Every summer for six years New Life has had a special worship service - Blessing and Being Blessed by the Land. In 2012, we were experimenting with different times and ways to worship out on the beautiful 12 acres of Hill Country land with which we had been entrusted. We thought a blessing would be a good place to start. Also, as we began to really imagine outdoor worship, we thought of other ways and models for worshiping outside, in nature. One important way of thinking, and re-thinking the ways we worship outside is to not only worship in nature, but with it. All of the earth, as we sing often in the Psalms, is praising God - we are joining in the song.
Psalm 19: 1-4
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
Sometimes when we think of models of outdoor worship, we think of camp worship. Camp worship has been formative for many people, but it is not really what we are doing at New Life. We are worshiping outdoors, in and with nature. Sometimes people look to the traditions of Native Americans for models of worship with Creation. There can be a temptation to romanticize those traditions, of which we generally know little, and, worse, to appropriate aspects of the worship of indigenous peoples. One way to learn and be blessed by other ways of worship, and Native ways of worship, is to worship with others, and to be led in worship by them.
What a gift it has been to work with Vance Blackfox, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, for these six years in this service of blessing and being blessed. Vance’s mother, Anita Robbins, has written liturgies with her son each year to share with us as we worship outdoors on the land. These liturgies have blended the history of Cherokee Lutheran worship with other histories of European Lutheran worship to create something new - fitting for the way we are doing something new at New Life. New—and very old. Reconnecting with the way all people once worshiped - out in, and with respect for, the rest of creation. Our worship is casual - but rooted in the ancient rhythms of Christian liturgy: the pattern of gathering, word, meal and sending; the singing of songs, the saying of prayers. Once a year this new thing that we are doing together as a community has been blessed by a service of blessing with Cherokee elements, and words guided by indigenous ways of being and worshiping with creation.
What a gift it is to listen for the birds to join our songs, and to watch for the creatures that live and worship on the land around us. We give thanks to God, and we look forward to many years of blessings to come.