It’s so pleasing on a hike into the wild to find a waterfall in a place where you’ve never been. It immediately catches your attention. You spread out your jacket and sit beside it to rest. The rushing sound can be a roaring white column or a continuous gentle bubbling as fresh ice cold water cascades over the brink into the plunge pool below. The water comes from the river or stream above as a continuous source. In that moment, you experience something stirring within yourself that connects you to the Great Sacred- God. Not many experiences in nature provide the same breathtaking intrusion a waterfall does for us. It’s fluid rushing and shrouding mist, a prism of light for grand displays of rainbows, thrills the spirit. On September 5th, I opened my daughter, Robin’s text: “Mom, the gorge is burning. All the waterfalls, the lodge tunnel, all of the old bridges. It’s terrible. There’s ash over Portland. We can’t go outside. Some teenager with fireworks. They are trying to protect Multnomah Lodge. It’s such a huge loss. Millions animals/creatures dead. 17 miles. . . The photos are horrible. The air quality here is poor. It was my church. The fire is 25 miles away raining ash. It’s so incredibly sad. Such a beautiful place!”
Our daughter Robin regularly hikes to waterfalls in that gorge along the Columbia River in Oregon. I understood what she said about it being her “church”. I understood how it was affecting her to know that this beautiful area could be destroyed, changed forever. Her time there, seeking in part what one would seek in a church, was always rewarding. We have a plethora of selfies of her with the waterfalls in the background, her face filled with childlike joy and complete satisfaction. She took us to her special places when we visited her a few years ago. The Eagle Creek fire covered 32,000 acres devouring the underbrush and anything else in its path. In our imagination we stare at the blackness in its wake with a grateful heart for the places left untouched.
The familiar waterfall is still plunging and misting and roaring into the pool below. The stark white contrasts with the black charred earth and trees around it. Rushing, life-giving water becomes the sound of hope as it does the only thing it can – fall and rejuvenate. Even now, green sprouts are coming through earth around it’s edges. Pine cones have popped from the searing heat and there are seeds taking root in the rich soil below the black layer. Everywhere – a rising up. Life cannot be staunched even by fire. This is God, the Great Sacred. “How could you be so lost from me when I am everywhere.” Journey by RF This landscape is now even more alive as it heals and restores itself through the resurrecting properties it carries in its DNA. This is Sacred.
In south China, the sub-tropical region that is the flood plain of the Yangtze River gets rain 250 days a year. The swampy ground is perfect for raising rice. For 8000 years, the cultivation of rice has transformed the landscape of this region. Thousands of stacked terraces down the mountainside were carved out by hand using basic tools. These terraces are among the oldest human structures in China. In south Yunnan a region eight times the size of the U.K., an aerial view is like looking at a giant mirror with black curving lines distinguishing the water-filled terraced rice paddies. The local farmers are still using the same cultivation practices as their oldest ancestors used. Their connection to the earth is the core and substance of their culture. The Song family featured in the documentary “Wild China” is consistent with all the other Miao (Me-ow) families in the Guizhou Province. Their wooden house is built on the non-productive land on the steepest side of a mountain. In the rafters of their living room like their neighbors is the nest of a very special bird – a red-rumped swallow. The nest was built and is tended by a pair of the swallows that mate for life. The family’s livelihood, totally dependent on the rice crop, regards the timing of the swallows’ return in early spring to be central to the timing of the planting of the rice. If the swallows return late, then the elders of the village decide to plant the rice a little later. In the Song’s living room there are windows that provide an amazing view of the rice paddies below. They always leave one of the windows open so the swallows can come and go. This is a sacred relationship between the Miao and God’s creation. Their lives follow a rhythm that has been continuous for hundreds of generations.
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In [the Lord’s] hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being.” Job 12:7-10
“And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” Genesis 1:29
“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.” Deut 8:10
“O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. …These all look to you to give them their food in due season; when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.” Psalm 104:24-28
“Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things! Do not fear, you animals of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green…”
“The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands.” Deut. 28:12
“[Christ] himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together … and through him God was pleased to reconcile to [God-self] all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” Colossians 1:17,20
“’The earth is the Lord’s!’ (Psalm 24:1) Simple self-interest is one reason to care for creation. As creatures ourselves, our lives are dependent upon our fellow creatures and upon a properly functioning eco-system. But Christians have a reason beyond self-interest for caring for creation. The earth is not ours; it belongs to God. We love and care for creation because of our love for the Creator. Praise God all creatures here below! ‘Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!’ sings the Psalmist (Psalm 150:6). From the music of the planets spinning deep in space, to the calls of the humpback whales deep in the oceans to the trills of the thrushes deep in the forests, all creation praises the maker. When we sing the doxology, ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise God all creatures here below!’ we join our human voices to the whole chorus of creation that is already singing its praises to God. We care for fellow creatures so that they, with us, can continue to sing God’s praises.” Earth Ministry website
Creation communes with us when we seek that communion because we are all made of the same stuff – the same stuff as the stars, as a beautiful waterfall or a pair of faithful swallows because everything that is came from God. Even our blood has the same concentration of salt as the seawater in the ocean. Writer and minister Arthur A. Oakman takes us to a deeper understanding of creation made sacred: “The Eternal God communicates himself. Such communication – which is his mind in self-expression – is his word which itself is ‘God the Word’. One form of that self-expression is the created universe – the actualization of the divine mind. He spoke and the worlds were made. . . His mind is expressed in the rising sun in the morning, in the radiation of light, in the bloom of flowers and the song of birds. His Word has never been uttered ‘once for all.’ He continually expresses his will by the Word of his power and in this continual expression the material universe finds its being, its place and its destiny. Within the universe are creatures of his creation, beings he has fashioned to satisfy his own nature, who are in his image. The motive for the creation of these his children is also eternally in him. He seeks, as every creative mind seeks, that response from his creation which will be in harmony with his own nature. This motive we call ‘love divine’. He looks for himself in us and comes to his own to find it. So God is love. Love and creation are both of God. Still he looks on his creation and calls it ‘good’. To him it has infinite value. He prizes it still.” Arthur Oakman Resurrection and Eternal Life
In a group I was working with at the jail, one young man’s Sacred was being perched on a stack of hay bales at night looking up at a star-filled sky. Another was looking into the face of his child. We are sacred in God’s eyes or he wouldn’t be making continuous plans to help us find our way back to him. “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer 29:11) These words were given to the prophet Jeremiah while the Israelites, his people, were in Babylonian captivity and would be there for 70 years. And God was true to his word.
I believe that we each have our own unique connection with the Sacred. One of the definitions of “sacred” is “connected with God”. Oakman writes further: “The most significant thing a human being can do is to have communion with his Creator! Prayer, or worship is the supreme goal of all human endeavor, indeed of all existence so far as we know. . .Communion with God, the creative spirit of the whole. . . is the aim of all existence, the purpose of all existence. In prayer, all our nature is blessed. We hold communion with our Father. He is the author of science. He makes the stars and suns to sing his praise, and composes the music of the spheres. He is the author and finisher of the tremendous drama of human history. But only the pure in heart can see him as he is. Only love enters the holy of holies. Only by longing ‘as the hart pants after the water brooks’ do (we) become pure in heart. Only by practicing virtue do (we) become holy. Only by his own impulse do (we) long for him. Only by obedience to his own law do (we) practice virtue. Worship, the crowning achievement of the human race and the activity by which alone through (us) can the ‘whole might of nature’ be redeemed, is correspondence with God’s own impulse to draw us to himself. We are made to share in the divine life. God has purposed a community, a people, who have in them his own life – life immortal – life eternal. . . .Because he creates and sustains all, he is in all, in the same way that a man is in his acts and actions. This means, of course that the only ultimate value the created universe has to offer – indeed, the only ultimate value God himself has to offer – is fellowship with him. God cannot give men what there is not. He can only give them what there is to give; ultimately worthwhile and eternal only as a fruitage of fellowship with God. God is God. He is ultimate. You cannot get beyond what is ultimate. God is Love.” A. Oakman
For a time, I became discouraged working with people who experienced such grinding poverty and want – people who were in and out of jail, when one warrant led to a plethora of others and a spiraling down of their lives. I was having a faith crisis. I saw the powerful and well off as stacking the odds against the oppressed of ever having a chance. This is true to a degree but I began to realize that abundance comes in many forms. It’s not always money in the bank for security or being in a powerful position, its finding the sacred in your day and being content with whoever you are, wherever you are. This discovery can come at any time; it doesn’t have to wait until everything is perfect and equal.
The ultimate sacred is us communing with God all day long. When we can make the routine day ahead our church, our altar, then, we have arrived. If we can accept that whatever we have in that moment is all we need and stop looking around making comparisons at what others have and excuse our lack of trying and communing because of something we don’t have. You might be poor financially, but you may be spiritually rich, endowed with blessings and talents of which you are still unaware. It’s really difficult with the inmates when I hear the stories of lost opportunity and hopelessness, and I see what their choices have done to them physically, but I have to remind them that if they are exercising their faith and trusting God then in that moment, they have everything they need to change the future. “The challenges you face right now are the building blocks of your character for the future.” Henrietta Mukai “Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place.” Rumi
Jesus stated that “we would always have the poor with us”, yes, I agree because of sin and greed, but it would never be God’s intention for the marginalized poor to be left unloved without hope. Those who may appear helpless have access to the same abundance as everyone else, but it may have a spiritual purpose. Everything in our life has a spiritual purpose. Abundance doesn’t always equal an overflowing bank account; it can be in the depth we commune with God. If we can “be the soul” of the place wherever we are, that’s a rich abundance of power and grace and can transform the lives of others.
“The sacred is in the ordinary. . . it is to be found in one’s daily life, in one’s neighbors, friends, and family, in one’s own backyard. . . travel may be a flight from confronting the sacred – this lesson can be easily lost. To be looking elsewhere for miracles is to me a sure sign of ignorance that everything is miraculous.” Abraham Maslow
The Psalmist David spent much of his young life caring for the sheep. Perhaps the book of Psalms would never have been written if he hadn’t sought the sacred in place and moment. We have beautiful verses that lift our spirits above the moment in which we find ourselves – verses that speak to us and increase our hope in something greater, something beyond ourselves.
“I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” Psalm 16:8 These words aren’t just for when your life is perfect, everything in its place, it’s for when you are shaken to the core because nothing is even close to perfect or seems to be in its place. It’s for the communing moment when sacred rises up to greet you and distract you from the starkness of life.
“Praise be to the Lord, for he has heard my cry for mercy.7 The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.8 The Lord is the strength of his people, a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.9 Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever.”
David sang these verses as he accompanied himself on the stringed lyre. The words given to him by the Spirit delight and comfort us today thousands of years later. He continuously looked for the sacred in his daily life. He expected this because of his faith in the Lord. When we read the Psalms, we can be aware of that distinction and apply it to our own life, making our lives sacred first in our own hearts and spirit then manifested in our lives.
“During World War II, a US marine was separated from his unit on a Pacific Island. The fighting had been intense, and in the smoke and the crossfire he had lost touch with his comrades.
Alone in the jungle, he could hear enemy soldiers coming in his direction. Scrambling for cover, he found his way up a high ridge to several small caves in the rock. Quickly he crawled inside one of the caves. Although safe for the moment, he realized that once the enemy soldiers looking for him swept up the ridge, they would quickly search all the caves and he would be killed.
As he waited, he prayed, ‘Lord, if it be your will, please protect me. Whatever your will though, I love you and trust you. Amen.’
After praying, he lay quietly listening to the enemy begin to draw close. He thought, ‘Well, I guess the Lord isn’t going to help me out of this one’. Then he saw a spider begin to build a web over the front of his cave.
As he watched, listening to the enemy searching for him all the while, the spider layered strand after strand of web across the opening of the cave.
‘Ha’, he thought. ‘What I need is a brick wall and what the Lord has sent me is a spider web. God does have a sense of humor.’
As the enemy drew closer he watched from the darkness of his hideout and could see them searching one cave after another. As they came to his, he got ready to make his last stand. To his amazement, however, after glancing in the direction of his cave, they moved on. Suddenly, he realized that with the spider web over the entrance, his cave looked as if no one had entered for quite a while. ‘Lord, forgive me,’ prayed the young man. ‘I had forgotten that in you a spider’s web is stronger than a brick wall.’
We all face times of great trouble. When we do, it is so easy to forget the victories that God would work in our lives, sometimes in the most surprising ways. As the great leader, Nehemiah, reminded the people of Israel when they faced the task of rebuilding Jerusalem, ‘In God we will have success!’ Nehemiah 2:20
Remember: Whatever is happening in your life, with God, a mere spider’s web can become a brick wall of protection. Believe He is with you always. Just speak His name through Jesus His son, and you will see His great power and love for you.” “God and the Spider” Creative Bible Study online; Source Unknown
Robin texted us the next morning. You could sense the excitement and joy in her words: “They saved Multnomah Falls and Lodge!!!!” followed by lots of happy emogees.
“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” Psalm 27:4
His temple is the waterfall; his temple may be a cell with bars. It is wherever you are. His temple is you. Be the soul, the temple wherever you are.”
“I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together. I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear (respect) him, and he delivers them. Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.”
Psalm 34:1-11 NIV
The daily ordinary life of our communities is filled with possibilities that can happen in sacred moments if we can see each other with spiritual eyes to see what God sees in each of us. I pr