Introduction and Background

Please introduce yourself and share a bit about your background, wisdom tradition you most identify with, and the language you use in that tradition (Sacred Presence, Creator, Spirit, Universe, etc.).

I am a 71-year-old white male, married with one daughter and three grandchildren.  Currently, I am a spiritual director and a forest bathing guide.  For 40 years I was an ordained United Methodist Minister, with 10 years in parish ministry and 30 years serving on a state university campus, presently with retired status with the church. Over the tenure of my university service, I worked ecumenical and interreligious with several national and international professional organizations. 

For years my language of God, Creator, Spirit, ground of being, first mover was used primarily within teaching situations. In my evolving personal thinking and spirituality, my language has become more of the Celtic spiritual language, the wisdom tradition of Buddhism and native wisdom tradition. At present, my language of the sacred involves, the Beloved, the heart of matter/the heart of God; the sacred flow of creation; endless existence; the thread entwined in life; ultimate reality; creative energy; movement of life; in technical theological language panentheism, quantum theology as a phantasmagorical dance.

Anticipate ~ Inviting Wisdom

In what ways do you invite and engage Wisdom to be present with you? What rhythms or practices help you to be present Now, in each moment, with an expectant, listening heart?

I depend on traditional practices of contemplation/ mindfulness to be at the core of my daily engagement with Wisdom. Often these are practices I engage in nature.  Forest bathing with others has become a venue to be invited into the divine dance of the present. When the location of the forest therapy event has a coastline with a body of water, then another “thin space” (named by the Celtics) is available.  Watching the waves, the movement of the water, or the surf is a vivid means to connect with the rhythm of the beloved.  

Patience learning to listen to nature is a spiritual practice seldom recognized by the Christian church.  So fixated with the revelatory tradition of the Word of God (especially written and spoken) that the suggestion to listen to the earth, the animals or the cosmos strikes a fear of pantheism. 

I have a favorite oak tree in the National Stones River Battlefield which dates before the civil war.  Regular visits under this old oak tree during all the seasons have enabled me to listen to the flow of the sap in the spring, the sounds of birds, squirrels, rabbits, deer, coyotes, and insects who call the tree home.  The dance of the leaves falling and floating, the new growth of moss and buds, the feast of acorns and drip of rain from the canopy is the language of the oak.   I imagine the underground community of her roots co-mingling with roots of her children and neighboring trees – sharing information, nutriment and warnings.  I ponder on her strength, resilience, stability and the very groundedness which holds life in the forest.  I become inspired to remain steady during all the changes of seasons, calamity, and abundance.  

The practice of movement, walking a labyrinth, Zen walks and mediative hikes have enfolded me into the sacred flow of creation.  Fly fishing, as a spiritual practice, is another way I get connected with the rhythm of the spirit. Lectio Divina with Christian scripture, listing to music, art galleries are other practices I use to engage the imagination of the Creator.  Another practice, which has been more accessible with digital media, I engage in is contemplative photography.  

Resonate ~ Engaging Understanding

How do you receive Wisdom’s Life and Presence into your own self? Is there a rhythm or practice that helps you to go deeper or expand your heart, understanding, and awareness in light of each exchange and encounter?

An unusual spiritual practice was taught to me by my cat – Sam (a true Zen master) he would jump up on my lap, place his paws on my chest and stare deeply within my eyes. Here was an invitation to be in the present, to connect with the soul of another being and to listen for the heartbeat of God. After 15 years, Sam died in my arms holding both of us in the cycle of life and death thru the beholding of our eyes. We have a new kitten, Jack, who is just beginning his journey with me into the Zen of eye gazing in shorter moments.

Sitting under a tree with the breeze flowing around me allows me to move deeper into myself.  The movement of the wind seems to move the inner most part of me out into the wide expanse of the world.   A similar practice for me is to float on my back in a river to yield to the current moving me down stream. 

Breathing is the essential link between humans and animals.  To breathe in synchronization with another being is to a profound connection.  Breathing also allows a connection with the divine.  Such that there is a overwhelming connection between breathe and compassion.   When focusing on breath I am creating a dwelling place for God.   

Translate ~ Sharing Knowledge

How do you creatively engage and reflect to others and the world around you what you have gained in the energy of this encounter?

Our culture has lost much of the connective communal experience, especially combined with links to nature.  Forest bathing allows a contemplation within a communal experience – listening to nature along with listening to human interaction. Being in synchronization with all of life in the present moment is too rare in our culture.

As an activist, both within the church and the wider political community, I remember reality is another name for God.  Taking a long loving look at the real in our relationships has been grounding for me.   It allows me to continue to engage, to renew energy when shut out, and to persist to bring forward another vision.  Often, at political rallies and protests, I will simply allow myself to be in the moment by meditation and observation.  I encourage others to repeat over and over, we are all the beloved children. 

It has been my experience that the wisdom, healing, and stability of the forest speak to the very heart of those I guide. The souls of each person light up and share verbally and unspoken from deep within the inner life.  Communal disclosure is profoundly spiritual in simple and significant ways even when it is not always acknowledged as spiritual. 

As I hike with a person in spiritual direction, being grounded in the present becomes alive and tangible. Taking in the smell, the feel and the sounds of the forest do not distract from the probing of the interior world of the directee.  In practice, they become open to experience, reflect and sharing aspects of their life which would probably not be considered inside a room (no matter adornment of the holy). There is a new energy to explore the soul and the holy.   Failures, hopes, doubts, fears, visions simply seem to flow.  Spiritual direction is shared by the forest.  Group spiritual direction at its best.  In fact, group spiritual direction outdoors becomes as powerful as the wind, and soft as a birdsong. 

Breathing in unison creates a concrete reality for the human community. Expanding breathing in harmony with animals, with the trees, with the wind indeed with the whole of nature is to be in the beloved community.  What better blessing than to be grounded and part of the Beloved. Community?

Emanate ~ Embodying Being

What rhythms or practices do you engage to help you become more integrated in your tradition ~ your own wholeness and well-being? Are there any practices from outside your tradition with which you also engage?

I take long solo soul walks, especially during times of stress and organizational fracture (lately the United Methodist Church has been a source of stress and conflict).  

Teaching breath prayers, guided imagery prayers and group breathing practices has become more intentional. Simply creating a breathing community has been vital. Also, the use of silence in group settings, worship and silent retreats. 

Integrating the Celtic teachings of sacredness of the soul (grace of nature or original grace – closed related to the Methodist emphasis of prevenient grace) and the sacredness of nature.  The body of the earth is to be equally shared and honored as sacred.  What is in the deepest part of us is God – true for everyone.  Instead of the prominent Christian teaching that what is in the deepest part of us is opposed to God.   

Practices that inspire me …

  • When does your tradition celebrate the beginning of the new year?

    A watch night service is a strong tradition within Methodism.  Even when it is cold to have a watch night service outside engages the congregation to include nature’s members not thought up.  On the university campus, I would begin the spring semester with this observance. 

    The Longest Night Service is another tradition which recognizes loneliness, sorrow, alienation, sadness during a time with expectations of joy, peace, and wellbeing.  College students were off campus on break during the longest night of the year.  Therefore, I would offer it just before or during exam week (longest nights of the academic year). It became a communal tradition for students for the fall and spring semesters.   A variable of this tradition is called Blue Christmas.  
  • Please share any rituals, celebrations, and/or practices your wisdom tradition engages with or celebrates on the wheel of time/seasons/cycle of the year and their respective dates.

    On campus the experimentation of forgotten rituals and practices was welcomed and transforming for the students, faculty, and staff.  The structure and local traditions of congregations limited exposure to alternative practices and rituals.  When introduced first in an “educational” setting, it was possible to have some limited practice in congregational life.  However, with the divided culture of society and religious life, an changes can be threatening and view with skepticism. Too often, many leaders are not willing to undergo the conflict and patience to attempt new practices in communal life. 

    While on campus, I introduced some “secular” holidays and events into the Christian calendar.  Earth day was celebrated not just to celebrate the earth and advocate for public policies, it was a day of tree planting, cleaning a riverbank with spiritual practices. 

    Arbor Day was another event which included spiritual practices of planting and blessing.

    We would join with the Hindu students on campus for a serious and fun celebration of Holi. It included sharing traditional foods and prayers including throwing colored powder and splashing water on each other. 

    A rabbi would join the students to celebrate a Seder Meal and dialogue about Jewish and Christian spiritual practices.

    Today I continue to share some of these spiritual celebrations and practices with church groups, in spiritual direction and exploring ways to incorporate into specialized Forest Therapy guided walks.  

    I have a practice of taking my grandchildren on long hikes in the woods to listen, hear their joys and concern and find ways to care for nature. Each of my three grandchildren has unique and special spiritual practices. I continue to be amazed with their creativity, imagination, and humor with the divine world. My heart is expanded, our relationship is deepened, and they become my teachers. 
  • Is there anything else you would like to share about your process, practices, or your journey into your particular way of honoring the tradition(s) you currently engage???

    In childhood, I was very comfortable with the language of the church – unconditional love and striving for a good moral spiritual life.  About the age of 11, childhood trauma left me without an adequate language to comprehend my trauma, anger, grief, trust and confusion to be restored a former beneficence. Shame and loss of dignity drove a wedge between myself, the divine and my world.   

    An anchor of solace was found in a cherry tree in a field behind our house.  Before the trauma, I climbed the tree to feast on the ripe cherries which no one picked.  Then, I would climb the tree and lean into her branches at first to commiserate and ease my pain with cherry sweetness.  As sitting in the branches of the tree became a daily ritual, I experienced the restorative veracity which nature offers.  Watching the clouds, feeling the warm of the sun, a reassurance of the breeze, and chilliness of rain, I stumbled into “mindfulness.”  I was becoming aware of a language of benevolence. A deep language of life calling me into future wholeness. 

    The morass of my inner life drove me to now only cope with reality, also drove me to seek a less painful path of intellectual comprehension. It was in college I truly realized my yearning for a philosophical and theology language necessity to grow a spiritual language.  I left oceanographic engineering and wandering into the social sciences before pursuing a theological education.  

    My theology education (masters & doctoral) was in Wesleyan/Anglian tradition with a emphasis on process theology, liberation theology and later Celtic theological tradition. Over the years of theological battle within the church and the secular environment of the university, I have not only changed my theological thinking also my spiritual practice and language.  I have spent years breaking down & teaching theological and biblical language for students, faculty and staff – most of whom had limited exposure outside of a theological tradition, limited religious instruction, or wholesale rejection of religious practice. 

    With this experience, I sought to take basic theological language from many traditions and place within contemporary language (common place & academic). Therefore, my working language with others has been fluid given context, professional role, and informal relations.

    Learning to develop an inclusive spiritual “language” which was incorporated with my theological was neglected and sidetracked for years.  Process theology was a central part of my theological thinking beginning in seminary.  Over the years this theological approach has allowed for not only a ongoing change of the interaction with the divine with the cosmos, but the inclusion of creativity and the imagination in theological thinking.  Imagination and creativity are sorely lacking in our national theological discourse.