This past Wednesday was Earth Day. I think it is very appropriate that today, Good Shepherd Sunday, is occurring in the same week as Earth Day. If we are called to be God’s hands in the world, surely this means participating in the role of the Good Shepherd; and I imagine that God is not only the Good Shepherd for humanity, but for the entire created world. Thus, we are called as Christians to love and care for all of creation.
Because Earth Day was last week, I made a particular point of experimenting with the spiritual practices of praying in and contemplating nature. One day, as part of this practice, I sat next to a pool in a stream near our home, and just focused on that pool and was present to whatever might be there. When I chose that spot, I thought that my main focus would be on the living things that were present: insects, amphibians, maybe small fish, plants, etc. I found none of those, but instead found myself being aware of the currents and ripples in the water, which included miniature whirlpools formed by the turbulence in the stream; the absolute clarity of the water; the deposition patterns of mud, sand, and decomposing plant material. None of these things are alive, at least not in a biological sense, but I gained an appreciation for how what I observed in this little pool influences and is influenced by nearby plants, animals, and other aspects of the ecosystem.
As I thought about what I would say today, I reflected on this experience and I came to the realization that this experience of finding something other than what I expected to find is not at all unusual in our lives. How often do we enter into something new with some preconceptions about how things will be or what we will experience only to find out that what we actually encounter is something very different? I suspect that this is even more the case when it comes to taking up a spiritual practice, whether it be forms of prayer, meditation and contemplation, study of scripture, service to others, or even the giving of tithes. Nearly every book on spiritual practice I have ever read makes the point very emphatically that spiritual practices are mainly matters to be experienced, not to be understood intellectually, and that each person may find different things of value from a particular practice.
So as we prepare to take up today’s offering, remember that giving can be as much a spiritual practice as prayer or contemplation, and that although nobody know precisely what you as an individual might gain from the practice of giving, we can have faith that giving is likely to yield some reward to you, even if it is not what you might have expected.