Forests - Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (U.S. National Park ...

Earth Teach Me

Rev. Douglas Taylor



It is a blessing to still go out for a walk in these days of self-quarantine. Nature continues to be a source of renewal and grace for me. Have you been outside lately? In the past, before the time of self-quarantine, I would pull my car out of the garage without even stepping outside. I’d drive off to some parking lot somewhere and walk across the pavement until I entered a building. That was my normal day, my normal limited daily experience of being outdoors. Of course, I would make time for a walk, but not often enough. I would make some time to be in the yard, but not often enough.

Now, every time I go outside, which is no longer a daily event, I prepare myself. It’s different. I have slowed down. I am more intentional. I notice more. There is a dogwood tree at my front steps that is in bloom right now. I have, in the past told a story about that tree and how cheated I’ve felt to have the tree move from blossom to bloom and then drop all its flowers in a ridiculously short amount of time. I’ve been watching the tree every day now. I notice how gracefully it is moving from blossom into bloom. I’ve slowed down. I notice more. Has this pandemic slowed you down?

In the article we had for our reading,, the author uncovered 4 lessons offered by the old forest. The first one is to slow down. This pandemic has forced me to slow down. Or, another way to think of it: In heeding the wisdom of the old forest’s lesson, I am better equipped to thrive in this pandemic. The earth teaches me to slow down.

The second lesson the author found, that old forests offer for how a community can thrive, is to have a strong foundation (roots hold me close). What are the roots you rely on in this time? Some of the obvious foundations I’ll tell you about are things I’ve been talking about for a while: The foundation of sharing and supporting each other, the power of compassion. For a moment, though, let me share two key foundations: hope and truth.

A month ago, the internet got really silly with a story about how dolphins had returned to the canals of Venice Italy. It made many people so hopeful. With people no longer clogging the water ways, the canals had the ability to rebound, to become clean and clear. And this story popped up that dolphins were seen swimming in the canals. It was quickly proven false; but for a moment the internet got very gleeful with this story.

Truth is so very important at a time like this. The pandemic virus is not going to magically disappear if we hope hard enough. And protesting with assault rifles and confederate flags will not change the virus one bit. The only thing this virus responds to is reality. But, keep truth at your foundation and hope can arise from within that. There are no dolphins in the canals of Venice; but the canals are cleaner and clearer, which is a hopeful sign about the Earth’s capacity to heal. It is a true echo of what could happen for you as well. Is your life growing clearer now that the canals of your days are less clogged.

The third lesson from the article is that disturbance is not bad. The reading talks about lightening killing a tree which allows an opening for new trees to grow. I will not be so crass as to suggest a direct analogy, but let me offer something else. Part of why we so love nature is the pastoral healing grace we find there. The old forest is tranquil, steady, strong. And, at certain times and in certain ways, nature can offer a prophetic warning. Lightening does strike. Illnesses do happen. Predators kill and eat prey. These things are part of nature, they are part of life. There is loss and suffering and death. What makes these things tragic is when they are avoidable, twisted to serve selfish goals rather than the communal balance.

Disturbance is not bad, but a disturbance can reveal a grave imbalance which is bad. Fires, for example are a regular destructive occurrence and a natural part of the life of a healthy forest. When humans suppress fires, it creates an imbalance such that when a fire does eventually happen it is overwhelmingly devastating.

Illness is a disturbance. But because we are so very out of balance with nature as a society, we are being overwhelmed. This will be devastating. The pastoral grace of nature is one part of what Earth teaches me. The harsh destruction – particularly when experienced out of balance – is a harder lesson. Normally, disturbance is not bad, it is simply part of the dynamic reality of nature. We ignore the prophetic warnings of nature to our folly. Does this ring true for you? Do you see some imbalances revealed by this pandemic? Are there imbalances in your own life that you can work on now while work toward correcting the larger societal ones together over time?

The last lesson from the article is ‘if you can’t get over it, grow around it.’ Another way to say this might be ‘work with what you’ve got,’ or ‘grow where you are planted.’ What it also hints at, however, is the hopeful message that persistence will be rewarded. The roots will eat away at the boulder. The people will rise to create a better society. The obstacle will not last. Yes, the pandemic is awful. Yes, it is twisted into an atrocity by the obstacles created by out immoral and unbalanced national situation. But the earth teaches us that the slow and grounded community will persevere through the upheaval and difficulty. If you can’t get over it, grow around it.

Listen to the wisdom of the forest. There are lessons for how to thrive as a community revealed to those willing to look. Slow down. The way through this difficult time is not found in rushing around or demanding a speedy return to normal. We will never return to ‘normal’ from this. Slow down. Settle into your foundations. Seek your grounding, your roots. I suggest the nuanced dance between truth and hope, but you find yours, that’s what you need. This is a disturbance and it will change us. Something new can grow when we are ready to allow it. And the obstacle will not last, we will persevere and together build the beloved forest of faith that will always be our home.

In a world without end,

May it be so.