Tag Archives: 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.

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”

Ripening Sensibility

I read recently a book on manhood. It said that a good lover is first a good gardener.  So, I decided I should probably learn to garden.

Well, that’s not the only reason.  It seems to me that a good human is a good gardener.   In the urban jungle, suburban wasteland, or the rural countryside we all need a connection with the earth and its growing things.  It is a matter of health.
I think old men know this.  Have you ever noticed how old men love to garden?  As a college boy, I could not understand it.  There was so much life to master and so many things to do.  How could  grey beards then turn to flowers?  Surely they must have surrendered to life long ago.
But as grey now creeps onto my face, I hear a faint cry in some ancient part of my soul: slow down….slow down.  It calls my hands back to the earth.
Until a lad can enjoy the sweet breeze and until the golden horizon gives him pause from upturning the clay, he will remain a boy.  And the measure in which we can keep growing things alive all around us often reveals our level of vibrancy.  If you can’t keep you house plants alive, you will likely struggle to keep your love and soul life beating along.
Back to “Sacred Earth”

Cosmos

The cosmos is the universe. The ancients generally viewed it all as a great body. Some have called it “Mother”. But it is a father too. It is that from which we came. Funerals and Ash Wednesday remind us that our fate is with a cycle of dust. There is a life-force at work, a circle, a field, and you and I got lucky to get born into it. We are unlucky that our world, like gravity, longs for us to forget our earthen home. It presses us ever onwards making us believe that we are something higher, something of a maker of this place.

I dwell upon the cosmos because I am a part of the whole. It all points to a greater One. I gaze at the cratered moon, and deep places awaken inside. I lie upon the sandy beach line and let the waves crash onto my body. I feel the power of the mighty ocean as it begins to bury me in its cycle. I am saddened that I live in a tradition that seeks to dominate this majestic land. I long to awaken to a deeper way, an ancient way:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…and cursed is the ground because of humans…who were not there when God laid the foundations while the morning stars sang together…for the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it…and even the sparrow is fed by the hand of the Father…who groans along with all creation which waits in eager expectation…for the new heavens and the new earth…”

I indulge my wonder on this blog writing about the cosmos and its glory.