What’s wrong with making nature your temple?

Many people, who live beyond the bypass, don’t know D.C. like I do. They’re not even aware that Dodge City still has an official marshal, or that his name is Allen Bailey. In addition to his public duties, now more promotional than policing, Marshal Bailey is a painter of western art and a very good singer and songwriter. He and his wife, Cowgirl Janey, host a show on the local public radio called Western Swing and Other Things. I’ve sat around the campfire with both, so I emailed the Marshal and asked him to refresh my memory about the title of a song I’ve heard him play. Al Goodhart and Florence Tarr wrote the song, but you can hear a lot of different folk sing it: Guy Mitchell and Rosemary Cluny, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Red Foley and Gene Autry. Shucks, I suppose the Marshal and Cowgirl Janey sing it too. Here are the lyrics:

Oh, the place where I worship
Is the wide open spaces
Filled by the hand of the Lord,
Where the trees of the forest
Are like pipes of an organ
And the breeze plays an amen chord.
 
All the stars are the candles
And they light up the mountains.
Mountains are altars of God.
Oh, the place where I worship
Is the wide open spaces
Where the sun warms the peaceful sod.
 
There’s a carpet of green
And a sky blue roof above
And I’m welcome there alone
Or with the one I love.
 
In your heart your heart take a good look
If you follow the Good Book
You surely find your reward
Oh the place where I worship
Is the wide open spaces
Built by the hand of the Lord.

 

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It’s an old song, but its theme is ageless: the notion that nature makes a more worthy sanctuary than anything built by us. The problem is that we don’t become ourselves, become more human, become who we were meant to be, by our contact with nature. That’s something that human beings must do for each other

Admittedly, retreating to nature, now and again, can help that process along. The Lord Jesus does so in the gospel.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil (Lk 4:1).

 

And what is that temptation? To read life on his on terms, as only the fulfillment of his needs, his desires. We emerge from nature, which means, like all else in nature, that we have needs.

“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered him,
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone” (Lk 4: 2-4).

 

The temptation then shifts to the human scene, the source and center of our deepest joys and woes. Will Jesus give himself away in love of others, or will he selfishly try to make himself the center of his world?

Then he took him up and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
The devil said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.” (Lk 4: 5-8).

 

The Evil One does get right to the point. You can’t be human alone, you can only be human with others, and to be human is always to be directed toward something. Humans are always striving, always growing, always yearning. That’s the meaning of the word “worship.” Either we worship something worthy of ourselves, something truly beyond ourselves, an utter mystery of truth and love and beauty, or we find something small and mean and make it our God, usually without the clarity of admitting that to ourselves.

Notice where the last temptation occurs. In Israel’s most sacred precinct, the temple.

Then he led him to Jerusalem,
made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, for it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,
and:
With their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone” (Lk 9:11).

 

And what is the temptation? That Christ can claim membership in his people, that he comes to the temple itself, only to test God, to upturn the order of creation itself by asking that God prove his love for a man, rather than man proving his love for God. To worship is to declare ourselves open to another, to a mystery revealed in a people, a love which claims us.

Nature, the great outdoors, the animals and all creatures of the earth, render God perfect homage, true worship, because they simply are what he created them to be. We are the only spot in the cosmos that has to decide whether or not we will become what God wants of us. We alone choose to love God, and we must do that in the most human of ways: in the company of others, in the place where his community assembles.

Do you think your attendance each week doesn’t matter? Imagine if everyone who poured into church on Easter and Christmas were here every week. That sign alone would be stronger than any preaching or singing. Indeed, both of those might be rather bad, but simple to see the mystical body of Christ gathered is to look upon the face of Christ. The place where I worship is with my brothers and sisters, the only face of Christ I’ve seen so far.

Deuteronomy 26: 4-10  Romans 10: 8-13  Luke 4: 1-13

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Sandi Sinor
1 year 10 months ago
We alone choose to love God, and we must do that in the most human of ways: in the company of others, in the place where his community assembles. Where is that place? Jesus said that wherever two or three are gathered, he is there. I believe that God is with all of us, everywhere at every moment of our lives, whether alone or with other people. More and more people believe that formal worship, in a man-made building totally closed off from God's creation, surrounded by hundreds of strangers does nothing to bring them closer to God. Saying that to worship God, we must do it in the company of others makes no sense. ... but simple to see the mystical body of Christ gathered is to look upon the face of Christ. The place where I worship is with my brothers and sisters, the only face of Christ I’ve seen so far. What do you mean by the "place where you worship"? I agree that we see the face of God in other human beings. But we can see God's face in everyone, wherever we find ourselves - n the office, on the street, at the bank, in a restaurant, in the face of the store clerk or the teacher who is teaching your child? Do you not see the face of Christ in the homeless person on the sidewalk? Or in the person on the bus who looks so sad? How about in the face of an overtired toddler who is having a public melt-down? Or, in the face of the toddler's over-tired and stressed mother or father? This essay seems to imply that all must attend formal worship with others in order to see the face of Christ. Perhaps I misunderstand you. I meet God in the silence, often that silence is best found in nature. By shutting out the sounds of the world, including temporarily shutting out all the people who usually surround me, I can hear God. I can feel God's present. There is no cacophony of sounds and human endeavour that so often hides God's presence. I still see the face of God in those with whom I live, my family, friends, neighbors, co-workers. If I remind myself, I see God's face in all those I meet during the day. I do like the song. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. Unfortunately the rest of the essay illustrates that many miss the entire point made by those who say they feel closest to God in nature, including the author of the song..
Beth Cioffoletti
1 year 10 months ago
Last week I had the good fortune to visit the 10,000 Island area of Everglades National Park. No commercial fishing, nature rules. Thousands of mangrove islands amidst blue, blue water, I had never been amongst so many pods of wild dolphin, all playfully performing for us with great freedom and joy. There were beaches crowded with hundreds of pelican. But what really caught my eye were the birds - osprey, eagle, cormorants - that stood on the buoys and signs. They looked like Old Testament Prophets. Bold, strong, confident, they were who they were, with absolutely no fear. This was their world. It almost felt as if I had crossed a border of sorts (or crossed the line!) and entered another world, a parallel universe. Perhaps even heaven itself. Like those pelican all crowded together on the beach, I think that we humans are a species and we can only come to know who we are in our dependence upon each other, but I'm not sure that we've got the worship in Churches right.

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