Good morning everyone. It is such a good thing to be with you all—here on The Land, and on Facebook. And it is an honor to offer the Commitment Saturday message this morning. Thank you, Stephanie, for extending the invitation.
Today’s second reading comes from the book of Merriam-Webster:
“Commitment—the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, a place, a person, or a group. Synonyms—devotion, loyalty, faithfulness, fidelity, bond, attentiveness.”
Last Saturday I spent time pulling notes together to begin crafting this message. I knew I wanted to speak about commitment. I knew I wanted to continue Pastor Stephanie’s theme of “the story of The Land” using real stories we’ve received from folks. And I knew I wanted to speak about imagination, which I believe is the great human superpower.
Human imagination activated by direct experience of capital “L” Love is where we find our true capacity for Co-Creating with God.
Ultimately, I went to sleep––with The Land and this message gently rocking in my mind. And then––true story––as I awoke early Sunday morning I was coming out of a dream—about The Land, not surprisingly. I missed most of it, but what lingered was a clear voice in my dream. I grabbed my journal to catch some of it:
“The People of The Land listened and were taught by The Land; knelt and were humbled by her; opened their hearts and were loved by her; brought their brokenness and were healed by her; shared their souls and were transformed by her.”
Then, over the next couple of days, a story emerged. So in the spirit of storytelling, imagination, and commitment, I’d like to tell you a story.
Many years ago, in the time of The Great Turning, there was a small patch of shortgrass prairie that had been rescued. It was deeded to a special group of humans who, after a time of courtship, fell deeply in love with her.
The Great Turning had been building for decades—great waves of war and violence; the Earth gasping; millions of species and great tracts of wild places disappearing; humans suffering from starvation and marginalization in massive numbers; while at the same time human consciousness was breaking through into profoundly deeper ways of seeing Creation, their place in it, and their responsibility to it. For followers of Jesus, it was a time of remembering how it is was supposed to be all along.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth….”
“God saw all that God had made, and it was very good.”
“Whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.”
They were waking up to how they had committed––over and over again––the fundamental sin of turning their backs on the Holy Spirit in the belief that they were separate from Creation and its Creator.
“In the beginning, there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through him, all things were made.”
“The Son is in the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created.”
The Word, the Christ, there at the beginning––Incarnation radiating forth as Creation itself, through every wave and particle—through the whole universe, including this blessed little blue planet. Christ in all, through all, and all in Christ.
This special group who loved The Land were drawn to her because they longed to belong more intimately with Creation, to establish a new way to be “the church.” And they did so with the blessing and support of a larger community, which was compelled by Spirit in the Great Turning, to nurture new, inclusive, Creation-honoring ways of following Jesus.
The people came to The Land with respect and hope; with ideas and plans. It was a good beginning—earnest gifts offered early in the courtship. And then, the People of The Land spent time on The Land and with The Land, often and prayerfully—in all seasons, in all weather; at first light and through the day; at dusk and through the night. Worshipping, working, walking, meditating, singing, grieving, celebrating, sharing meals—and just being; all the while burdened with the dark realities of life as it was in the midst of the Great Turning.
Over time, the prairie began to speak to her people. And they listened. Perhaps she spoke in the voice that John the Baptist clearly heard. Then again, maybe at sunrise one morning, as the people were gathered on The Land, the sun for a long moment ignited the thick tops of Grama grass and the people heard their own ancient story in a new way:
“Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is Holy Ground.”
Or perhaps it happened one-by-one, quietly, each person hearing the voice speaking so just their heart could hear: in the meadowlark’s song, in the coyote’s cry, in the keening wind, perhaps while gazing at a carpet of wildflowers. But there is no doubt that they began to really see Prairie-as-Christ for the first time. And to hear her cries for love and reciprocity; for help for the suffering earth and all of its suffering inhabitants, humans included.
Some of the details have been lost to time, but we have bits of people’s actual stories from about the year 2020. Here’s one:
“I was alone at the property early one morning. It had been a wet spring that year, and the prairie grasses were already tall and thick. I could see nothing but these grasses all the way to the horizon. There was a breeze gracefully swaying them. It was quiet, and I could hear a variety of birds. The experience was exquisite, and I realized that prairie had become absolutely beautiful to me.
The deeper beauty I have experienced there is from the relationships developed by working side-by-side with others. I feel like we are each playing a part in making something beautiful happen.”
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And another: “I remember my first visit to The Land. It was nothing but a distant windmill and a wasteland bounded by rusted wire. But in the spring, I found a dozen beautiful species of wildflowers adorned in varied colors hidden in the grasses.
I’ve heard Coyotes howling their Amen at miraculous times. I’ve seen the dew-jeweled web in morning light and the golden glow of the grasses at sundown. I’ve huddled against a hard winter wind and taken joy in cool summer breezes.”
Of course, each member of that small community had their own purpose, their own soul calling. The Land spoke directly to each about their unique gifts, their longings, their hopes for creating a new way. Their imaginations were filled with new possibilities for relationship with her and their fellow humans.
In the 2020s they began to shape what would become an evolving, inspired vision of how this sacred prairie could become a dynamic place––as sanctuary and refuge, as living scripture and teacher, as a glad provider and partner, as convener and host, as friend and family.
They imagined rich, generative, and respectful new ways to worship and to witness as a community—and devoted themselves to making it happen.
More voices from 2020: “I took part in communion for the first time, on The Land. Because when I heard “everyone is welcome,” it meant me too.
In The Land, I have found a place where know I can ask questions – of others, and of myself. Where I won’t be judged for the questions I might dare ask. A place where I don’t feel I have to ask questions all the time, but can just sit, listen with my heart, and feel connected. A place that finally feels like home.”
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“Life to me has become more meaningful by just sitting and enjoying the sky, clouds, breezes (sometimes wind), and snow. Laughing with and listening to the sounds of everyone, the dogs interacting, the birds singing and all other creatures that show up to join us…I can see “The Land,” both grounds and people, being an oasis in the middle of so much housing and hustle and bustle. It will be a place to come and be a community for all.”
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“I believe The Land is a treasure for me because of the practical spirit it fosters in me and the honest sharing it makes possible and real.”
The people’s hearts and souls were nourished by The Land, so they offered nourishment back to The Land and, with hard work and deep faithfulness, they and The Land fed many hungry people.
More voices from that time: “And now I’ve seen the soil, recalcitrant at first, accept the rich organics and rejoice in daily water to yield a dozen harvests for humans in need.”
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“We try to use The Land to literally and spiritually “feed” our community, both with the bounty of our garden and the example of our love and service.”
They knew that this 10-acre patch of Creation could teach profound lessons so they committed to creating a Prairie School, where youngsters and families could experience the wisdom of The Land.
Another real voice from those times: “Alone, in the gathering dusk, facing East on The Land, I hear the breeze speak: ‘You must learn the story of this place and then teach it. Learn the story of each being and the living web they form. There are thousands of beings on whose home you are standing, who represent thousands of generations of successful history, far predating human presence here. Beings whose resilience is now sorely strained by homo sapiens and its enterprises. Learn this place as if it were the highest of holy scripture––because it is.’ ”
Ultimately, the People of The Land knew that this gift of prairie land should be preserved and encouraged to flourish as much as possible. They pledged their loyalty to that cause.
The people were in love; just listen to this: “We try to learn to share The Land with our co-inhabitants and we try to honor our predecessors by conserving the sacred space that we love and rely upon. We do this by reminding ourselves and the world of the love Christ fills us with for all of Creation…We cannot “improve” on The Land, God has created it in Her image. We can only seek to create a Land that calls out to humanity and creation saying “join me” I will give you peace, I will lift you up, I will fill you with Love.
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And this: “I have had a suspicion that it’s been The Land that has done the best at stewarding- the prairie and all of its inhabitants as well as visitors, like us two-leggeds who show up now and again…She is resilient and has given us space to walk in it as we enter this season. Her generosity is the best example of stewardship.”
In short order, the People’s deep and prayerful commitment—their passion and Spirit-filled good work became widely known. In fact, their spirit became contagious and spread like a restorative prairie fire. New people—seekers, partners and allies, and families–– flowed to The Land, bringing their longings, their resources, and talents.
The Land and her people found their voice together, and to this day, they are active emissaries of hope and light and renewal.