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Racine, WI 53405

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Ground of All Being

I wasn’t brought up in a church. In retrospect, I think nature was my sanctuary, my church, when I was young. I grew up on an acre of land in Brookfield and there was an empty lot adjoining ours. Along the back of that property was an area filled with big and small trees and bushes. When I was probably eight or so, I started spending hours and hours in that area. Tucked under the trees and bushes I made a fort of dead sticks and branches. I lined the floor with grass clippings from our yard. I made shelves out of old pieces of wood I discovered treasures of bottles of different sizes, shapes and colors to put on them (clearly the area had been someone’s dumping ground at some point). I loved to just sit in there looking at the veins in the leaves, feeling the softness of the grass under me, and appreciating the way the trees hid and protected me. It was like a spiritual home.

If I wasn’t in my fort, we also had three lilac bushes off our driveway, and I’d slip in between them and hang out in there. I liked being alone. Now, it’s possible I was trying to escape my younger brother, but I remember feeling something in those places that I didn’t feel in the house or in my bedroom. Perhaps it was those indescribable feelings that led me to look for more answers.

My search took me away from nature, away from the place I first met the Divine. I did Bible studies in homes, rituals in big dark rooms, robes and ancient liturgies, I worshipped in sanctuaries with stained glass windows. I went to seminary, studied hard in classrooms and libraries looking for a deeper understanding and connection with God. I finally found myself in more sanctuaries with more stained glass. And it’s not that God wasn’t in those places, it’s just that there was something special, natural, earthy, holy and unencumbered (with polity and doctrine) about the places I created as a child.

In the church’s not-so-infinite wisdom, not only was body and spirit separated, but body and nature were also separated. God became omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent. In other words, there was a great, big God out there and up there watching over us, keeping track and manipulating life here on earth.

Paul Tillich, was a young German military chaplain on the front lines in World War I. In the midst of war he came face to face with how very clearly theology of the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God didn’t work. Where was God for all the young men who prayed not to die? Where was peace and goodness? Tillich said that a “certain God” died for him on those battlefields, and he could no longer preach on a benevolent God who issued promises of peace from a mountaintop. In his own search for God after the war, he finally came back to a more ancient understanding. God was the Ground of All Being, the earth and all that came from it was drenched with the divine. (I love the word drenched, it brings to mind how thoroughly soaked one gets if caught in a rainstorm.)

As Diana Butler Bass wrote in her book, “Grounded,” this grounded god is “not above and beyond, but integral to the whole of creation, entwined with the sacred ecology of the universe.” She suggests we use different prefixes, instead of omni, let’s consider the divine as inter (meaning between or among), as the thread between space and time. Or let’s consider the divine as intra (meaning within), as the one within space and time.

God is the ground, the grounding, that which grounds us. And the earth is the visible reality of this invisible God who grounds us.

Diana Butler Bass tells the story of traveling to the Santa Barbara, California, from her home on the East Coast. She was up before dawn thanks to the time difference, threw on clothes and walked across the street to the beach to greet the morning light.

She kicked off her shoes and walked barefoot in the sand and surf. As the sun came up over the mountains the sky slowly lightened, and the color was unlike any she had ever seen. She said, “The whole scene appeared like an aging photograph: the highest sky was a deep gray-indigo, the sun at the horizon glowed golden with only soft hints of rose, the mountains were still dark in shade, brown-hued sea birds reeled overhead, and the whole thing was reflected in the waters of low tide, forming a sandy mirror image.”

She didn’t feel as if she were outside looking at a pretty picture, but that felt that she was a part of everything, in a light where all things blurred into one another. Inwardly she heard the words from a poem by Gerald Manley Hopkins, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” And, without thinking she dropped to her knees, said “thank you” and bent over to kiss the wet sand. She was overwhelmed with the beauty of the earth and was quite literally pulled to the ground in gratitude. God was there.

Have you ever felt this way? Overwhelmed by the beauty of the earth before you? Where were you?

There are many amazing places I would name including the Redwoods, the ocean at Olympic National Park, climbing to the heights of the Cascades, and so many more. I think we can feel the same way about the small things in nature around us if we bring our awareness to them: the first tender sprouts coming through the soil, baby birds in the wall of our bedroom, new growth on the bushes, the earthworm that turns my vegetable scraps into soil.

The world is drenched with God if only we’ll open our eyes and hearts.

To close up this series. What I hoped to convey, or help us remember, is that the elements can serve as tangible, present reality drenched with God through which we can connect, learn, and turn to when we need spiritual guidance or support.

When I want to feel comforted and connected to Something bigger than myself… I go to Lake Michigan.

When I need to release or let go of something, or want to pray for someone or something, I light a candle or watch a fire.

When I need to find a calm center and connect to the deep wisdom within, I focus on my breathing, and remember that I am surrounded and filled with Ruah, Divine Breath.

When I need to feel grounded, I walk, I dig, I revel in the earth. 

In these ways and so many more we can feel and experience the world drenched with Divine Presence.

Love & Light!

Kaye