loving God's first word: creation


To go deep into the blessings of real life, a dying is required. Recently Richard Rohr spoke of this taking place through the practice of contemplative prayer:

Contemplative prayer is one way to practice imposing “silence upon our cares, our desires and our imaginings.” Contemplative practice might be twenty minutes of “dying,” of letting go of the small mind in order to experience the big mind, of letting go of the false self in order to experience the True Self, of letting go of the illusion of our separation from God in order to experience our inherent union. Prayer is quite simply a profound experience of our core—who we are, as Paul says, “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).

The regular practice of such small deaths not only connects us to a rest greater than anything we might construct on vacation, but also experientially unites us to our place within the web of creation:  we are part of the community of God. And this connection embraces sentient beings as sisters and brothers as well as flora and fauna, water and wind, earth and sky. My roots in Reformed Christianity rarely encouraged this truth. It is there in the mystical wisdom of Calvin, of course, (see Belden Lane's insightful text Ravished by Beauty as an antidote), but remains the minority report within the majority of our history. Perhaps this is one reason I have become so committed to the new liturgical "Season of Creation" (September-October,) It gives us a chance to fast from anthropomorphic theology while practicing dying to our self-centered fears and obsessions. This week - Flora and Fauna Sunday - we are asked to listen to the Lord like Job:

Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
Do you observe the calving of the deer?
Can you number the months that they fulfil,
and do you know the time when they give birth,
when they crouch to give birth to their offspring,
and are delivered of their young?
Their young ones become strong, they grow up in the open;
they go forth, and do not return to them.
‘Who has let the wild ass go free?
Who has loosed the bonds of the swift ass,
o which I have given the steppe for its home,
the salt land for its dwelling-place?
It scorns the tumult of the city;
it does not hear the shouts of the driver.
It ranges the mountains as its pasture,
and it searches after every green thing...

Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars,
and spreads its wings towards the south?
Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up
and makes its nest on high?
It lives on the rock and makes its home
in the fastness of the rocky crag.
From there it spies the prey;
its eyes see it from far away.
Its young ones suck up blood;
and where the slain are, there it is.

Organically most of us acknowledge we live with a limited understanding of our intimacy with God in  creation.  In our core, we know there is a wisdom and love holding life together beyond us and we unconsciously trust it, too. Then we open our mouths and bottom-line thinking and self-centered spirituality tumbles out betraying our souls.  We are at war within ourselves:  our heart knows we are part of the created family of God, and, our minds have been conditioned to believe that we are the crown of creation. Small wonder that St. Paul urged us to "die to ourselves and our conditioning (sarx) so that we might be raised in the glory of God." Diane Butler Bass, author of the crucially important and beautifully written book Grounded, has confessed:

Much to my surprise, church has become a spiritual, even a theological struggle for me. I have found it increasingly difficult to sing hymns that celebrate a hierarchical heavenly realm, to recite creeds that feel disconnected from life, to pray liturgies that emphasize salvation through blood, to listen to sermons that preach an exclusive way to God, to participate in sacraments that exclude others, and to find myself confined to a hard pew in a building with no windows to the world outside. This has not happened because I am angry at the church or God. Rather, it has happened because I was moving around in the world and began to realize how beautifully God was everywhere: in nature and in my neighborhood, in considering the stars and by seeking my roots. It took me five decades to figure it out, but I finally understood. The church is not the only sacred space; the world is profoundly sacred as well. And thus I fell into a gap - the theological ravine between a church still proclaiming conventional theism with its three-tiered universe and the spiritual revolution of God-with-us.

Me, too.  It is for this reason I believe we can never tire of - or suggest we have completed our exploration into - the truth and mercy of God shared with us in creation. As others have noted: nature is God's first word.  The Reformed Church, by abandoning any sense of sacramentality, discarded this blessing - and now it is up to us to reclaim and restore it. 

In a few minutes we will head South to join my family at a wedding.  It will be on a beach on Maryland's Eastern Shore. There was a time when I thought that liturgies celebrated outside of a Sanctuary were flaky and infected with New Age narcissism. That can still be true. But today I realize that ordinary people were claiming a truth beyond what my tradition honored: namely, the divine connection between people, animals, water, sky, plants and all of creation. They ached - and needed - to be present to the wider family during such celebrations even when they lacked the theological vocabulary to say why. They were pioneers. Their hears knew what their words could not yet express. And they abandoned our buildings and rules and rushed into the arms of the Lord. Today, I can't wait to hear the crash of the waves and the chorus of sea gulls mixed with my nephew's wedding vows:  the whole earth cries glory indeed!

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