While I sat in an old oak grove early Sunday morning, a time in my life replayed, bringing memories of working with consultants to raise funds for building churches.
My thoughts drifted back to the 1980s when seven area congregations decided to have larger, more beautiful places of worship. In this venture, I attended steering committees’ planning sessions to capture the words, spirit and direction of the campaigns. Along with other creative folks, I designed printed promotional materials to bring forth new direction and enthusiasm.
As golden oak leaves waltzed to the earth, I wondered if any of us considered the church grounds as a place to worship. I think not — but then, why would we? Our time was focused on visions of intricately designed stained glass windows, adequate seating, exterior renderings, church history and future, festive banquets, and going forward for the glory of God.
A stirring piano melody returned me to the present, and I caught up to the pastor’s message of adjusting to these times, normal and not normal, and how to truly rest as Jesus did and not feel guilty about it.
The warm California sunrise fell on our shoulders. It has a way of welcoming us to each day, bringing a visual of God’s creativity and how all living things are evidence that God is here with us. Easter sunrise is celebrated with deeper meaning but every sunrise is, in its own way, glorious beyond words. A certain assurance awaits us for showing up, even at home with coffee or tea. “This is the day the Lord has made.”
Our pastor was now referencing the importance of spending time doing what we truly enjoyed, even if it might not seem like resting. Quarantine days, fractured time, have oddly redefined time. Author Madeleine L’Engle divided time into two Greek words, chronos (clock) time and kairos (lost in the experience) time. It was good to be reminded of kairos, especially in the outdoors, because that’s often where we discover stillness, awe and majesty.
“Easter sunrise is celebrated with deeper meaning but every sunrise is, in its own way, glorious beyond words.”
Now birds were singing along in harmony, and I noticed a simple labyrinth, a maze to walk around in and lose track of one’s direction; a place of contemplation. I first saw labyrinths in Europe, where their meticulous, elaborate gardens rival the medieval mountaintop castles.
Most church labyrinths in our area are simple; you can almost see Jesus in his sandals walking them as you begin your walk.
Christina Miller explains labyrinths in her blog: “Prayer labyrinths give us a physical process for seeking deeper intimacy with God, classically by directing our steps to follow 11 circles and four quadrants of a pattern. The journey is marked by three stages. The first stage, purgation, is the process of releasing cares, distractions and worries while walking toward the center. The second stage, illumination, is when the pilgrim reaches the center. The pilgrim stops to pray and meditate, receiving whatever God has for them. The final stage, union, begins when the pilgrim walks away from the center. They reflect on their experience and prepare to carry out this deeper intimacy with God as they re-enter their daily lives.”
As we partook of Communion before leaving, I was reminded that no matter what, church is community, the simple act of showing up because you might not even be aware that you need to hear or say the words, sing or listen to the songs, experience or receive the power of prayer with others, and feel a sense of belonging to a larger family.
I can only imagine church leadership meetings now with a new perspective: creativity in outdoor worship. And through ongoing safety challenges and with God’s Spirit, some amazing things are happening around the country:
- Worship in nearby parks or gardens.
- Drive-up services in autos.
- Prayer walks (“holy hikes”) at nature sanctuaries.
- Worship in adjoining downtown alleys, with messages delivered from balconies.
- Recorded kayak devotions to share.
As always, worship and the church’s real missions are the focus to:
- Reach out to the lost in the community and the world to build for God’s kingdom.
- Teach the congregation, support and share in their faith journeys and life events.
- Serve as we are called to do, no matter where we are.
I’m liking worshiping in God’s cathedral. “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12).
Phawnda Moore is a Northern California artist and award-winning author of Lettering from A to Z: 12 Styles & Awesome Projects for a Creative Life. In living a creative life, she shares spiritual insights from traveling, gardening and cooking. Find her on Facebook at Calligraphy & Design by Phawnda and on Instagram at phawnda.moore.