nature is necessary to the tale. The wilderness underscores its primal wildness — a man, unsettled in his own identity, meets the One who is both Being and Becoming, and learns of his own destiny.
Few words echo through the ages as profoundly as God’s directive to Moses: Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.
Holy ground. The same soil from which God created Adam — the sacred dust of our very being. Take off your shoes. Feel the earth underfoot, your toes in the sand or mud or loam, the stuff of creation. The burning bush, the unexpected blaze, may catch your attention, but the truth of the matter is that you are standing on hallowed humus. Hear the name: “I am who I am.”
Moses is tasked to free God’s people from slavery, to lead then out of Egypt. And, instead of founding some rival empire to that of Pharaoh, with great temples and pyramids, the Burning Bush directs Moses to bring the people back to the mountain, to worship at this place, and to settle in a good and broad land, a place of “milk and honey,” where they will work fertile fields and live by faith, with generosity and gratitude. The arc of this story takes us from wilderness to encounter, from misplaced vocation to true calling, from empire to dwelling, from desolation to fruitfulness.
The story is about Moses, and specifically, it is the beginning of the covenant God makes with Israel though the commandments. But it also holds universal meanings. Moses, in effect, stands on that ground as a human being, a representative of every one of us. This Jewish event is also a profound moment for humanity — the Creator-God’s self-naming, kindling not only the bush but the soil itself with sacredness and justice.
Can you imagine the way this event seared itself into Moses’ memory? How his experience of both God and the earth were transformed?
Those words — the place on which you are standing is holy ground — surely never left him. What if we let them haunt us, too? What if we recalled them daily? How would they change who we are, our experience of God, and how we act toward the Earth?
There’s no better story with which to begin the Season of Creation than this. We are all standing on holy ground. We need to remember that. Every day.
Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware.
— Elizabeth Barrett Browning, from “Aurora Leigh”
This people had no temple,
This people built temples
for gods they dreaded,
rising in terrible power
over them, having
no regard for
They prayed under
the weight of their burdens.
They cried out in
the unprayer of pain,
and God, having no need
of temples, heard,
as God always hears.
And God, leaning to the
as God always sees.
For the very earth is holy.
The ground under our feet.
Take off your shoes and feel it,
feel the dry-ground-powder
and the sharp stones,
the infinite tiny beings
that call the earth home.
Take off your shoes.
Know you are part of
all this, part of the
the glory that fills
all things, as the waters
fill the seas.
You will be heard,
wherever you are.
You can listen,
wherever you are.
You are home.
— Andrea Skevington, “Holy Ground, barefoot”
SOUTHERN LIGHTS IS BACK!
January 12 -14, 2024
And our theme is Reimagining Faith Beyond Patriarchy and Hierarchy
Last January, almost 700 people gathered at St. Simon’s Island in Georgia for a packed weekend of poetry, theology, and music.
WE’RE GOING TO DO IT AGAIN!
YOU ARE INVITED to join me and Brian McLaren as we reimagine our faith beyond patriarchy and hierarchy in our interior lives, in our communities of faith, and in the Scriptures. We’ve asked three remarkable speakers to take us through this journey: Cole Arthur Riley, Simran Jeet Singh, and Elizabeth “Libbie” Schrader Polczer.
Please come and be with us in Georgia. Or, if you’d rather be with us online, you can choose that option as well.