By the Rev. Alicia Randolph Rapking
Parish House Director
I have been struck this summer by the ways that I have noticed nature. I have always appreciated the beauty of the world around us, but this summer I have really noticed nature around me.
I have noticed the birds and their songs, when they sing and when they are silent. I have noticed the progression of one lone spaghetti squash in my raised bed, from the moment I planted it, to how it has almost taken over that one raised bed, to the eight spaghetti squash that we will eat and enjoy later.
I have noticed the bursts of bloom periodically in my garden, have marveled at the height of a sunflower that I did not plant, and held my breath as I have watched butterflies flit to and fro among the blooms of butterfly plants and hydrangeas. All of the awareness of nature this summer has helped me to notice the joy that can be found in creation.
If the temperatures this past week are any indication, I will soon be noticing the joy in the autumn season of nature-the colors, the sounds, the feel, the preparation for winter sleep. I hope you will as well.
This summer I have tried to savor that awareness of the joy in nature. I have tried to notice the changes in growth of plants, the changes from bud to bloom to seed. I have tried to notice all of nature with a question in my heart. Where is my joy and does it show?
At the same time I have been trying to adjust to a diagnosis of fibromyalgia and to the changes that I am trying to make in order to take care of myself. It has been the awareness of nature around me that has allowed me to be honest with myself-I haven't always felt joyful this summer and I am certain that God wants me to have joy in my life.
The large sunflower in my garden, the birds that hang out in our trees, the butterflies that come to call, and so many other examples of joy in nature have been a constant reminder to me to slow down and focus on where there is joy in my life. So, I have lingered more in the garden this summer and sat more in the swing in the hush of the evening, and I have been aware of joy no matter what.
Sometimes our lives are so busy with everything that we jam-pack into them that we are not aware of where the joy is. Sometimes our relationship with God is like that as well-jam-packed. We are desperately trying to figure out where God wants us to go or what God wants us to do. We are desperately pouring out our hearts to God, needing answers, needing solutions and needing directions. In the midst of all of this activity, we need to remember that God wants us to have joy in our lives. We can't let our lives get too busy or too consumed with other things, even if the other things have to do with our faith, that we do not have time to notice the joy in our lives, no matter what the circumstance.
One of my favorite hymns speaks to this notion of noticing joy in nature. The hymn is "God of the Sparrow" and it was written by a Lutheran pastor in 1983. The motivation for writing the hymn was to help answer the question of why and how God's creatures and children are to relate to and serve God. The theme is based on the idea that we love because God first loved us, and in loving God our response to God is to be joyful and to serve. In our loving God and neighbor, our lives can become a response to God as gratitude and service with joy.
The first and last stanzas are my favorites: "God of the sparrow God of the whale/God of the swirling stars/How does the creature say Awe/How does the creature say Praise."
This first stanza reminds me that all of creation knows how to praise and worship God. It is in our nature, in our very being! We just need to be reminded and we can be reminded in the smallness of the sparrows, the greatness of the whale, and the vastness of the stars.
In the last stanza we are reminded that God is the first and the last, beginning and the end, our home, and always with us, no matter what: "God of the ages, God near at hand/God of the loving heart/How do your children say Joy/How do your children say Home."
I hope we are all reminded this week that there is joy to be found all around us and in our hearts as well.
To God be the Glory!
On the parish calendar:
-Back-to-School Block Party, today, Saturday, Aug. 24, from 3-7 p.m., Chapel Hill UMC parking lot.
-Back-to-School Prayer Vigil, today, Saturday, Aug. 24, Chapel Hill UMC. Participants gather at church at 10 a.m., then go out to school locations. Those who cannot join the vigil in person are asked to pray from home during that day for the administrators, students, teachers, and staff of all our schools.
-CROP Walk rally meeting, Monday, Aug. 26, 7 p.m., Chapel Hill UMC.
-Executive Committee, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 5-7 p.m., Parish House
-Circuit Rider Golf Scramble, Friday, Sept. 6, 8:30 a.m., Deerfield Country Club, Weston, $50 each person. Proceeds benefit Scouting. Contact Paul Hanko at 304-826-0174.
-UM Men's Retreat at Jackson's Mill, Friday-Sunday, Sept. 6-8. Theme this year: Why Men Hate Church. Starts with dinner at 5 p.m., worship begins at 7 p.m. Spiritual events all day Saturday and Sunday, including communion service with scouts. Retreat concludes with lunch at 12:15 p.m. Brochure with full information can be found by visiting www.wvumm.org/news-events/2013-annual-retreat/.
-Baked steak dinner, Friday, September 13, 4:30-7 p.m., Chapel Hill UMC. Fundraiser for 2014 mission trip. Cost: $10 for age 8 and up, $5 for children under 8, or a half portion
-CROP Walk, Sunday, Oct. 6.