The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature. – Joseph Campbell
Placing ourselves in the environments around us can be a spiritual practice that nurtures our own spiritual growth and development. This weeks focus is using nature to assist in our spiritual development.
Spiritual practices are all about opening our hearts to find the Spirit and listening to what is going on in that moment. Sometimes it quiets our mind, other times it helps us become aware of the answers we have for the million questions in our life. Nature has a profound way of opening us up to find our deep spiritual roots. The lessons we can learn are countless if we just pay attention to the environment around us. This motivational speech about nature is a great way to start off our focus.
Attuning To Nature
In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous. – Aristotle
Dr. Roger Gottlieb, who is internationally known as an analyst of religious environmentalism, used to give his students an intriguing assignment every semester. He required they choose one tree on campus, visit it three to four times a week, and keep a record about the tree. He didn't care what you wrote it, you just had to do it.
What he found was after a few weeks the thoughts of his students toward the tree would develop. The students would notice differences to the tree causing them to wonder why changes were occurring and if it had to do with the environment. Sometimes the trees would even be given names. Dr. Gottlieb associates this change to humans having the ability to connect and attune with sacred energies that are around an within us by using our imaginations. You can check out Dr. Gottlieb talking about the spiritual practice of nature by clicking here.
Using nature as a spiritual practice shifts are mind to understanding there is a sacredness in creation. The same spirit in me is also in the environment around me. Suddenly the leaves become so much more than just a leaf. The changing seasons give way to a deeper understanding of preparation. Giving our attention and focus to nature helps us attune ourselves to our spiritual nature.
Ways To Use Nature As A Spiritual Practice
Nature is the art of God. – Dante Alighieri
How do we use nature to enhance our spiritually and meet with God? In what ways can I connect with the beauty of the environment? Here are a few ways to get you started.
1. Create Time Alone In Nature - It's great talking with others but sometimes we just need to be alone in nature. The silence we receive by taking just a short time can be centering. Listen to your internal thoughts, quiet them, and find the spirit around you. Focus on your senses to notice what you hear, smell and see? How has that part of nature been transformed? What questions do you have about it?
2. Connect With Nature - Pick out a tree or other natural object you find amazing. What is it about it that you like? Is there a view from a spot that really makes you think about life? Experience swimming in water, the grass under your feet, or the smell of evergreens. Really take the time to feel it and be thankful for it. Allow gratitude for this environment to lead your heart and open you to a deeper connection. Find God in the midst of where you are.
3. Find Your Place - It can be really helpful to find a place where you can go in nature to call your own. Your thinking spot, or place in which you can connect with what's around you. Attune yourself with the environment, notice the changes, and identify what speaks to you.
4. Bring Nature Indoors - Decorate your living area with plants and flowers to make the space come alive. Sometimes just a little greenery in a space can enhance the vibes and relax the room.
5. Try A New Outdoor Activity - Sometimes we struggle to go outdoors. But trying and learning new activities may be just the thing. The more we are outside the more opportunities we have to connect with the beauty around us.
6. Experience It With Others - If you can't stand being alone take someone with you. Enjoy the outdoors and use it to invite others to join you. Take the time to build relationships with others while using nature.
For additional insights of how to use nature you can also check out Community of Christ's Spiritual Practice: Nature Gazing and Praising.
In whatever way you decide to be in nature please just get out there and try it. See with new eyes, be thankful for what is there, and reflect on how it makes you feel afterwards. Remember the divine is present with you! Being in nature may be just the thing for you.
Thank you for taking care of nature!
This week get up and go outside! Thank the divine for something you notice.
On our way out to Colorado a few weeks ago for vacation we looked for a Community of Christ and found one up ahead in the town of Seibert, Colorado with a population of 181. We debated on whether to go or not since we were on vacation but decided to stop anyways. We felt taking the time to go to church teaches our boys two things.
1. Our faith extends to all parts of our lives no matter when or where we are.
2. Our faith family is much bigger than just the Community of Christ we attend in Topeka.
We turned into the parking, and were immediately greeted by people getting out of their car inviting us to come in. Our boys were shown to the craft area to get what they needed for the service and multiple people welcomed us.
While taking our seats in the sanctuary my boys started making a raucous noise pointing at the wall. It was covered with Disney posters and animals scenes immediately making this place "awesome" in their minds. The decor was up from their recent Vacation Bible School where they hosted 26 kids.
The welcomeness, cozy environment, and openness of the people made us feel right at home. This congregation was doing what it could to welcome whoever came and to bring about Christ's peace in their community. We were glad we stopped in and met such wonderful people.
Faith and spirituality extend to all parts of our lives. It doesn’t have to be to a church building or a specific time of the week. Most times than not our faith is grown during those times we are in community with others. Sitting at a table eating, visiting, sharing in a mutual task. Let’s look further at how to move our spirituality into all aspects of our lives.
What is Church?
Most people know that people are the church however we tend to forget this. We become so occupied with programs and activities that we miss the message that church is really about being present with one another and improving our community. It’s not a building but communal times in which we can share with one another experiencing Christ’s love. Our experience in Seibert, was special because the people genuinely welcomed and shared with us.
There are some of us that have had horrific experiences at church before or witnessed churches so preoccupied with themselves they miss the point of Christ's mission.
However there is hope. There are many places willing to listen, care, and put the needs of others first. When we come to know and experience others in an open sharing environment we acknowledge their humanness and also their unique abilities. For us to get there we need to get out of our own way by changing how and what we see as church.
The video below talks about this shift in our thinking so we can become more intentional about our faith.
Ways To Incorporate Spirituality
What ways can I incorporate spirituality in my life? Spirituality can be numerous things depending on the person. I have created a short list of 6 potential ones to consider.
1. Find A Daily Spiritual Practice - Spiritual practices form us as individuals and deepens our connection with God. This may be exercising, meditating, or gardening, really whatever helps you. You can check out our previous spiritual practice posts here.
2. Seek Out Spiritual Mentors - Seek out someone you look up to, respect, or who can help you deepen your spirituality. Spiritual mentors are important because they listen and guide us into a deeper relationship with the divine. It moves us into a vulnerable relationship where we seek deeper meanings in our lives.
3. Find A Church Home - Church is a group of people focused on connecting people with God while also bringing about peace and justice in their community. Its intentionally focused on expanding our spiritual lives. Most other groups we find ourselves in may be very positive but which ones actually talk about our spiritual lives and what we believe?
4. Affirm Others - Affirming others helps us focus on the positive qualities of those we find ourselves around. Seeing people in their best light is a spiritual practice and one that uses our voice to bring about joy to others.
5. Volunteer - Find someplace that speaks to your passion and help out. Volunteering gets us out in the community assisting in some way. We are actively doing and living out our discipleship.
6. Love & Forgive Yourself - Our spirituality is connected to the internal thought processes we have about ourselves. How are we to connect to a God that loves us unconditionally if we cannot see our beauty or forgive ourselves fo what we have done? We must being to love ourselves and who we are despite the past decisions we have made, anger we shown, or what other people have thought. God sees you and God loves you for everything you are.
We are all on a journey! Some may be quickening their strides while others are taking a hiatus. That's ok, its not a race! It's about finding ourselves and what we believe in the midst of our chaotic lives. Just remember walking our faith journey is best done with others. Working in community, loving others, and figuring out who we are and what we believe with a safe group of people.
Thank you for everyone following along!
This week go to Seibert's Community of Christ Facebook page an like it!
My in laws recently took a trip to Africa with Outreach International to learn about the culture and process Outreach has with people. Check out my earlier post “The Eyes of Love” talking about my experience with OI. At one village they got off of the bus to visit with their community leaders and see the progress they have made in community change. My mother in law vividly remembers stepping off of the bus and the real young kids immediately running in fear and crying.
Now of course this is where I insert any mother in law joke that comes to mind.
Joke - I am amazed that her reputation is not only known nationally but internationally.
Joke - I am assuming they were taking my strategy of not speaking to my mother in law. It's been two years, we haven’t quarreled, I just don’t want to interrupt her.
Joke - The kids had heard there were more vicious things than Lions they just hadn’t seen them until now.
Ok that’s enough! In all reality I have a great mother in law that is very respectful of boundaries and I received her approval before posting any of these jokes.
She said the kids ran because they had never seen this big a group of white people before. They were stricken with fear for something they had not experienced. As she thought about it, it became real to her that we fear what we do not know. Fear is a natural emotion we feel. It was in this moment she realized the importance of educating and teaching acceptance to overcome fear.
Acceptance allows us to see and understand others instead of letting fear drive our actions and behaviors. Too much of what we see and get from media or others today is fear. Fear others are taking our jobs, creating unsafe situations, or not practicing the right beliefs. But we have to find ways to not follow the fear but go to the source to truly understand what is going on.
So lets explore how acceptance impacts our spiritual journey's. Specifically lets look at what teaching acceptance is, a more in-depth look at why its important, and where God is in the midst of this.
How to Teach Acceptance?
Teaching acceptance is a process of eliminating fear from our lives slowly while embracing who others are. Culturally respecting others beliefs and perspectives is imperative for peace. Acceptance is not about coexisting but embracing others differences. Others' choices may not be our own but respecting who they are and the choices they make are vitally important for building community.
So what are some ways to help us teach acceptance?
Story Telling - Stories are essential ways for people to hear others perspectives. They bring emotional attachment to situations and problems creating more pull with people. Stories have a way of working into our heart strings and pulling them ever so gently.
Dialogue - Talking with others allows multiple perspectives to be shared so there is common understanding of all potential concerns and problems present. There is almost always two sides of every problem.
Let Go of Personal Stereotypes/ Judgments - We are not void of judgments as much as we try. But acknowledging our judgments and letting go of them creates an openness for others and ourselves to learn. Internal awareness of our own processes is some of the major work we can do.
Exposure - When we find ourselves with negative thoughts or ideas in our head about a certain group of people its important that we go to the source. Direct exposure tends to be the best and most accurate knowledge. Spend time learning for yourself what the group is about and who they are.
Culturally Diverse Books - Reading books about other cultures and by authors from different backgrounds can help us become more accepting. They are great way to educate us when we are too shy or timid about interacting with others. Check out our guest blog post "Diversity and Your Bookshelf" by William Ottens to read further about this.
Golden Rule - This applies as we imagine ourselves when we use the words we use. This is all the time not just when someone is around us. Positive thoughts bring more positive thoughts.
At the heart of personality is the need to feel a sense of being lovable
without having to qualify for that acceptance.
Tolerance Is A Dirty Word?
Some people believe tolerance is what needs to happen while others believe that is not enough. Where do you stand? Should we as society just be tolerant of others? Is tolerance a step toward acceptance? Or does acceptance need to happen for someone to be truly valued?
I tend to think its not about just being tolerant of others but accepting others as able and capable of making their own decisions. This means seeing the positive qualities and characteristics we can out of individuals. Below is a TEDx video by Andrew Sayer which talks about Tolerance being a dirty word. I thought it was an interesting perspective and wanted to share it with you.
Unity in Diversity
Community of Christ has an enduring principle of Unity in Diversity. It’s a core belief that our differences make us better and that those differences are needed for us to be whole as a community. I find when I really try to live by this principle, I become less frustrated with others, more open for help, and more willing to learn.
I think this enduring principle is also a goal. If we truly are to be one with each other we have to acknowledge and value the differences we find. This can be difficult but when we become more diverse we actually become more efficient and effective. As I have stated before more diverse work forces actually create better financial gains. Check out this article “Why Diversity Matters” for details.
Another example is just looking at nature! The diversity in the habitats of the world create balance and support systems. Look up the root systems of aspens, the pollination of bees, or the running of salmon to see how we are all integral parts of one another. Others depend on us and our unique roles in this world.
It’s about seeing the Christ in me and the Christ in you as parts of the whole. Without all of us in this together what’s the point? Without you alongside with me what really matters? Unity in diversity breathes the need for us to truly sit and be with one another. Bask in each other’s presence and love the person for who they are. So how do we live this as a community? Well how about we figure that out together.
Thank you for all those who are enjoying our posts! We welcome any feedback you have.
This week ask another person what is something that has been hard for them to accept. Truly listen to their perspective no matter how different it is from yours.
Recently my wife and I took a trip to the country of Iceland for our ten year anniversary. It was an amazing trip with awesome views, wonderful people, and great food. We loved learning about their culture and country.
One interesting thing is Iceland has eliminated the use of plastic bags. Every supermarket required you take your own bags in or just take the groceries to the car. When I researched this I found the supermarkets in Iceland vowed in 2018 to eliminate all plastic bags by 2023. Check out the article here. It appeared to me they are already very close to reaching that goal. The people we talked to had positive things to say about removing plastic bags from their country. It was apparent that it happened very quickly and people just adapted.
So why is plastic so bad for the world?
1. Plastic doesn't biodegrade so it photo degrades to small pieces covering the ocean. Marine animals mistake it for plankton because there is 6 times as much, which ends up killing animals when they eat it.
2. 10% of the plastic we use each year ends up in the ocean. The rest of it becomes waste we cannot get rid of. FYI the world uses somewhere between 500 billion to 1 trillion bags in one year.
3. The production of plastic uses about 8% of our oil resource.
4. Toxic chemicals leak out of plastics affecting people's health, groundwater, and environments.
(Facts from The World Counts)
For more information you can also check out this video by Discovery Channel talking about the impact of plastic on our world. It tells you what the Great Pacific Garbage Patch really is.
In the US plastic is everywhere. It's almost a habit of all retail workers to automatically put items in a plastic bag for the consumer. Tons of products are encased in plastic bottles or plastic wrappers. So how do we reduce our use of plastic to make a healthier world and why?
It seems if we are to really hold the principle of Sacredness of Creation we have to understand how what we do impacts the world. If marine life are significantly affected by something we produce than do we embody this principle? If our children's world is significantly unhealthier because of the choices we make today are we lifting this principle up?
Let's explore this topic of Sacredness of Creation and why caring about our world is good for our spirituality.
Enduring Principle Sacredness Of Creation
In a past post "Sacredness of Creation" we highlighted the churches definition of the enduring principle. This definition tells us a lot about ourselves and the world. Defining it gives us ways to measure and understand what we are looking for as a principle.
I have to wonder if sometimes we stop God from creating by doing things in this world that are harmful to it. When we negatively impact the earth does it limit creation?
It seems greed is at the heart of much of the world's consumption. We are always wanting things bigger, better, and more convenient. And people are wanting to make more no matter the cost to the environment. I'm not going to lie I am a sucker for convience. It's so easy to throw away something thats broken instead of taking the time to fix it. But that may not be the best stewardship of our world. If our mindset is constantly thinking about the bottom line instead of the extraneous factors of how a product impacts people or the environment than are we doing an injustice to our world? But where is the line between hopeful desire and greed?
For instance I enjoy going on adventures and exploring new things. I think one of the greatest things we can do it is explore and experience others cultures. However does the consumption of resources for this to happen become greed at some point? Should we be happy and at ease with what we have? I'm not sure there is a correct answer for this but something each of us have to figure out for ourselves. What do you think?
Caring About Our World
When we feel apart of the world or creation around us our spirituality is enhanced. We realize its not just me but we! We are in this together and we all are parts of the whole. Our spirituality can actually be connected to the environment. Jocelyn Mercado talks about this some in her article "The Spiritual Side of Environmentalism." Dr. Roger Gottlieb also discusses this in the article "Why Spirituality and the Environmentalism Need Each Other."
It seems when we work towards positive solutions for the earth we are also deepening our spirituality. What does it mean to be spiritual? Is it not also being connected to our environment? I find caring for the earth and trying to conserve what I can, enhances my spiritual life. Its what we do as a society which shapes the culture we live in. If we choose to be more environmental friendly than there is a better chance others will too.
Ways To Care For The World
Here are just a few ways we can care for our world in our everyday lives.
1. Eliminate plastic straws from your life - Straws get stuck in marine animals noses. Check it out on youtube. You can buy reusable metal straws instead!
2. Ride your bike to work or carpool - Stops from submitting extra gases into the environment and gives you a great exercise. Just be sure to pack deodorant!
3. Shut off the water when you brush your teeth - Look down and notice the water running why you hum ABC. Shut it off and conserve the water!
4. Start Composting - Composting breaks down banana peels and other items creating very rich soil which can be used for gardening. It eliminates it from sitting in a trash bag for years.
5. Use Reusable Bags - Of course I couldn't leave this one out. Be like our Icelandic friends!
6. Avoid Printing - Get digital receipts, make notes on iPhone or ipad, and if you do print reuse the paper. I love reading actual books but digital books and audio books are excellent ways to save paper.
7. Do Not Use Styrofoam - Avoid cost saving efforts and get something that is able to be recycled. It's not that much more and is much better for the environment.
8. Use Real Coffee Cups - There is nothing more stylish than a good looking coffee mug! Find one you like and use it. I'm sure people will say something about it!
9. Eat Your Leftovers - I can't believe I have to even write this! I love leftovers but not everyone does. Leftovers stop us from using more materials for no reason. If you really can't go give them to someone who can.
10. Fix Things - Fixing things yourself does two things. It prevents other material from having to be used and you feel self accomplished.
I'm so glad you all care so much about God's creation! Thanks for following along.
This week take up one of these or some other way to care for the world!
In 2005 I took a trip with the organization Outreach International for 10 days to the country of Nicaragua. Outreach mission is about empowering the local communities to come together, access resources, and make decisions for themselves to better their communal lives. Outreach is located in ten countries and uses indigenous workers to begin mobilizing communities. The impact they have had has been incredible.
During the ten days our main job was to witness and observe the participatory human development process happening among the communities. We were not there to dig a well or help the people. They were helping themselves and our help would not empower them to do it themselves. In other organizations or many church mission projects, people go in and complete projects and leave. This leaves the local people the same without gaining skills and helping them become sustainable. So our objective was to just be.
The various communities we went into showed the various levels of the process happening among the people. Some communities had made substantial change while others were just in the beginning stages.
In one community in particular Los Alvores, they had built 50 new concrete homes with metal tin roofs about the size of a 12x12 room within the last three months. However this took five years for the community to get everything in place for it to happen. These were built so every family could have a house. The homes were dream homes for the residents in that community and they all worked hard to contribute to their cause.
We gathered with the community leaders when we arrived to hear about this project. They talked about a man named Jose who had the vision for the project and worked a great deal to get the resources so it could happen. His dream was to see every family spending time together in their own home.
Standing before us was Jose’s father with tears in his eyes. He told us his son whose dream it was, would not be able to see it because he passed away. Jose had an abscessed tooth which he could not have fixed because of the lack of adequate dental care in the community. He died from not receiving proper care. Jose’s father asked for a moment of silence as we thought about his son and the dream he held for this community.
I stood looking at the eyes of Jose’s father. It was in those eyes where I empathetically felt his loss and pain. I could see the love he had for his son. Tears streamed down my face as I had translated “Your son was a great man, I'm sorry for your loss.” After the translation, he reached out and hugged me. It was in this moment that we were connected. We both lived in two different worlds, spoke different languages, and yet were bonded together by love. I began to understand how we are transformed when we empathetically share our lives and hearts with others.
Let’s explore the concept of empathetically connecting with others and using the gifts we have for good.
Empathetically Connecting With Others
Empathy is recognizing emotions in another while understanding their perspective and reality. Our first step should always be empathy! However so many times we get caught doing the opposite. “Suck it up”, “brush it off”, “don’t let it bother you.” There’s nothing wrong with trying to be tough however it discredits our emotions and moves us further away from identifying and addressing them when they happen.
Empathy is something everyone can do and it doesn’t take long. Many times people just need to know they are heard and cared for. The only concern is if you are someone that takes on the emotions of another which can sometimes be problematic. For more information check out this article by Marcia Reynolds “Can you have too much empathy?” For the majority of people empathy is a way to connect with others and compassionately listen.
The research on how empathy can improve our quality of life has been looked at extensively. Empathy is also the cornerstone of emotional intelligence which has been researched as the biggest indicator for career success. It goes hand in hand with listening to those around you. If you want to become more empathetic go to “Six Habits of Highly Effective People” which identifies six things we can develop in ourselves to become more empathetic.
Using Our Gifts For Others
Jose would have been able to see his dream complete if he had received adequate dental care. It makes we realize the drastic economic and cultural differences in our world. It doesn’t mean we have to give everything away and live like that part of the world but we do need to be mindful of what and how we are consuming. And more importantly how are we using the gifts we have to positively impact those around us. I know many nurses, dentists, and other providers that take trips to impoverished countries to give proper care. This is a great service, but we all do not have those certain gifts or the ability to go to another country.
We each have our own unique gifts which can bring service or joy to people around us. Maybe its telling others jokes to keep them light hearted, or maybe its completing a small house project for someone that can’t or doesn’t know how. Using our gifts for others benefits the communities we are in and provides more opportunities for us to empathetically connect with people. We actually get to be God’s hands and feet when we use what we have learned and been given.
I will leave you with his awesome video about the happiness we receive when using our gifts to help others. I think it’s actually a Thai life insurance advertisement ?! However it does an amazing job of showing what it means to connect empathetically and help others as we can.
I hope you are all enjoying your summer! If you want to spend a week focusing on your relationship with God get signed up for Reunion. Go this Reunion Directory to find one near you. I promise you will not regret your decision.
This week take some time to look at all the great work Outreach International is doing by visiting their website. You can even donate money by buying a chicken or a goat for one of the communities which helps them become more sustainable.
Craig Hidy like the majority of ministers in Community of Christ is a bi-vocational, self sustaining ordained minister. He is a member of the Midlands Mission Center Emporia Team and an ordained Seventy. He and his family, live in Topeka, Kansas.
What is a Seventy?
The Seventy carry out missionary work for the church in close association with other missionary leaders. They represent Christ primarily as ministers of evangelism through witnessing, inviting, and church planting. They especially proclaim and promote Jesus Christ’s invitation to faithful discipleship through vibrant witness, and train individuals and congregations in witness and invitation. They particularly minister with seekers, individually and in groups, to share the gospel in relevant ways and to invite response. They support sacramental ministries by preparing people for baptism and/or confirmation, presiding at sacramental services, and performing most sacraments. They promote community by inviting individuals, households, and families to respond to Christ’s call to discipleship. They promote justice and peacemaking by inviting people to experience all aspects of Christ’s peace through active discipleship. They create ministry partnerships with mission center officers, apostles, elders, and evangelists.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.