Next gathering Sunday 9th September, 3.00pm, meeting in the Upper Lodges car park (Stanmer Park) before heading into the woods.
Open Sky is a gathering of people who are looking for deeper connections with nature, with God and with each other. We meet in the woods or other outdoor places in Brighton on the second Sunday afternoon of each month. Come and join us!
On 23rd September, the sun crosses the equator and the northern hemisphere starts to tip away from the sun. It’s the autumnal equinox (meaning ‘equal night’ – when day is the same length as the night) and for us global northerners it marks the movement away from summer and towards winter.
This time of year is a time of transition for many of us personally, as well as for nature. Summer is over, holidays and long, pleasant, sunlit evenings are behind us. September may mark the start of a new term for some and, for others, four months of unrelenting work until the next holiday at Christmas. We may have mixed feelings: loss, thankfulness, anticipation, dread.
For nature it’s a time of mixed blessings too. Fledgling birds have, um, fledged and young small mammals have become adults. For many animals, it’s a time of preparing to survive winter. There’s plenty of fruit around – hopefully – some for fattening up and some for storing. Trees and other plants also prepare for winter, shedding leaves and dying back or, in the case of annuals, dying altogether.
One of the roles of religion has been to give us shared rituals to mark transitions in life. At Open Sky, we’re not particularly religious in terms of what we do when we meet, but we are keen to pay attention to nature and to God and connect ourselves into that greater Life around us. On 9th September at 3.00pm, we’ll meet in our familiar clearing in the woods near the Upper Lodges in Stanmer Park (see ‘How to find us‘). We’ll spend some time listening to our own spirits and what this time of transition means to us, and we’ll also listen to what it means to this particular woodland. Then we’ll work together at making an authentic ritual that expresses this movement from summer to autumn for us in this place at this time.
Come and join us!
There’s a story by Ursula Le Guin (in Searoad, 1991) where the foam on the waves writes words on the beach. In the bible, Psalm 29 talks about the voice of God thundering over the waters. According to Tristan Gooley in ‘How to Read Water’, there are a number of signs to be read in the sea. It may be as simple (but possibly life saving) as, ‘There’s a squall coming’. But maybe if you listen contemplatively, you might hear or see something more profound.
On Sunday 12th August at 3.00, we met on Hove Beach and learned about a few of the signs the sea may be telling us, drawn from Tristan Gooley’s work. Then we spent some time in quiet contemplation, looking and listening as the waves broke on the shore.
Open Sky Forest Church: listening to God by listening to nature
What words does nature inspire in you? On Sunday 8th July we let nature inspire our words about God and gathered some prayers that help us connect what we see and what we believe about God.
In June we met by the sea shore in West Hove shortly after low tide and experienced the rising tide, the cycle of the moon and the movement of time approaching the summer solstice.
On 13th May, we met for a contemplative walk through the woods and fields of the Stanmer estate. A clump of trees in the middle of a field, a hawthorn tree in flower, a huge beech tree that had shed a large branch and some sickly-looking ash trees amongst some healthy-looking sycamores jockeying to replace them were stations along our silent walk that prompted reflection and prayer. The cycle of death and life was obviously a dominant theme, all held within the ever-living presence of God.
Is giving a name an act of power or an act of respect? You might call that a sparrow, but what name would she give herself, and what name might God give her? When Adam named the animals in the bible story of Eden, was he taking power over them or establishing a relationship with them and studying them to tell the difference between, say, a house sparrow and a hedge sparrow? How might the names we use for other beings affect our relationship with them?
On Sunday 8th April, we headed into the woods and tried this exercise in attentiveness – attentiveness both to the beings who live in the woods and to ourselves. Between us we came up with some names for trees and plants that were much more interesting than their usual common names – like ‘shivery holy spirit tree’ for a beech sapling still holding on to last year’s leaves, which were shivering despite there being very little breeze. It was interesting to think about discovering something’s true being and therefore its true name. Just the act of studying a plant intently felt like deepening respect for it. We also thought about God calling us by name and the respect that God therefore has for each of us.