Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Where Would Jesus Pray?

Dear Friends,

It’s called the Ojai Church of the Wild and the article appeared on the online religious news service which I read daily. I looked at the photo. Twelve souls sitting around the pastor seeking God in the middle of lush green.. Oh Wow! What is this idyllic grove of greenery they’re sitting in? Is it what I think it is? I enlarged the photo. Yep! Distinctive clusters of three leaves with scalloped edges. Perhaps this church should be called “Saint Calamine” in honor of Calamine Lotion – the doctor recommended treatment of severe itching from exposure to poison oak!

I remembered the time I took our entire church on a Sunday to worship at Descanso Gardens. We strolled through the beautiful rose garden, smelled the fragrance of the Camellia gardens and walked on through the oak forest to a large pavilion where we sang, prayed and had Holy Communion. But we worshiped the Creator and not the creation itself. 

The Bible tells us that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John 1:1 As we read on, we find that the “Word” is Jesus Christ. We are connected with God the Father though God the Son. The leader of the church in Ojai says she’s a Christian but she has substituted nature for Jesus. Literally. On the website of the Ojai church, their key verse is translated like this: “In the beginning was the Conversation. And the Conversation was with God. And the Conversation was God.” Their theology is that we come to God through our “Conversation” with nature. Our conversation with the earth, rocks, flowers and trees is the sacred deity we seek. This church replaces scripture readings with poems about nature and the article describes how one person builds an “altar” of leaves and sticks while another meditates upon the metaphysical meaning of a broken rock. 

Pantheism is an ancient belief that God consists of everyone and everything. A tree is God, a mountain is God, the universe is God, you and I are God. Jesus said “No one comes to God except through Me,” John 14:6  But Pantheism disagrees and says all that which is created is God so you can communicate directly with God when you talk to the God that is the lush green shrub or worship the God that is the oak tree. That’s not biblical. Our Bible tells us that God the Creator is separate from His Creation. Genesis 1:1-30 And when God created humans, He created us in His image and likeness. Genesis 1:26 He did not create in His likeness the soulless shrubs and trees. There is no holy, sacred meaning to be found in a broken rock.

I found out that this Ojai church is part of a wider group of churches that are in the “Wild Church Network” and I was happy to read about other “wild” churches who worship in nature without worshiping nature. There’s New Life Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Dripping Springs, TX, that worships the God of the Bible outdoors in their Oak Tree Sanctuary and uses an old cattle water trough as an altar. I loved reading that. When it rains, they put up a tent. This is a church surrounded by nature but with Christ at the center.

God’s Creation fills us with a sense of wonder and worship for the Creator. “How amazing are the deeds of the LORD! All who delight in Him should ponder them. Everything He does reveals His glory and majesty.” Psalm 111:2-3 NLT God’s Creation.. a spectacular sunrise.. a redwood forest.. roaring waves at the beach.. the stillness of a mountain meadow.. the Grand Canyon.. reveal His glory and majesty. 

We often find that our contemplative time with God comes effortlessly when we are outdoors in His Creation. When Jesus wanted to be alone with His Father, He did not go into the Temple. The Son of God went outdoors to places of silence, solitude and stillness. Mark 1:35  Mark 6:46 Luke 5:15-16

A pastor friend of mine relaxes in his hot tub that is his "private chapel." That's where he comes into God's presence and prays. Another friend meets God in the quiet sanctuary of his beautifully landscaped backyard. We too need to find a quiet sacred space where we can let the silence envelope and enfold us. A place where we can be by ourselves in solitude. Where we can set aside the chaos of our day-to-day lives and just sit in stillness. We clear out the clutter of our mind to make room for God. Our thoughts slow down and we come into the Presence of God. In the silence, the solitude, the stillness, we are in a place of peace with our Creator. 

The Yosemite Naturalist, John Muir wrote “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” John Muir was a devout Christian who loved his Creator and understood “nature” to be God’s Creation. With that understanding, lets paraphrase that quote:
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where God can use His Creation to heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”

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