One Sunday in May, Star and I traveled to New Hampshire to visit the Church of the Woods. It is 100 acres of land near Canterbury Center in the middle of the state, perhaps best described as in the foothills of the White Mountains. There we met the founding priest Steve Blackmer and enjoyed an outdoor worship experience. First it was a little uncomfortable because there were swarms of black flies, but after a liberal dose of bug spray I felt that I could give my attention to the worship time. Being Episcopalian, Steve did have an order of worship that followed the lectionary yet each passage was brought to life in this sanctuary of the earth. The Acts passage said: “In God we live and move and have our being.” After the readings and a song or two, we headed out into the woods opening ourselves to what the gifts of the earth would bring us. We walked, and sat, and looked an listened.
Here is Star’s reflection: “As I lay on the great maple log and looked up into the new green of the trees above tied together with gossamer rainbows made of spider silk and light, I felt conscious of the shade and swarms of insects around me. The longer I gazed into the leaves, some of which were white with sunlight, the less I was aware of the level where my body was and the more I felt lifted into the brightness above me.
I loved that the songs of birds were just as loud as our voices raised in song. And for me, one of the most meaningful moments was when Rev. Steve offered the first piece of bread to the earth and then poured out the remaining wine beside it. That act reminded me that all of God's creation is precious, all, sacred, all, good and I am a part of that. As Rev. Steve pointed out, we give blood to the biting insects; the birds eat them; we become bird. Of course, for the ones that succeed in reproducing, we also become black fly and mosquito. That should teach us humility if nothing else. To share in the worship of the Creator with the trees, birds, insects, water and the very earth itself was an incredibly moving experience for me. I saw that the earth never ceases to give praise to the Lord. May I learn to do likewise.”
The sound of a noisy gong, or was it a cow bell brought us back together and we talked about our experiences. Each person brought back a token of their 20 minute alone time in the woods and explained how it spoke to them. After sharing our offering experiences to each other, we shared a simple Eucharist and visited for hours. The black flies that completely had my attention at the beginning were still there, but unnoticed. That reminds me of our times of meditation, sometimes I try and sit and the thoughts just keep buzzing around like a bunch of mad black flies, but when the focus of peace is clear, those thoughts just disappear.