Down to Earth | June 27, 2020
Inspired by Genesis 1:20-23 (NRSV)
And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
Five days of vivid imagination offered into the fluidity of creation which swallows and births shape to divine vision.
In spite of the historical conflict and violence between science and Christianity, it is incredible how the two ways of knowing mirror and support one another. So much time and intentionality spent on the development of a life-giving habitat; life birthed above and below long before the soil welcomed any citizens. It is as if all the imaginative, evolutionary investment is being made to strengthen the structure which will hold and sustain life in all forms throughout all of the time. This pattern of day and night, this pronouncement of goodness, this waking with divine blueprint eager to unfold…all of these functions as the architect for infinite expressions of life that will rise and return to the makings of something larger than that one life, existing in that one moment.
In the cosmic calendar, human existence is represented by a tiny glint in the corner of the month of December. Preceding our entrance is eleven months and a good 29 days of cosmic creativity cued by divine imagination, love, and concern. Thirteen point eighty-two billion years and counting tell a story of divine commitment to the continuation of agape raised and returned for theology in which regeneration finds a firm and reliable hold. This light, this darkness, this water melting and rising, this air clouded and crowded with carbon, all of this rests as a witness to the eternal evolution of Love made into Life through the materials possessed by creation.
The gift of the scientific story to the theological narrative is that of explanatory interconnectedness. Jesus comes and teaches what science proves was in process all along; that we are not separate entities created to rule over one another with rigidity and ridicule. Jesus models behavior that science abides by; lessons taught in a myriad of contexts connected by an identical moral truth; we are inescapably connected. Beyond any boundary of time, place, or life form, we are the product of divine imagination holding steady by roots of holy love, evolving toward love experienced as vast as the skies above. And so, science proves what Jesus holds us accountable to, that each and every ritual must serve as a reminder of this relationship of divine birth and creaturely interdependence.
There is something unspeakably beautiful held in the marriage of scientific knowing and theological meaning. This union offering something stronger than any certainty produced on their own; an offering of mystery that can only be truly encountered with raw humility. It is a story in which we are late to arrive but of no less importance. Creatures of the sea, birds of the air welcomed us as siblings birthed by divine conception. As adopted children, feathered brothers and scaled sisters shared air with us, made room for us, and raised us into being in a world that was formed and familiar to their flocks.
We are one day and millions of years late to the story. And, as we will learn more about next week when we do actually enter the story, God imagines, forms, affirms and blesses the proliferation of life manifest with wings and fins and shells and feathers, in the same manner, expressed to all the land-bound creatures just one day later saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” Our blessing, to be fruitful and to multiply, is to be understood as one of creaturely inheritance and divine imagination. We are blessed because of their blessing.
Standing outside the exit of the prehistoric exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science I asked the ten-youth standing circled around me to share the coolest thing they learned from the exhibit. One of the youths immediately shouted, “That we are made of fish scales!” to which all of the other youth smiled and nodded their heads. My stomach turned a little to think of the kids running home to tell their parents how Pastor Stephanie taught them that they evolved from fish but my own unease with parental response didn’t do much to make what they had discovered any less true. Human teeth are pretty much hardened fish scales. An article written by Dr. Michael Mosley and published by BBC News, explains that “The early human embryo looks very similar to the embryo of any other mammal, bird or amphibian – all of which have evolved from fish. Your eyes start out on the sides of your head, but then move to the middle. The top lip along with the jaw and palate started life as gill-like structures on your neck.”
The scientific connections only support the true theological connectedness that Jesus embodied; that it is our connectedness, that makes us special. The connectedness is the signature of the Divine which tells a story of hope and resilience beyond all understanding. We are unique not because of any human-defined separateness or superiority, we are unique because of our expression of connectedness to all that has been before and all that will come after. We are informed and informing the creative evolution of God’s expression of Love as Life in creation. It’s curious why this revelation would be upsetting other than that it has the potential to be unsettling.
Which would actually point us in the right direction, if our intent truly was to follow Jesus as opposed to sustaining an institution that shelters traditions that affirm the narrow stories, we tell ourselves about who we are and why we are here. Here to do communion. Here to sing a hymn. Here to say a prayer. Here to share my opinion. Here to lend a helping hand. And, in all of our, “Here To’s” we rarely consider that we are here to learn why we are here and what we are here to do. The uncertainty of following a countercultural, crucified Christ is an impossible marketing technique after all.
Four years ago, I walked down the stairs and out the front door of our second-story apartment to find myself unexpectantly greeted by an unusually large baby bird standing just a few feet in front of me. Unable to fly, the baby bird hopped a safe distance from me before stopping and turning around to watch me with curiosity. I was at a complete loss as to what I was supposed to do to be helpful in keeping the bird out of harm so I called a few numbers that popped up under my google search, “how to save a baby bird” and, “how to make a baby bird clothes and, how to name your new baby bird and, how to put your baby bird in your will” until finally, a rather short-tempered woman cut me off mid-explanation to say that the bird was a kestrel who had been pushed out of its nest by its mother to learn how to fly but would be just fine. The baby’s mom was close by and keeping an eye out to make sure her baby would be safe until he was strong enough to fly.
I think of all the harm I could have done because I had no relationship with the creatures sharing space around me. The humancentric ritual of swooping in and saving without the understanding and connection that comes with a kindred relationship threatened the livelihood of new life standing before me that day. I needed to learn why I was there and what I was there to do even if it meant learning that the best thing I could do was leave this young falcon alone and quietly walk away. It is the mistake of assuming we know the ritual to connect before we establish the relationship to understand.
In the book, “Cultivating Reality: How the Soil Might Save Us,” Ragan Sutterfield writes, “we act with great power, but not with great knowledge – however, impressed we might be with what we know…(and) such ignorant arrogance is at the roots of human sin.” It is a practice destructive to our planet, to our people and to our purpose as Beloved creatures evolved and evolving toward Divine Love. The permission Jesus gives the community of faith, the people committed to following, is one of surrendering rituals to prioritize relationship knowing the regenerative nature of our world.
The question for us then becomes, can we show up faithfully without knowing why we are here and, by embracing this reality, stay committed to understanding more fully in each moment what we are here to do and who we are here to do it with.
Last Sunday evening, eight of us gathered out here under the canopy sanctuary to learn from Steve Kennedy the spiritual practice of haiku. Haiku, as a spiritual practice, offers a road on which we can travel to revert to the sacredness of our divine connection with all things. As such, haiku functions as a resting place to witness what is in the absence of what we think it ought to be. It is a creative art that requires first the ability to sit with what already is and to repeat back the reality that showing up to the presence of a sacred welcome and witness. It is a form of radical hospitality wrapped in a ritual that reunites the strayed ego to the interconnectedness of the Christ present within all things.
The Rev. Dr. Ian Ellis-Jones explains that “As a spiritual practice—and a way of life—haiku is the creative and experiential essence of the practice of mindfulness, with all its concrete directness and immediacy. As such, haiku superbly captures the extraordinary in the ordinary and sometimes mundane events and things of everyday life, and the writing of haiku helps to sharpen one’s direct, unmediated and uninterrupted awareness of life unfolding naturally— please note that word—from moment to moment…”
From moment to moment, discipleship becomes an act of surrendering our capacity to manipulate and control to an act of embracing the mystery of our connection and compatibility to all of Creation. If it is the science that offers an explanation to the pace and pattern of evolution, should it not be we who offers the back the divine blessing of Life that has been so unexpectantly and undeservingly offered to us? That after all the Life that has shifted and reshaped to permit our human form, we might also shift and reshape the rituals into fertilizer on the divine meaning for which all Life was made?
“Imagine walking through a richly inhabited world of Birch people, Bear people, Rock people,” Robin Wall Kimmerer writes, “beings we think of and therefore speak of as persons worthy of our respect, of inclusion in a peopled world. We Americans are so reluctant to learn a foreign language of our own species, let alone another species. But imagine the possibilities. Imagine the access we would have to different perspectives, the things we might see through other eyes, the wisdom that surrounds us. We don’t have to figure out everything by ourselves: there are intelligences other than our own, teachers all around us. Imagine how much less lonely we would be.”
Perhaps, this explains the excitement shared by the kids after they discovered they were made from fish; it’s a little bit weird, yes… but doesn’t it also make the world feel a lot less lonely?