Life’s Purpose: Wonder and Awe

[An early version of this piece appeared in The Open Door, Spring 2012]

There was a cold, gusty, late autumn wind blowing across the Wisconsin prairie. The frost line was difficult to break loose as I worked to free the remnants of late summer’s invasive weeds and grass from the garden pathways. I was working with Sister to prepare the paths for the sowing of new seed that was to sprout and grow, creating low-maintenance grassy walkways around the garden plots in the coming spring. We worked steadily and methodically, digging beneath the early-frost line to grip as much weed and root as was possible.  It was the week before Thanksgiving, the week leading up to Christ the King Sunday and the conclusion of another church year. It was the perfect time for this pilgrimage, a journey of sorts to home. This week of seasonal passage mirrored the close of another liturgical cycle as we prepared to begin anew with Advent, the start of another year in our spiritual lives and in the life of the church.

This particular annual silent retreat to the Episcopal Order of Julian of Norwich monastery as an affiliate of the Order was punctuated with Sister’s exclamation in the quiet of our mid-morning work period, “Douglas, look!” At that point I had been stooped over for nearly an hour, intent on my work, deep in my own contemplative space. As Sister’s beckoning broke through, I realized that I was hearing the clackety-clack bugle call of the sandhill cranes migrating to their winter habitation. Seeing and hearing the large flock, I was awestruck by the choreography of a species implanted with all that was needed to guide them homeward for another season.

As I watched, the large flock of cranes took advantage of the high winds, maximizing their velocity by flying high in a triple v-shaped formation. “A symbol of the Trinity?” I recall wondering to myself. As I looked on I noticed one bird in each “V” was rotating with another on the other side of the formation, likely to reduce the probability of stress caused by the high winds.  All the while there were frequent calls from one to another.

On that cold November morning what I witnessed was no less than the sense of awe and wonder. This was worship of God found in creation. Even today, I find my thoughts returning to the awe and connectedness I felt that morning, thankful for the memory of a beautiful image. Those few moments for me were a solitary worshipful moment that reminded me of corporate acts of worship.

Our church gatherings are only part of what I mean by corporate acts of worship. Corporate acts, the acts of all of us living in the world community happen in the moment to moment of our lives. Our gatherings and life activities are a reflection of something the dwells deep within us, our deep truth. Hear the fourteenth century anchoress, Julian of Norwich, echoing her ancient time. “God out of goodness created the planets and the elements to work for all people so that union with Christ’s bliss might be known.” (Divine Revelations, Ch. 18, paraphrase) Julian’s “all people” refers to those living in every place in time. It is an opportunity for God’s creation to be oned (Julian’s word) with its source. Christ’s bliss is the eternal source Julian names as love. Love (here read God) is the life source of all being.

This being so, then the concept of our hour or so practice of weekly worship in the midst of our congregations expands to include every nook and cranny of universal existence. Experiencing this Love in our communities becomes an experience of relating this Love to one another out of an ever-developing sense of relationship with God and God’s creation established by God. After all, this unitive Spirit of Love is the God of creation, recreation and regeneration. Life itself becomes our worship in an experience of relating to God and to one another that knows no limitation. Through this experience we come to understand that worship becomes the only reality. In Original Blessing, American theologian Matthew Fox reminds us that creation did not begin with the absence of God but in God’s presence with God’s blessing. While human choice blurred this view, God remains the very source of all creation and, yes, even our creating.

This is why the cross of Christ imagery remains integral to faith. The cross reminds us that the center is still at the heart of the matter. It is where Love is found. Love pours forth inviting all to join in the journey to home in relationship with God, the source and purpose of life and the recipient of our spiritual worship. Our Hebrew ancestor, the Psalmist, reminds us that “all the earth worships” God (Psalm 66:4, NRSV). Paul picks up on the theme of God’s nature in creation: “Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” (Romans 1: 20, NRSV)

With the individualistic creep of our postmodern lives, it is at first difficult for us to see that we are part of something more connected. That the relationship began not with us as individuals but as a created order on a journey returning to its source. The shining light of today’s emergent church contrasts with the world’s darkness, even shining into its darkest corners. It reminds us that worship has and will continue to be a convergence of ancient and future relationship with God.

God, the creator of those sandhill cranes, gave them all that they need for their life’s journey. What I witnessed was a community sojourning in relationship with one another. In the community was a sense of trust, communication, companionship and mutuality. The crane’s survival was dependent on every bird working as one unit. Some were clearly leaders, some clearly followers. Some shared leadership, easing the burden. All were essential with their own individual uniqueness. Birthed into creation with our own uniqueness, we too, have a sense of longing and of journeying. Now is our time to contribute to life’s narrative, God’s gift to us as an opportunity for relationship and onedness. We spend our lifetimes making our way toward home. Like the ancients before us, and certainly those that will follow, we are given choices. Do we deny or engage in the journey with the sojourners around us? Do we honor the wisdom and learn from the mistakes of those before us? What wisdom will those after us receive from us for the sake of their lives?

Regardless of any conscious choice we make, it is inevitable that our life’s journey returns us home. Our own migratory patterns, in this regard, seem at times unchartered and at other times strangely familiar. At our center, we find our own homing device. We bear the cross that we’ve been given. We live in perpetual relationship with Love.

© 2016, Douglas A. Beck