Wendy Janzen is a spiritual director who provides pastoral leadership for Burning Bush Forest Church in Kitchener, Ontario, and also serves with Mennonite Central Committee Ontario in the Indigenous Neighbors Program.
During this pandemic, we have had limitations placed upon us. Our world has become smaller. We have been asked to keep a six-foot distance from others beyond our closest bubble in order to keep us safe from the virus. This protocol can leave us feeling isolated and physically distant, longing for human touch and the freedom to give a hug or hold a hand.
Despite this distancing from other people, there is no distance between us and the Divine Presence, the Spirit and Breath of Life, in whom we live and move and have our being, and who lives in us.
Paul puts it beautifully: I have every confidence that nothing – not death, life, the present, the future, height, depth, thinkable or unthinkable, visible or invisible – can come between us and the love of God (my paraphrase of Romans 8:28-39).
There is also no need to stay physically distanced from nature.
Within our six-foot radius, we can hug a tree, lie on the earth, smell a flower, stand in a creek, feel the wind on our face, dig around in a garden or enjoy the sweetness of an apple. This physical contact with the natural world puts us in direct connection with our Creator, whose goodness is revealed in creation.
While reflecting on this six-foot bubble we are asked to keep, it struck me that it might be helpful to reframe it in light of an ancient Christian prayer practice called the Caim Prayer. Also known as an encircling prayer, it is a prayer of sanctuary, where pray-ers create an invisible circle around themselves with an extended finger. This circle reminds them of God’s close presence and offers a sense of safety and love. Once the circle is created, they invite into the circle certain blessings while asking God to keep their opposite afar.
Here is one example of an encircling prayer:
Circle of Love, open my heart,
Circle of Wisdom, enlighten my mind.
Circle of Trust, protect my path.
This day, bring peace within, keep anxiety afar,
Bring health within, keep sickness afar,
Bring joy within, keep sorrow afar,
Bring hope within, keep despair afar…
Bless and encircle me
With your presence in this place
And every place.
In addition to praying this prayer with your invisible circle, you may wish to take some time to go outside to a favorite spot and create a literal six-foot circle around yourself. Take time to slow down and notice everything that is living (or dying/dead) in that circle. What can you call by name? What is unfamiliar? Take note and decide to learn more about it.
Use your curiosity and your senses to observe the sights, sounds, smells (and maybe tastes?) within your circle and to touch the plants or dig around in the earth with your fingers.
What can you learn about God through these beings you encounter?
Enjoy the opportunity to be up close and personal with creation, and offer gratitude and praise to our Creator for the beauty and wonder that can be found when we stop to pay attention.
Bless to me the sky that is above me,
Bless to me the ground that is beneath me,
Bless to me the friends — furry , feathered, or fronded — who are around me,
Bless to me the love of the Three deep within me
and encircling me and the greater community of life.
(Adapted from St Columba, by Mary DeJong on Waymarkers website)
Learn more about the Mennonite Spiritual Directors Network at mennosdn.org.