Wild Lectionary: Guided by the Spirit

TreeThird Sunday After Pentecost
Proper 8(13)

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

By Christy Thomson

I recently returned from a month-long work trip to Europe where I spent some time in Slovenia facilitating a training. My work as a trainer and mentor for ANFT (Association of Nature and Forest Therapy guides and programs) is rewarding, challenging and gives me ample opportunity to face the questions this week’s reading brings to mind; am I living in the Spirit? Do I allow the Spirit to be my guide? What does it look like/feel like to live in the Spirit?

If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Galatians 5:25

In this week’s reading, Paul also says a lot of other things like not being “subject to law” if we are led by the spirit (18), that we should “become slaves to one another” (13), and that we should not “gratify the desires of the flesh” (16). Some of that seems a little violent to me, some seems very freeing. I prefer to keep it simple and address verse 25.

Just a few weeks ago on the last day of our training in Slovenia, we allowed the participants of our training to go on an abbreviated medicine walk in order to help support their process of becoming a forest therapy guide. A medicine walk in our practice is a time spent on the land in silence, alone, without food, leaving from and returning to a circular threshold, attended to by the trainers. It took place in the morning. We had chosen a forest atop a hill near a memorial to the Italian soldiers that had fallen in one of the bloodiest battles of WWI-here in the Soca River valley.

After sending out the participants, I had the opportunity to leave the threshold and wander for an hour or so. I walked down the hill, passing the beautifully sculpted stations of the cross on the way, placed as a part of the memorial. I did not have a plan but followed some internal knowing. Reaching the bottom of the hill, I realized what that knowing was.

Long ago, in the village, another event had occurred. In 1331, Crusaders came from Cividale, Italy-just down the road-for two reasons; to cut down the sacred tree and fill in the sacred well of Kobarid. They were sent by the Inquisition Court to destroy the sites of worship of these “wrong religions”-an event that happened across Europe in numerous villages.

As I stood under a recently-planted Linden tree at the site of the original, I allowed my head to rest on the trunk. My eyes closed, a vision of violence filled my mind; men with torches, saws, weapons, fighting to get past the villagers to their sacred sites. Memories of the villagers then flooded my mind; dancing, celebrating, singing, making promises and sleeping under their sacred Linden tree. I felt their connection to that special place-their place-a place they called home.

I opened my eyes and went to the spring, just a few feet away. The spring, uncovered and piped into a little fountain by the villagers, looked cool and inviting. I took off my sandals and washed my feet in the water, immediately recalling the story of how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples with water made sacred by his intention and love. I asked myself; how is this water different-blessed by the earth, filtered and cleansed by layer after layer of limestone bedrock? The earth’s intention in her providing this water was clear; well-being, rejuvenation, and cleanliness. What was my intention with this washing? I believe it was in the receiving. Sometimes it is so difficult to allow ourselves to simply receive. What my body and soul wanted to feel in that moment was to feel noticed and nurtured.

RocksI sat for a while, then walked again, up the hill, past the stations of the cross, following Jesus’ fateful journey as he followed the Spirit, sure of his calling and vocation. I sat, waited and greeted our trainees as they crossed the threshold and ended their morning’s journeys as well.

Leaving Kobarid, I traveled to Germany to facilitate a retreat and gathering, then went on to Zurich, where I was the recipient of 3 days of lectures at the Jung Institute. The nature of the lectures addressed individuation-the Jungian interpretation of our “becoming”, the evolution of archetypes and other related topics. It was a thrill, to say the least. My mind struggled to process even a fraction of what was happening in that room.

The last lecture brought up mythic and cosmic worldviews and how they are meaning-making. My mind went straight to rituals and how our religious and mythic traditions are often their sources. I began to think about the ancients, the pagans, the people of the Vedas, the island tribes, and the meaning-making of their rituals. So many were about relationship; their relationship to the earth, the skies, the waters, the people they loved. They did rituals in order to keep the sun coming up in the morning. They did ritual to bring rains, thwart sicknesses, and restore peace in their communities. These were soul-saving and earth-saving rituals. They were one and the same for them.

Just that morning, I had glanced at the TV’s new display of climate change protests in Germany. At that moment in class I wondered about our modern-day rituals. Why are our rituals of earth-saving so disparate from our soul-saving rituals? What is it about our modern mythologies that does not support their union? Is there a possibility of reuniting them?

Then I remembered my tree vision and my feet washing in the spring. Those were my rituals on that day. They provided a moment of remembering, receiving, honoring and gratitude. Where they earth-saving and soul-saving? I don’t know about that. But I do know they were connective. They connected me to that place by speaking to my heart and my soul.

What I learned was that our “following” of the Spirit is sometimes quiet, sometimes personal-just for us alone. There are ceremonies ahead, rituals to perform, if we continue to allow the “soft animal of [our] body love what it loves,” said so beautifully by Mary Oliver in her poem Wild Geese.

To follow the Spirit is to be open to listen to the brook, the mountain, the small child, the lover, the tree the birdsong, and what or whomever is presented in each of the moments of our lives. When our hearts learn to listen openly, there is only more and more space for the love of the world to fill.

Yes, let’s “live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit”, and see where that takes us.

Christy Thomson is currently finishing a degree in Environmental Science and Religious Studies and will be starting her MDiv in the fall of 2020. She is a trainer, mentor and immersion coordinator for ANFT as well as the administrator for the local YMCA music school. Christy grew up in rural Indiana, the granddaughter of farmers who have worked this land since immigrating from central Europe. Her hometown is along the Wabash River, where she lives with her 4 teenage children and husband. The Wabash River valley was the indigenous home most recently to the Miami tribe, who offer public celebrations in neighboring Columbia City to share their traditions and rituals. Partnerships between land, spirit and humans are the inspiration for her next project-Wild Communion-coming soon!

Wild Lectionary is a weekly blog on ecological justice themes in the revised common lectionary, curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territory.

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