From Chapter One, Page 58

Read on 4.23.17, Sacred Is the Earth

The soil is not the problem. Rather, the infertility of the soil is the problem. The sin is not that human beings are unclean. The sin is that we have failed the soil; we have not attended to it, or we have abused it. We humans willfully disregard our vocation to protect and keep the earth, choosing instead to do violence upon it. Thus, soil may be either blessed or cursed by our activity. Soil is good, but may become bad, something sacred and fertile ruined into what is profaned and hardened. Our problem is that we hardly understand our own involvement in the degradation of the ground. And we have become jaded and unaware of the spiritual power of dirt.

Jesus talks about this in one of his stories. A farmer sowed his seeds, some of which fell on bad soil, with rocks or little water or thorns, and died. But other seed “fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold” (Mark 4:8). Jesus explains that the seed is God’s love and the soil is us. The moral of the story? We are not soil-y enough! Spiritually, we would be better off more soiled rather than less. Being soiled is the point. A friend of mine who is a pastor and a gardener insists, “God loves dirt more than plants, soil more than what it yields. God is a dirt farmer, not a vegetable gardener.” Soil is not sin. Soil is sacred, and holy, and good. When we care for it, we are doing God’s work. Soil is life. And it is time for us to reclaim the dirt.

From Chapter 2, Page 78

Read on 4.30.17, Sacred Is the Water

Given the universality of water in stories of creation and healing, it appears that human beings have always understood that water is vital for happiness and well-being. In recent years, however, the connection between water and happiness has been explored by a host of mainstream scientists, especially neuroscientists. Researchers around the globe have demonstrated that being in natural environments with water makes human beings more relaxed, happier, and more satisfied with life. For example, a Canadian study discovered that taking a fifteen-minute walk around the Ottawa River boosted energy and positive emotions for the participants. A United Kingdom social psychologist found that photographs of waterscapes prompted feelings of relaxation and a desire by subjects to want to live near the particular scene. And it is not only pictures of water - just seeing the color blue promotes feelings of well-being, “producing physical, cognitive, and emotional benefits” similar to the effects of dopamine on the brain.

A Stanford University researcher analyzed fMRI results and found that engaging nature stimulates the same area of the brain as does food, sex, and money. Studies in Europe and North America continue to show that either viewing nature or engaging in outdoor sports, especially when involving oceans, lakes, or rivers, calms us and elevates positive emotions. It also promotes attentiveness, concentration, and creativity. In addition to steadying human emotions, being near water has proved to have curative effects on many health problems, including PTSD, depression, addictions, autism, pain, anxiety, stress, and attention disorders, and to hasten healing from surgery, illness, and injuries. As marine biologist Wallace Nichols observes, “Nature is medicine; this is an idea now reiterated by modern science.”

From Chapter 3, Page 102

Read on 5.7.17, Sacred Is the Sky

During the day, we also see light. The sun is the primary source of daylight, the closest fiery star that warms the world and sends light that we might see.
Unlike the dazzling night stars, it is easy to take the day’s star for granted; it is a necessary yet oddly ignored fact of life.  Yet light, as a spectrum of radiant energy, is the source of our vision. Without the wavelength of light that strike our retinas and initiate nerve impulses, we would not see at all. Thus, light both enables the mechanism of human seeing and is something we see. This energy, whose primary source is the sun, interacts with our eyes and makes visible all that we perceive. We see because of the light in the sky. “Then God said, “Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good” (Gen. 1:3-4). That God “sees” light is a spiritually compelling image. No wonder ancient creeds refer to God as Light from Light.

Thus, the sky, both night and day, makes itself known by what we see. But the skies hold things that are mysteriously unseen as well: dark matter and wind. Indeed, Genesis also speaks of the dark, which exists when light is separated from it, also created by God. The far reaches of space contains what physicists call “dark matter”, unknown subatomic particles that cannot be seen and whose existence is inferred from mathematical models of the universe. Dark matter emits no light, yet its invisible presence accounts for gravitational effects on bodies that are visible in the universe. Scientist believe that 84 percent of the entire universe is composed of dark matter and dark energy combined, things that can only be seen by their effects. In the lower reaches of the sky, wind functions in a similar way. It cannot be seen, but we can see what it does We measure wind by its impact, not by seeing the actual wind. Dark matter in outer space, wind in the layers of atmosphere - powerful, yet invisible to us, these forces are part of the human experience  with the sky.

From Chapter 4, Pages 136-137 & 155

Read on 5.14.17, Sacred Are Our Roots

Honoring ancestors is a nearly universal spiritual practice. In some religions, it appears as ancestor worship or praying to those who have gone before. In biblical traditions, the call to attend to our roots takes the form of a commandment: “Honor your father and your mother” (Exod. 20:12). This is an injunction not only to respect our immediate parents, but to appreciate and remember -or, as it says in Leviticus (19:3), to “revere”-our fathers and mothers, who went before. This forms a spiritual thread of family through time; honoring our ancestors is an obligation of faith. Just as God is found in the immediate experience of the world around us, God is also with human beings through history. Finding God-with-us is a spiritual practice of memory, connection through time with our ancestors -Christians call it the communion of saints”; Jews refer to this as l’dor va’dor, “generation to generation”. Knowing these roots ultimately root us in God who is father and Mother of us all. But how can we revere those who we do not know?

The shift from God at the zenith of the great chain of being toward God with us in a great web of belonging is the heart of todays’ spiritual revolution. The web of belonging originated in the big bang, when all matter burst forth across the universe, and it is experienced in the natural world in the ecosystem of dirt, water, and air. But it is also countered in human experience through the complex relations humanity has made through time, the brotherhood and sisterhood of humankind. As the American Catholic bishops insisted, the earth and the human family are linked in a “natural ecology and social ecology”, the “web of life”. That vision includes a spiritual ecology as well. The great web is the woven world of the planet and the people and the God who dwells therein. God is not a far-off Weaver of the web, like the earlier Watchmaker God, who assembled creation and left it to run on its own. No, God is part of the web, entangled right here with us.

From Chapter 5, Pages 169-170
Read on 5.21.17, Sacred Is Our Home

Home is a central theme in the world’s great religions: Jews seeking a homeland with God; Christians proclaiming that God dwells within our hearts; Muslims facing home to pray; Buddhists finding a true home in enlightenment; Druids and Wiccans worshipping gods who make their home in the seas and the trees. Human beings build temples to shelter God’s presence, we mark sacred places with shrines, and we bury, float, or burn our dead that they might find their way home to God.

The overarching narrative of the Bible is that of humanity searching for home. In the beginning, God created the beautiful earth as our home, but we carelessly misused it, resulting in exile from our natal place. The rest of the story recounts how we either faithfully sought God’s homeland or sinfully abused it, with consequences of blessings or curses. Throughout, a spiritual interplay emerges: not only did God create our earthly home, but God is our home. A letter on Catholic teaching sums this up:
The whole universe is God’s dwelling. Earth, a very small, uniquely blessed corner of that universe, gifted with unique natural blessings, is humanity’s home, and humans are never so much at home as when God dwells with them. It is a powerful story, rich in literary ambiguity - the earth, us, home, and God are almost interchangeable characters in this ancient record of humankind’s aching search to dwell.

In addition to this large biblical narrative, specific stories also relate tales of us, home, and God. Perhaps none does so more beautifully than the book of Ruth. Ruth, a Moabite woman married to a Jew, is widowed. Instead of staying in her own homeland after her husband’s death, she pleads with her mother-in-law, Naomi, to be allowed to accompany her to Israel to find a new home:

Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die -
there I will be buried. (1:16-17)

Home is the relationship between two people, a physical place, and God. This is sacred dwelling.

Chapter 6, Pages 203-204

Read on 5.28.17, Sacred Is This Neighborhood

Peter Block, writing about contemporary neighborhoods, argues that the problem is that people do not feel as though they “belong” to such places (even though they do), resulting in what he calls “an age of isolation” instead of being “grounded” through “the sense of safety that arises from a place where we are emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically a member.” Although we live near to one another in neighborhoods, we do not feel that we necessarily belong to one another, that we have neighborly relations with either place or people. We might live in a particular location, but it is hard to sense that our lives are with others. In a way, a neighborhood is simply the space where people reside near others; the challenge of re-creating vibrant, healthy neighborhoods is building connections between people and, in the process, turning isolated individuals into neighbors. Indeed, “neighborhood” is an empty concept without neighbors. Thus, the meaning of “neighborhood” is intimately caught up with an important question, one fraught with spiritual and ethical implications: Who is my neighbor?

In the twenty-first century, it can be hard to attend to our neighborhood and know our neighbors. People are busy. Most people are struggling to make it economically, and too many are just trying to survive. We might live nearby, but we have little access to other people's lives. And oddly enough, even though many people feel isolated, our understanding of neighborhood has expanded. We live in multiple layers of geographical and virtual neighborhoods. Those who are “nigh” include friends and family living across the nation or world, connected through social media, professional associations, or shared-interest groups. We are aware of neighboring cities, counties, states, and countries. Global media connects the planet into a vast neighborhood, where people from once distant cultures or regions, like the Dalai Lama, Malala Yousafzai, or Nelson Mandela, wend their way into hearts everywhere and become both our neighbors and our heroes. What we commonly call “celebrity culture” is an extension of neighborhood gossip, the technological equivalent of swapping stories of surprising or salacious behavior over the back fence. Perhaps we retreat into our own houses because the neighborhood is so large that it is intimidating. We do not know how to live with the neighbors.

Chapter 7, Pages 236-238

Read on 6.4.17, Called Out and Called In

One of the oldest meanings of the word “religion” is “to bind together” that which connects God with us and us with each other. By definition religion is inherently communal, rituals and relationships that weave a spiritual web of meaning and purpose into the world.

That meaning is largely lost to us. During the last few decades, the word “religion” has fallen on hard times. Contemporary Western people tend to define religion as a structure, organization, or institution. Those who want to speak of lively faith, holy connection, and of finding God in the world or in their lives, often call themselves “spiritual” instead.

Sometimes critics decry spirituality as individualism, but they miss the point. Spirituality is personal, yes. To experience God's spirit, to be lost in wonder, is something profound that we can all know directly and inwardly. That is not a problem. The real problem is that, in the last two centuries, religion has actually allowed itself to become privatized. In the same way that our political and economic concerns contracted from “we” to “me,” so has our sense of God and faith. In many quarters, religion abandoned a prophetic and creative vision for humanity’s common life in favor of an individual quest to get one’s sorry ass to heaven. And, in the process, community became isolated behind the walls of buildings where worship experiences corresponded to members’ tastes and preferences and confirmed their political views.

It has been slow but sure, getting to where we are now. But religion has been reduced to “me,” a process often aided and abetted by religious institutions themselves. That was a sad mistake, however, for at the very center of every religion, there stands some great communal vision of God, the world, and humanity.

In the Bible, that vision is of a people who know God has an intimate companion, live well with one another, and fulfill God's dream for creation. It is a vision of mutuality, friendship, creativity, conviviality, and generosity. People are to make peace, plant vines and fig trees, treat one another fairly and with compassion, and invite strangers into God's tent. We are other cursed or blessed on the basis of our relationships with others and how we care for the land. People prosper when justice rains. What is broken is restored, what is amiss is made right. It is a vision of a universal feast, a cosmic table around which all humankind is gathered to eat and drink and dance with God.

Conclusion, Pages 272-273

Read on 6.11.17: Called In and Called Out, 2.0

Critics often worried that spirituality and mysticism seem passive and promote individualism. Two professors at the University of California at Berkeley, however, have concluded that experiences of all have actually led to Greater acts of compassion for others. The research demonstrates a connection between spirituality and Justice, between encountering God and acting on behalf of others. Experiencing the Divine or the sacred in the world results and people doing things to make the world better.

"Co-creation" is a concept in business circles that emphasizes partnership as the source of creativity. According to the theory, co-creation involves a variety of people (typically a business and its customers) coming together to create something no one could on one's own. In business, co-creation emphasizes the shift in the role of the customer from passive recipient of a company's goods to participant in innovation, productivity, and value. It replaces top-down models of work with a structure of business that dearest have identified as "constellation" or "web".

I was a bit surprised when I learned that "co-creation" had become a management theory, for I first heard the term in the 1980s. In his 1983 book, Original Blessing, Matthew Fox, then a Roman Catholic priest, argues that we are "co-creators with God". He calls the path of life giving faith the "via creativa" that "invites us to trust our vocation as artists, as new imagers and new birthers" and participate with God and a process of ongoing creation. I remember how radical these ideas seemed, bordering on what I then considered heresy. But the brilliance of Fox's book is that he presented co-creation as the unnoticed story of faith and traced its development through Jewish theology, Eastern Orthodoxy, medieval Catholic mysticism, and contemporary spirituality. Creating the world with God, and active and ever-present partner, is the primary human vocation. In the years since, the idea of co-creation has become widespread in many faith communities, taught in seminaries, proclaimed by preachers, and shared in popular spiritual works. From a faith perspective, the link between awe and action is at the heart of co-creation.