creation

Wondrous Cycles of Life

JOIN ME IN your imagination for a few minutes in the high Andes. The bamboo that arches over us here—like the tree that arches over your yard or nearby park—is at this very moment taking the carbon you and other creatures are breathing out. It then reforms this carbon into carbohydrate, powered by solar energy and hydrated with water (photosynthesis). It is making sugar from that CO2. The plant then uses this sugar to provide the energy and materials for making all sorts of new substances.

For example, if I take a leaf from a plant (such as lettuce or kale) and chew and swallow it, it is transformed within me to produce materials for sustaining my life, powering my walking and speaking and writing. And from its use I release carbon dioxide, returning through this gas the very same carbon the leaf had absorbed through the stomatal pores on its surface and incorporated into the leafy food I ingested. To complete the remarkable carbon cycle, the carbon I breathe out is eventually taken up again by green plants that in turn produce food for humans, bugs, birds, and batrachians! (Let’s hear a doxology!) Without green plants, all human life perishes—and most other animate life as well.

Plants accomplish a myriad of activities out of our sight. Beneath lawns and gardens, forests and prairies, roots are moving water from the soil, pulling it up through stems into the leaves and back into the atmosphere. All forests, all trees, all vegetation—great movers of water—are constantly returning to the atmosphere water that had fallen as rain. It rises again and again within the thin fabric of the biospheric envelope and condenses into those white clouds you see above to fall down again to water the earth.

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God the Farmer

Food-related coverage in this issue was supported by ELCA World Hunger (www.elca.org/hunger)
 

The Psalms are the icons of the Bible. Icons are paintings of Christ or another holy figure used in worship and devotions in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. They are, like the Bible itself, understood to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. The psalms resemble icons in that they are the most visual part of the Bible: They speak to our religious imaginations in memorable verbal images; they create pictures in our minds. Icons are considered to be “windows into heaven.” They are an opening from our world into the world to come. But of course one can look through a window in both directions: Icons open out from this world into the kingdom of God, and at the same time they let us see our world from the perspective of that one.

And that is exactly what the psalms do: They reveal to us our world, our own lives, from a God’s-eye point of view. When you ponder a psalm deeply, you find your ordinary perspective on the world challenged and gradually changed.

I want to focus on Psalm 65, which speaks to us powerfully about God and creation and our own place in the created order. As you read it, think of yourself as encountering an icon, a holy image given us so the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened, as the Apostle Paul says (Ephesians 1:18), so that we may see our world and ourselves as God might see us.

In this verbal icon, I see four things that might surprise us, enlightening the eyes of our heart.

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Naked Before God

Woman praying, Smirnof/Shutterstock.com
Woman praying, Smirnof/Shutterstock.com

This morning I prayed naked. This exercise is part of a 50 Day Challenge I am doing.  Some friends of mine created 50 Suggestions to Embrace Healthy Sexuality and one of them is strip off one’s clothes and prostrate oneself. For me it looked more like huddling under my covers to stay warm (my bedroom is in a basement and my sensitive body doesn’t much care for its constant 65 degrees).

As I sat there praying, naturally I thought about my body. At first I began to consider all of its shapes and sizes—the feel of my skin and hair and curves underneath my palms. I thought about its beauty and how uniquely it was created. There are few other things that have skin similar to us humans. And we each have our own and only attributes: fingerprints that will never have a match; the unique combination of height, hair color, facial composition, and idiosyncrasies.

I am the only me. You are the only you. Ever. Period.

'Everything Will Live Where the River Goes'

In the Christian tradition we speak of baptismal waters as the symbolic source of renewed life. That metaphor, however, is predicated upon a broader biblical vector concerning “living waters.” The prophetic literature contains a recurring eschatological promise of social and environmental restoration through the “rehydration” of the world, a rich tradition worth exploring for ecological theology.

In our historical moment we cannot talk about “waters of renewal” without first acknowledging the systematic “dehydration” of the earth by industrial civilization. Of the many specters of our deepening ecological crisis—climate change, species extinction, peak oil, declining natural fertility—one of the most pressing is “peak water.” The Pacific Institute’s Peter Gleick describes this as “the critical point, already reached in many areas of the world, where we overtax the planet’s ability to absorb the consequences of our water use.” We see its symptoms in global desertification, widespread water insecurity, and declining water quality.

Our ancient ritual of baptism reflects a modern ecological fact: Without water there can be no life. Peak water, like the other grim trends, represents an endgame unless we “turn around.” This should compel Christians not only to seek earth-literacy urgently, but also to re-read our Bibles from the perspective of the “groaning creation,” as did Paul in Romans 8:21-22. Water is a good place to start. Though we in the First World take it for granted, it is a central justice and environmental issue that deserves both social analysis and theological reflection.

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Maybe the Big Bang Wasn’t So Big

Large Hadron Collider (particle accelerator) at CERN. Image via http://www.wyli
Large Hadron Collider (particle excellerator) at CERN. Image via http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/2046228644

The international scientific community is excited about the growing possibility of discovering the so-called “God particle,” the spark they believe is the origin of the universe.

Despite the fact the Newt Gingrich has for many years claimed this title, physicists working at the Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva, Switzerland, apparently stopped appearing in Dan Brown novels long enough to come close to identifying this illusive particle. (Coincidentally, my college roommate’s car was called the Small Hadron Collider, a rusty Corvair with a habit of resisting the driver’s directional input at crucial moments, such as intersections.)

By the way, perhaps you’re wondering why unlocking the fundamental mysteries of the universe—such as Rick Santorum’s political career—and creating an enormous wealth of knowledge in experimental physics is not being done in the United States. It’s because President Bill Clinton chose to strip funding from the proposed collider outside Houston and instead funded the International Space Station, a rusty construction of old Corvair parts that has cost us over $150 billion and has provided little scientific discovery, unless you count the surprising effectiveness of duct tape in low gravity situations. To be fair, someday the Space Station will look really cool streaking across the sky just before it crashes onto somebody’s backyard. But I digress.

The "Atonement-Only" Gospel

If justice is only an implication, it can easily become optional and, especially in privileged churches, non-existent. In the New Testament, conversion happens in two movements: Repentance and following. Belief and obedience. Salvation and justice. Faith and discipleship.

Atonement-only theology and its churches are in most serious jeopardy of missing the vision of justice at the heart of the kingdom of God. The atonement-only gospel is simply too small, too narrow, too bifurcated, and ultimately too private.

Hurricanes and Spoiled Romance

When our ideas about nature come primarily from Sierra Club calendars or selected snippets from Thoreau, an east coast earthquake and monster hurricane (in the same week) are powerful wake-up calls.

We modern urban dwellers and suburbanites like our nature contained and manageable: a nice hike in the woods; a pretty sunset on the drive home; a lush, green lawn (chemically-induced, alas)

Sometimes we like nature so much we decide to worship it -- or to make it the medium for our worship of God or the "higher power" we think might be up there, out there, presiding over it all. We've been wounded by organized religion, perhaps, disgusted by its hierarchies and hypocrisies. "I can worship God on a mountaintop," we decide. (Or -- conveniently, happily -- on the golf course).

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