During this pandemic, we have had limitations placed upon us. Our world has become smaller. We have been asked to keep a 2-metre distance from others beyond our closest bubble in order to keep us safe from the virus. This protocol can leave us feeling isolated and physically distant, longing for human touch and the freedom to give a hug or hold a hand.
Despite this distancing from other people, there is no distance between us and the Divine Presence, the Spirit and Breath of Life, in whom we live and move and have our being, and who lives in us. Paul puts it beautifully: I have every confidence that nothing - not death, life, the present, the future, height, depth, thinkable or unthinkable, visible or invisible - can come between us and the love of God. (my paraphrase of Romans 8:28-39)
There is also no need to stay physically distanced from nature. Within our 2-metre radius, we can hug a tree, lay on the earth, smell a flower, stand in a creek, feel the wind on our face, dig around in a garden, or enjoy the sweetness of an apple. This physical contact with the natural world puts us in direct connection with our Creator, whose goodness is revealed in creation.
While reflecting on this 2-metre bubble we are asked to keep it struck me that it might be helpful to reframe it in light of an ancient Christian prayer practice called the Caim Prayer. Also known as an encircling prayer, it is a prayer of sanctuary, where the pray-er creates an invisible circle around themselves with an extended finger. This circle reminds them of God’s close presence and offers a sense of safety and love. Once the circle is created, they invite into the circle certain blessings while asking God to keep their opposite afar.
Here is one example of an encircling prayer:
Circle of love, open my heart,
Circle of wisdom, enlighten my mind.
Circle of trust, protect my path.
This day, bring peace within, keep anxiety afar,
Bring health within, keep sickness afar,
Bring joy within, keep sorrow afar,
Bring hope within, keep despair afar...
Bless and encircle me
With your presence in this place
And every place.
In addition to praying this prayer with your invisible circle, you may wish to take some time to go outside to a favourite spot and create a literal 2-metre circle around yourself. Take time to slow down and notice everything that is living (or dying/dead) in that circle. What can you call by name? What is unfamiliar? Take note and decide to learn more about it. Use your curiosity and your senses to observe the sights, sounds, smells (and maybe tastes?) within your circle, and to touch the plants or dig around in the earth with your fingers. What can you learn about God through these beings you encounter? Enjoy the opportunity to be up close and personal with creation, and offer gratitude and praise to our Creator for the beauty and wonder that can be found when we stop to pay attention.
"Bless to me the sky that is above me,
Bless to me the ground that is beneath me,
Bless to me the friends--furry, feathered, or fronded--who are around me,
Bless to me the love of the Three deep within me
and encircling me and the greater community of life.
Self-Guided Summer Solstice Prayer Walk
Find a place to walk in nature, preferably in the evening when you can enjoy the long evening on this longest day of the year. Read through the full document before you go, so you have an idea of the flow. (You may want to bring a water bottle with you.)
Begin by grounding yourself: take a few deep breaths, release any tension, shake out your body, draw yourself into awareness of your surroundings; feel the earth beneath your feet, and the Divine Presence all around and within you.
Before you start to walk, read this opening invitation.
Listen to Earth leaning closer to the sun.
to the heat breathing through gardens,
Calling plants to fruition,
Whispering fulfillment to the flowers.
Listen to the growing circle of life.
Listen to the green sanctuary of the trees,
To young birds testing out their wings.
To bare feet and laughter,
To Mother Earth bringing food to the table,
Listen to songs of leisure and renewal.
Listen to the summer of your soul,
To the dance of life within you,
To creativity that yearns for expression,
To the fire that burns in your spirit.
Listen to the passion of summer.
Listen to the poetry of summer,
to the wisdom of the earth,
to the presence of God
As you walk and pray.
(adapted from a blessing by Macrina Wiederkehr)
Head out on your walk, prayerfully sauntering at a relaxed pace, aware of what you see, hear, smell, and feel. If you come upon a place that expresses brokenness in any way, stop for a prayer of confession. Pray your own confession, or use the prayer provided.
Prayer of Confession
Source of all Being, we give you thanks for our watershed, for the Grand River (or Nith River, or whichever watershed you are in), and for all of life that calls this place home--
We think of Heron and Cardinal, Beaver and Raccoon, Smallmouth Bass and Pike, Bullfrog and Turtle. We are grateful for diversity and abundance, and pray that we might be good neighbours among our community of creation.
God, we confess that we take our natural surroundings for granted, and that for too long we have been neglectful in our disregard for our ecosystem, not thinking about the costs and consequences of our actions. Move us beyond complacency to a place of compassion and action for our environment and all who live in our watershed. Amen.
As you continue our walk, hold in prayer whatever concerns you are carrying with you, be they personal or environmental; prayers for people or for species, or for the earth itself.
If you are walking by a body of water, take a moment when you are ready to participate in a symbolic action. If you are not near water, simply choose a place to pour some water from your water bottle onto a plant or the roots of a tree.
At the water’s edge, kneel by the water, cup some water, and pour it back into the river/lake/pond, offering your prayers of concern into the body of water, knowing that God holds our prayers, and holds us, and that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves.
Continue your walk with a sense of gratitude, and when you finish your walk, offer this closing blessing.
Blessed are you, Creator of all,
Blessed are you summer,
season of long days,
bare feet, beauty, and fruitfulness.
Blessed are you, people who walk in the light,
Blessed are you, Earth who sustains us,
Blessed are you, God of the seasons.
- Wendy Janzen
Today would have been our May worship gathering were it not for COVID-19. As we are not able to gather in person, I offer you this spiritual practice to do out in nature - weather it is your back yard, a park, or a wilder natural area. Sensio Divina is a sacred way of sensing the Divine in nature. Below are some detailed instructions, but basically you can simply enter prayerfully into the practice with an open heart and intention to engage with God's presence wherever or however you experience it in nature.
Preparation: Take a few moments to centre yourself by taking a few deep breaths. Cross a threshold of some sort - intentionally step over a stick or a bridge or between two trees to symbolize entering into a more enchanted and alive relationship with creation, with God, with your soul.
Wander: Allow yourself to be drawn to something (the river, the sun, a rock, the breeze?) or someone (a sparrow, a turtle, a bug, a tree?) that seems to be calling you. Don’t question or second guess. Just respond by opening your heart and your imagination and offering your full presence. Release agenda and expectations.
Listen: Don’t overthink. Wonder. Be fully attentive, and listen with an open heart. Use all your senses. Notice little things. Smell. Touch. Observe.
Share: Engage in a conversation together. Share your dreams or despair, and ask of theirs. This is a new language for you, so words sometimes don’t work. Sketch, or meditate, listening deeply, allowing images and emotions to arise. Write a poem perhaps, or sing a song. What insight comes up from this encounter that speaks to you and invites you into a larger story?
Gratitude: Offer some acknowledgement of honor and gratitude - a prayer, a bow, a smile, a touch...
Return: Cross over the threshold again, carrying this experience with you.
- Adapted from various sources, including Victoria Loorz, Seminary of the Wild.
As we continue in this time of physical distancing and are unable to gather together for worship, here is a self-guided sunrise service you can do on Easter morning, or any other morning!
Check the internet as to the time of sunrise in your particular location. Locally (Waterloo Region/Wilmot Township), sunrise on Easter morning is at 6:45 a.m. Each day after that it rises approximately one minute earlier. If you want to start in the darkness and hear the birds sing their dawn chorus (if you are outdoors, or if you have a window open) you probably want to start about 30 minutes before the time of the sunrise.
Have either a print out or an e-copy of this self-guided service. You may want to have a candle or small flashlight for a bit of light to read by. You also may wish to have a journal or art supplies for the responding time if you choose the indoor options.
Find yourself a comfortable east-facing location, either outdoors or indoors at a window where you have a view of the eastern horizon.
Breathe. Take time to feel your body waking up to a new day. Feel the temperature of the cool night air on your skin. Observe the quality of the pre-dawn twilight. Listen to the stillness around you, and if you are outside, to the birds welcoming the day.
Pray: Divine Presence, Midwife of Spring: awaken us to your presence within and around us this morning. Heighten our awareness to notice you with all our senses. May we open ourselves to the mystery of this new day and be reminded that each day is a day of resurrection. Amen.
Rise Early, by Macrina Wiederkehr
Rise early when morning darkness still enwraps the trees.
Walk into the darkest forest with only your attentive heart.
Gaze toward the east, take a deep breath, and wait.
After a short while you will see God
Carrying a lantern through the forest,
Bits of light bobbing up and down,
In and out, higher and higher,
The light climbs, spilling over
Into the spaces between the leaves
And on into the world beyond the forest.
Than the beautiful darkness hands you over to the light.
It slips away reverently into the bark of the tree trunks,
Into the black earth,
Into all those other countries that wait for its return.
Lift your face to the daystar now.
Experience the coming of dawn.
Bathed in morning light, pray that the lantern of your life
Move gently this day into all those places
Where light is needed.
Watch and wait in silence for the sun to rise, for the beautiful darkness to hand you over to the light. Morning is a call to our own resurrection, and so reflect on what needs to rise in you today, or this season.
Once the sun has risen, stand up, do a full body stretch with your arms reaching up to the sky and then bow to the rising sun. From a standing position, read these texts:
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord , descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it...the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here: for he has been raised, as he said.”
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love;
So that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Blessing (adapted from Joyce Rupp)
May your heart be opened wide to receive
The eternal energy of the Dawning Sun.
May the Creator’s transforming glow
shine through every inner fiber of your body
Until you are transparent with
The power of God’s enlightening beauty.
And may the lantern of your life move
Joyfully this day into all those places
Where light is most needed.
- Wendy Janzen
As we carry a lot of anxiety and a variety of different stresses these days due to Covid-19, this spiritual practice in nature may be therapeutic. Do it whenever works in your routine, but consider doing it before Easter, perhaps on Good Friday, a day of grief and lament.
Wound Walk (adapted from "Wild Mind: A Field Guide to the Human Psyche" by Bill Plotkin)
- Wendy Janzen
Reflections, poetry, prayers, and resources written by Wendy Janzen and occasional guests.