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About the episode

Happy New Year and Happy Epiphany! In Jesus, God manifested God’s self in the world! New Years and Epiphany are about new beginnings with God, so what better place to begin again than in the book of Genesis. John Muir can help us: “When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.”

In this episode, Melissa has a conversation with Bishop Wright about beginning again with God, Epiphany, creation, and John Muir. They discuss creation, how God’s creation is medicine, and disrupting our routine to grow closer to God. Listen in for the full conversation.

Transcript

Bishop Wright: 0:00

Who is this God that paints zebras black and white? And on and on and on it goes, and then, beyond that, if you go further, then there’s the genius that starts to emerge, and the genius is that I am a gifted creation of God, living on a planet with other creations of the same God, and that should make us want to do better in just about every category

Melissa: 0:40

Welcome to For People with Bishop Rob Wright. I’m Melissa Rau and this is a conversation inspired by For Faith, a weekly devotion sent out every Friday. You can find a link to this week’s devotion and a link to subscribe in the episode’s description. Happy New Year, bishop.

Bishop Wright: 0:57

Happy New Year.

Melissa: 0:59

I was telling Easton earlier 2024 is my year. I love it. Yes, and I was so excited to read your devotion that you named beginning, yeah, based off of Genesis 1. I guess that’s where you get your inspiration for this particular devotion, so, and Genesis 1 is just so kind of like basic. And then you pull out the big guns and you’re quoting John Muir, and it’s such a lovely quote and so short. I’m just going to say it says John Muir said when we contemplate the whole globe as one great dew drop, striped and dotted with constituents, or with continents and islands flying through space, with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.

Bishop Wright: 1:51

Yeah, so when you were reading that quote from John Muir which is in the meditation, you made a bit of a gaffe. You know, the word in his quote is continents and you said constituents. And let’s call that a Freudian slip, because it’s beautifully both and right Continents and constituents, because I think Muir wouldn’t object to noticing that part of God’s creation is siblings. You know, constituents, colleagues, brothers and sisters, and all of us who are on this sort of one great dew drop, you know, called the universe and called the world. So I think you’re on to something.

Melissa: 2:31

Yeah, well, I was really excited to read the devotion because I happen to be reading John Muir’s the Yosemite, yeah, and I’m very, very drawn to hiking the John Muir trail. So that has always been a dream and I was like, oh gosh, if I can do this in 2024, what an incredible thing. And so I’m reading the Yosemite and I get your devotion. And I was so excited because John Muir I just don’t know that a lot of people know enough about him.

Bishop Wright: 2:59

Well, yeah, and so in a you know, in a thumbnail sketch. So John Muir is what we might call a mystic. You know he’s heralded as one of America’s great mystics. I would put him alongside of Howard Thurman, who comes along later. And for John Muir it was creation, it was the forest, it was the mountains, it was the rivers, it was the streams, it was the natural world. And in the natural world he saw God and because of John Muir and his passion and his poetry and his unusual life lived. You know, we have the natural parks that we have. He was able to persuade policymakers and presidents that one of their best ways that could be stewards of this country was to make you know parks something that were sacrosanct and nature and protection acts for all creation. So we have John Muir to thank and we can go and we can live and breathe in those places. And that has a lot to do with John Muir and others. And so we’re saying Muir M-U-I-R. For those who don’t know him, he’s worth a Google and he’s got a lot to say to us. And I wanted to call on him. You know, at this first four people and four faith that I wrote because, you know, in our church we start off with epiphany, right. So the 12 days of Christmas and then epiphany, and epiphany is just this new revelation, this new insight, and it’s basically the ways in which God is showing up. And so let’s start at the beginning, and so one of the lessons that we use for this Sunday, for Sunday in epiphany or for Sunday after the epiphany, really is the Genesis story. How did we get here, right? And you know, how did God sing the universe into being? You know the scientists tell us, you know that there was this event, and the Bible talks about that event with a particular way, in a particular way and through the particular sort of poetry that is the Hebraic genius in mind. Nevertheless, we’re here, and all around us there is gift, and so so Mior just he brings his poetry to that, and I think we’ve got to get connected to the fact that we are creation, living with other creation, and we are not in control of it, we are stewards of it, but we are the beneficiaries of it, and I think that’s a great place to start off our conversation with God in 2024.

Melissa: 5:45

I love that and I love how you married the epiphany message as the gift. I’m also struck by the wise men who were a bit of adventurers and, like John Mior I you know I was thinking about it. What would it take to just be an explorer? You know, I was looking John Mior up a little bit. I don’t know that, he was wealthy, wealthy. He emigrated from Scotland when he was 11 years old and, you know, grew up, did all the things, dodged the giraffe for the Civil War in Canada and then came back to the States and just really did his thing. But he did so much exploring ended up getting malaria from the bogs of Florida and that was all over the entire. I think Western hemisphere Gosh like, unlike the wise men or the wise people who set out just to seek and understand. That, to me, is boggling my mind right now. Bishop.

Bishop Wright: 6:44

Well, there is something about this disruption. So the epiphany is the wise men arrive, the wise men, and we know no doubt they were guided probably by some wise women, and so they travel over nature, from what we would call sort of Iraq, across sand and Hill and Valley etc. To end up kneeling on the floor of a barn in front of a peasant family. And so I think one of the messages in epiphany that connects to John Muir is that in 2024, we ought to disrupt our routine and take a trip. It sounds simple, maybe even simplistic, certainly inconvenient for many people listening perhaps, but I think this notion of adventure sharpens the awareness, heightens the awareness to be on the road, to be in nature. As I’ve said on this podcast before, one of the things I get to do is I usually walk about three and a half miles or so every morning down by the Chattahoochee River, which is here in Georgia, and there’s all manner of floor and fauna there. There’s owls and hawks and all kinds of ducks, there’s fishing herons and we see snapping turtles. I mean it’s an amazing thing to be reminded, in the quiet of that walk early morning, that we are utterly surrounded by all these kinds of curious manifestations of creation that come from a single source of genius, and that puts us, I think, or at least I feel like it puts me, in relationship to other things, and so I hope that my natural predisposition, or our natural predisposition as human beings, gets curbed a bit when we live in relationship to creation. I didn’t make the river flow. I didn’t put the rocks in the river. I didn’t tell the heron where to fish. I didn’t tell where the snapping turtle. I didn’t tell the snapping turtle where to hide. I didn’t tell I have no idea why the deer move in the morning and not later on in the day, and so I have to have a posture of curiosity, and so I think that’s a great posture for God. What is to be learned about God from this tree? What is to be learned? I mean it sounds perhaps silly to some people who might be listening, who are busy and are rushing to and fro, and it’s about achievements, accomplishments and these sorts of things and bottom lines and all of that and all that’s important. I get it, but if we’re not careful will flatten out our humanity, and I think that’s one of the reasons why depression is stalking so many of us. It is episodic as well as sort of chronic. I think even the chronic is being amplified by how flat our lives are, and so, as Muir tells us, the cure is a walk in nature. A cure is to see yourself in relationship to creation, and there’s so many examples of this in scripture. And I wonder, in our artificial boxes that we’ve made so convenient and temperature controlled and hermetically sealed and all those sorts of things, fluorescent lights and all Well if we haven’t given away a part of ourselves, which now we are learning that we are utterly deficient by giving away, and I think the way back is to walk out in beauty. I love that.

Melissa: 10:42

Well, let’s talk more about that after a short break. And now back to For People Jesus in America the study there was a really interesting statistic that something like 89% of people who took this feel closest to God in nature. Yeah, I don’t know the number.

Bishop Wright: 11:14

I do know I have a colleague of mine, a friend of mine, who’s up in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I may have referred to him before and he is an Episcopal priest, His name is Jimmy Bartz and Jimmy’s doing phenomenal ministry there and it has been a great honor for me to be able to talk about this prayer and it has everything to do with trout fishing and hiking the Tetons and being out among the moose and the bear, et cetera. And he said something to me many years ago and that was that he felt like if he took people out into nature and they said their prayers and were around campfires and exploring beauty and creation all day, he could move their spiritual needle even faster than they could, than he could preaching to them on 52 Sundays. So in three days in nature versus 52 Sundays. I think there’s something there, and so you know I like to talk about nature as the cathedral not made with hands.

Melissa: 12:15

I love that so much. So let’s talk about that study. Friends, the Episcopal Church sponsored a study, I think, led by Ipsos I think that’s how you say their name conducted by that, where I think there were over like 5,000 respondents or something across the entire country about Jesus in America, and there was one section that was about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on religious activity and it revealed that outdoor activity is the common ground for spiritual fulfillment in the majority and we’re talking like crazy, like in the 80 percentile that people feel closest to God. And so I’m thinking about wonder and I’m thinking about beauty, and I imagine that if we’re so hell-bent on discovering and recognizing and being curious about God’s beauty, it might be really difficult for us to wage war.

Bishop Wright: 13:17

Well, yeah, I think it’ll be difficult for us to do a lot of things. I was just talking to a group of bishops, you know, prior to our recording this podcast, and I was noticing with them you know a lot of what the prophets do. You know, in the Bible and Jesus does is pattern recognition right, the way in which we convene, the way in which we gather and the way in which we sort of do things is pattern recognition. And I was noticing to these group of colleagues wonderful group of colleagues that when I look at the prayer list that goes out, you know, for the house of bishops, you know it looks like all woe and mayhem. Right, and don’t get me wrong, you know there’s a lot wrong with the world and there are people standing in need of prayers and certainly that is part of our life with God and with each other. But as we scroll down from this very long list of all the bad things that are happening in the world, there was only one item under the heading Thanksgiving and if I bring my pattern recognition there, I can identify that perhaps there’s something wrong here. Right, as a good friend of mine used to say, what’s wrong with this picture? And so what awe and what wonder do right is? They create buoyancy for us, and I think that’s sort of what’s wrong with the church in many expressions is that the awe and wonder has gone out of it. Right, and what we’ve focused now on was what I like to call the CNNification of prayer, which is a litany of all that is wrong, and again, I’m not poo-pooing what’s wrong. Clearly, what is wrong is wrong. There’s a lot wrong with the way in which we are human together in lots of places, not the least of which, which is Gaza, but also at our own addresses and in our own family systems. Right, but the way out of that, I think, has to do with recentering God. It’s about awe and wonder. I think that that helps to change the temperature, the spiritual temperature, and when we can do that, then we start to focus on our interconnectedness, right, and I think we also start to connect on our mortality right. We’re afraid in the west of our mortality. We’re afraid to talk about it, right, but one of the things that focusing on the fact that I am here for a season and then gone like the grass and like the flowers is that perhaps I’m persuaded to not be greedy and gather all that I can, but actually to live a little bit more gently alongside of people right, to maybe give my ego a pass at every intersection, right, and to sum up, some other kind of courage and gentleness and faithfulness. And so I think creation is medicine. John Muir thought creation is medicine. You know, I remember being a little boy who was a National Geographic, jacques Cousteau, wild Kingdom Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom guy, and I just remember being so fascinated, you know, about who is this God that paints zebras black and white, and you know I mean, and on, and on, and on it goes. And again, these kinds of conversation can sound utterly lightweight to some people. And then, beyond that, if you go further, then there’s the genius that starts to emerge. And the genius is is that I am a gifted creation of God living on a planet with other creations of the same God, and that should make us want to do better in just about every category we can imagine.

Melissa: 17:01

For sure. Well, and you know, it is the new year and I’m sure a lot of people are considering what they’re going to prioritize, what their intentions are, and I know, just personally the word discipline keeps coming to mind that I need to be more disciplined in the unsexy areas of my life. And, gosh, it feels good to have a completely straight house where everything has its place and it’s made its way there. No, honest to God, I feel freer and it’s just. I think it’s a paradox. It’s ironic that the more disciplined one is, I think, the more free one can be. And how disciplined might we need to be to make space or make room for adventure or nature and to be able to recognize beauty that much more deeply.

Bishop Wright: 17:52

Yeah, I mean, you know, all the data backs up what we’re trying to say here. All the smart people affirm what I’m trying to say, and you know it is time to smell the roses. Go and sit by a river. You know, and God knows I love my phone and you know, and all those sorts of things, but but really I’m not big on resolutions. Most resolutions are broken in the first 48 hours and God bless you if you’re a resolution keeper and maker, or maker and keeper, rather. But you know, here’s an invitation I don’t know about resolutions. Here’s an invitation Go sit by a river, you know. You know, go to. You know, go to here. We’re here in Atlanta and so we have a wonderful aquarium. You know there’s a gigantic, you know, seating area where you can sit and watch the whale shark swim. Go watch the whale shark swim for an hour Right, no other agenda than that and see what occurs to you. You know they have this beautiful coral reef exhibit. You know that’s community. Go and look at that coral reef and its colors and see how these fish sort of are interdependent, you know, on each other. Might they teach us something. They might teach us something about how we can, how we can be together, anyway, and on and on and on, like that, I think. Or you know, there are so many opportunities, you know, within our grasp, at this park where I walk, one of the beauties that is a slow beauty that comes to me is that we’ve been walking here. I’ve been in Atlanta 22 years. I’ve been at this house in this location 11 years, and so I’ve had the benefit of walking in the summer, walking in the spring, walking in the fall, walking in the winter, and so to see the trees shed their beauty and stand strong, you know, even in the cold and in the storm and in the rain, and then to come back around and to green and to see the new green and then to see the seasons give way to each other. You know I preach for a living and I can’t out preach that. You know there’s no preacher can out preach that and what that says about time and God and God’s genius.

Melissa: 20:17

Have you been to Blue Heron Nature Preserve outside of Buckhead?

Bishop Wright: 20:21

Yes, I have yes.

Melissa: 20:23

You know, I was listening to you and I was also reminded the fact that God’s image and likeness, like we, have been made in both, and I think part of God’s likeness is to be a creator, obviously, which means we get an opportunity to be creative and create alongside God. And I think that Blue Heron Nature Preserve does an incredible job of that because they have, like, manmade, reclaimed art throughout the entire thing, and you know their playground is made from wood, fallen wood from trees. You know like they create, they co-create with God in such an incredible way. There are so many parks and so many places that do such a great job at that.

Bishop Wright: 21:07

So I mean, I guess that’s really the ask here for any of our listeners, wherever you are, you know, as best you can, you know, just get out. You know, and I’m a big proponent of this prayer and that is okay, god, here I am, show me what you got. You know, another way to say that more religiously would be you know, speak, lord, for your servant is listening. You know, if you want to update it, refresh it and give it a little urban swag, Okay, god, here I am, show me what you got. And to really hold steady there and really, you know, work on not, you know, sort of answering every call from the iPhone, the Apple Watch or the iPhone, and just being there. And you know, as my mother used to say, give yourself some time to hear yourself, think. And so I think one of the things that creation does for us, beauty does for us, nature does for us, is that it calls us back to ourself.

Melissa: 22:08

Indeed Bishop. Thank you so much. Happy New Year.

Bishop Wright: 22:13

Happy New.

Melissa: 22:13

Year and my prayer is going to be God, show us what you got. What you got, God. Thank you listeners for listening to For People. You can follow us on Instagram and Facebook at Bishop Rod Wright. Please subscribe, leave a review and we’ll be back with you next week.