Tag Archives: lovers of nature

Primitive Imagination and Early Christianity

African theologian Kwome Bediako makes the claim that African religious DNA more closely matches the worldview of the Early Christians.  I am attempting to weigh his six-fold claim.  Here I will deal with the first two: 1. kinship with nature, 2. a deep sense of humanity’s finitude.

Kinship with Nature: St. Francis writes about his brother sun and sister moon, but that is in the early 13th century.  We are exploring the Christianity of 11 hundred hears prior.  Parables with sparrows, a star to guide the magi, speaking donkeys, a Holy Spirit showing up as dove, the list could go on. But one passage sticks out among the rest (Romans 8): “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected in, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Paul seems to think here that we exist with the whole of the cosmos in an interrelated kinship relationship.  When we are redeemed so will the creation.  Our destinies now and in the future are interdependent.

A Deep Sense of Humanity’s Finitude. Of course, we can look to the stories like the Rich man an Lazarus and know that the early Christians experienced vividly their mortality.  But one verse stands out among the rest (I Corinthians 15), “Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead?… If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'” Now, the point is this: the Early Christians lived in a culture where some if not many knew well their fate.  Take note of the quote Paul uses.  They realized that the were not infinite in time or space.  Theirs was a posture of dependency, espeically on Christ’s resurrection.

Steward of Creation: A Prayer-Poem

In Darkness I clutch a created thing
With sense that to it I’ve been given
To watch and heed and shelter growth
No tiny task to bear

“Now, steward them all and show dominion”
I hear with mix-ed troubled mind
So onto the search for God’s intentions
A blueprint for His care

“You’ll steward the whole of the fishy sea”
Please know they breathe the water in
So care for it and heed my will:
A swarm of scaly things

“You’ll steward the feathery flocks of birds
for through their likeness I’ll proclaim
“My Son, I’m pleased, they’ll heed your words”
my Holy Spirit sings

“You’ll steward the tiny creeping things”
Their grassy blades: cathedral walls
I do not want you harming them
They fertilize my soil

“For eating and tasting, I give most trees”
That bear a barkened fruity seed
And to the lowly animals
Greens grown without your toil

So, watching and heeding please shelter growth
And with your faith all things will bloom
And one more thing, I want more you’s
My family multiply

 

 

The edges and bordering lines of Eden
Expand across this vista’ed wood
It’s good, the wood, and all I’ve made
Now rest with me tonight

I’m watching you drift into peaceful rest
And soon the sun will westward set
And, here’s one law to rule our wood
One tree, you see: restricted.

For eating its fruit in the cool of the day
Might bring you worlds of bursting light
But death to you its pulp imparts
The consequence: evicted.

 

 

Arising we from our Sabbath’s sleep
With moon afresh on Eden’s camp
And flushed in mind we go in haste,
to shady midnight oak.

Dreaming or waking I am not sure
And into shadowed branches stare
Entranced on fruits of false desire
Against the words He spoke.

 

 

In darkness I clutch a created thing
With sense that I’ve, to It, been giv’n
To serve and bow below the earth
Its hollowed eyes ensnare.

It’s curves resemble fish and wood
Alive but dead like birds and bugs
Into their bark we pour our lust
A heavy yoke to bear.

In turning disdain we’re forced to dance
While steps betray our deepest song
A power, which like a puppeteer
Eliminates our worth.

This fruit, which seemed so opportune
Its poison suffocates our life
From crusted arid selfish clay
Turns us against our earth.

 

 

In Darkness I clutch uncreated things
Below the stormy waters where
The grainy cruciform will lead
Enticing me to care

I’m thrust beneath the torrent rains
My selfish self-demise
Where all intended evil there
Is changed by Holy leaven.

How could this fruit bring us such ruin?
Oh, Lord your good salvation bring
Re-darken our faith to return to the place
Where, “On earth as it is now in heaven.”

Back to “Sacred Earth”

Keith’s Big Year

This was a big year for me.

I graduated from the Epiphany Academy of Formative Spirituality.  My wife completed a rigorous year of her master’s work.  And we somehow managed to keep raising a confident (though not altogether sane) 3 year old girl 🙂

It all culminated as I reflected at Palm Beach.  Actually I reflected as I lay on the wave line where the beach and the ocean constantly joust.  It was a spiritual moment.  Who knows what the other beach goers thought about this crazy beached man.  Eyes closed, on my back, sprawled, I lay my head on the wet sand. CRASH!  The wave came over my body.  The water ran away again.  CRASH! Another round.  Ever try this?  It can evoke real fear.  You never know when or how intense the wave will hit.  It was to me it was a grand metaphor of my year.   Taking the brunt of the ocean’s rage, the waves and sand worked together to slowly swallow my body into the earth.  It was a cruciform epiphany. All along, I cringed over the next wrathful wave to crash.

Over the course of a half hour, I slowly learned to enjoy myself.  The waves crashed just as hard, but I began to find joy in the power of the earth and its waters crashing over my legs on my torso and over my shoulders.  A peace and then an abandonment grew in me among the lily foam.

It was an abandonment hard won over 12 months.  An abandonment that helped me lead a group of students to San Diego then Cincinnati for a conference that would thrust us into modern abolition and local justice work.   It was an abandonment that gave me confidence among 13,000 Biblical Scholars in New Orleans.  It was abandonment that encouraged me to apply to PhD even so (I was accepted to 1 of 8 schools that I applied).  It was abandonment that got me through the seminars I directed for 100 pastors in post-January Haiti.  It was abandonment that I learned so acutely about in Pittsburgh finishing Epiphany.  And it was the abandonment among the Florida crest that reminded me to cast my cares to the One who holds us when the pounding waves of adventure, community brokenness, disappointment, and triumph swallow us into the ground.

Was Jesus Tripin’ at His Baptism?

The Holy Spirit as Dove will be the topic of my PhD dissertation this upcoming year. You could also call it: “Early Christianity as Primal Religion”. By that I mean a type or pattern of religion that includes kinship with nature, a deep sense of human’s finitude, a conviction that humanity is not alone in the universe, a belief that humanity can enter into a relationship with a benevolent spirit world, and a mental structuring of a sacred universe. More on that in another post.

I am interested particularly in Luke’s vision of a dove descending in bodily form. Here Luke suggests to the reader that the heavens opened after Jesus’ baptism, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in “bodily form”. Various interpretations categorize this experience as a symbol or a visionary ecstatic (narcotic) experience.

What if Luke simply meant that an actually bird came and rested on Jesus? What would it mean if an incarnated Holy Spirit alighted on Jesus? And what would this omen have signified to those who witnessed the event?

The implications are important. If there were a real bird, it probably evoked awe, since entities of the air, clouds, winds, sun, moon, stars, and birds all were seen as mysterious and sometimes dreadful omens. Yet, that a dove rested upon Jesus indicates a Lordship over the dominion of the air. The dove makes it safely through the perils of the demon possessed sky.   Athanasius, writing one to two hundred years later makes a similar claim about the nature of Jesus’ death:

“Again, the air is the sphere of the devil, the enemy of our race who, having fallen from heaven, endeavors with the other evil spirits…but the lord came to overthrow the devil and to purify the air and to make a ‘way for us’ up to heaven…This had to be done through death, and by what other kind of death could it be done, save by a death in the air, that is, on the cross…” (Athanasius, On the Incarnation 4.31-34.)

The point: for the early Christians, Jesus was good Lord not only over the ruling elite, even the Roman empire, but also he ruled over the whole cosmos, all of nature. Jesus and his possy at the last supper were probably not singing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”.  So, as we hurl into the 21st century, as we regain our vision for the sanctity of creation in a global world, we can and must look to the early Christians for a guiding vision of Jesus and his heart for this world.

On the Wilderness

I remember reading once about Native Americans who lived in the Yosemite valley.  A commentator on American Wilderness said this, “For us Europeans, it was wilderness, harsh and rugged. But what we called wilderness, they simply called home.  For them this was not a romantic place.  They knew the realities of storms and cold, in ways we did not. For them it was a land that cradled and sustained. For us it was a land to subdue.”

I don’t agree with everything he said, but there is truth in his words.  I would put it this way: For us it was harsh and rugged wilderness and we should have listened more carefully and learned from the ways they communed with the delights and dangers of their home, the American wild.

The religious practices of the Native Americans reveal a great reverence for the sacredness of the earth.  They knew not only that sweeping vistas remind us of our dependence upon the earth and also that for every one beautiful creature another existed just as poisonous.

What I’m saying here is this…our future and our health as a people is dependent upon the bare wild.  We have got to get ourselves out in the wilderness.  We must move beyond mere technical changes in society for greener this and greener that.  We must undergo a conversion that brings our hearts closer to God’s heart for his creation.  We must begin seeing the earth as a vast array of subjects, a community of creatures.

I’m not suggesting that we begin seeing creatures as humans.  Disney has done us a great disservice with talking animals, in a way.  And I am not talking about a revival of animism or polytheism.  What I’m talking about is a return away from the modern project to our ancient Christian values that led a twelfth century Italian monk to pen the greatest earth poem ever.  He called the moon our brother and the sun our sister.  It is an opening of our eyes to the verdant imagination of the psalmists and to the Holy Spirit, who after all came for a time in the form of a dove.

On Sustainability

(So, now, I will continue my posts on the importance of nature in our world today).

We live in a interesting moment of history.  All across the world, religions are awakening to the sanctity of the earth.  It is a global shift that some are calling the “eco-zoic” era.  I like that.  Post-apocalyptic movies like “The Day the Earth Stood Still” are making a field day with this type of thought: The earth can and will sustain herself beyond our mess…whether humans remain a viable species is the question.  Will mother earth wipe out us children because of the way we treat her?

Unfortunately for Christians, we often have a sense that this earth will burn, so why take care of it? By the way, that is a mark of modern Christianity.  The earth in the eyes of the early and Medieval Church was viewed far more as a sacred source of life.  Ever read “Canticle of Brother Sun”?

So the question now is this: can we turn ship?  What will it take to get masses of people to stop trashing the soil and destroying the oceans? There has to be a way.

So let me suggest this: it is not about a change of mind, it is about a change of heart.  This is where vibrant faith steps in. The green movement has already changed our minds in North America. What we need now is a life change. It is the change of a thousands of small decisions on the part of millions of people.  It is a change that everyone must be able to make.  A sustainable lifestyle for millions will only spring from a deep reverence for the earth and for all who live upon it.  It must not be based in guilt or fear but love. It can be based in Christian scripture, and we can find the way in Jesus’ heart.  This must be the core of our curriculum, not another top ten list of things to do to save the earth.

A good place to start: go spend some time with a few good friends in a park…

On Portals

There is no question.  Somewhere we lost our ability to really touch and taste our world.  Most of my food comes in packages that I peel away in my office that has no windows.  As I bite into my food, I realize that it has been injected with things that preserved it for the last two weeks.  How my spirit misses the chance to eat an apple still warm of branch life.

Men used to spend 14 hours a day in concert with trees, and field, and forest.  Now, I’m lucky if I can drive 4 hours to find good public woods with trees older than 60.  I come home from my meetings and enter into my house, which has been systematically enclosed from the elements.  I have never slept through the driving rain.

So, when I go to a place like an orchard, it is no wonder that something in me awakens. On an October afternoon, hundreds of shiny cars crowd the grassy gravel lot. They reflect the autumn sun like lasers to the eye.  The visitors line up to pay for fall crafts, apple cider, and a hay ride.

It is genius really.  The fields are open, so you wander among the wilderness and pick an apple or two and feel like Johnny Appleseed. You puncture its juicy skin and look over your shoulder.  You make sure the hay ride driver is far off, just in case it is against policy. Then you buy a dozen of them inside so you don’t feel so bad.

Then, after a crowded hour in the woods, you turn around, pick your pumpkin, and head to the register.  There you realize that they knew what you were doing all along. That’s the point.  They know that the general public longs for the bare wild, and they have created a portal of sorts here. Enter for a time and commune with the fruit of the earth.

Quite fantastic, and in the upcoming month, I plan to visit at least twice.  So should you. It will fill your life and office-cave with just a little more radiance this fall.

Back to “Sacred Earth”