Christian Earth Stewardship—A Critique: Principle Two

June 4, 2016 § Leave a comment

Principle Two: We worship the Creator, not the creation

Divine presence in creation—earth stewardship is protecting God’s revelation, for God is present in creation.

God may not dwell in nature in any way that invites our worship of nature. But God has certainly been present in nature in ways that invite our worship in nature. All of the important divine revelations in the Jewish and Christian and even Quaker traditions have taken place outdoors, often in wilderness, and usually through natural agency. Let’s list them:

Universal and symbolic revelation

  • The act of creation itself—the Word of John’s gospel at work, God’s first revelation.
  • God first speaks with Adam and Eve in the Garden—God’s first communication/revelation to humans.
  • The Deluge—God first uses nature as a weapon.
  • God promises covenantal peace to Noah; the rainbow as sign/revelation.
  • Revelation to the patriarchs and matriarchs
  • God promises fertility, a nation, and a landbase to Abram, taking him outside to count the stars (Gen 15:4-5), and again “near the great trees of Mamre” (Gen 18:1).
  • God delivers Isaac from human sacrifice and renews the Abrahamic covenantal promise—a mountain and wilderness revelation. [Gen 22]
  • Jacob wrestles with God/God’s angel and receives his name-giving as Israel—a river revelation. [Gen 32:22-32]

Revelations to Israel—the origins and deliverance of the people Israel

  • God commissions Moses at the burning bush—a mountain and wilderness revelation.
  • God redeems his tribe and creates a people at the Passover and Exodus.
  • God reveals the law at Sinai—a mountain and wilderness revelation.
  • God gives Ezekiel visions of the temple’s reconstruction by the River Chebar—a river revelation.

The origins of Christianity

  • God provides signs at Jesus’ birth.
  • God provides signs at Jesus’ baptism—a river revelation.
  • Jesus is tested in the wilderness—a wilderness revelation.
  • Jesus teaches the twelve and feeds the thousands; the sermon on the mount—mountain revelations.
  • Jesus is transfigured—a mountain revelation.
  • Jesus faces another trial in Gethsemane—a mountain (non-)revelation.
  • Jesus is crucified—a mountain revelation.
  • Jesus is raised from the dead.
  • Jesus ascends into heaven—a mountain revelation.

Continuing revelation today

  • The sacraments—baptism and the Eucharist—revelations through water and the fruits of the vine.

The Quaker tradition

  • George Fox has a vision in which “I was come up into that state in which Adam was before he fell, in which the admirable works of the creation, and the virtues thereof, may be known, through the openings of that divine Word of wisdom and power by which they were made.” (Journal, Nickals ed., p.28)
  • Fox has a vision on Pendle Hill of “a great people to be gathered”.
  • Fox convinces several thousand Seekers at Firbank Fell and the Quaker movement is born in that beautiful, isolate place.
  • John Woolman—several outdoor revelations.

God clearly prefers to communicate with God’s people outdoors, in natural surroundings or, better yet, in wild places. Especially on mountains or near rivers. Furthermore, many of us (certainly this is true of me) have had our own transforming religious experiences in nature, often as children or adolescents.

Nevertheless, despite the powerful lessons of our own tradition, we worship indoors. Our seminarians study under fluorescent lights. Their spiritual directors do not think of sending them into the wilderness for 40 days and nights of spiritual formation under the direct tutelage of the Holy Spirit and the Creator Father, even though this is what Jesus himself did. Unlike Jesus, who could have been a trail guide for the desolate places of Galilee, we often do not even know where our water comes from or where our waste goes.

Moses, Elijah, Jesus—these prophets knew the spiritual ecology of their landbases, none better than Jesus. He went to particular places for specific spiritual purposes. Why? Because the written tradition (not to mention local lore now mostly lost to us) gave these places religious-historical meaning. And because the landscape itself supported that meaning. Mostly, this had to do with thunderstorms, rain and lightning—that is, with the climate, topography, and ecology of Palestine, with the character of divine revelation, and with the character of the Divine Revelator. These prophets not only knew their ‘ecology,’ they also knew their God.

Ecology, specifically the climate and topography of Palestine, have played a defining role in the origins of our religious tradition and how we understand God’s revelations to us. Yet the earth stewardship tradition goes out of its way to warn us off of the very practices that brought Moses and Jesus into intimate communion with the Creator.

Every religion fears its mystics. They are out of your control. And they claim a higher source of authority, one that comes directly from God, than that of the people, structures, and rituals that a tradition can offer. They are going to trust the ideas and religious impulses that come from such direct revelation more than the ideas and behavior that predominate in any tradition. George Fox and Jesus himself stand shoulder to shoulder as rebel mystic prophets.

And the western religious tradition has always feared the paganism that lies so close to its own roots, but against which it has always defined itself. “Pagan” comes from the Latin pago, meaning to farm; “heathen” comes from heath—the western religious tradition has always also feared the people of the land, indigenous peoples, people who find the Creator in creation. And so it has turned its back on even its own foundational traditions of revelation in nature.

Modern religious earthcare practice should return to nature, where all the evidence of our own tradition suggests we are most likely to encounter God.

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