Inspired by Isaiah 11:1-9
More than a fairytale, Isaiah 11: 1-9 is the criteria by which we can measure our effectiveness in the continuation of Jesus’ ministry.
Out of a broken world, new relations are birthed. “In this passage,” Professor Michael J. Chan writes, “we witness a fundamental reordering of creations priorities. Predators dwell in harmony with their prey, carnivorous instincts are transformed, and the most vulnerable humans in society (children) are free to play with venomous snakes. Interspecies violence comes to an end and harmony ensues.”
We respond to this utopian vision with a sort of lackadaisical collective inclination to wait on a rather unlikely and mostly improbably miracle. If this is to happen to us, it will happen around us and without us as we continue to go about our daily lives. If that is, we are foolish enough to believe it is to happen at all.
And perhaps this response would remain unnoticed if it weren’t for our Divine inheritance in the Christ present in it all. Jesus is unapologetically clear that we are to play an active role in the manifestation of this vision. “I tell you the truth,” John 14:12 begins, “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing and will do even greater things than these…”
I am uncomfortable with the permission Jesus bestows. It seems an unwelcome accomplishment. That we might do even greater things than Jesus no matter the urgency of the need or the cost of the neglect. My response to the great need of the world is a prayer that Jesus/God/Spirit would respond on my behalf, on our behalf. My response has never been the cultivation of spiritual gifts for the purpose of the healing of the world, for the manifestation of the vision in Isaiah. Jesus says many things that are not taken seriously but none more than this; that we will do what Jesus has been doing and will do even greater things than these…”
However we feel about the impossibilities of Jesus’ prediction, it is the world that needs His words to remain true. This is the response required in the work of radically reordering the world in the direction of love. And the relevancy of this work and the urgency of its nature has never been more real than it is right now in this moment.
After 65 million years passing without an extinction event on this planet, we are both witnessing and instigating a sixth mass extinction event. Birthed into the ‘new life’ of the Cenozoic Era, our lives are stretching from the miracle of the incredible diversity of living beings on this planet toward the melancholy of the loss of this diversity at an astonishing rate. Perhaps unlike any other era on this planet, all of Creation knows what we are losing as it is being lost.
Biologist Edward O. Wilson has termed the Era we now prepare to enter the Eremozoic, meaning the age of loneliness.
Read from such collective despair, the vision of Isaiah 11: 1-9 is received as precariously precious; a vision as necessary as it is neglected. This promise, gifted to those carrying on the healing work of Christ, exists as a plank of wood in a raging sea. This promise is all we have left to hold onto as we helplessly watch everything else slowly fade away.
The claim to our healing presence in the world and the vision of Isaiah 11:1-9 as our guide is the only response to the cries of the world that will suffice.
Our work is not to accomplish the vision of Isaiah for Creation. Our work is to become a cooperative part of the healing work already taking place within Creation. This is a call for repentance of our stance of superiority and separation. This is a call to commit to kin-making with all of Creation as the expression of our baptismal vows.
As an indigenous framework, kinship applies to human relations as well as relations with the entire nonhuman world. In the words of Linda Hogan, “individual, communal, and, world health involves attentive maintenance of these relations.” This is what it means to be the Church, to live as a Christian, to exist in this world as a part of Creation. We acknowledge that our legacy as Euro-Americans is the removal of spirit from everything, and we humbly commit to a path of kin-making as we practice the pace of equanimity in the community of creation.
Through kin-making, Linda Hogan writes, “we remember that we come from the same place, the same people, the same grief, and the same stories.” To heal the planet we must release our toxic claim to superior ways of knowing the world. Donna Hathaway describes this release of superiority as the work of “building complex contact zones with others who know differently than we do so that everyone is transformed by the engagement.” We cannot create solutions from the same sources of our problems. Hope is embedded in an unconditional openness to each other; both human and more-than-human.
If extreme isolation through presumed superiority is causing the suffering of our fellow humans and the mass extinction of millions of species on the planet, the problem that requires a solution is not the suffering and the extinction but our isolation, our presumed superiority, our loneliness. The solution to the suffering of other humans and the mass extinction of diverse species is our commitment to kin-making with all of creation.
In a study published by Cognition, researchers gave expert chess players game problems to solve and then tracked their eye movements as they sought a solution. Researchers observed that once chess players found a possible solution, their eyes kept drifting back to it – even though they claimed to be searching for better options. Their eye movements showed that they continued to look at features of the problem related to the solution that was familiar. It wasn’t until the familiar solution was completely removed as an option, that the chess players were able to identify better solutions to their problems.
The research found that eliminating the familiar instantly reveals a broader array of potential solutions. The study explained that “taking one solution off the table can help us look at difficult problems in entirely new ways. But when we think we know the answer, our vision tunnels which control the subsequent direction of our attention from that point forward.”
We are protecting our problem with our attempted solutions simply by the way we organize and isolate ourselves. We will not participate in the healing work required for the vision of Isaiah if we remain isolated and submerged in the familiar. If the problem is our loneliness, the answer is connection. Specifically, connection with that which we have become unfamiliar. The immediate discomfort of being ‘wrong’ will form the relationships which hold the solution to our collective suffering.
Let us take seriously both the vision of Isaiah and the possibilities of our presence predicted by Jesus.
Let us gather around a table with those who speak a different language without the assumption that we authored the truth long before their story was spoken.
Let us remember our belonging as kin in Creation. Rooted in One story. Connected by One struggle. Saved through solutions expressed only through solidarity.