Urgent Reclaiming

Heard of the Season of Creation? Well, yes it is harvest time right now, and several of my parishioners are spending Sunday mornings worshiping God on the combine. But matching this glorious abundance of the fruits of the earth is a call from the churches (nine this year) to focus our worship specifically on the created world. This new liturgical season, inserted into Ordinary Time, began on September 1, the World Day of Prayer for Creation, and goes until October 4, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. During this time our prayers, hymns, Scripture readings and preaching are to assist the faithful to reflect on the gift of creation, the perilous state of our natural world today, climate change and the urgent call to a radical shift in lifestyle and economic priorities for the sheer survival of the planet and all living things.

In a way it seems odd that creation needs a special season to get our attention. For the Scriptures make it abundantly clear that tender and loving stewardship of all living things on earth is our duty and our purpose. But we have been so enamoured with modern living, consumerism and materialism that the intimate bond with creation is in dire need of serious repairs. Even scientists are beginning to acknowledge that the environmental problem is much bigger than they can address from their vantage point: “I used to think that top global environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address these problems, but I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy, and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.” (Gus Speth, environmental scientist and advocate)

We have so betrayed God’s original Biblical command to care for the earth, that those seeking a spiritual connection to the land and ecological living now often turn to non-Christian sources of inspiration and support. Last winter a radio program featured an Anglican priest who embraces certain aspects of pagan spirituality in an attempt to restore the Biblical imperative to commune with nature. The interview caused a stir among well-meaning Christians, who seemed completely unaware that this priest might be motivated by a deep desire to bridge the divide between Christianity and ecologically-minded adherents of pre-Christian and non-Christian religions.

Incredibly sad and even dangerous, that too many of us fail to reflect in our daily living a deep and reverent connection with and responsibility towards the created order. Anyone delving into our Christian heritage will discover that there are many connecting points between the demands of Christian stewardship of creation and pre- and non-Christian paths which emphasize the same.  Spiritual paths that place care for creation front and center need not be mutually exclusive. The problem with Christianity is a massive neglect and collective amnesia on such matters, matters which now push us to take note for the sake of the planet’s sheer survival. For example, many elements found in neo-paganism are/were at one time part of the Christian understanding of the universe/creation but have been buried, neglected and forgotten. The book Saving Paradise provides a fascinating, and sad, account of how we lost touch with the beauty and splendour of God’s creation.

Written into creation and the created order is the challenge to live respectfully together on this planet, and to care for our common home. God has given us this challenge. Scripture tells us that when God created the natural world, he saw that it was good (Genesis 1:25). It has long been a fundamental teaching of  Christianity that the physical universe plays an important role in God’s plan. Our faith in spiritual things does not mean a rejection or devaluation of material realities. Christ came to raise up humanity, and all of creation with it, to the Father. As human beings created in God’s image, we have a unique responsibility to safeguard the created world and to treat it with respect. This fact lies at the centre of our obligation to lovingly tend and treasure both creation and each other. Unique among the creatures of our planet, we are created to be, and to love, like God. We manifest this love towards our fellow human beings and towards every creature God has made.

As Pope Francis writes in Laudato Si – On Care for Our Common HomeWe forget too easily that we ourselves are dust of the earth, our very bodies are made of the same elements as all living beings. We breathe the same air and we receive life, refreshment and nourishment from the Earth’s waters and vegetation. 

What will it take to reclaim these elements pertaining to the stewardship of God’s world in our own Christian tradition? Besides a growing, albeit slow, awareness that we do need to turn the Titanic of unbridled consumerism around, leading theologians and church leaders are increasingly joining the calls from scientists and environmentalists. Quantum theology and a new cosmology are being explored by scholars such as Diarmuid O’Murchu and Illia Delio. Theologians are taking a new look at the works of Jesuit priest Teilhard de Chardin, who was also a biologist and paleontologist, and whose insights the church and world were not ready for in his lifetime. But we can go back even further than that, to beloved saints such as Francis of Assissi and Hildegard of Bingen? What can we learn from them as we hold them up to the neo-pagan understandings of creation?

I see a most fertile field of research and reflection here. Is it possible, for example, to communicate neo-pagan concepts using such Christian voices? Would such an exercise create more openness and understanding between Christian spirituality, neo–pagan practices, and other non-Christian paths that foster an intimate bond with the created world ? For the sake of the planet’s health and survival, for the sake of Christianity’s integrity and authority, this seems to me to be a most pressing task.

Our collective ignorance of our own Christian theology, history and spirituality is now rapidly creating a noose around our fragile planet, ready to choke life itself. Our great and loving God has written a most precious book called Creation. From panoramic vistas to the tiniest living form, nature is a constant source of wonder and awe, continuously revealing the hand of Divine origin. To sense each creature singing the hymn of its own existence freely and without concern is to live joyfully in God’s love and hope, towards God’s purpose and meaning.

I mean, for heaven’s sake, we are people of the Incarnation  – do we really realize the consequences of this statement of faith as it relates to the entire animated world/creation? When it comes to lovingly stewarding the created order, the command of our Lord to serve and care and restore and heal applies equally to creation. Genesis One and Two together provide the spiritual foundation to do so. The care of creation, our common home, is to be intimately near and dear to our faith. Our worship and work and witness will be incomplete until our responsibility to care and cherish, to restore and conserve the glorious, God-given diversity of the earth’s creatures becomes second nature.

Bishop Mark MacDonald wrote a poignant reflection on this urgency.

A new concept of “Wild Church” is developing

A lovely account of an event in Saskatoon

Prairie Encounters

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