Reflection: September 3

Published on Sep 15th, 2017 by Webminister | 0

        This has been a challenging year for us in BC with respect to forests. Fires and floods were what we have experienced this year. And the ongoing attempts to change the culture of cutting trees from clear-cutting to sustainable logging is always before us.

        I don’t quite remember my first encounter with the big West Coast forests; it was probably when I was very small, just a baby, and it would have been Prince Rupert and Haida Gawaii. My earliest recollections were visiting my grandparents when they were in Richmond and we’d go to Stanley Park in Vancouver; but those memories are dim at best. My first real recollection of the big giants of the West Coast of BC was when we moved to Nanaimo when I was 15; we took a trip out to Long Beach on the west side of Vancouver Island and camped there. We stopped at MacMillan Provincial Park along the way, the park just before the hump, as we called it, to Port Alberni. Those trees are massive. Some of those Douglas Firs are up to 800 years old. We know that park as Cathedral Grove, and it is a fitting title if ever there was one. I’ve been back many times since and every time am filled with awe! That’s what the West Coast forests used to be like.

         Something came across my computer screen recently about a UBC professor doing research on forest ecology and forest communication. Suzanne Simard, a forest ecologist, is doing this research. Forests communicate, share resources and live in a symbiotic way! Older trees help younger trees and there’s some kind of electrochemical communication between the roots of trees. (See http://www.ecology.com/2012/10/08/trees-communicate/.) I’ve also heard that plants and forests will share water as part of their breathing systems, taking water from the soil and returning it also and ensuring somehow that plants share the water. Not to mention about being the lungs of the earth and able to take in carbon.

         Forests are pretty amazing. They have so much to teach us about communal living and sharing resources. No wonder conservationists who work to prevent clear cut logging are called tree-huggers. What’s wrong with hugging a tree? It feels like a natural thing and I’ve been known to do it.

         Now, contrast the symbiotic relationship within forests with some of these statistics about computer and screen use in the world. Paul Turley in an article from the Seasons of the Spirit website tells us: “almost half of the world’s total population have access to the Internet; around 22% of the world’s people are signed up to Facebook; in the UK, Canada, Australia and the United States, between 67% and 77% of people own a smartphone; a 2017 survey in the U.S. found that three quarters of American teens owned an iPhone.” In an Australian survey about suicide prevention, it was found that Australians spend an average of 46 hours/week looking at a screen, but only 6 hours with family and friends. (Spirit Sightings, September 3, 2017) That’s astounding!

         No wonder mental health advocates advise putting down your screen and going out into nature; find a tree and hug it. Go for a walk in a park and engage, not just the trees and animals, but the other humans you see there.

         What risks are we called to take in this modern world? What crosses do we carry, to put it into Jesus’ language? I think one of them is interaction beyond our screens. Interacting with the natural world, interacting with our own species, interacting, communicating and learning from one another. That’s something forests are reminding us is important.

         And why not interact? We need human interaction. We need interaction with the natural world around us. Yes, there is some interconnectedness through online activities, but people are feeling increasingly isolated and fearful. One of the things to emphasize as a church is that we are an interconnected group of people seeking to be in community together in some way. We are seeking to be that Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island; the elders among us showing us the way to be human, the young people gifting energy and enthusiasm.

         This weekend is Pride Weekend, and the encouragement this year is for us to be proud of our diversity. In so many ways, we contribute to the strength of our community through diversity. Gay, straight, lesbian, Queer, trans, 2-Spirited, whatever economic status, whatever culture we come from… we all have something wonderful to contribute to this great forest we call the human community of the Kootenays.

What a difference it makes to seek out communities of people with diversity; sociologists tell us that participating fully in a diverse society goes a long way to dispelling the fears some have of “the other.” Carrying our cross as followers of the One we call Jesus leads us to greater encounter with one another; it leads us to be the community we are called to be. Carrying our cross means that we take the risks necessary to be a forest like we used to have on the West Coast of BC, or like the great Boreal Forest that I grew up with in NW Ontario. We are called to be a cathedral of love and diversity, of community and communication.

May it be. Amen.

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