Many of you know that I go for walks a lot. I made a commitment last January 2021 to walk, and I have walked 7 to 10 km every day since then. For about the first year of my walking, I walked the same route almost every day. From my house in Burnaby, up to Central Park, around Central Park and home again. Most days I walk by myself. Sometimes I listen to audiobooks. Sometimes I listen to the birds. That time for me has become sacred, and the place, sacred. I grew up near that park and have spent a lot of time in and around there throughout my life. But over these last two years something changed for me about the park. I started to notice things. I noticed the new scent in the air when a new tree starts to bloom. I noticed how many different kinds of mushrooms are growing up out of the soil in the fall. I notice the first pop of green when the leaves return in spring. I noticed the very first vibrant pink rhododendron and the late blooming white one. I noticed the songs of the birds and how many different kinds of ducks were in the pond. I noticed the cushioning that the fallen leaves and needles provide beneath my feet on the path. I noticed when a spot on the path got damaged, and the day that it got fixed. There was something about all these seemingly mundane things that I noticed, that was very calming for me but also caused me great joy. It made me appreciate so much the beauty of this park that I had not slowed down and taken the time to notice before. On my daily walks, even when it was pouring rain or when I did not feel like going, or had too much on my mind or on my to do list, by the time I rounded that last turn, I realized the experience of emptying that had happened during the course of my walk – the to do list could wait, my mind was no longer racing, even the rain didn’t bother me, because this was a sacred space. My experience of discovering this sacred space has helped me to notice and appreciate and feel that sense of awe when I walk in other places as well, and notice similar things.
Richard Rohr, whose ideas this series is based on, and whose book we are using as an accompaniment to this series, has a theology that is a form of panentheism. In other words, God is in all things. Pantheism means that all things ARE God; panentheism means God is IN all things. In one of the readings this week, it talked about the concept of Creation being the First Incarnation. Incarnation – the embodiment of the Divine – where matter and spirit become one. Because God is IN all things, then God is in creation. I loved this quote from the book –
“Without a sense of the inherent sacredness of the world – of every tiny bit of life and death – we struggle to see God in our own reality, let alone to respect reality, protect it, or love it. The consequences of this ignorance are all around us, seen in the way we have exploited and damaged our fellow human beings, the dear animals, the web of growing things, the land, the waters, and the very air.”
If we saw God as being in ALL creation, I wonder how differently we might care for our earth? Would we have exploited the land as we have? Or would we be better stewards of the land if we saw it as sacred? This is another way that we can learn from Indigenous neighbours, as the concept of land as sacred and as being central to spirituality is not foreign at all in Indigenous culture and worldview.
So if Christ is in all of creation – the so-called First Incarnation, then where does Jesus fit into all this? The first Incarnation of Christ in creation expresses the universal nature of Christ. The Incarnation of Christ through the human baby, Jesus, expresses the personal nature of Christ. As is quoted in the book – ‘Christ is God and Jesus is the Christ’s historical manifestation in time.’
“Instead of saying that God came into the world through Jesus, maybe it would be better to say that Jesus came out of an already Christ-soaked world. The second Incarnation flowed out of the first, out of God’s loving union with physical creation.” I love that image – a Christ-soaked world. Rather than thinking about Jesus as coming down from the great beyond, instead Jesus emerged from this already Christ-soaked world as the human form, the more personal form of the Christ.
This morning we heard Mary’s song, the Magnificat, where she praises God and recognizes how blessed she is. God has chosen her to be the sacred space for the Holy – the sacred space for the Christ child to be nurtured. Mary – not from an important family, or one who has any status in society – just a peasant girl from a small village. Her friends and neighbours see her as a disgrace being that she is unmarried and pregnant. She is an unlikely candidate, yet she has been chosen and she is the one who has said yes to bringing the Holy to birth. Mary makes a place for the gestation of grace, the growth of justice and joy, deep and abiding goodness that the world so desperately needed and that went on to transform the world.
In this Christ-soaked world, where God is in all things, and everything is sacred, that also means that Christ is in you, and Christ is in me. You are sacred. Each and every one of us is sacred. Even those parts of ourselves that we don’t like and we try to hide – they are sacred.
A few years ago I took a mindful self-compassion course and one of the first exercises we did came to mind as I was thinking about the parts of me that I don’t like as being sacred. If you have been part of the monthly meditation group here at the church, you will have done this before. I’m going to walk you through it quickly to give you the idea. I invite you to think of a situation where a friend or loved one has come to you and shared with you something that they had done or said that they were upset with themselves about. Not something that upset you – but just something that they were regretting doing or saying. Not a huge thing – just could be a time when they put their foot in their mouth or something. But they are dwelling on it. So – your friend or loved one comes to you and tells you about this situation.
Now think about how you will respond to that person. Think about your body language – if it is someone you love and you are a hugger, (and you have permission!) maybe you’d give them a hug or rest your hand on their hand. What would you say to them? How would you show compassion to them in that situation.
Now think about a time when you did or said something similar that you regret, or that you were upset with yourself about or embarrassed about. And think about the self-talk that followed that experience. How did you respond to yourself in that situation? What was the tone of the response you had to yourself?
When I did this exercise the first time it was shocking how different my response was to myself. I had a lot more compassion and understanding for others than I did for myself.
But – what if we really saw those parts within us that we want to hide, those parts that mess up and make mistakes and say and do stupid things – what if we saw those parts too, as sacred. Would we have an easier time showing ourselves compassion?
When we recognize these places within us as sacred, perhaps it will open us up to possibilities – for us, like Mary to say yes in our own lives to nurture places where goodness can be born, where from this Christ-soaked world, something might be created and nurtured that will transform ourselves, our families, our communities – the world!
Sometimes it takes an experience for us to recognize a place as sacred. Can you think of a time recently that you were just going about your regular routine, and something happened, or a conversation or interaction happened that made you step back in awe and wonder? I have heard many of you tell stories of this happening in groups that you belong to or in worship, in the thrift shop, in our café, or even when you are out at the grocery store. And sometimes it happens in interactions with another person. Where your words or actions had an impact far beyond what you ever thought possible. That is Christ within you – the sacred being reflected from you.
Just as my daily walks through Central Park have become an opportunity for me to see the sacred reflected in the beauty of nature all around me, when we start to notice the sacredness of the spaces that we inhabit just in our regular routines, those spaces can then become places where joy and calm and creativity, that deep and abiding goodness that the world so desperately needs – can be nurtured and born.