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Sunday Message for August 20, 2023


I grew up in Oregon, following my father around the forest. On the weekends we would go out camping, hunting, fishing, and I loved it. Oregon has beautiful forests and I have swum in most of the rivers there. There were blue, pink, and white Bachelor Buttons growing wild as well as bright purple thistles. Oregon is where I grew up, so I am particularly fond of it.

I think it is because of the abundance shown in nature there. There are so many beautiful forests, lakes, and rivers. There is an abundance of wildflowers that grow everywhere and an abundance of different types of birds everywhere. There are so many deer, bear, elk, and mountain lions and the mountain streams are filled with rainbow trout and browns. Every year we would go out into the forest and pick wild plums to make into jam. My grandmother would always go pick the wild huckleberries to make pies.

Consequently, I have always associated nature with abundance. An abundance of stars in the sky, an abundance of grains of sand on the beaches, and an abundance of God's love in creating all of this for us.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in The American Scholar:.
"The first in time and the first in importance of the influences upon the mind is that of nature. Every day, the sun; and, after sunset, night and her stars. Ever the winds blow; ever the grass grows. Every day, men and women, conversing, beholding and beholden. The scholar is he of all men whom this spectacle most engages. He must settle its value in his mind. What is nature to him? There is never a beginning, there is never an end, to the inexplicable continuity of this web of God, but always circular power returning into itself. Therein it resembles his own spirit, whose beginning, whose ending, he never can find, - so entire, so boundless. Far, too, as her splendors shine, system on system shooting like rays, upward, downward, without centre, without circumference, - in the mass and in the particle, nature hastens to render account of herself to the mind."a

And maybe this is why we are so touched by nature - because it reflects our own spirit. We see in nature that invisible part of ourselves and we stand in awe.

Calling of the Directions
This morning I invite you all to help me to call the directions. This is an earth-centered way of making sacred the place where life celebration is occurring. It also focuses our attention on nature as the manifestation of the divine. So close your eyes and breathe.

Spirit of the East, spirit of air,
of morning and springtime:
Be with us as the sun rises,
in times of beginning,
times of planting.
Inspire us with the fresh breath of courage
as we go forth into new adventures.

Spirit of the South, spirit of fire,
of noontime and summer:
Be with us through the heat of the day
and help us to be ever growing.
Warm us with strength
and energy for the work that awaits us.

Spirit of the West, spirit of water,
of evening and autumn:
Be with us as the sun sets
and help us to enjoy a rich harvest.
Flow through us with a cooling,
healing quietness and bring us peace.

Spirit of the North, spirit of earth,
of night time and winter.
Be with us in the darkness, in the time of gestation.
Ground us in the wisdom of the changing seasons
as we celebrate the spiraling
journey of our lives.b

A lot of pagan rituals include a phrase that invites the participants to "breathe, ground yourselves and come into your senses." Grounding is about having an energetic connection to the earth, being present, aware, and in your body. I invite you to take a minute now to breathe, ground yourself and come into your senses. Observe, breathe, pay attention; use all your senses so that you are both relaxed and connected. Then open your eyes.

I would like to share with you what I understand and appreciate about earth-centered and pagan religious perspectives. They are spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

The word pagan is taken from the Latin "paganus," which means country-dweller. Early Christianity was primarily a religion of the cities. The country folk, the pagani of the Roman Empire, still practiced older religions, tied closely to the seasonal and agricultural cycles. The word paganus was associated with the religious practices of those rural peoples. And like the naming of many religious groups that are considered to be either dangerous or of little value to the main religion, the name "pagan" was intended to demean those who followed its practices. I would say it hasn't been successful in that.... although there was a long hiatus when it was not wise to let people know that you followed the practices of earth-centered religious perspectives.

In general, Pagan beliefs are nature-based. They believe that all of creation, and not just humans, are offspring of the divine; humans are simply another part of nature. As such, we owe nature the respect we owe a brother or sister. Nature is the manifestation of the Divine.

Thoreau writes, "The most alive is the wilderness ... Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps."c

Emerson echoes these sentiments: "In the woods, we return to reason and faith ... Standing on the bare ground, my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space, ... I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part and parcel of God ... I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages."d

Pagan rituals and celebrations tend to be centered around the cycles of the seasons and of the moon; they celebrate our connections to and dependence on the natural world.

Pagans see Life and Death as two sides to the same coin. Neither is good or evil, both just are. And, like the cycles of the seasons, the most basic aspects of the human life cycle are marked with rites of passage which aid us in these transitions and reaffirm our links with all of humanity. Birth, the coming into adulthood, menopause or old age, and death all have their special ceremonies.

Pagans see the female and male as equally divine. Both men and women are found in the clergy; in some cases, this has been true for thousands of years. The Goddess-centered religions have been particularly healing to many women coming out of more recently mainstream faiths.

Paganism has been a haven for the Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual community. In olden times, it was thought that human gender and sexuality had a power all their own. The homosexual and bisexual, then, had within them a unique balance of that power that brought to the community valuable gifts and insights. The spirit behind this idea is still a part of modern Paganism: people of all orientations are finding great healing within the Pagan movement."

So what about us - all of us in Unity? What are our connections to earth-centered and pagan religious ways of being?

Have any of you walked a Labyrinth? That is a 3500-year-old symbol of wholeness and regeneration. For some of us, our entire path is earth-centered, for others of us it is a portion that we lovingly graft on to other religious paths, like humanism, mysticism and so on.

I would not call myself a Pagan, but I have much respect for many of their rituals. I have had the good fortune of sitting in on the Winter Solstice ritual and was very impressed.

I can remember, as a child, laying in my sleeping bag and looking up through the trees at the stars and moon. This was always a spiritual experience for me. Have any of you had an experience where you have felt the power of nature as a manifestation of the divine? I am sure I am not alone.

This religious path, this path of those who find comfort in nature, in the goddess and in rituals that help to celebrate the cycles of the seasons is much deeper and more complex, simpler, and more joyful than I have been able to express this morning. But I hope that my respect for those who choose to walk this path can be clearly seen.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in Spiritual Laws:
"The lesson is forcibly taught by these observations, that our life might be much easier and simpler than we make it; that the world might be a happier place than it is; that there is no need of struggles, convulsions, and despairs, of the wringing of the hands and the gnashing of the teeth; that we miscreate our own evils. We interfere with the optimism of nature; for, whenever we get this vantage-ground of the past, or of a wiser mind in the present, we are able to discern that we are begirt with laws which execute themselves. The face of external nature teaches the same lesson. Nature will not have us fret and fume. She does not like our benevolence or our learning much better than she likes our frauds and wars. When we come out of the caucus, or the bank, or the Abolition-convention, or the Temperance-meeting, or the Transcendental club, into the fields and woods, she says to us, `So hot? my little Sir.'"e

And I think it benefits us that nature can bring us to our knees. That we realize we are not so hot as we might think we are. But that we need to observe and learn from nature that all things are divine.

And then there are the words of Kahlil Gibran from his book of sayings: Sand and Foam (1926). "Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky..." What lovely words. Any of you who has ever lain on your back and looked up at the sky through the trees, any of you who has seen the sky outlined at sunset by the silhouettes of trees, and any of you who has walked or biked or sailed or driven where the trees interrupt and complement the blue or white or cloudy space above - you will know that trees are often poems that the earth writes upon the sky."f

And yet Gibran's very next sentence after 'Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky' is, "We fell them down and turn them into paper that we may record our emptiness." What despair is contained in that sentence. We fell them down and turn them into paper so that we may record our emptiness. Another cry for the re-balancing of our interaction, our responsibility, our wants and needs.... In fact, as I review Gibran's work, I realize that much of what he has written is sadly prophetic: condemning humans for the continuing degradation of the earth....

I believe that the more we connect with nature, the less we will be able to destroy this beautiful earth of ours. I believe that the more we realize the divinity of nature, the more we will see the divinity in ourselves. When we see the oneness of all things, we will begin to see all things as God sees them. We will then know the perfection of all things in nature - as well as the perfection in ourselves.

aRalph Waldo Emerson The American Scholar:
bCalling of Directions Joan Goodwin; Spiritual Laws
cHenry David Thoreau
dThe American Scholar: Ralph Waldo Emerson
eRalph Waldo Emerson Spiritual Laws
fKahlil Gibran Sand and Foam

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