Sunday, July 14, 2013

2013.07.14 Ask the Beasts: Spirituality and the Evolving Earth

“Ask the beasts and they will teach you;
    the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth an they will teach you;
           and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among those does not know
    that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing,
    and the breath of every human being.” 
(Job 12:7-10) 

Yesterday at Boston College I heard a brilliant talk by Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, professor of theology at Fordham. She used as her biblical text the above passage from the biblical book of Job.

Poor old Job, impatient for a change in traditional theological thought and having to suffer further because of righteous friends who kept insisting that his sufferings and loss must be divine retribution. Just search your soul, confess, repent and be right with God, they said. 

NO, NO, NO said Job, you’re full of claptrap. I did NOT cause my misfortunes. I am innocent. Just ask the beasts—and every living thing. (This means plants, animals and people—all)

So how do all these living things answer? 
    Their science story: We all evolved over 3.5 billion years. We are all connected in a grand molecular/biological schema on a tree of life and continue to modify, branch and diversify in order to grow and multiply. The more diversified we become the more success each species will have in life.  One beast has evolved with no diversification—the horseshoe crab. One plant the same—the jingo tree. Some of us, of course, will die out.
    Their theology story: We all owe our origins in existence to God. God will transform us into a new creation, a future of life with God who never abandons. Most importantly, God sustains us moment to moment—creatio continua. This is the Tree of Life, home of every living thing.

Johnson's core point was that all living things evolve, thrive in the same intricately connected ecological web, and are in the hand of God/the Lord—now and forever.  Divine creativity is active all the time or there would be no world! AND, "pay attention to biology!"

In ancient times science and religion agreed on these convergences. Darwin was a faithful scientist, a beholder of every living thing. Unlike some righteous religionists (like Job's friends) Darwin shined praises on the minutiae of biological life in a way that brought about his theory of evolution.

He wrote "...from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved." He marveled that the bone structure of the human hand (for grasping), the mole’s paw (for digging), the fish’s fin (for paddling), and the bird’s wing (for flying) are all exactly the same skeletally. 

So what happened?  The history is too much for me to go into here, but you might say the same hubris that motivated the putative apple caper in Eden caused humanity to forget that it was only ONE species among every living thing that God held in hand.  We placed ourselves at the top of an ascendancy scale. We're still doing it! Recently the Occupy Movement made witness to such hubris.  Johnson's case, however, was that we humans have left every living thing except ourselves behind, discounted, outside of our concern and God's as well. 

How will we heal this rending?  Ironically, by not paying so much attention to sin and the spiritual state of our own narcissistic souls and looking out the window at the whole order of which we are one part. "LOOK OUT THE WINDOW!!" Johnson said. "We need a robust pneumtology."

It is She, the Holy Spirit who in our Christian Nicene Creed is called "the giver of life." The Latin words mean vivifier.  I can't resist commenting here that I would so love it if we could at least stop referring to the Holy Spirit as HE in the creed. Please! Three men on top—too much. 

Tears came to my eyes more than once as Johnson talked about the Spirit— the spiritual radiance of  plants and animals as well as human beings. 

LOOK OUT THE WINDOW. LISTEN TO THE VOICE OF NATURE. GET OVER YOURSELF.

A few irresistible wise tidbits that beg to be heard:
    -Creation is a cosmic event.
    -Deep Incarnation means that God in the flesh goes beyond Jesus' flesh, even beyond human flesh,  and into the flesh of the whole natural living world—every living thing again. Flesh ( Greek sarx)  means everything that is vulnerable, perishable, fragile and transitory. That's the whole enchilada.  
    -The Exultet Christians chant at the Easter Vigil begins with: Rejoice all earth...(not all humanity)
    -The extinction of a species means the end of birth (Darwin) 27,000 species are lost each year!  We are a species!
    -For Christians: Jesus is made of the same molecular dust as we all are. In Christ’s resurrection the earth itself arose. Resurrection redeems from DEATH, not just sin!
    - Birds have the power to fly; for the ancients birds went where humans couldn’t reach, so the bird, symbol of the Goddess of Love, became the symbol for the the divine Spirit in both testaments of the Bible.
    -There are two bibles: Nature and Scripture
   
If the Church is too tied into the resources of corporate wealth to divest from fossil fuel investments, then the Church is irrelevant and voiceless, as mostly it has been already.  (NB the United Church of Christ has just voted to divest, and so did the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.)
 “If you push for such things, you may end up despised,” Johnson said with a compelling grin.

When I went home I rushed to Genesis and back to the Garden of Eden. I knew all about the good and evil morality tree whose fruit was death.  But wasn’t there another special tree?  

YES.... in Genesis 3:22: the tree of life. The story gives us a glimpse no more of an opportunity for humanity “to reach out his/her hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 

We can perpetuate the schema of the great Darwinian/ biblical Tree of All Life.  The beasts and all green life ask no less of us than to act now to save the earth, to help God’s creatio continua.

Is NOW the time to reach with all our might and wit and resources for that tree of life and save all earth—and ourselves with it?

IF NOT NOW, WHEN?