On Saturday, July 30th, we will offer a day retreat at Lake Logan Retreat Center in partnership with covenant partner congregations Grace Episcopal Church in the Mountains of Waynesville, and First United Methodist Church of Waynesville. Titled “Restoration in Creation: Earth, Body, Mind, & Spirit,” this retreat will focus on the spiritual necessity of land, water, and time spent with one another.
Famed conservationist Aldo Leopold said “[o]ne of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.” Too often, this feels like the case. But even amidst the pain of climate crisis and environmental injustice, we are not alone. So many of us care. So many of us are striving to love each other, and this world, and all creatures great and small. By coming together and remembering our collective work, we can once again find community. And by being in the world, surrounded by all that God made and called good, we can find healing.
Our day together will provide time to slow down and fill our cups. It will also offer both facilitated and unstructured space to consider our callings and the following questions:
How are we led? How are we fed? How does the Spirit reveal the beauty of Creation to us and sustain us? How are we nourished? How does our care of creation include our own health and wellbeing? What does it mean to love this place, and each other, and ourselves well?
The cost of this retreat, which includes access to kayaks and lunch, is $20. If you need a scholarship, please email CCA Director, Sarah Ogletree, at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Retreat Scholarship” in the email subject line.
In order to receive lunch at Lake Logan, you must register by June 30th. Registration form will be available soon! Below you will see a brief outline of our day together.
Retreat Day Outline:
This sermon, preached at First Congregational Church of Hendersonville on May 8th, 2022, was adapted from a sermon preached in October of 2021. The text referenced is Psalm 104: 1-9 from the NRSV. The original sermon was titled “Remembering Who We Are, Becoming Ourselves.”
Psalm 104 tells 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. Even God’s body, imagined here by the Psalmist, is covered by light and wrapped in water. To me, this passage is moving because the relationship between God and Creation is right. 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.
I’m moved by this imagery. I’m also convicted. Because, while the water is listening, I know that often, I am not. We are not. People are not.
As members of Creation, creatures ourselves, we 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 amnesia, we have caused great harm. Our reckless consumption of oil and gas has caused even the water to flee the boundaries drawn by God in today’s psalm, flooding communities at rates beyond anything we have ever known.
We act as though we are in control—as though our role is that of boundary-setter instead of boundary-keeper. As though we can fix this all on our own. As though we can make things right again by ourselves. But we are mistaken. 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 listen to God and God’s calling of care? What would it mean to honor 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.
Let’s start now.
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 knowing 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. By honoring our relationship with one another, we can contribute to, and be a part of, the beauty of the world.
Beloved, 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 all of our relations, for me, and for you.
She presents a definition of wellbeing 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! How our forests can be seen for more than timber, palm oil, or as potential land 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 mother, and monarch are connected?
In order to build the kin-dom of God, we must be able to envision a world that is different. We must be able to imagine who we could be, who we’re called to be—and remember that it is possible for us, once again, to become who we are.
This isn’t anything new.
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, land, and all beings. Our joy tugs at the joy of others, our sorrow is communal. We are connected. Deeply. Our breath, and the breath of the bear, and the dragonfly, and the corn stalk, and the oak tree all intermingle in this space. And God’s breath, Ruach, the Holy Spirit, is among us too.
This is who we are–soil people charged with the care of one another, and the many creatures God delights in, and ultimately, this place. This place that is inherently good and that provides the food, and water, and oxygen with which we are able to meet each other’s needs.
We have unlearning to do. As we walk this path, we must unlearn ways that place profit before the lives of all our relations—human and non-human. We must unlearn ways of relating, speaking, and decision-making that are not rooted in relationship. We must unlearn language that tells us that the Earth is a thing and not a being emanating God’s love for us. Because God is here now, in this place, in this time, amidst soil and star stuff and all that has been called “good.” God’s breath continues to be felt over the waters. And God is still speaking.
Friends, we have everything we need to live into our callings. Like the water in Psalm 104, we must only learn to listen…
And once we remember who we are, we get to be who we are. 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 we are waking up.
Those of us who have lost our way are beginning to find ourselves again. Some through gardening and that sacred act of reaching our hands deep into the soil. Some through learning the names of our siblings–Pilliated woodpecker, Carolina Wren, Eastern Screech Owl. Some through drafting and supporting policies that offer the rights of personhood to rivers, forests, and other sacred spaces.
The list goes on and on.
In my work with the Creation Care Alliance, I strive to help congregations as they take these steps to faithfully love the fullness of Creation. And I am continuously inspired.
There are faith communities here in our region learning about native species and planting those species along the eroded banks of streams and creeks in their watershed as a means of fostering climate resilience, better water quality, and healthier waterways. There are faith communities hosting silent meditation and prayer hours for the health of all of God’s Creation on a weekly basis. There are faith communities that teach and preach on these issues, and then, organize “Souls to the Polls” events to encourage voting with these values in our hearts. There are faith communities that have installed solar panels and are now in the process of divesting their financial resources to ensure they don’t further fuel the climate crisis. There are faith communities partnering with wildlife conservation organizations to bring back the most endangered of our non-human kindred. There are faith communities planning children’s camps and activities to ensure that, for the youngest among us, it will be harder to forget our purpose of love…
In each of these communities, I have noticed something in common. They are all listening. They are striving, like the water in today’s psalm, to hear God’s voice and respond… Even when it feels uncomfortable. Even when it is hard. Step by step, they are walking the path… We are walking together.
Beloved, now is the time to remember who we are. Now is the time to become who we are. Now is the time to step into the Gospel truth that, like our indigenous siblings, proclaims authentic, trust-filled, relationship as the way forward… Now is the time to come together in community with Creation, within Creation, for the good of Creation.
May there be enough for you, and for me, and for the trees, and the rivers, and the salamanders, and our grandchildren, and all of us. And may we listen well.
Please join us on Sunday April 24th from 4 – 5 pm at the First Baptist Church Asheville labyrinth and sacred garden as we gather for a time of prayer, music, lament, celebration, storytelling, and community.
Speakers and performers will include: CCAWNC Director Sarah Ogletree; French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson; Ministerio de Música Hispana of the St. Eugene Catholic Church of Asheville; Sacred Paths Counseling, Connie Burns; Bring Your Own Bag Haywood Organizers Kathy Odvody and Lori Stephens; Plastic Free WNC Equity Volunteer Jane Laping; Co-Pastor at Way in the Wilderness in Black Mountain, Rev. Kevin Bates; Old-time musician and fiddler William Ritter; Trinity Presbyterian Hendersonville Creation Care Team Leader Enrique Sanchez; and more!
We hope you will gather with us. This event is open to people of all faiths and spiritual traditions. Learn more and register today.
In the busyness of Earth Month actions, events, and the rest of our lives, it can be easy to forget to spend time with creation as a part of creation. And so, here are a few ideas to help you get outside and spend intentional time being filled by the beauty of flora, fauna, and creatures great and small.
-Go on a short walk, or sit outside, each day. Notice what brings you joy or inspiration and keep a gratitude journal of your experiences.
-Stargaze with family or friends. WNC is privileged to have many spaces where you can easily marvel at the stars. Invite a loved one to join you as you gaze up together—from your backyard, porch, or even atop the parkway.
-Learn your neighbor’s names. Most of us don’t know the names of our most present neighbors—like the birds that frequent our bird feeders or the plants that grow at the edge of the woods. Get to know the species around you this month as a way to deepen your relationship with, and commitment to, creation.
-Get creative. Andy Goldsworthy is a well-known artist who uses found natural objects to create beautiful pieces. Look him up, and consider how/what you might create. You can also try painting with mud. 🙂
This sermon was offered by CCA Director, Sarah Ogletree, at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Hendersonville on February 27th, 2022. The scripture was Luke 9 : 28-36.
In today’s passage, Jesus withdraws to the mountain to pray with three of his disciples: Peter, James, and John. And while he is praying, miracles happen. Jesus’ face changes, and his clothes become a dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appear and speak to Jesus of his coming death. The disciples, filled with amazement, ask if they should build booths for Jesus and the prophets so they can stay on the mountain. But then, a great cloud descends on them. A voice declares from the vapor that Jesus is the Son of God, and when the cloud lifts, Moses and Elijah are gone. Jesus is alone, and the disciples are filled with a sublime sense of wonder.
Miracles on mountaintops. Sublimity. Wonder inspired. If you are like me, the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration is more familiar than you may have anticipated—and for more reasons than one. Though perhaps not so drastically, I have often felt changed when trekking up a ridgeline. I’ve felt the presence of God in those thin places above the valleys that host my day-to-day life. I’ve felt my face shine with a peace I didn’t know previously. In those high-up places, I’ve been filled and captured by the beauty of creation. And like the disciples, I have wanted to stay in that sacred and timeless space. But I can’t. We can’t.
This reality is essential to the work of creation care.
Caring for the fullness of creation, our human and non-human neighbors, demands that we care for ourselves. We must take time to listen to the still small voice of God—to feel the presence of the Holy surrounding us, changing us, and giving us courage. Particularly in times of crisis and violence like those we’ve seen this week. We need the journey of the mountaintop and these mountaintop moments because, without them, it is difficult to be the vehicles of peace, hope, love, and faith we are called to be for others, ourselves, and all of this world that God loves and calls good. So yes, we must go up. But we must also come down.
We must come back into our lives, back into our mess, back into systems that value profit before people and places–where water burns from fracking and forests burn from climate crisis. We must bring the gifts of our time with God on the mountaintop, our shining faces and spirits, back into this world. This world in such desperate need of hope, imagination, and change. With the gifts of the mountain, the gifts of God, we can begin to create the change we need. Because though sown in peace, the gifts of the mountain are harvested in chaos.
We need stillness most when we cannot find it.
Time and time again, Jesus retreated to the wilderness and returned to his community with greater clarity, purpose, and love. This is the power of the mountain. Through mountaintop moments, we are granted the strength we need to reenter the valleys in and around us—to offer stillness and clarity to a world in which chaos and confusion so often reign. Up and down. Giving and receiving. Loving and being loved. This is the life we are called to. But what does it mean to live like this? What does it look like to go to the mountain and come back? How can we ensure that we are both filling our cups and pouring out our love for each other and all life? How do we use the gifts of the mountain to create beloved community and bring the kin-dom of God? Well, bear with me for a moment.
Let’s go back to the text.
Jesus’ journey to the mountaintop was trodden by many feet before him, including those of Moses and Elijah—the very prophets who joined him on the summit in today’s scripture passage. Moses, who changed the course of history by liberating the Hebrew people from bondage in Egypt, went to Mount Sinai to be with God and receive the ten commandments. When he journeyed back down the mountain, his face shone with the light of having been in God’s presence. To Moses, the mountaintop served as both a meeting place and a conduit to receive God’s teachings for God’s people. A similar reality was true for Elijah. Though driven to the mountains by fear for his life and a sense of hopelessness, Elijah found atop Mount Sinai the voice of God and a plan that would save his life.
Through the commandments, Moses was given direction. Through God’s still small voice, Elijah found a way forward when it had seemed that there was no way. Moses and Elijah, great changemakers that they were, found their path atop the mountain with God. Like Jesus, they found counsel in high places, and that counsel carried them through their lives. From the stories of the prophets and of Jesus, we learn that mountains must be sought when we feel lost—in times of confusion and need and lack and hardship. We also learn that prayer atop mountains is life-changing for both the sojourner and the community they come home to.
When I consider the mountains in my own life, I can think of many gifts they have offered me. First, there is Waterrock Knob. As the tallest mountain in the Plott Balsams located a mere 15 minutes from where I grew up in Sylva, North Carolina, Waterrock Knob holds a special place in my heart. My family and I often journeyed to its craggy peak when I was a child, and when I think about where I first felt God in a big way, Waterrock Knob comes to mind. In that parking lot, with 360-degree views of the Blue Ridge, I felt simultaneously large and small. On that summit, hidden by rock and rhododendron, I felt a sense of calm, joy, and hope.
I have often said that growing up in the mountains of western North Carolina is what seeded in me a desire to care for God’s creation because the beauty of this place makes God and God’s love abundantly clear. But if I’m being specific, Waterrock Knob did that for me. Waterrock Knob is the genesis in my calling to ecological ministry. Because of this place and the ways that God showed God’s self to me there, I am who I am today. Each and every time I journey back up that mountain, I am reminded of who I am—as a child of God, as a leader, as one who is deeply loved. And I carry that sense of self and purpose back home with me.
Another sacred place in my life is Roan Mountain. Roan is located on the North Carolina/Tennessee border about twenty minutes from where I now live with my husband, William, in his hometown of Bakersville. On this peak, you are above the clouds. And no matter what you carry with you up that mountain, by the time you reach the bald, the expanse of high altitude grasses and shrubbery, all you can feel is a sense of the Holy. The ground practically vibrates with God. And each step up that mountain acts as an unburdening. William and I often go to Roan not as our best selves. We’re tired, burned out, over it, grumpy. But without fail, that view and the crispness of the air reminds us of what matters. On Roan, we are gifted with the beauty of life, and when we go back to our house, the ordinary feels a little bit extraordinary. The hard things feel less hard, and we have the energy to tackle them. William has told me that when he was struggling in college, he would imagine Roan and be gifted with a sense of courage even through that imagining.
But I don’t share this to make it sound like you need a thrilling vista to be with God. The hill behind our house offers its own sense of power and belonging. It’s not a destination. I don’t think it has a name, and it isn’t very tall. But in those woods, where I can begin to see the outline of the cove where we live, I am offered stillness. So often in my life, I deprive myself of stillness. I act as though my to-do list is too important to pause, breathe, and find respite. But breathing, pausing, and respite are essential to being human, and stillness is available to me in every breath. I don’t travel to Waterrock Knob or Roan very often, but I have made a commitment to myself this year to walk up that hill more frequently. My to-do list fades as my legs burn, and when I sit by the spring toward the top of our ridge, I am not alone. God is with me. And I am reminded that God is with me there and here and everywhere.
We all need the mountain. We need it to remember who we are and what we’re called to. And we need it to remember what is possible. Because friends, so much is possible. Before his death, Dr. Martin Luther King Junior gave a speech at the Church of God in Christ in Memphis, Tennessee. In response to threats on his life and fear in the movement, King said this:
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter to me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop… I just want to do God’s will. And [God’s] allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
Beloved, the promised land is a place where everyone has what they need, where there is water for the thirsty, food for the hungry, and a home for the refugee. Where all creatures, human and non-human, know God’s love. And it’s just over the ridge. The mountaintop allows us to glimpse it, and that glimpse helps us draw our map. To plan our path with God beside us, so that even if we don’t get there, our children and their children will.
We need the peace and courage of the mountain to get where we’re going—to address the climate crisis, and racial injustice, and economic exploitation, and a world at war. We need vision. We need each other. We need love. We need God. If we are to embody the prophetic, to call for love and justice where there is none, to advocate for change in a system ingrained in every aspect of our lives, we will have to journey to the mountain and pray. We will have to devote ourselves to contemplation. We will have to learn to value stillness. And we will have to come back down.
Friends, go to the mountaintop. Come and tell me what you see. Tell me what you feel. Tell me what you’ll do.
Looking for a COVID-safe way to involve your congregation in an outdoor winter activity? The Great Backyard Bird Count was made for times such as these. Families and individuals choose a 15-minute block of time, at least once, over the four days, Friday through Monday, February 18-21 to identify and count the birds they see in their yard or neighborhood.
To get started, ask your congregation members to go to www.birdcount.org and follow the directions or download the eBird and Merlin Bird ID apps on their phones. They can count and keep track of the birds they see with eBird if they know the name of the bird. The eBird app also allows them to choose a bird list and install it. i.e., the North Carolina “pack” or NC South Mountains.
The Merlin Bird app helps them identify the birds that they see by answering a few simple questions: where, when, size, color… Photos of a few birds that meet the description show up and they select the closest match. Merlin also offers the option to identify birds by sound or from a photo. You can also enter your list in eBird through Merlin.
People in your congregation can record bird counts individually or you can set up a group account so that all the birds people see are counted together. Go to https://www.birdcount.org/group-counts/ and choose the group that fits how your congregation is participating in the Bird Count.
Your congregation will be joining people from around the world who come together at the same time to watch, learn about, count, and celebrate birds. Because bird populations vary due to seasonal patterns and migration, tracking them requires a lot of help. This is “citizen-science” and your congregation is needed to be part of this global project.
What a good excuse to look outside or get out and enjoy the world that our Creator has made and called good on a cold winter day!
Many Christians and Christian faith communities are beginning to think about the season of Lent. For this reason, we want to highlight two great Lenten studies that emphasize the work of creation care, its importance to faith, and how ecological justice can speak to other aspects of spirituality. Wild Hope: Stories for Lent from the Vanishing by Gayle Boss is one of these books.
Wild Hope walks its reader through the Lenten season by examining the stories of endangered species the world over—and she does so to significant effect. As stated by Father Richard Rohr, “Gayle Boss writes vividly of wild, imperiled creatures as expressions of God’s own self—and of God’s own suffering. What better subject for Lent?” This is an excellent text for Sunday School class conversations and individual study alike.
For the Beauty of the Earth: A Lenten Devotional by Rev. Dr. Leah Schade is another beautiful book to consider. “Drawing on the beloved hymn “For the Beauty of the Earth,” each week of this daily devotional focuses on a different aspect of nature’s splendor, how God nurtures our spirit through creation, and how we must protect our precious home.” This powerful text lends itself well to group discussion in addition to individual reflection.
Please let us know if you use these texts in your congregation or personal life in the coming weeks. We’d love to hear about what you learn and what those learnings spark in you/your community.