The communion of nature needs us now

“We are between stories. The old story is no longer effective. Yet we have not learned ‘the new story.’ We are talking only to ourselves. We are not talking to the rivers; we are not listening to the wind and stars. We have broken the great conversation. By breaking that conversation, we have shattered the universe.”  – Thomas Berry


There is this deep yearning in many to “get back to nature.”  Yours truly felt a tremendous urge to go camping this summer to reconnect with what is fundamental and essential within.  So have many others.  This summer was a big one for campgrounds and parks.  People yearned to get out of the house after months of lockdown and fear of covid.  They sought the healing power of the great outdoors.


In Japan they call the intentional time spent to commune with nature "forest bathing."  A person can do it for a few hours or days, or weeks, or months connecting with what St. Francis of Assisi called his brothers and sisters.  All of nature was understood as “kin” to St. Francis. 


You may have noticed in our UCC liturgy that where we used to say “kingdom” of God, we now say “kin-dom” of God.  Aside from getting away from the language of kings and kingdoms, it also widens the sense of what God’s reign is about.  We are a kin-dom held in the interconnected embrace of God’s love and care.  At least we’re supposed to be. 


The story hasn’t worked in the way it was supposed to.  The kin-dom is crumbling both inside and out. Love of creation including its people has withered and is dying for lack of true connection among the people meant to be caretakers and stewards of each other and all that are part of the created order.


I think Thomas Berry is right.  We are between stories.  We, like a withered, lifeless-looking cocoon, are hanging on a branch by a slim thread that dangles between the old and new stories.  What is the new story that is incubating?  What is our part in helping a new story to be told?


Jesus said long ago, “People don't pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the wine will make the skins burst, and both the wine and the skins will be ruined. Rather, new wine is to be poured into fresh skins." - Mark 2:22


In the space between the old story and the new story, there is time.  During this time, we need to grieve the many ways that our climate has changed life on this planet.  Before the old story ends and the new story begins, we also need to increase our awareness of “how we treat the natural world mirrors the way we treat other people,” according to Victoria Loorz, MDiv., author of The Wild Invites Us into the Sacred.


Believe it or not, this time between the stories may be a gift to us.  Maybe we have this in-between time so that we can begin the hard work of getting back into a healthy relationship with the rest of the world. 


Restoring our relationship implies a kind of communication to reestablish what was lost.  It’s not at all far-fetched to think of “talking to the rivers…(and) listening to the wind and the stars.”  Quite a few of us already talk to house plants, to our pets, or roll down our windows on a road trip to moo at some cows.  It’s not that far a stretch to just “be” with some other aspects of nature to get a sense of what’s going on with them.


The old story struggles to portray itself as The Story. The new story looks for opportunities to be born.  New wine is being pressed from new grapes, but are we willing to make new wineskins in which to put them?  Jesus said that if we don’t, both will be ruined.


While we still have time, let’s be more mindful of the ones that can’t speak, who suffer wordlessly.  Let’s attune ourselves to their needs and spend time with whatever part of nature that resonates most urgently to us: water, land, plant life, trees, animals, etc.


How this story ends – or changes – depends a great deal upon our willingness to interact thoughtfully and compassionately with the created order.  That was the idea in the beginning.  What can we do as people of faith to bring the New Story to reality?