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Toward Wholeness Blog

Practical Forest Faith in 4 Parts

Every morning I wake up and walk to my office where I enjoy a cup of coffee and a short reading from the Bible. Then I do a little breathing meditation, which I’ll write about in some future posts, and finish with a short meditation which repeats this four-fold declaration 5-8 times.

Christ above me. I’m receiving

Christ beneath me. I am rooted

Christ around me. I’m connected

Christ within me. I am called

Without an understanding the meaning behind these phrases, such an exercise would just be words, largely void of meaning. Undergirded though, with a view of reality which sees the world and all that is in having its origin and sustenance in Christ’s life, and seeing the entire cosmos moving toward an end of the story where every atom in the universe is shot through with God’s glory, these words become a means of aligning my outlook, identity, and world view, with the most important truth in the universe: Our Creator is alive, personal, active, relentlessly in love with us, pursuing us, and desiring to both heal us and use us to fill the earth with beauty and mend what is broken.

If that seems like a tall order for these four phrases to orient us towards those realities, my response is “Yes. It is!“ In fact there’s nothing magical about the words. They're not an incantation used to summon reality. The healing, hope, capacity for beauty, and source of wisdom doesn’t lie in any words. The source of all those things is Christ.

The problem most of us face is that the deep realities of hope, beauty, reconciling power, liberating power (freeing one from addictions and fears), intimacy, and vibrant meaning aren’t easy to access. We’re swimming in a sea of lies (with ongoing suspicions that things will only get worse as AI grows in its capacity to make lies look and sound true). Our collective malaise is revealed in our news cycles, gun violence, racism, body image issues, economic disparities, sexual confusion, and so much more. The bad news is frankly overwhelming, and often becomes the primary lens through which we look at the world. To the extent that’s the case, we find ourselves needing ways to cope with it all. Enter all forms of escapism (food, shopping, sex, religion), or self-medication, or exhausting self righteous anger, and you get a picture of many people “just barely hanging on…” The results of self medication only make things worse, leading to dramatic increases in suicide, gun violence, cynicism, tribalism, loneliness, and apathy.

Here’s my crux question: Is it possible to live in such a world as a person of peace, hope, and wholeness, imparting beauty, speaking truth in love, crossing divides, and bringing justice and healing?

Here’s my crux answer: Yes!

It’s possible because woven right into the fabric of all this dysfunction is another reality. I referred to it in a previous post as the “deeper magic.” There are strands of hope, beauty, generosity, healing, justice, mercy, and all the rest that is good and right woven throughout the Insanity and darkness. We just need eyes to see, and hearts to believe.

That’s where my latest book Forest Faith comes in. I wrote the book during the pandemic because my wife and I live in the forest, so the realities of social distancing led us to befriend the trees on our property! My wife was already a certified nature guide, but both of us read books about trees and spent hours in the forest. With fresh eyes we saw what had always been there. This little section of fir, hemlock, and cedar trees have been receiving gifts of sunlight, rain, air, cloudy mists, fog, and snow from above. They’ve been growing deep roots, which enable them to weather severe storms over and over. They‘re connected to each other through the mycelium network and roots, which result in the mutual support of sharing information, and energy, and warnings with each other. Finally, filled with life, they’re called to bless and serve. They serve us by sequestering carbon, purifying air, soil, and water, and exhaling oxygen into the air for our use. They serve the soil, prevent the flow of silt and hillside collapse during heavy storms, and becoming the soil after their demise so that future generations can live. They serve the animal kingdom by providing shade, shelter, and storehouses of food.

Perhaps most amazing of all, they just do this, all the time, since the Snoqualmie and Yakima tribes shared this high country for summer berry gatherings and festivals. They keep doing this when the white man comes, and statehood, and civil wars, and World War(s) I & II, along with Korea, Vietnam, Watergate, Nixon, the Iran hostage crisis, Iraq war(s) I & II, 9.11, Hope and Change, Trump and January 6th, all the way up to the current debt ceiling crisis with its charges and counter charges. The trees just keep doing what they’re made to do. Stedfast, humbly, gloriously, and without fanfare. This is their calling, and they fulfill it consistently to the glory of God.

So can we. But unlike the trees, it won’t just happen for us. We’re bent, broken, and easily deceived, even if we own a Bible and can quote it a lot (maybe even too much). It falls to us to live into our callings, not instinctively, but by swimming upstream against most of the prevailing realities that we see every day. This requires a continual reframing of what is most real to us, which requires consistency of habits to feed that reframing. Consistency, though, requires motivation, a belief the outcome of the habits will be worth the trouble.

In my next four posts (along with a class I’m teaching on 5.20.23) I’ll help you gain the belief, motivation, and consistent habits to feed an alternate view of reality. I’ve been a Christ follower for over five decades, but not a consistent one. I’ve vacillated between hope and cynicism, engagement and withdrawal, confidence and fear, joy over the beauty of faith displayed in powerful ways, and feeling literally sick to my stomach over the arrogance, hypocrisy, harsh judgements, and moral failings of faith leaders. Sometimes I’ve felt like leaving the whole thing, or at the least, renouncing my associations with institutional Christianity. My 18 months of isolation in the forest was (along with the discovery of Celtic Christianity) the greatest two gifts of my adult faith life.

I wrote what I learned through those months in the forest in my most recent book “Forest Faith” and the posts which follow, while they’ll stand on their own, are best digested in tandem with the book. For now, my encouragement to you is this:

There’s a deeper reality than your news cycle, sports team, 401(k), political affiliation, gun violence, climate change fears, racial hatred, border challenges, et al. There’s a “Shalom” afoot, and you can find it in forests and classrooms, in hospitals and prisons, in churches and gyms. You just need eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to respond. Every. Single. Day.

Hit subscribe to get all four parts, along with practices.

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Mandy Mitchell
Mandy Mitchell
19 mai 2023
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What a refreshing read. My son was showing me today an instagram reel of a pastor from a mega church saying some ridiculous things, as if he was trying to make Jesus more relatable and "cool". It did not make me want to know his version of Jesus. It is in still moments when working or enjoying recreation outside that I feel the closest to God, and it is in that simplicity that I recognize he does not need help conveying who he is. It is all around us, displayed in and through his creation. Anyway, I feel like this blog post spoke to what I was feeling but couldn't put into words. Thanks Richard, I look forward to readin…

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