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.
Are you interested in the intersection of faith and the environment? Are you dedicated to ecological justice and community building? Are you a creative and compassionate problem solver? Does your experience with rivers, soil, and mountains feel holy?
You might be a great fit for our summer internship. With flexibility in programmatic responsibilities, this experience is shaped to take into account your vocational goals and unique gifts. In addition to living wage compensation and gaining experience in the non-profit sector and faith-based/congregational work, you will be given opportunities to grow as a leader and advocate for all of creation.
Learn more about our internship offerings, and the application process for this summer, here. Reach out to CCAWNC director, Sarah Ogletree, at email@example.com or 828-506-9467 with questions. The deadline for applications is Tuesday, March 15th, at 5pm.
***In an effort to keep all internships associated with MountainTrue uniform, we have moved the deadline for applications from March 11th to March 15th. Enjoy those extra days! We look forward to your application.
It’s hard to keep up with the news and harder still to process. We see images of fires raging across the American west, driving both human and non-human communities from their generational homes. We hear farmers speak, in choked sobs, of unpredictable growing seasons and lost crops. We shake with the knowledge that we are losing species at 10 to 100 times the rate considered “natural” by scientists. We witness environmental racism and the reality that people in poverty and people of color bear the brunt of climate devastation despite contributing the least to the systemic problems that brought us here.
Many of us find ourselves numb and overwhelmed by the pain of the world that we love. In other words, we are experiencing ecological grief and climate anxiety— completely reasonable responses to deeply challenging truths.
As we grapple with our changing climate and the devastation of natural spaces, we may feel fear, sadness, anger, or a sense of despondency. We may feel burnt out. It may be difficult to plan for “the next thing.” It may be difficult to do anything other than try to “fix the problem,” making it impossible to rest. This is why recognizing and processing ecological grief is so important. Together, we can learn to navigate and be present to the world as it is—grounding our lives and activism, and perhaps, discovering something like hope in the process. As Francis Weller says, “grief and love are sisters.” By honoring our grief, we begin to reconnect to why we care in the first place. We reconnect to our love, and therefore, our purpose.
We hope you’ll join us for a time of grieving in community together during our upcoming Eco-Grief Circle. Past participants expressed profound gratitude for being among people who could talk honestly about grief, suffering, and the ecological and social challenges of our time. Check out our upcoming offerings and register at the links below:
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.
Join us for our Earth Day Vigil
Posted on by CCA Admin
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.
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