thinking theology

Archive for the ‘creation’ Category

Neither a Rock nor a Scorpion

In Luke 11,: 1-13, there is a discussion about persistence and generosity. People are encouraged to be generous without being coaxed. But if they resist, then persistence is the tactic to use. In a world where getting a deal is a high priority in both buying and selling, it is difficult to prize relationship and generosity over indifference and greed. I was thinking about the inherent delusion of “owning” property, rather than caring for a part of the earth. No one truly owns the plots of the earth. We inhabit various places for a few decades and then we are gone from and back into the earth. We become what we had thought to enslave. In the meantime, the “deals” of the real estate market have benefitted some and set up barriers for others.

This axial time is critical for what life will look like in 50 years from now. I will be, as they say, pushing up daisies by then, but I hope the earth is still cool and not on fire. Our children are begging us to put our enormous influential and economic resources to the task of saving what we can of our planet. And we keep giving them rocks and scorpions.

The world is knocking at the door of the wealthy nations begging for crumbs and safe harbour for the children. When will the impulse of generosity overwhelm the cynicism of power and narcissism/patriotism? Jesus said that for anyone who harms the vulnerable, it would be better if a huge stone were tied around their neck and they were dropped into the depths of the sea. This saying haunts me as I am aware that my financial and social comfort is part of a collusion with oppression, regardless of my intent.

So what can we people privileged with comfort, education, family, community do? The first order is to recognize that others are paying our way: we do not deserve our bounty. Secondly, we need to pray with such a deep spirit of gratitude that generosity becomes our norm. Thirdly, we need to educate ourselves so that we know the difference between crumbs and bread, eggs and scorpions, charity and justice. We need to learn how to listen beyond our fears and defences, opening ourselves to the gift and sacrifice of humility, setting our sight on that frightening cross in the hope of resurrection of vision and faith.

And finally, we need to remember that we walk with Jesus, beyond the limitations of our churches and our traditions. In my garden, as I caress the the soil, the green growing things, an angel whispers in my ear, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” And when I simply cannot bear the violence, hatred and ignorance I see in the news, “ and the earth shall be full of the holiness of God, as the waters cover the sea.” Finally, when I despair and feel powerless, I remember that Jesus too felt abandoned, yet his death brought a taste of life that was new, born out of sacrifice and tears and suffering.

I think the future will be hard for all the children of the world, but perhaps by committing ourselves to loaves and fishes, eggs and freedom, safety and compassion, some of the suffering may be ameliorated. Maybe if we remember that we are the caretakers, not the owners of the earth, we will fall in love with its holiness again. Maybe, some of us will be redeemed, some of us forgiven, and all of us held in the embrace of Life and Holiness, in the Eden that we will then remember.

Perfect love

Let us begin our reflection today with a lesson in Greek. The word that we translate as perfect is, in Greek, teleios. More than flawless, the word means something completely executed from beginning to end, something fully realized. We do not have an English word that closely captures that concept.

When we speak of perfect love, we are speaking of a cosmic vision, that holds all of our history from beginning to end, in the loving, forgiving, empowering embrace of the Holy. In Jesus life, death and resurrection, we witness what happens when a human being lives entirely in the context of that love. We only briefly, hear of Jesus doubt or fear. Mostly, what his followers remembered was a person who lived boldly within his tradition, who was fearless in his criticism of oppression or injustice. Out of his own humility, Jesus learned to step outside the boundaries and limits of that tradition, to love others and be loved by them in return.

What does teleios love mean for us? Usually we think it’s a standard for us, something to be achieved, and we feel as though we never quite get there. I think this love, however, is what has already been achieved, or perhaps more accurately, what is the key to the design of creation. There is nothing for us to do except to allow ourselves to experience this love in our hearts and minds. When we stop resisting, we find freedom from the judgement and bondage in our heads.

Love is not a feeling so much as the relationship amongst all the participants in creation. It is not sentimental so much as tensile, resilient, alive. I sometimes think of love as a dance in which everyone is a partner. There are no formal steps to the music but everyone seems to figure out how to blend into the rhythm. Those who cannot hear feel the music through other bodies. Those who cannot see find themselves held in the dance by others. And those who have trouble with mobility find themselves swept up by the movement of the group. The dance only requires a willingness, not a skill. And the dance is the dance of life, the green shoots in the spring, the swirl of autumn leaves, the warmth of summer sun, and the crisp bite of winter. Love binds all of creation together. We are never alone. When we understand that this is reality, we can adjust our awareness, attune our souls, or we can pull away, but even the resistance becomes absorbed into what is.

To trust in this cosmic love that was the way of life for Jesus, his truth, will set us free to be lovers too, to delight in life, to be artists of restoration and healing. We will be hospitable, not out of duty, but from a deep urgency in sharing blessings. It is shalom in Hebrew, being at home with Holy around us and within.

Of course perfect love reduces fear and judgement, which are human constructs and insecurities. Living as the people of the Resurrection we know that there is only life and ultimately love. That is the beginning, the journey and the ending. That is God. Ursula Leguin wrote

by Ursula K. Le Guin
Time says “Let there be”
every moment and instantly
there is space and the radiance
of each bright galaxy.
And eyes beholding radiance.
And the gnats’ flickering dance.
And the seas’ expanse.
And death, and chance.
Time makes room
for going and coming home
and in time’s womb
begins all ending.
Time is being and being
time, it is all one thing,
the shining, the seeing,
the dark abounding.

The Water, the Earth, the Air.

The Water, the Earth, the Air

I chant this hymn to the Trinity of life and hope. In these three, we discover each other, ourselves, and find God. In Marc Gellman’s story, “Water All Around” in Does God Have a Big Toe? it is not the noble animals, lion, eagle, or elephant who discover God, but the fish who are wise. They guess that God is their environment, is everywhere, and then somewhere else too.

From the beginning, the Spirit brooded over the shape of God, the primordial deep well of being. Water and air, similarly composed and yet each held in symmetry so that there can be life. In the deeps, we feel the power and presence of that which is more than we can iterate, more than we can define, deeper than we can explain. The deep is both beyond us and all around us. Indeed the oceans that tirelessly ebb and flow against the edges of the shore beat that same rhythm in our veins, sustaining and making life possible. About the only time, we notice the ocean beating within and around us is when it stutters inside us or rages at the edges of our buildings and constructs.

The air we breathe, the winds that smash against our pride, our Babel towers, the breath of God that enlivens and quickens these bodies, works in concert with water to keep us alive. And the air that rushes through our lungs has rushed through so many others, has tickled the trees of other civilizations, other cultures. The wind in our hair is a lesson in the history of all living beings if we stop to listen to its song spinning around us.

We forget about the earth on which we walk, the place where Moses experienced God in an improbable bush. The earth, where Jesus walked and saw the holiness expressed in the plants and animals he saw, who showed his disciples how to discover the Beloved in the faces of others, who confronted them with the truth of their own being, who taught that dusty graves are for leaving, not being trapped in. In Jesus we are invited to walk the earth with love and purpose.

The Water, the Earth, the Air.

The fish are wise. God is not to be found only by our minds but in our ecstatic gratitude for life, in our devotion to this planet, in reverence and awe for all that lives. If God is everywhere, then everywhere is the place and the occasion for worship. All water is baptismal water calling to remind us that we have received a very particular gift. We have eaten from the tree and now we know ourselves as separate. If we want union with the Holy, we must find ways to cross the bridge to reconnect, to remember the Holy in our own bodies, to see the Holy around us and to be the lovers and healers that Jesus called into ministry with him. Like the woman at the well, we are discovering the water of life, existing naturally within and around; spiritually calling us into a wider perception of reality and consciousness.

Albert Einstein said, “We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. The delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection to a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. “

The Day of Restoration

In James 5:1-8, we read a prophecy about rich oppressors. Listening carefully, we note that this is not a condemnation of wealth, but of the misuse of wealth. It echoes back to Leviticus (25:8-24) and the year of Jubilee, a festival for every 50th year; a year that is good news for the poor because debts are forgiven, good news for those who have been or might be cheated because restoration is expected. Absentee landlords are required to return to see how their properties have been managed because they are as responsible as those left in charge.

In James, we read that this has not been the practice, that in fact, restoration is no longer an expectation for the wealthy. The wealthy who are oppressors are those who refuse to see that everything they have, belongs to God and God demands restoration always. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. Humanity lives and walks in the garden of the Lord . We own nothing, but are caretakers on the earth. Although inequities may occur, the balance is to be set right at least every 50 years. Injustice, imbalance must not persist; balance must be restored.The death of Jesus is laid in the hands of the powerful who hate him for advocacy of the poor, his challenges to the status quo.

Jesus is an icon of God’s proclamation of the righteous kingdom where the earth is protected, there is food and shelter for all and weapons have been turned into useful tools. In the year of the Lord’s favour, Jesus says, quoting Isaiah (Luke 4:16-21), there will be healing from the consequences of poverty and war. There will be restoration and equity for all. The scripture is fulfilled in the person of Jesus, not in law or prophecy, but in the life of a human being.

How are we, the body of Christ in the world, doing at fulfilling this vision of Jesus? I think this text is a challenge about mission. While many might think that mission is about getting church members, I think this text shows us that the mission of the church is to find co-workers in the task of healing what we have damaged, restoring what has been stolen and renewing right relationships among all people.

It really is not enough to hear Jesus’ words without feeling them. It is not enough to recite creeds written long after Jesus’ time, without promising to follow his mandate. It is not even good enough to say, “Lord, Lord” unless it changes our hearts, opens our minds, and puts action and mercy in our hands. Of all Jesus’ disciples, the early church recognized his mother Mary as the true teacher and so they placed the Magnificat on her lips.

Without this commitment to making the world a better place for everyone, all our songs and prayers, all our liturgical actions are self-indulgent. Our worship must be energizing for mission, reflective for repentance, and challenging to lead us on the Way; that is discipleship. For the good news of Jesus to be our good news, we must dedicate ourselves with love and courage to the earth, to the other creatures, and to all our brothers and sisters, even those we may wish to perceive as enemies. The work is too urgent for us to be distracted. The call of Christ is too compelling for us to turn aside. The day of the lord is here and the accounting is upon us. May Jesus be able to call us his good and faithful servants.

The Earth is the Lord’s

The earth is angry and hurting. Monstrous hurricanes, uncontainable wildfires, flooding, drought in tender places on the planet. Like any wounded body, the body of the planet is reacting not just to normal cycles but to some abnormal stresses placed upon it. Its crust has been drilled, its air and waters poisoned; its meadows covered in asphalt and cement. If you just contemplate for one moment what humanity has done to our paradise, you will understand immediately what is happening now.

We think we are very smart but some of you may have read that there is a 3,700 year old tablet from Babylon that has things to teach us about mathematics. This generation does not have all the answers, nor have we even asked wise questions yet. I think the earth is in danger from our ignorance combined with our arrogance and pride. We have the capacity to destroy ourselves many times over. What makes us think we are wise or even smart. We are the mice who poison our own litters, the wasps that sting ourselves.

In Isaiah 54, there is a prophecy about God’s steadfast love, the divine heart that is grieved but cannot remain distant. One of the ways for Christians to answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” is to consider Jesus as the wise teacher who shows us that God has entrusted us with the mission of reconciliation of the people, the creation. But it takes courage to acknowledge that our present course must change, that we have learned that our cultures, our knowledge, our experiments have been dangerous and often ill considered.

Where do we begin when we have allowed mega institutions and rich men to control our education, our health, our labour? I think we begin in humility. We begin by acknowledging our weakness, our lack of wisdom. We begin by discarding all the language about separation that we have created, language of ethnicity, gender, race, religion. Jesus moves from a tribal perspective to a universal perspective. We must work at this also. The divisions in our minds will not disappear without intentional effort.

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. It has been ceded to us for our comfort and well being, not for greed and not for hoarding. When we see ourselves as caretakers rather than conquerors, we will have begun to remember that the earth is for sharing not owning.

I think we need to learn how to pray again and by that I mean opening our hearts and minds to the deep well of wisdom and compassion that is the Divine Presence. It is time to pray that we will learn how to repent and rebuild what we have lost. It is time to experience our smallness in the universe and the enormity of the trust that has been placed in human hands. Praying is primarily listening into the silence, hearing the drum of our hearts, the whisper of our breath, that is shared with every other atom of earth. Praying means connecting ourselves to the mystery of life, rather than cherishing our lonely separateness

The practice for this way of being means being generous, hospitable, interested in other beings, unafraid of what we might learn. We need to remember that as the baptized, we are witnesses and missionaries in every single moment of our lives. How we speak to others, the degree of generosity and compassion we model, the joyful friendliness we share – all these behaviours testify to the Spirit of Christ working within us. And that Spirit calls out, “My saviour and my Lord” in our hearts because we know that Jesus shares this journey with us.

And so finally, don’t be afraid. That’s what the angels always say before they send us on a mission that is going to be challenging. But then there are rainbows and open tombs, there are everyday miracles, friendship, bread and wine and suddenly we know that not only can we survive this time, we can be agents of peace within it. And so a life: work, meaning, companions and peace at the end. May God’s holy name be praised!