Apr 17 2015

The Circle of Love

Clingman Dome sunset (h) crThis past week Rob Sheppard was here doing a photography workshop for John James Audubon State Park.  Once the workshop was over we had some time to run around and visit some of my favorite places in the area.  One of those places is New Harmony, Indiana.  Once the site of an utopian experiment it is now something of a living museum.  The Roofless Church is located there and a number of historic buildings.  In New Harmony you will find a memorial garden honoring Paul Tillich and a number of other impressive gardens.  New Harmony also features a couple of labyrinths.

AGPix_summers402_0387_Lg[1]Labyrinths have been used for centuries as a tool for prayer.  I took Rob to one labyrinth that is modeled after the famous one located at the cathedral at Chartres.  While we were there I noticed a sign I don’t remember seeing before.  On that sign was the following quotation attributed to Black Elk: “Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle.  The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls.  Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours.  The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle.  The moon does the same, and both are round.  Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were.  The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.”

I remember from some previous studies that circles were very important to Native Americans.  Some believed that natural arches continued underground and formed circles.  Medicine wheels also played an important role in some tribes.  Black Elk’s words remind us that there are many examples in nature where the Creator has utilized circles—the earth, stars, wind, nests, the sun and moon, and the seasons.

_CES7969I like to think that a circle also portrays the love of God as it is revealed in the Scriptures.  The Bible declares that “God is love” and I believe that God’s love encircles or encompasses everybody.  I also happen to believe that you and I are supposed to love as God has loved us.  At our recent Maundy Thursday service, where we paused to remember Jesus’ “new commandment” which tells us that we are to love one another as Christ has loved us, I used a passage from a poem by Edwin Markham as part of my message: “He drew a circle that shut me out–heretic , rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle and took him in!  I do, in fact, think God likes circles and that when it comes to love He expects us to draw a circle that will take everyone in, even our enemies.

When I pause to remember that the circle of God’s love included me I feel both obligated and inspired to love others too. I hope you’ll think about that when you happen to come across one of the many circles that can be found in nature. Perhaps one reason God used so many circles was He knew we would need the reminders.

–Chuck

(I took the top image in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the middle one in Middlesboro, KY, and the bottom one in Henderson, KY.)


Nov 19 2014

The Roofless Church

_DSC2921This past weekend my wife and I went over to New Harmony, Indiana, to spend the night.  I had visited this historic community once before but was glad for the chance to go back.  New Harmony was the site for two utopian experiments in the nineteenth century.  Although those experiments failed today New Harmony is one of the most spiritual places I’ve ever visited.  I would use the Celtic phrase “thin place” to describe it as the veil separating earth and heaven seems especially thin there.

_CES2121One of the reasons I was looking forward to going back was the fact that I had learned a good bit more about New Harmony, and especially the Roofless Church, in John Philip Newell’s latest book, The Rebirthing of God.  In an early chapter of that book Newell deals at length with the spiritual significance of the Roofless Church and also a particular sculpture found there by the sculptor Jacob Lipchitz called “The Virgin” or “The Descent of the Holy Spirit.”  The Roofless Church, as the name implies, is a church without a roof. It was built by the Robert Lee Blaffer Trust and was dedicated in 1960.  A brochure on the site says the building was created “for an interdenominational church with the concept of one roof, the sky, to embrace all worshipping humanity.” As far as I know no regular services are held in the Roofless Church but it certainly provides a worshipful experience for those who choose to visit it.  It also offers a needed reminder that not all churches or places of worship can be found under a roof.

_CES2074In many ways Creation itself serves as a “roofless church,” or at least it does for me.  I often sense God’s presence when out in the open watching the clouds float by or gazing up into the starry heavens.  Viewing Creation as The Roofless Church reminds us that God cannot be put in a box.  It, better than any building, points to the transcendence of God.

_CES2050Over the years I have been blessed to visit many of the most beautiful churches ever constructed.  I’ve been to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, St. Peter’s in Rome, Notre Dame in Paris, St. Stephen’s in Vienna and the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.  All are majestic and awe-inspiring structures but none compare to the majesty and beauty of Creation.  No ecclesiastical building I have visited or worshiped in draws me into God’s presence the way nature does.  I am certainly grateful for nice roofed churches to worship in but it is the “roofless church” of Creation that I find most conducive for worship.

I wish more people would begin to look at Creation as The Roofless Church.  It might just lead them to worship more often.  It might also motivate them to take better care of this “church.”  In most churches I’ve served the members take great pride in their buildings and go to great length to keep them clean and operable.  If we viewed the earth as The Roofless Church I’d like to think we would offer it more respect and do all we can to keep it clean and healthy.

If you’ve never visited the Roofless Church in New Harmony I hope you get the chance to do so someday.  Even more so, I hope you will begin to view the world around you as The Roofless Church and take advantage of the opportunities it affords you to offer the Creator your worship and praise.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures used above at New Harmony last weekend.)