The twitch begins early – January, really. Sometimes December 25, if the right gift goes to the right person. But the twitch definitely begins in January, when the first catalogs appear in the mailbox. It doesn’t matter how much snow appears – the plans begin. On February 2nd, the words “the groundhog saw his shadow” gives hope. Soon the car takes the long way around, past the shop with its hopeful sign “closed for the season, see you in the spring.” As the snow begins to melt, there are long, wistful looks of longing around the property. Conversations never stray too far from the impending spring thaw.
And then March arrives… and friends in the south begin posting pictures of their first sightings… and the twitch becomes a full-on focus. The catalogs come out in earnest, along with the long black plastic trays… and the window sills are cleared of their bric-a-brac to make room.
And then the UPS truck pulls up and leaves a package – the first of many, with company names like Jackson & Perkins, Whiteflower Farms, Burpee.
It has begun. And while the yard may still be covered in snow, the gardener is in full bloom.
I have to confess: I am not a gardener. It’s not that I have a black thumb; in fact, I am pretty good at growing things. I know how to plan beautiful flower beds. I know the secrets of companion planting in vegetable gardens. And I certainly appreciate the fruits of a gardener’s labors. But I don’t have the passion for it. I don’t have the twitch, or the fever, or the bloom of a gardener in her element.
Yet I understand the compulsion… it’s part of that cycle of life that tells us that which has gone dormant must live again. The first day of spring reminds us that we are part of the earth.
This is important. Too many times people act as though they are visitors on this planet, as though they have no connection to this earth. At its worst, this is played out in climate change denial and the recklessness of mountaintop stripping, mining, and fracking. It is as though these people forget we are not aliens dropping onto an M-class planet like something out of Star Trek. They forget that we are as organic as the trees outside. They forget that for our own lives to be sustained, we have to work to sustain life around us, on this earth.
And sometimes we forget too.
One of the gifts of being a gardener is the bones-deep knowledge that the earth is never far, that getting grounded is one bag of topsoil and a seedling away. There’s something about the feel of the soil, the dirt under the fingernails, the moistness and richness that reminds the gardener of his relationship to the earth.
Related to the gardener is the nature lover – the hiker, the kayaker, the bird watcher, the spelunker, the cyclist, the naturalist. The nature lovers get a similar twitch – some of them so can’t stand being away from the earth that they go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, just to be grounded in even the stark white of nature’s winter.
These people – nature lovers, gardeners, outdoor sports enthusiasts – reflect in their actions the richness of our seventh principle, “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part,” and our sixth source, “Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.”
Earth based spirituality draws from the pre-Christian pagan religions of the Middle East, from Native American spirituality, and from our own Transcendentalist forebears. Our modern expression draws much from the old religions, but it also draws from contemporary science and thinking. As Reverend Roberta Finkelstein explains, “This new earth religion, while more distant from the traditional agrarian society, focuses on the human relationship to the earth. It evokes the tenets of environmental stewardship, is concerned with ending the exploitation of the earth and the cosmos. Many American religions are figuring out ways to synchronize environmental advocacy with their Judeo-Christian tradition. They reject the assumption, based on an unfortunate reading of a few verses in Genesis that the earth was given into the hands of humans to do with as we pleased. The new earth religion invites reverence for the natural environment. In place of the image of people as manipulators of the environment it offers us human connectedness to the environment. We live in all things; all things live in us.”
When we affirm the divinity in all living things, where the transcendentalists said God would be found, then we find ourselves not separate from creation, but part of creation. God is an immanent presence. The transcendentalists knew the power of nature – so much so that if I say “Henry David Thoreau” you will probably respond “Walden Pond.” This man was so in touch with the earth around him, he once remarked “I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.”
By grounding their understanding of an immanent god that surrounded them in the birds and the trees and the water and the earth, they too felt grounded. So too, the nature lovers, gardeners, pagans, and transcendentalists among us find a great deal of grounding by the simple act of living out their passions.
For the rest of us, grounding may not be as simple.
I am not saying the rest of us don’t like nature, or don’t appreciate the earth we are an interconnected part of. But what I am saying is that the rest of us don’t get the same spiritually and emotionally grounding affects from the earth.
Yet grounding is so important.
Usually when we talk about spiritual practice, we think of things that take us out of our bodies – meditation, chanting, prayer. And this is good practice; we sometimes need to get out of our own way to do spiritual work. But I would suggest that more often that not, as we go about our days working, raising kids, running errands, or volunteering, we are not only not in a spiritual space, we’re not really connected to our bodies either. We are probably in our heads, thinking about the grocery list or the email you have to send or whether the train is on time or what is that guy doing turning into your lane or dang, there’s a stain on my shirt.
Grounding then, places us in the here and now, not in a distracted way but in a present sort of way. When a gardener leans into a flower bed to pull weeds, she is connecting physically and spiritually to the earth, which then allows her mind to release mundane distractions and go where it leads. But there are other ways to get connected to the here and now, to ground ourselves as part of the earth. There is an amazing book called Everyday Spiritual Practice, edited by Reverend Scott Alexander, which contains many suggestions from ministers across our denomination. Here are but a few:
You might choose movement – whether it be walking, running, dancing, tai chi, yoga, or martial arts. In tai chi, they speak of the Observer Self – the part of our makeup that notices what is going on in and around us. By having to pay attention to the various parts of your body, you not only focus on something very earthy, you grow in your connection to your whole self.
You might instead choose a practice around food. There is fasting, which allows you to pay attention to your physical body in terms of what it really needs and what you are getting. It also helps you see what you really hunger for, what really controls you, how you see yourself in the world.
Or, you might choose cooking. There is something inspiring when preparing a meal is more than putting a plate in the microwave – when it’s about choosing just the right herb, whose aroma you inhale deeply… or ensuring the right balance of sweet and sour… or stirring and whisking and tossing.
And of course, there is eating. A friend of mine has a Lenten practice this year of never eating alone; his spiritual practice is about sharing food with one another, enjoying the flavors, enjoying the people at the table. It is intentional consumption, focused on how things taste and smell and feel in our bodies.
You might instead choose a craft. Quilting, painting, embroidery, drawing, sculpting, scrapbooking, beading – there are any number of benefits; there is not only a creative outlet, and not only a meditative element, but also a grounding, as you are working with products of the earth – fabric woven from cotton, clay from the ground, paper from trees. And you have to pay attention to your body to use the needle correctly, to put just the right pressure on the canvas, to hold the pencil.
Or, you could make an environmental concern your spiritual practice; I was taken by Audrey Vincent’s chapter in Everyday Spiritual Practice, which begins “For me, recycling has become a way of life.” Vincent describes the conscious effort it takes to sort, to carry them to recycling centers, to deliberately care for the earth in this seemingly simple way. For her, grounding is about not just being part of the earth but taking on the deeply spiritual role of caretaker. Those who clear litter, those who tend to natural resources, those who work to protect wildlife are all engaged in a grounding practice of loving and nurturing the planet.
Now you could do more than one of these – I mean, we all eat, so there’s one we all share right off the bat. The point is not to pick one, but to breathe into practices that don’t just fulfill our basic needs for food, safety, and shelter, but which ground us into this amazing and wondrous planet. When we get grounded, become not just in the world but of the world. We become aware of our interconnection. And whether our spiritual practice follows the seasons, like a gardener, or is steady year round, like recycling, we become more attuned to the divine that exists all around us. And when we are interconnected, we are more likely to nurture each other, help each other, do the work of justice for each other. Grounding – physical, earth-bound grounding – is justice.
I have listed many grounding spiritual practices that we can’t do right now in this room, but there is one… the very one I started with. While I am not a gardener, I know there is nothing quite like gardening to make you feel like part of the interconnected web – and nothing like planting seeds in the spring, despite the snow and cold, to make you feel grounded. Whether you are a gardener or not, I invite you today to explore this particular spiritual practice, so that we may celebrate the coming of spring together, and plant together, and ground together. Breathe in deeply in rhythm with the drum (drum begins as heartbeat)… feel yourself in the space (drum rhythm complicates)… feel the rhythm of the earth in the drum, in your breath… and as you feel comfortable, I invite you to join in the chant…and get your hands in the dirt… plant some seeds…. Feel the spring warmth and the richness of the soil ground you….
(Earth Chant begins, people sing and plant)….
(as people are done, we end the chant and go back to just a heartbeat..)
Amen and blessed be.