Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Almost Heaven..."

For Thanksgiving this year, we drove to visit family in Pennsylvania. The trip takes us through the center of West Virginia, and as we drove through the "Wild and Wonderful" state, I could heard the John Denver song* loud and clear.

Another way to describe the land we crossed is "God's Country". People use this phrase for unspoiled land, a landscape untouched by humans, or one that reflects the power of God the Creator. More and more, I get the feeling that God's Country may be land that humans feel is too inhospitable for feasible economic development.

In the US, there's very little of God's Country left that doesn't have some imprint of a human hand on it. West Virginia is a state with a smaller population than its neighbors, and scenery that looks like some monster bear drew its claws through the land to create the layers of rolled hills, their outline softened by the brushy tops of leafless trees. Even here, there is the human touch. Light, perhaps, but there, nonetheless. The highway itself with its green direction signs and blue services signs cuts through with arrogant certainty. The large electric wire structures. Bare ski trails like tears on the mountainside. Cell phone tower spikes. Railroad tracks running along the bank of a creek. Billboard ads stuck on steep inclines blanketed with trees. Makes you wonder how the workers get to them. Water towers that look like one-half of a dumbbell stuck into the ground.

Driving in West Virginia is not for the faint of heart. Sitting as the state does in the Appalachian chain, there are l-o-n-g, s-l-o-w climbs up and down and long, winding curves. Guard rails are either an immovable mountain of rock or a thin ribbon of steel over which you can see nothing but the tops of trees and air. At 70 mph, the interstate demands your full driving attention.

We passed clusters of houses tucked into a holler that later became the route for the highway, miles from any sign of business, post office or general store. We saw black-faced sheep, small herds of black cattle, ponies, the occassional llama. A different lifestyle from what I'm used to. More isolated, more dependent on the land, neighbors, God.

Your description of God's Country may take a different form--rocky beaches, or vast plains or crystal blue lakes, towering mountains or endless desert--but having been born and raised in Western Pennsylvania, the "dark and dusty" vistas of West Virginia speak to me not with a joyous shout, but with a deep whisper of divine presence and praise; a low rumble of agelessness that doesn't have a source, but emanates from the Earth Mother. The ancient power here is not splashy, but simmers in the forested hills.

Where do you find God's Country?

Take moment to give thanks for the land and waters we share with all life. And pray that we take good care of it.

*"Take Me Home, Country Roads". Bill Danoff, Taffy Nivert and John Denver. Cherry Lane Music, 1971.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Experience Vs. Belief

It's been a month since I've last shared with you. Since early October, I've attended the UUCF Revival in Dallas, visited a local United Church of Christ congregation, met with my church needlecraft ministry, spent an afternoon tending to a friend after her first colonoscopy, biked on a new walking/biking trail near my home and felt hot Summer turn to crisp Fall.

Experiences of God. Encounters with the Transcendent.

In their book "The Knitting Way: A Guide to Spiritual Self-Discovery", Linda Skolnik and Janice McDaniels write:
You don't have to believe in the Transcendent to encounter it. Ideas and beliefs don't bring understanding. Honoring and participating in the craft of life does. (pg. 51)

This is the essence of Unitarian Universalist spirituality, and it resonates deep within me.

The authors go on to share ideas surfaced at a 1995 National Institutes of Health meeting which focused on spirituality and religiousness as factors that affect an individual's health (pgs. 50-51). The first statement of the meeting included the clarification: "Spirtuality is concerned with the Transcendent, addressing ultimate questions about life's meaning, with the assumption that there is more to life than what we see or fully understand."

At the end of this chapter (pgs.51-52), the authors present a scientific research scale that can capture the depth of a person's daily connection with the Transcendent and possibly relate the results to health or treatment outcomes. The scale is called the Daily Spiritual Experience Scale (DSES). Because the scale is copyrighted, I will not copy its 16 items here, but point you to an original paper and encourage you to look it up in "The Knitting Way" to get a feel for how it might be helpful in personal spiritual practice.

How deep are your experiences, how often do you encounter the Transcendent?