Creation Care Alliance of Western North Carolina

Welcome Director Sarah Ogletree to CCA

Tuesday was our new director’s first day! We are so excited to welcome Sarah Ogletree back to CCA. Sarah served as an intern with CCA during her time as a student at Wake Forest School of Divinity, where she focused her studies in religious leadership and ecology. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Sustainable Development from Appalachian State University. Since then, Sarah has worked at the intersection of faith, ecology, and Creation Care at United Methodist Churches in Cullowhee and Winston-Salem, Parkway United Church of Christ in Winston-Salem, First Baptist Church in Sylva, and here with the Creation Care Alliance back in 2017. Her dedication to seeking justice for both people and planet shines through in all aspects of her life, and she has consistently been recognized with awards for her leadership, dedication and excellence. Notably, she was the recipient of the national 2018 Emerging Earth Care Leader Award from Presbyterians for Earth Care and was named a 2019 Re:Generate Fellow. She has been committed to the work of creation care for many years and is incredibly grateful to be returning to CCA in this new capacity!

In her free time, Sarah enjoys planting flowers, singing, and playing the fiddle with her husband, William. She is a fan of snuggling up on the couch to read southern Appalachian novels and also loves exploring with her small but mighty dog, Bo. Be on the lookout for more from Sarah in this week’s newsletter—coming to an inbox near you soon!

The Winter Symposium & January Jubilee

Typically, in January or early February, our community of Creation Care Alliance leaders comes together to host a clergy and community gathering called the Winter Symposium. This event has proved again and again to be a wonderful time of learning together and growing in our shared vocation of creation care. 

This fall, as we began to think about our symposium, it became clear that given the realities of COVID-19, we would be unable to gather in person. Last year, we had a beautiful virtual gathering, and we considered hosting another Zoom conference. However, as we discerned, we continued to feel that what we need right now is something that a Zoom conference cannot give us.We need connection. We need rest. We need rejuvenation. We need laughter. We need to be with each other. For these reasons, we have decided to cancel the 2022 Winter Symposium with the hope that when we gather, it can be in person. 

But what about this need to laugh and rest and connect and rejuvenate and find joy? We wanted to attempt to meet these needs. And so, the idea for the “January Jubilee” was born. 

On Thursday, January 20th, we will gather on Zoom from 6-7 pm for a time of song and celebration. During this “happy hour” of sorts, Sarah and her husband William Ritter will offer fiddle tunes and lead all who attend in a few favorite singalongs. Rev. Anna Shine of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Boone and Rev. Kevin Bates of Way in the Wilderness in Black Mountain will offer songs of hope. Emma Childs of Christmount Retreat Center will also lead us in a time of reflection. We will consider seeds: what we’ve sown, what we’re sorting through, and what we hope to grow, through patient watering, in 2022. 

Our fervent desire is that this time of song and contemplation will provide a small balm to the ache many of us feel after nearly two years of pandemic. We may not be able to safely gather in large numbers, particularly during the cold of winter, but we are able to sing. And there is both joy and hope in that. 

Please join us. Bring a snack, warm beverage, and cozy blanket. We look forward to being with you. Register here.

Celebrate with Sustainability in Mind

The holiday season, unfortunately, is often one ridden with waste. Dumpsters quickly fill, and we know it’s a problem. The waste we see and create is not in the spirit of our gatherings meant to sow love and hope. Still, it’s hard to know what to do about it. Here are some tips that we hope will help you create and enjoy a more sustainable season of giving:

  • Buy less. It is easy to fall into the thought process that we need a pile of presents in order to show our love. But a thoughtful gift can mean much more than many items purchased out of habit.
  • Practice alternative gift-giving through donations to causes meaningful to you and your loved ones, a book or item that has been meaningful to you from your own home, your own artwork (a picture, a poem, a song, a photograph, etc.), crafts from local artisans, a book from a local bookstore, homemade baked goods, or by gifting an experience (a “gift certificate” for a day spent together or a special activity).
  • Strive to avoid/limit plastic (especially single-use plastic). As you shop for decorations and gifts, pay attention to packaging and material. It can be helpful to ask yourself, when considering a purchase, how often this item will be used and how long the item would take to biodegrade.
  • Look for toys made from natural and/or recycled materials. Children’s toys are often the most challenging place to practice sustainability during the holidays. Here are some sustainable kid’s toy companies to check out. You can also google “cloth toys,” “wooden toys,” or “recycled toys” for more options. Many local toy stores carry exciting sustainable options. Books are also, always, a wonderful option!
  • Use the real silverware. Instead of using single-use plastic utensils to cut down on clean-up time, put on some holiday music and clean up with the family. Make a game out of how quickly you can pick up OR who has the best “cleaning up” dance moves.
  • Buy from local farmers if you can. If you plan on having a large holiday meal, check out these North Carolina farmers markets and these producers selling local and sustainably/humanely raised meats.
  • Be kind to yourself! We all make unsustainable purchases and decisions, and it is easy to allow guilt to take over. Remember that we are each doing our imperfect part and that we will keep striving! Day by day.

The Holiday Season: Finding the Divine Amidst the Quiet

December is here. As a practicing Christian, this season is special to me because of Advent and the upcoming Christmas holiday. Advent, the beginning of the Christian liturgical year, is when we wait with joyful anticipation for the birth of the Christ child. On Christmas day, we celebrate that birth as well as the incarnation—God’s becoming human as Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God sent to Earth.

We witness manger scenes, and nativity plays with children clad in bathrobes during these weeks of waiting for Christmas. We sing songs like “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” We light candles during our worship services that helps us recount the story of Jesus’ birth—what it means in our lives and the life of the world. This is also a season of reflection for me and many others.

As the natural world becomes barren, the energy of the tree returning to the soil until spring, we also turn inward. It might seem difficult given the frenzy of the secular season, but Advent is a time for Christians to consider their hearts and how they might prepare for the coming of Christ in ways that allow compassion and justice to blossom. Those of other faith traditions also look inside themselves to be reconnected to hope, love, and religious identity.

There are at least a dozen religious holidays during the month of December (such as Rohatsu or Bodhi Day in Buddhist tradition and Hanukkah within Judaism). These holy days often share in emphasizing times of introspection—becoming quiet like the natural world during winter. Through this quiet, we often find the Holy and are reminded of why we are here on this planet.

In recognition of the sacred stillness of this season, we will not be having meetings or events during the month of December. It is our wish, and my prayer, that you find the Divine in quiet moments and feel God’s love surround you and yours during the days and weeks to come. We hope the meditations listed on this page will  serve to help you find God in the quiet. Additionally, we hope that these resources from our Guide to Creation Care will be helpful in sustainably celebrating with your loved ones.

We are immensely grateful for your presence in our community. And we hope that like the trees in winter, you will find time to be nourished by stillness this month.

May there be Peace,

Sarah Ogletree, Director

 

Thin Places: Waterrock Knob

This reflection was written by CCA Director Sarah Ogletree on Oct. 24th for the national Presbyterians for Earth Day newsletter. 

 

In my work, I often speak to congregations about the importance of creation care. The beginning of the talk I give is the beginning of my story. Before I get into what creation care is and ways we can practice love for all beings, I talk a bit about why I do what I do and how I came to feel called to environmental ministry. That story is centered in place. 

Growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I understood the world as sacred from a young age. How could I not? My pastors and Sunday School teachers taught me about God’s love, and I felt God’s love outdoors. The sun, rain, and wind offered me the sense of wonder associated with my experience of the Divine. My backyard wildflower garden, and the woods behind my neighbor’s house, provided space for me to connect with God and the deep well of love that’s available to us when we are present. I found God with the birds singing outside my window and under rocks where my brother and I looked for salamanders… God was all around me in the mountains of my upbringing. But no place served as such a conduit for God’s presence as Waterrock Knob. Waterrock Knob was, and continues to be, my “thin place.” 

Frequently referenced in Celtic spirituality, “thin places” are locations where the veil between this world and the eternal is thin. Waterrock Knob, the highest peak in the Plott Balsams and 16th highest in the eastern United States, has long been that for me. It’s hard to say precisely why, but that craggy mountaintop with its stunning views and steep trail has always caused me to feel as though my eyes were newly opened. There in that place, I feel simultaneously small and connected to all of life’s largeness. I feel like the world just began and like it is the most ancient thing in the universe. The strangeness of living is put into perspective, and I am free to breathe and be. God is with me. 

I have many special memories at Waterrock Knob. It is a place I often visited with my family as a child, and it’s a place I continue to go with my husband and our friends. I know it well. For instance, I know that if you go off the trail to the left about a third of the way up, there is a tree with a knot in it where I once found a bouncy ball. The ball had a smiley face on it, and underneath it, there was a note that said, “have a great day.” I know that when you reach the summit, you can go through the trees to the right and find the perfect rocky perch to watch cars twist up the parkway. I know that the mountain oscillates between smelling of evergreens and skunk—due to an unknown-by-me high elevation plant that I’ve come to associate with this place and this place only.

I know the mountain. I am also surprised by it. Every time I’m there, something “new” shows its face: a flower I’ve never seen before, a mammoth tree I hadn’t noticed in visits past, or light playing off fragments of mica along the forest floor. Perhaps this is a part of Waterrock Knob’s “thinness.” In this place, I am comforted by the familiar and gifted with mystery. I am shown that there is more than I can know, and I get to marvel at all I can see. The opportunity to experience the love I’ve known for years while glimpsing the love that exists beyond all I could ever imagine—it feels like God. 

What “thin place” has touched your spirit? How does that place offer you inspiration? Hope? How might that place aid you in your Earth care? This coming week, I will go to Waterrock Knob with members of the Creation Care Alliance community to contemplate our callings to creation care. I hope you will also sojourn to a sacred place and consider how God is speaking in your life. May we all find strength, joy, mystery, connection, and conviction in the world that God made and calls good.

Sermon in Saluda: Remembering Who We Are, Becoming Ourselves

This sermon was preached by CCA Director Sarah Ogletree at The Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Saluda, North Carolina, on Sunday, October 17th, 2021. The sermon text is Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c.

 

Psalm 104 tells of the beauty of God’s world, of the relationship between Creator and Creation. In this passage, fire is named as God’s minister. The water serves the Lord. The wind is God’s messenger. All creatures, all beings, all aspects of Creation are intimately known by God and held close to God’s self. God’s body, imagined here by the Psalmist, is covered by light and wrapped in water. God’s works are manifold, branching infinitely from the Tree of Life. And Psalm 104 celebrates that life as well as God’s wisdom in creating. 

This passage is moving because the relationship between God and God’s works—God’s Creation—is right. God is in right relationship with what God has made. The water listens to God’s voice, the wind carries God’s words, the sunrise plays off of God’s form. Creator and Creation are in harmony… 

But not all of Creation. Though the water is listening, the people are not.

We, members of Creation, creatures ourselves, have too often forgotten our role in the world. Our role declared in Genesis as stewards of this garden. Our role declared in the gospels as lovers of God and our neighbor. We have forgotten our charge of caretaking, and in our apathy and our amnesia, our actions have caused great harm.

Take the water. The water called forth by God in Psalm 104 and set in boundaries to prevent death and mass flooding now floods communities at rates beyond anything we have ever known. This is a result of our actions, our consumption, our endless burning of oil and gas, our stubborn refusal as a culture to change, our attempt to be in control. 

And I get it. Control is seductive. We tell ourselves that if we’re in control we don’t have to worry. That if we’re in charge, bad things won’t happen… And so we hold tightly to the notion that we have it all figured out. 

The problem is, we don’t. And we won’t. 

We are not in control. We cannot “ride on the wings of the wind” like God in Psalm 104. We cannot control Creation, we can only exist within it. We can only be creatures in the world, of the world, formed by God and called to right relationship. We can only be beautifully and wonderfully human. 

Friends, what would it mean to be human again? To stop acting as if we are in control and instead honor God’s Creation and take our place within it? What would it mean to commit to our calling as creatures? To value love above expediency and personal comfort? 

Christian theologian Walter Bruggemann says that we cannot become what we cannot imagine. And so, with the help of teachers listening deeply to Creator and Creation, I want to imagine with you today. 

Sherri Mitchell, Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset, of the Penawhapskek Nation is one of our teachers. Through her words and her works, she offers incredible lessons for our journey of remembering who we are and walking in our purpose. In her essay “Indigenous Prophecy and Mother Earth,” she acknowledges that “[h]uman beings have fallen out of alignment with life… [and] as a result, have forgotten how to live in relationship with the rest of creation…” 

But all is not lost. 

Indigenous ways of being continue to steward the land and protect the water.Though indigenous peoples make up only 5% of the global population, land managed by indigenous people holds approximately 80% of the world’s biodiversity and 40-50% of the remaining protected places in the world. Our indigenous siblings have proven that the presence of people does not inherently lead to destruction. Instead, people can exist as valued parts of a healthy and thriving ecosystem. People can live within their means and their place.

This is good news.

With generosity, Sherri invites us to learn from her community—to consider the groundings of her culture and how these firm foundations have prevented her own amnesia and apathy in relation to her identity and the world. She speaks of “kincentric awareness,” the knowledge that every aspect of Creation is connected through kinship networks—that our ancestors include the trees, and the rivers, and the 2.3 million species that share fragments of our DNA. 

She speaks to the concept of enough within her traditional language, explaining that while one word, “mamabaezu,” refers to individual needs meaning that “he or she has enough,” another word, “alabezu,” means “everyone has enough”—including all beings in the natural world. In stark contrast to the values of western culture, Sherri declares that in order for there to be enough, there must be both mamabaezu and alabezu. Enough for the entire Earth community, for the fullness of Creation, for me, and for you. 

She presents a definition of well-being that is communal—in which the health of one depends on the health of all. A definition in which the relationship between all beings and their Creator is both honored and acknowledged. A definition that seeds our imagination with possibilities of how the world could be—how the world has been! This is how our communities can be shaped—how our forests can be seen for more than their timber, or palm oil, or land upon which to graze cattle. 

Can you imagine? Can you imagine a world defined by enough instead of excess or scarcity? Can you imagine living like our health, and the health of the Ash tree, and grandmother, and monarch are connected? Because they are? 

Truly, I want us to imagine it. Close your eyes if you have to. Take a deep breath. It’s important that we are able to envision a world that is different. It’s important that we are able to imagine who we could be, who we’re called to be—and to remember that it is possible for us, once again, to become who we are. 

We have unlearning to do. We must unlearn ways that place profit before the lives of all our relations, our neighbors—human and non-human. We must unlearn value systems that do not take into account the well-being of all people, species, and places. We must unlearn ways of relating that are not rooted in relationship. We must unlearn distraction, and like the water in Psalm 104, listen again to our Creator. 

Friends, we have been connected to Earth from our beginning. The Hebrew word for human, adam, comes from the Hebrew word for soil, adamah. In the second chapter of Genesis we learn that God forms us from soil. We are adam from adamah—quite literally “soil people.” We are creatures of Earth—connected to God, and land, and all beings. 

This is who we are. 

And once we remember who we are, we get to be who we are. We get to live into our callings. Perhaps slowly at first, muscle memory takes time… But we get to live fully—from love, for love, with love, by love. We get to stand with all of Creation, as a part of Creation, and join in its groaning. We get to be a part of the awakening of God’s people. 

And people are waking up. 

This past week, thousands of people led by indigenous leaders marched on Washington D.C. They marched for clean water, clean air, and action on climate change. They marched to demand a beautiful, compassionate, and sustainable future for their children and their children’s children. Hundreds were arrested as a result of their nonviolent civil disobedience—faith leaders from various traditions among them.

In just two weeks, the UN will gather for COP 26—a series of potentially monumental climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland. Today, people of faith all around the world are praying for that gathering. They are praying for courage and for spirits of cooperation. They are praying for boldness. They are praying for justice. They are praying for deep kindness. They are praying for eyes that see and ears that hear… 

I invite you to join in that collective prayer, and also, to call your elected officials. Invite them into the work of imagination that we have done today. Encourage them to listen to the still small voice beckoning them toward a more loving way. Because a more loving way is possible. We have done it before. We can do it again. We have been molded by God, with Earth, for this purpose.

Beloved, now is the time to remember who we are. Now is the time to become who we are. Now is the time to walk the path of right relationship. Now is the time to be in community with Creation, within Creation.

May there be enough for you, and for me, and for the trees, and the rivers, and the salamanders, and our unborn grandchildren, and all of us. 

 

Amen.

Call to Action with GreenFaith

On Sunday, October 17th, people of faith from around the world will hang banners from their congregational buildings and homes declaring that now is the time for climate action. We’re inviting you to take part in this global action organized by our friends at GreenFaith by decorating your buildings with courageous messages regarding the importance of caring for this world, and acting on climate change, as a means of loving our human and non-human neighbors. If your congregation meets on Sunday, we also encourage you to name the need for climate action during your service and include prayers for the Earth and all species during your time of prayer.

On Monday, October 18th, we invite you to join with countless other people of faith in calling your senators, member of congress, and President Biden. Name the importance of taking bold action on climate change, divesting (stopping the funding of) fossil fuel projects like pipelines, and investing in renewable energy and sustainable infrastructure. You can also call your bank—asking if they invest in fossil fuels and discussing the necessity of divestment as a moral imperative.

These actions are happening two weeks before the UN climate talks, as a way of coming together in global community to make it clear that governments and financial institutions must do more, and they must do it faster. Learn more here, and let us know how you take action!

Resource Highlight: Celebrating St. Francis

Today marks the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi. The feast commemorates the life of St. Francis, who was born in the 12th century and is the Catholic Church’s patron saint of animals and the environment. 

Many congregations in our region and around the world celebrate this day through blessings of animals and other environmentally themed worship services. To help you share in this day and the knowledge of one of our faith traditions most dedicated ecological leaders, we are highlighting an incredible children’s book, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, by Katherine Patterson.

This beautiful book is a re-imagining of St. Francis’ famous Canticle of the Creation. The pictures and words serve to inspire the young, and young at heart, in loving the world fully and in coming to know the Earth as our relative. We hope this can be a cherished addition to your congregational (or home) library. The Canticle of Creation is pasted below:

 

O Most High, all-powerful, good Lord God,
to you belong praise, glory,
honor and all blessing.
Be praised, my Lord, for all your creation
and especially for our Brother Sun,
who brings us the day and the light;
he is strong and shines magnificently.
O Lord, we think of you when we look at him.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Moon,
and for the stars
which you have set shining and lovely
in the heavens.
Be praised, my Lord,
for our Brothers Wind and Air
and every kind of weather
by which you, Lord,
uphold life in all your creatures.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Water,
who is very useful to us,
and humble and precious and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Fire,
through whom you give us light in the darkness:
he is bright and lively and strong.
Be praised, my Lord,
for Sister Earth, our Mother,
who nourishes us and sustains us,
bringing forth
fruits and vegetables of many kinds
and flowers of many colours.
Be praised, my Lord,
for those who forgive for love of you;
and for those
who bear sickness and weakness
in peace and patience
– you will grant them a crown.
Be praised, my Lord, for our Sister Death,
whom we must all face.
I praise and bless you, Lord,
and I give thanks to you,
and I will serve you in all humility.

— St. Francis of Assisi

Sermon at St. Luke’s: Praying with Our Feet

This sermon was preached by CCA Director Sarah Ogletree at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Boone, North Carolina on Sunday, August 29th, 2021. The sermon text is John 13: 1-11. 

 

Today, when tragedy strikes, many of us take to our computers where we carefully pen a version of “thoughts and prayers.” Our thoughts and prayers are with you. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, the families, those struggling. 

I believe we do this because we care. I believe we do this because those suffering in our world are indeed heavy on our hearts and present in our prayers, and because we want those hurting to know that their pain does not go unseen. 

And perhaps, we don’t know how else to respond. 

But “thoughts and prayers” as a response and refrain has lost much of its intended meaning. Too often the chorus of “thoughts and prayers” feels hollow, because it is not followed by action and because it is short-lived. 

“Thoughts and prayers” overwhelm our Facebook feeds momentarily, and then, once we have all proclaimed our sadness, they stop. We move on to the virtual sharing of photos and jokes, our community proclamations of caring enough to stalemate our concern—or at least, offer us the balm we need to return to the busyness of our lives.

I do this. 

I recently sat at my laptop and wrote a paragraph about my hurt for the people of Oregan and others choked by wildfires exacerbated by climate change… I wrote about our siblings in Germany carried away by flood waters and those in Turkey experiencing fire and tennis ball sized hail… Just last week, much closer to home, I wrote about the devastating impacts of Tropical Storm Fred in Haywood County, where five lives were lost and people remain missing.

Sometimes, offering up my heartbreak is all I know to do… But it never feels like enough. And so, I’ve been striving for another way. Another way to engage, another way to pray, another way to show solidarity, another way to be present to the world and those who are hurting… And in that striving I remembered a beautiful West African proverb that says “when you pray, move your feet.” 

When you pray, move your feet. 

Jesus’ ministry was a ministry of walking, of being in community, of feet dusted by Earth and countless towns and mountaintops—feet splashed with salt water, feet calloused, feet aching… Because Jesus’ ministry was a ministry of movement and a ministry of service. 

When we pray, we should move our feet. We should follow the way of Jesus. But what does that really mean? 

In John 13: 1-11, Jesus gets up from the table bearing the Last Supper, ties a towel around his waist, and pours water into a basin. He then washes the feet of his disciples. He tells Peter that feet are the only part of the body truly in need of washing if one has bathed because feet are the part of the body most exposed to elements, the part of the body where travel becomes most apparent, the part of the body most worn by the day. Jesus washes his disciples’ feet because they have walked with him, at this point, for years. Because they have traveled the roads of his ministry, because their feet, witnesses to all they’ve endured, are dirty. 

The first verse in this passage tells us that Jesus washes his disciples feet because “[h]aving loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” This verse feels particularly important to me because it speaks to what it means to be a disciple and a human. It speaks to our social location and where we should be when living out God’s love. We should be “in the world.” 

I believe stories of foot washing, and particularly this story, offer us insight into what it means to pray with our feet, because stories of foot washing are stories of the intermingling of soil and water and human flesh. In order for foot washing to occur and have meaning, our feet need to be dirty. They need to have been places. And through that sacrament of soil, the sacrament of washing and acknowledging and serving our community becomes possible. 

So, what does it mean to pray with our feet? It means being in community and communion with all of Creation. It means getting our feet dirty. It means being present in the world for the good of the world. 

And it doesn’t look like one thing.

There are many ways to pray with our feet. Many ways to be in the world. This morning, I want us to consider what we are being called to. How we are being called out and called in—into soil, into life, into community, into presence with each other and the fullness of Creation. Because friends, though our paths may vary, we are being called. 

One path is the path of presence. Earlier today, I mentioned Tropical Storm Fred and its devastating impacts on the people of Haywood County. What I didn’t mention, is that as the storm rolled in, I was preparing for a meeting with congregants in that area and for a speaking engagement at Grace Episcopal Church in the Mountains located in downtown Waynesville. I was sitting on my couch, contemplating the realities of our changing climate while the community I was preparing to spend time with was being rocked by climate change. The power and sadness and heaviness of this was not lost on me. 

But what I saw from the communities of Haywood County gave me hope. 

Clergy, lay people, families, friends, and community members all banned together. During the storm they invited each other to higher ground—opening their doors to strangers during a global pandemic. When the storm passed, they strapped on their boots and went searching for survivors. They raised money to rebuild, they shared their clothing and their food, they knocked on doors to find out how they could be most helpful, they sorted and dried family photos found in the debris, they offered comfort to those grieving—they showed up, and they got covered in mud. What they did last week, and what they’re still doing today, is the work of praying with their feet. 

Another path forward is the path of protest. This summer, I had the privilege and honor of traveling to northern Minnesota where the Anishinaabe are standing in opposition to the Line 3 tar sands pipeline. This pipeline, carrying the dirtiest form of oil known to humanity, will cut through territories under the protection of the Anishinaabe people—poisoning sacred wild rice beds and the water supply of countless communities while contributing to our climate crisis. Standing with them—our indigenous brothers, sisters, and Two-Spirit cousins—was one of the most meaningful moments of my life. 

Led by tribal elders and other native leaders, we shut down construction through civil disobedience. We sang songs together. We locked arms. We heard speeches from Winona LaDuke, Tara Houska, and Jane Fonda. Some of us chained ourselves to bulldozers and stayed the night enduring police raids and violence. 

Though told to wear boots in case of tear gas, I wore Chacos because it was hot. I walked up and down that site for ten hours in the middle of one of Minnesota’s most substantial droughts. My feet got dirty. Covered in dust from walking and from the rotor washing we endured when a federal border patrol helicopter repeatedly came down at our site—blowing debris in our faces and across our bodies in an attempt to disperse the crowd. 

When he marched at Selma with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that he felt like his legs were praying. That’s how I felt that day. It took an hour to wash my feet that evening… And my heart remains with the more than 800 people—pastors, faith leaders, mothers, fathers, siblings, and friends—who have been arrested this summer protesting Line 3 and standing for justice. 

There are so many paths in this work of prayerful feet. The last I want to name is that of taking off your shoes and being “in the world.” It can be easy to become overwhelmed by the work of presence and protest. And that is why being in the world is so important. We must remember why we do what we do and why we are who we are. We must remember why caring for the fullness of God’s Creation is so central to our lives as children of God, and to do that, we have to be filled with the goodness of this world—with the sacrament of soil. 

Recently, my husband surprised me with a trip to Mt. Mitchell. I was thrilled, but I didn’t know we were hiking. It was our anniversary, and I’d worn “cute shoes” for lunch—not hiking boots. So, when we arrived at the parking lot, I looked at him. “Just take off your shoes,” he said. 

So I did. And it was beautiful.

Walking the trails at Mt. Mitchell without shoes meant I felt the moss and pine needles. The ground was soft from years of decomposing leaves. I felt every piece of them—the dark hummus gathering between my toes. As I moved my feet through those woods, I moved into prayerful meditation… When I think about that experience now, I’m surprised I’d never thought to walk a trail barefoot before.

When I’m at home, I almost never wear shoes. I love to feel the grass beneath my feet, the squish of rain soaked ground, the stones, the mud. It is literally and metaphorically grounding, because God is there. God is here. All around us and within us, if we only allow ourselves to notice. If we only take off our shoes…

There is an incredible poem by Chelan Harkin that speaks to these feelings of God’s closeness and the divinity in all things, and I want to read her words to you this morning. She writes, 

 

The worst thing we ever did

was put God in the sky

out of reach

‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍

pulling the divinity

from the leaf,

sifting out the holy from our bones,

insisting God isn’t bursting dazzlement

through everything we’ve made

a hard commitment to see as ordinary,

stripping the sacred from everywhere

to put in a cloud man elsewhere,

prying closeness from your heart.

 

The worst thing we ever did

was take the dance and the song

out of prayer

made it sit up straight

and cross its legs

removed it of rejoicing

wiped clean its hip sway,

its questions,

its ecstatic yowl,

its tears.

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The worst thing we ever did is pretend

God isn’t the easiest thing

in this Universe

available to every soul

in every breath.

 

God is here, friends. In every breath of this expansive, heart wrenching, and wonderful world that we and all God’s creatures call home. That God made and calls good. That we, as stated in John 13:1, belong to. 

May we see the divinity in the leaf. May we know God’s closeness and bursting dazzlement. By paying attention, through the work of presence and protest, the work of feet covered in microbes and the life of this world—may we become living testaments to the ministry of movement, the ministry of community, the ministry of walking with, the ministry of Jesus that we are called to. 

When we offer our thoughts and prayers, may we also offer our feet. And may our feet be dirty. Amen.  ‍‍‍‍ ‍‍