a reflection on Exodus 3:1-15
When was the last time you stood barefoot outdoors? When was the last time stretched out upon the ground and let your soul, your body, remember its home on the sacred body of the earth? Can you remember what it felt like? Sandy? Rocky? Warm? Damp? Skin to skin with the body of this holy ground. Only then, says the Lord to Moses this morning. Only when the soles of your feet are reunited with the sacred body of the earth, says the Creator of all that is… Only then will you come to know the plans I have for you. Plans to help me set the world right.
Once upon a time, our spiritual ancestors knew that God is alive and present to us in the very body of this earth. Moses, tending his father-in-law’s flocks. Jesus walking alone in the wilderness for 40 days and nights. They knew that we come from the earth and to earth we return, and that in-between, we are made for union, for deep communion with the living, breathing body of all life. But somewhere along the way, we forgot. This season here at Peace, we are remembering who we are, and whose we are, by making our way through our shared covenant – the promises we make to God and to each other as we make our way in beloved community. This morning, we’ve come to the line in our covenant where we promise “to care for earth and all her creatures, reconciling ourselves to them in love.”
That word, reconcile, means to reunite, or reconnect, those who have been separated from one another. To reconcile is to restore a broken relationship. The witness of our own wilderness tradition is that the sacred work of reconciling ourselves with God requires us to heal our broken relationship with the sacred body earth and all her creatures. And that requires connection. Through the soles of our feet; through placing our bodies in intimate contact with the skin of the earth. Moses knew this. I’m pretty sure Jesus knew this. Indigenous peoples all over the world still know this. We, however, forget all the time. We forget our own bodies as we lose ourselves in thoughts and fears, in our telephone screens and our cars. And as we forget our own bodies, we lose contact and sacred relationship with the body of the earth that is for us, as for our ancestors, the very presence of the living God. So much forgetfulness. So much harm we do when we forget that we, along with all creation, are one body. Sometimes it seems that not even a burning, talking bush would get our attention. Sometimes it seems that even a suffering, burning planet might not be enough to call us back into right relationship, into reconciliation, with earth and all her creatures.
And yet we believe, and we promise each other every week, that the way we live matters. That the spiritual practices we undertake have the power to change us, and to make us more able reconcile with a world, with a planet, that needs our healing love.
A few years ago, I spent a couple of weeks on retreat at a Buddhist monastery outside of Ukiah. While I was there, I visited a community of monks who belong to a Buddhist lineage that comes from the forests of Thailand. This lineage is called the Thai forest tradition and each monk in this tradition, high up in the forested hills of Ukiah, has a tiny, one-room hut. Outside of each hut there is a path that leads about twenty paces into the forest. Then it stops. And every day, each monk spends hours walking barefoot to the end of the path and back again. Walking very slowly, paying careful attention to the sensation of each part of the foot as it makes contact with the sacred earth. Walking and breathing, walking and breathing, praying peace into the earth with every step.
When was the last time you walked slowly enough to feel every part of your foot as it made contact with earth? When was the last time you walked slowly enough to bless the earth with every step?
I want to invite you this morning, if you’re willing, to give this particular spiritual practice a try, as a way of walking ourselves, praying ourselves, into reconciliation with earth and all her creatures. Now, if you are not comfortable walking, you can do this with us as you sit in your chair with your feet on the floor. But either way, walking or sitting, I invite you to go ahead and take off your shoes and let your feet find their way to holy ground. I realize that we’re not quite on the ground here, but this beautiful wood floor is made from the body of trees that spent their whole lives rooted deeply in the earth, and I’m pretty sure we can find the earth through them. So I invite you to take off your shoes, let your feet find the earth, and to rise in body or spirit. And now very gently, find your way to the outside edge of the room, where you’ll have room to walk. We’ll walk in a great circle this morning, counter-clockwise around the room.
One of the great teachers of walking meditation is the Buddhist teacher Tich Nhat Hanh, who advises us simply to begin walking, focusing our attention on the sensation of touching the earth with the sole of each foot. You’ll probably need to walk slowly in order to feel this sensation. Go ahead and find a pace that allows you to be aware as you lift each foot and place it down upon the earth. See if you can bring a quality of tenderness to your steps, with each footstep offering a blessing to the earth. When distractions arise, simply smile to yourself, acknowledge them without getting involved, and return your attention and care to the moment-to-moment sensations of walking. If you are sitting, I invite you to see what it feels like to breath up through the soles of your feet: breathing in peace; breathing out love. With each step, each breath, allowing the earth to support and heal you. With each step, each breath, blessing and healing the earth.
Thich Nhat Hanh likes to say, “The miracle is not to walk on water. It is to walk on this earth with awareness.”
Very slowly, I invite you to let your feet carry you to this table where we gather as the community of all creation. Maybe as you walk, you can sing this blessing into the earth…
Peace before us
Peace behind us
Peace under our feet
Peace within us
Peace over us
Let all around us be peace.