Kindling Neighborly Connections between People and Nature.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Florida Reflections: Finding God among the mangroves

What follows are entries from my personal journal during my recent trip to Florida's Gulf Coast. I think that what I have to share here displays something of my spirituality, relationship with God, and sense of call at this time in my life. While some may find it boring and irrelevant, I wonder if others may find what I have to share helpful and encouraging.

Mangrove forest
At some point during each day, it is my rhythm to set aside at least some time to engage in what I call the 5 R's Method and in doing so, nurture my relationship with God, who I know as The Source of Divine Creativity. In Christian tradition I have come to know Jesus Christ as the personal embodiment of The Source of Divine Creativity. As the one who is called "Immanuel" by the prophet Isaiah, which means "God is with us," it is my understanding and experience that Jesus Christ makes God accessible to humankind. Furthermore, humankind may commune with God by nurturing a relationship with Jesus Christ through the presence and power of God's Holy Spirit who animates all that has life and lives within us so we may communicate with God through prayer.

The 5 R's Method can be summarized as follows: Retreat, Read, Rest, Reflect, Respond.


Venice beach looking towards the Jetty
3/5/2020, 7-8:45am- Started the day with a walk down Venice Ave. to the beach and then north to the Jetty. Found a few interesting shells along the way. Thick fog rolling in from the Gulf made for very low visibility. Nice to see small flocks of sanderling as well as black-bellied plover. Lots of pelicans hanging around the Jetty; must be location of greatest fish density. Ruddy turnstones on the Jetty rocks; a curious bunch, seeming always to be on the move, navigating all the nooks and crannies of the bouldery tidal zone. Sat down at a rock near the Jetty to read Luke 7-8. Today is about resting at the feet of Jesus, the one who I believe to be the fulfillment of the Law of Moses and the Prophets of the Old Testament, and the personal embodiment of the Source of Divine Creativity. Amen. I continued along the bay inlet back to home base.

The Jetty
3/6/2020, 7:15-9am- Started the day off at the Jetty. Read Luke 9-10. Visibility is much better today. White-tipped waves rolling in towards the coast. Enjoyed watching the pelicans and dolphins get their breakfast. Two or three dolphins riding the waves, leaping totally out of the water through the front of the waves! Wow! Also was glad to have met and prayed with a photographer named Adam. Who is my neighbor? What is the nature and scope of the Kingdom of God? My neighbors are those to whom I extend mercy (love, kindness, compassion, and care).
The Kingdom of God is...
love among neighbors
good news for the poor
release for the captive
sight for the blind
freedom for the oppressd
healing for the sick
comfort for the brokenhearted
hope for the hopeless
help for the helpless
new life in Jesus' name.
The Kingdom of God is all-encompassing.

Brown anole
3/7/2020, 2:30-3pm- Read Luke 11-12 sitting by the pool. Cumquat trees to my right and to my left; the fruit of which I find to be extremely tart yet zesty and refreshing, especially in this Florida sun and heat. A brown anole rests on the branch of a tree next to where I sit.
Where is your treasure?
-In my relationship with God
-In my sense of community with wildlife and wild spaces
-In every manifestation of the Kingdom of God

Pelicans fishing off of the Jetty
3/8/2020, 7:45-8:30am- Jetty again. Pelicans fishing just off the rocks. Dolphins out and about just off the Jetty. Snowy egret stalking a fisherman's cooler, the stealthy thief trying to get the award for easiest catch of the day. Read Luke 13-14. I am the fig tree who struggles to produce vital fruit for the Kingdom of God.
Jesus, thank you for being the gardener who never gives up on this fig tree. Nurture this life to fruition for you. Equip and empower me to produce much fruit for the Kingdom of God, in your name.

Mangrove forest at Casperson Beach Park
3/9/2020, 8:55am-12:20pm- Casperson Beach Park- Through the land of cabbage palm and sea grape into the land of red-mangrove where the peninsula narrows. Mangrove roots reach into salty water like long legs near the place where I sit. No wonder red mangroves are called "walking trees." Read Luke 15-16. Faithfulness to the Good News of the Kingdom of God is the aim; faithfulness to God's call upon my life with regard to the Kingdom of God. How may I describe my understanding of my call at the present time? Inspire spiritual and cultural transformation through connection with wild spaces, with the help of God and neighbor, to create a world where wildlife and wild spaces are known as neighbors worthy of our love, kindness, compassion, and care.
It was in March of the year 2006 that I sat among red-mangroves in the everglades. Given the task of finding a quiet place to rest in God's presence and pray for a while, instead I made a spear from a mangrove limb and tried to impale the bonefish for an hour. Of course, I was unsuccessful. Today, about 14 years ago to the day, I rest in God's presence among mangroves at Casperson Beach Park, and as I still my soul, reflecting on Luke 16:8-11, the bonefish are jumping up out of the water just like I remember from years ago, bodies like silvery torpedoes glimmering in the sun over green waters next to this mangrove forest. I have no desire to cut a branch off of one of these mangrove trees to make a spear. I have no desire to hunt or kill a fish. My sense of community with this wild space and its inhabitants is as profound as what I feel in the mountains, but is uniquely different in countless ways. I've changed a lot over the course of the past 14 years.
Lord, my God, thank you for the love which you've given me or wildlife and wild spaces.
Thank you for giving me a heart that is tender and responsive to your work in me;
thank you for giving me a mind and a heart that are open to continual growth and transformation. Thank you for this deeply meaningful experience with you among the red mangroves and silvery bonefishes at Casperson Beach Park today.
Lord, my God, I promise, to the best of my ability and with your help, to invest in my relationship with you, and to live each day in a way that is faithful to your call upon my life as it relates to the Good News of the Kingdom of God. I promise, with your help, to respond to your presence and work in my life with an openness to continual growth and transformation, in Jesus' name. Thank you!
As I sit here writing a yellow-crowned night heron is foraging for fish along the edge of the mangrove forest! Up and walking a little farther along the Casperson Beach Trail, a bobcat crossed the trail 25 feet in front of me! Casually lumbered along giving me excellent looks at its long legs, bob tail, and even the spots behind its ears!

Big Buddy Banyon
3/10/2020 7:56am-10:20am- Big Buddy Banyon Tree (The largest banyon tree in Venice, I've given it the name "Big Buddy Banyon.") Perched on a bench beneath the shade of this mighty tree that is native to India. Interesting that two exotic species from two different parts of the world share this spot. The banyon tree, native to India, and the brown anole, native to Cuba. Read Luke 17-18. When/Where is the Kingdom of God? "The Kingdom of God is already among you." God, who hears our cries for justice, will respond in good time.
For whom do you cry out for justice?
Lord, my God, you've given me special love for wildlife and wild spaces. I cry out to you on behalf of wildlife and wild spaces. I pray that wildlife and wild spaces who suffer under the weight of human captivity and oppression would be set free. Also, my prayer is that those people whose lifestyle and activities do harm to wildlife and wild spaces would be given new sight and transformed hearts by your grace. And I know I must include myself in that. I pray that for all people, that our selfishness, greed, and apathy would give way to love, kindness, compassion, and care for all that has life.
Jesus, I know you can bring about this change because you're doing it in me; though I know that I have a long way to go to more effectively treat wildlife and wild spaces as neighbors to me. Jesus, I am not worthy of this calling but I understand that enjoying my relationship with you and responding to your call upon my life with your help is a gift. I understand that its not about being worthy but about accepting the gift. THANK YOU!
Please, Lord, hear my cries for my wild neighbors as well as for my human neighbors. I pray this prayer in a general sense but also specifically for the vitality of the following today:
-the Venice and Casperson beach habitat
-Casperson beach bobcats
-Florida scrub habitat near Venice, FL
-Gopher tortoises around Venice
-Florida scrub jays around Venice
-Red-cockaded woodpeckers at Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area
-Manatees around Venice
-The injured laughing gull whom I saw at the beach today but was unable to capture.
In the name of Jesus who is the healer of our brokenness and hope for all the world, Amen.

Bay cedar
3/11/2020, 7:55am-11:55am Stump Pass Beach State Park. Walked out to the inlet along the beach and sat down for a while on the big rocks at the end, beyond the plover/tern habitat. Read Luke 19-20. Jesus, like Zacchaeus who went out of his way and even climbed a tree to see you, I've been very intentional about taking time each day, while on vacation this week, to retreat to wild spaces to nurture my relationship with you; to be present, to read of your life and teaching, to listen, to reflect, and prayerfully respond. I hear you speaking into my heart that this is a rhythm that you're inviting me to continue so that my relationship with you may be continually strengthened, and so I may be filled and refreshed by you, equipped and empowered for you.
Lord, my God, thank you for being present with me, and thank you for the invitation to continue this rhythm in the wild spaces of the Pine Creek Gorge and of the Susquehanna River where it enters Pennsylvania for the second time. Thank you for the time I have to take each day, that with your help I may continually deepen my relationship with you. Amen.
Located some black mangrove trees in the mix with red mangroves. The black mangroves identified by oblong pointed leaves, brown scaly bark, thick mats of finger-like breathing roots, an salt sweating leaves. The leaves were perspiring very profusely. I touched one with my finger and tasted the water from the leaf- salty as the sea! Wow!
As I made my way to the interior trail I met PJ. It turned out that PJ knew his native florida plants and is a member of the native plant society. How fortunate to have met him! He was kind enough to let me join him on the park trail and pointed out a great diversity of native plants, including the one I most wanted to see on this trip, the bay cedar. A beautiful plant with soft thin leaves and attractive small yellow flowers. It forms a bush that apparently can become quite large. Some other plants that PJ pointed out are as follows:
Knickerbean (big spiky seed pod!)
Marcene (leaves like small rhododendron)
Strangler fig (rhododendron-like leaves; wraps around cabbage palms)
Beach sunflower (blooms year-round; great for butterflies)
Cocoa plum (edible pinkish-red fruits)
Ink berry (deep purple fruit (berry) which is inky when broken)
Snow bush (distinctive leaf shape)
Buckthorn (PJ located his first one years ago at Stump Pass Beach State Park; I enjoyed his expressed appreciation for it.)
Hercules club (crushed leaves have a very pleasant and distinctive odor)
Spanish needle (disctinctive compound leaf structure.  2 smaller leaves on either side of stem with larger pointy leaf protruding from the end of the stem.)

Ink berry and sea oats on the dunes
3/12/2020, 7:35-8:44am- Sand dunes between Sharkies Restaurant and Casperson Beach. Interesting diversity of hardy yet sensitive dune species. Sea oats. Beach sunflower. Purslane. Ink berry. Fiddler crab burrows. Sand-colored grasshopper.
Read Luke 21-22. Blessing, bread, wine, The Lord's Table, the Kingdom of God among us.
Jesus, I want to commune with you; to be continually filled and refreshed by you; to live for that which is eternal; to work and pray for justice for human as well as wild neighbors; to extend love, kindness, compassion and care to people and to wildlife and wild spaces as well as to the environment as a whole, in your name.
Thank you for inviting me to commune with you, Lord my God, with granola bar and water among the sea oats, ink berry, purslane, and beach sunflower, nestled between the dunes at Venice Beach this morning. Let me be filled and nourished by you so I may be strengthened and sent for you. In the name of Jesus the Christ of all, Amen.

A look at the Gulf from Venice beach
3/12/2020, 1:30pm-4:15pm Venice Beach. Watched terns and gulls for a while. Went for a swim parallel to the shore. Perched on the sand, looking towards the Gulf. Light dances on the waves rolling in, shimmering at the tips as I currently reside at the precipice of two great biomes; LAND and WATER. Read Luke 23-24. HOPE. For me. For all people. For wildlife and wild spaces and for the whole world! The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work everywhere. Resurrection power. New life. Transformation. It is the power of God's love.
Lord, my God, Source of Divine Creativity, let me be equipped and empowered to carry and to share this hope as I continue to take time each day to nurture and deepen my relationship with you, for te sake of Jesus who is the Christ of all. Amen.

One of the tallest palms in the town of Venice, backlit by the moon.

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