The Body of God

The Body of God is white today.

Sometimes it is black, or brown, or green or blue -

But today, white, all white.

White brings silence as the other colors don't,

or don't always.

And this year, this year,

I am falling deeply in love

with Silence.

It is the opening and the path

to eternity.

Wandering in the forest

I was recently reminded in a talk by Michael Eller, First Nations teacher, of the importance of wandering in nature with no agenda. NO AGENDA: no naming, no symbolizing, no wondering about this or that, no looking for lessons --- just being wherever you are in that forest...or beach...or garden. What a switch that is for us humans in this age. Imagine that we don't make meaning, use up, take home or even destroy something wherever we go.

Instead, how would it be to wander in a receptive mode? What if we could realize that we can receive, actively, from all the growth in the forest in its many forms? How about if we open to experiencing the trees seeing us, rather than we seeing the trees? I have done this a few times now, and it is jolting, even shocking, to be seen by trees rather than to be always seeing them; to feel the river's gaze, rather than my gazing at it, and to be looked at by a squirrel rather than my looking all the time. Try it.

Sharing DNA

During this past winter, on Sunday evenings, a program called "Cosmos" was shown each Sunday evening for about 10 weeks. Based on the work of Carl Sagan, and stunning in its graphics and representation of the unfolding Universe from its beginning, one particular scene still remains with me out of all that was shown. It was this:

The narrator stood in front of a tree and said "do you realize that you and I share 11% of our DNA with trees? 8% with butterflies?" and on through a list of plants, animals and insects I would never have thought of being in any physical relationship with at all.

This moment has stayed with me and comes back often. During my few weeks of sabbatical thus far, I have more leisure to stop thinking about the next piece of work even when I am outside, and that number comes back to me often. It must have stirred something deep, and shifted me into a different way of seeing the world. I have some moments of feeling that shared 11% with all the trees that surround me. I feel closer to the animals - domestic and wild -  and even the insects that inhabit our days living here at Souwinds. Somehow, that program changed me, dipped me into a new awareness of the closeness of every earthly (and heavenly) created thing! How could it be otherwise, when you really think about it?

How do we know her?

More and more people are theorizing about how urgent it is to work with the Earth, to address climate change, to write letters, to race around at rallies and to burn up more fuel trying to save her...but how do we know her?

Thich Nhat Hanh invites us to take off our shoes and let our feet kiss the earth, receiving from her more than giving her anything. How do we walk on her ground, and how do we receive from her rather than be the ones giving her anything? When we walk among trees, can we feel them seeing us, rather than us seeing them? (That's if our minds aren't still churning, preventing us from seeing anything around us at all. I know. I was there..and still can be there if I am not paying attention.) Can we sense a mutuality in our presence on the earth, rather than the one-sidedness humans most often consider when it comes to the earth?

Now that spring is just beginning, I am more conscious than I ever used to be of the magic of emergence, of the amazing unfolding - even after such a harsh and seemingly endless winter - of these small shoots, of mating ducks and wild turkeys, of crocuses and new buds on trees, and endless wild flowers - none of which we make happen. I want to slow down and meet the earth in mutual loving regard, not the caretaking of a helpless entity...which she definitely is not!


The River Leaf

This fable appears in the Religious Life section, but not all visitors go there, so I am reprinting it here:

The River Leaf

The river leaf began her life not knowing the river at all.

 She burst forth one day, the tiniest of red buds on a giant old tree known as red maple. She could see other tiny buds around her, knew she wasn’t alone, and felt the hard brown branch on which they all saw each other for the first time. It was a big branch, thick and long, and it stretched out over something they couldn’t quite see. Yet, from the beginning, they were surrounded by the river’s voice without knowing what it was.

 The tiny maple bud pushed up and out. She unfurled, and spread. She inhabited the air around her like a fan. Sometimes she stood still, seeing the multitude of other leaves filling out this old tree in garments of glory. Some of them were close to her, touching her, and she felt glad. Sometimes a slow breeze moved them all together and apart, together and apart, and they knew themselves to be dancing. And sometimes a loud wind thrashed them together without mercy, and they could only bend and blow with it until that wind blew itself out and left for other trees. Rain was welcomed for its softening, its cleansing, and its nourishment.

 And always the river sang, just below their knowing.

 Days and weeks went by in the rhythm of wind and light, rain and dark. The maple leaf grew large, with a stem powerful enough to stand up to the wind, to taste the rain, and to laugh at the strong breezes that sometimes arrived suddenly with no warning at all.

 And all the time the river was singing, going only one way, unnoticed by the leaf and her companions on that one strong and hardy branch.

 Then one day the maple leaf felt a new feeling. It was the cold. It began slowly at first, but then – everything was filled with it – the wind, the rain – even her stem where she was attached to her branch. The cold made her feel shaky, and then – and then – she noticed that her color was changing. She could hardly recognize herself. Her green was going. Yellow – what was that? And now red was seeping in. Who was this red leaf? She was so taken up with her own changes that she forgot to look around her, and when she did, she was shocked to find that all her companions were looking unfamiliar, different shades of different colors, like herself.

 Finally she was all red, a shining, luminous red, but she still found it hard to think of herself that way. What could she do but say yes to this new color? But wait – something else was happening. Her stem – her proud strong attachment to the tree – was loosening. It was coming away. She felt unsteady. Everything familiar had disappeared when she wasn’t looking, it seemed. The red maple leaf tried to huddle and cling to the only familiar thing left in her world – and she couldn’t.

The coldest wind of all came. And the river still sang.

 The red maple leaf floated for what seemed an endless time, and to her it was. She was lifted one night – not quite gently - from her old battered branch, and placed on the invisible wings of the wind. There was nothing to do but move with this unfamiliar current that she could neither see nor hold onto. But it moved her somewhere, and all she knew was that she was still alive. Nothing else was left. As she floated downward and downward, a new voice came into her hearing, the voice that had always been there, faint and distant. The red maple leaf seemed to hear this voice for the first time as she was laid on its moving sound. The river took her with a violent shiver.

 Where once she had stood still, moving only to the wind’s whim but always feeling secure in her solid connection to the branch, now the red maple leaf was swiftly swung into a fast moving current. Nothing held her but the water. Shapes she had never seen before passed into her knowing but she could no more choose to hold them or stay with them than she could get back to her branch. Who could know how big the world really is? she thought. And here I was thinking that my branch was the world, and that I would always be firmly attached to it.

 The red maple leaf wasn’t alone on the water, but her companions were now not the familiar shapes of maple leaves like herself, or the squirrels who had raced by her often enough to be considered part of her tree. Passing her in the swift flow were sticks of all sizes, leaves in shapes she’d never seen before, white foam that threatened to envelop her completely. Then there were the birds – ducks and herons and hawks and loons. Beneath her were the strangest shapes of all – creatures actually under the water, moving with it or against it: fish, beaver, otter, mink, snake. Some of them moved above and below at will, she saw. But the red maple leaf could not choose her path in the river. She could only move as the river moved her, and no amount of resistance could change this truth.

 Gradually, the red maple leaf found that the river not only had a flow, but a rhythm of its own. Light and dark changed places again and again, just as they had when she was lodged in her tree. She could count on that. Then she noticed that the river had faces other than the fast flow. She was often pushed into eddies where she had little spaces of motionless and soundless slowing while the river swirled her around more softly and became quiet, almost like a lullaby. The red maple leaf treasured these times especially, though she knew they would not last – and she knew that she’d come to them again. She also became aware that whenever the river came to a corner, its voice became louder and its flow a little faster, as if making an effort to take the turn. And that when the turn was done, she could expect a slowing down, a restful, slowing movement when she could rest on the water.

 Once she was mistaken for food by one of the underwater creatures and was pulled under before being rejected for that purpose. For awhile, she was fully immersed in water. No air. Strange shapes and sounds. After that immersion, the red maple leaf began to think of herself differently. Her world had changed so completely that she could no longer think of herself as a red maple leaf. She realized that she had become, instead, a river leaf.

 The river leaf continued to flow with the river, each day surrendering to wherever it took her. She began to enjoy the sun on her surface, and even the cold breezes didn’t seem as bad as when she was high up on her branch. Sometimes the river took her into crevices and corners, stuck in the debris that was floating along with her. She never knew how long she’d be there, but she knew that the river never stopped, and that she would move into its flow again. That fact, like dark and light, was to be trusted. And one more thing she realized was also to be trusted: the river flowed in only one direction. She would never see her branch, or her tree, again.

 The river’s voice became the river leaf’s song. The river’s adventures were her adventures. She knew herself now only as belonging to the river, not to the tree, that faint memory. One day, she noticed that the current was slowing and slowing, and she could no longer see the familiar scenes along the river’s edges. She could only see a vast expanse of water, and it was no longer moving.

 Gradually, the river leaf came to rest among the tall striped grasses where the river became the lake. She felt hidden there, safe – but not in the old way of being attached to the tree. The river leaf felt a fullness, a completion of something she couldn’t quite name, but the grasses helped her to know it, and to hold it. No more wanting anything else but what she had, no more wanting to be anywhere else but where she was.

 One more change awaited the little river leaf who’d lived the fullness of her days. Now even the red began to fade – the red that was once so strange and threatening – and then familiar. A crystal coating of white covered her one night, and just before morning she saw that she had been painted in the most delicate of lacy patterns, and beneath those patterns, she was no longer red, but gold. She was astounded at her own beauty, knowing that she had not made herself so, but that she had been made so. And that she was ready to begin again.

And the river sang her into ending, and later – into beginning.



Relationship with the natural world

We are not apart from the natural world. With all our training in the opposite, this reality is very hard to grasp, to take in, to feel into, instead of think about. I feel myself reaching for it and missing.

But sometims for a fraction of a moment, I feel the glue that we are all bound together in. I feel what Thomas Berry meant when he said " We establish a relationship with the natural world instead of an identity over and against it which separates the part from the whole. We recover intimate modes of Divine Presence. we recover our souls."

Perhaps our souls can only be recovered in relationship to the natural world, particularly in our time.

The Real Poem

"And I am thinking:

maybe just looking up and listening is the real work.

Maybe the world WITHOUT US

is the real poem."    (Mary Oliver)

Riverbank meditation

Today I sat close to the river, flowing quickly, filled with the pine sap that leaves the trees in the fall when they draw the sap down into their roots. I opened and received, felt myself seen, gave up naming and allowed myself to be named instead. I heard and felt my own heart beating. I felt seen. I felt held. There was nothing I needed to do but open and receive. My body was all of a piece with God's body...this earth itself is God's body. This is what I was seeing when my eyes opened.

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And then there is awe

My friend Margarita Synnott from Dublin sent me this piece to post, since the word allowance on this website is so small:

"I love your front page and the piece about the two hearts.  My comment about them is about the need to develop a disposition of awe so that we can connect with that inner heart which seeks to remain in the Mystery.  I was struck a few weeks ago when Holly stopped me while I was talking to her in the garden.  "Stop" she said, "look Gran, there's a bee on the lupin plant and he's collecting honey".  We stopped together and watched the bee move from flower to flower.  I realised that in giving Holly time in my very small garden I have enabled her to appreciate the wonder and beauty of nature and, maybe, perhaps, allowed the process to begin within her to develop that disposition of awe.  Here in Ireland people go on and on about how our children and grandchildren have 'lost the faith' - that was our faith and our parents' faith; if I can help Holly and my other grandchildren develop dispositions of awe and of appreciation they will find the Mystery in their own time and their own place."

Nature as the Body of God

For days I have been pondering what to call a page on this site that would invite reflection and contemplation in nature, and not only that, but one that would nudge us all a few steps farther into considering nature not only as the place where we live, in the old belief that humans are somehow superior to all other forms of creation, but in the new awareness of stepping into an opening that allows us to see nature in all its expressions as actually, actually, the Source of Being Itself. Language is difficult to find as we move into this evolutionary, emerging consciousness.

So I use the phrase of Sally McFague, "Body of God" to articulate all of nature, all of the cosmos. Just to consider that phrase for now is enough. As I go outside on these summer nights and early mornings, breathe in miraculous air, give my carbon dioxide for the life of trees, brush against prickly pine needles, have my heart and hearing pierced by bird songs, walk barefoot on the earth, feeling its electricity enlivening my body, come eye to eye with the magical flowers of this summer season, and become struck dumb by the stillnes and the night sky - all of this chants to me "This is My Body", "This is my Body."

Debbie W 04.11.2013 00:18

awe at the interconnectedness of all life, of the universe.. in solitude I can feel this, but also in the midst of an urban setting nature is still busy living

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Latest comments

23.11 | 19:20

Hi Marilyn...can you share your writing when there's a chance? Love to read some!

04.01 | 19:04

Thanks, Andie...that's it exactly ! So glad you experienced it!

04.01 | 18:36

'Whatever you need
and wherever you go next -
will come to you'
My holiday experience.

28.12 | 15:12

Hi Brenda,
I've just finished reading The Choice - got it from the public library. What an amazing story and an unbeatable spirit. I'll check out youtube now