The Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane recently hosted a special service about John Denver and Creation Spirituality. To be honest, I was a little skeptical. I'm old enough to remember John Denver from the 1970s when his face sometimes appeared on the television screen during an advertisement for one of his albums. Do you remember those commercials? Song titles scrolled across the screen against a backdrop of photographs of the artist walking in nature. Maybe they played a half dozen ten-second clips from his most popular songs, while the announcer boomed in a pre-canned salesman voice, "These greatest hits and more can be yours if you order now."
Unfortunately, this was my only experience of John Denver. I had no idea that he was a deeply spiritual man with an abiding commitment to protecting the environment.
Based on my memory of John Denver, I probably would have never gone to the service, but I heard that my friend Stanton was playing guitar and singing several of the songs. In the end, I decided to go, if nothing else than to support a friend.
Once the service began, I was immensely grateful to learn about John Denver's perspective on Creation Spirituality. Unlike my memory of the chintzy commercials from my childhood, his songs were powerful messages connection, spirituality, and love for the earth. I suppose it was always there, but I never really listened.
The first verse of his song Rhymes and Reasons seemed to speak of the despair many of us feel when we consider the current state of the environment:
So you speak to me of sadness
And the coming of the winter
Fear that is within you now
It seems to never end
And the dreams that have escaped you
And the hope that you've forgotten
You tell me that you need me now
You want to be my friend ...
Another verse spoke almost prophetically of the cultural destruction we would eventually face:
Like the music of the mountains
And the colours of the rainbow
They're a promise of the future
And a blessing for today
Though the cities start to crumble
And the towers fall around us
The sun is slowly fading
And it's colder than the sea ...
Finally, the last verses spoke to the ones who continue to resist the need to limit the impact of human development on the environment:
It is written from the desert
To the mountains they shall lead us
By the hand and by the heart
They will comfort you and me
In their innocence and trusting
They will teach us to be free
For the children and the flowers
Are my sisters and my brothers
Their laughter and their loveliness
Would clear a cloudy day
And the song that I am singing
Is a prayer to non-believers
Come and stand beside us
We can find a better way.
Another song made a huge impact during the service: I want to live.
I first heard that song more than ten years ago during a dark time in my life. Through the support of powerful mentor, I came to realize that much of my life was actually a way of dying. When things got tough, I withdrew and disconnected from everything I cared about. This song was part of my re-awakening:
I want to live, I want to grow,
I want to see, I want to know,
I want to share what I can give,
I want to be, I want to live!
For me, the song was a personal affirmation of life, but when I listened again, I realized that the song was also about the earth and all the beauty of nature standing in the face of destruction. This was the earth saying, "I want to live!" When I heard the song from that perspective, I was overcome with emotion, and I wept. I had no idea that the John Denver service would have such a powerful impact on me, or speak to me on such a heart level.
The pastor included a theoretical foundation for Creation Spirituality, including the work of former Catholic cleric Matthew Fox. I don't suppose that I can now adequately describe the theological underpinnings of Creation Spirituality, but I will end with a quote from the pastor, Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof:
"Creation spirituality does not accept the Doctrine of Original Sin, or the idea that nature is fallen. It accepts instead the Doctrine of Original Blessing."