Earth: Creation Exchange
Rev. Douglas Taylor
April 17, 2016
Yesterday I was up in Ithaca for a church cluster conference on leadership and partnership. Around mid-day my energy was flagging. After lunch I went out for a quick walk to help keep myself awake. Someone suggested a park that was only 2 or 3 blocks away from the church. I was surprised. I’ve been visiting that Ithaca UU church for a dozen years and had no idea that the bottom of the Cascadilla Gorge was right around the corner, a few blocks from the center of town. I was delightfully surprised and refreshed. Brian Swimme once said “Our Universe is a Universe of surprise.” I’m sure he meant it in a grander fashion than I am suggesting in this little anecdote, although I think part of the point is to learn to be open to surprises, to bring a mindset of wonder so our eyes will be ready.
The reading by Brian Swimme this morning is in response to a question from a youth: “How can I learn about my creativity?” Swimme then talks about galaxies and elementary particles. The universe itself is an enormous act of creativity. “Our Universe is a Universe of surprise.” There is always something new arising. Creation is an ongoing interchange available in every moment, in every aspect of the universe.
In describing how we participate in creation, Swimme writes:
The intelligence that ignited the first minds, the care that spaced the notes of the nightingale, the power that heaved all 100 billion galaxies across the sky … now awakens as you, too, and permeates your life no less thoroughly. –Brian Swimme
We are the earth. Michael Dowd likes to say we grew out of the earth as a peach grows out of a peach tree. We are the local embodiment of the universe. Whitman famously said “I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.” Meaning we are as well. So to learn about your own creativity, look to the creativity of the great, rolling and unfolding, amazing and multi-connected universe of which we are a part.
Early in my ministry I learned the importance of talking about evolution from a religious and even mythic perspective. Evolution is not only a scientific understanding, it is also a story of who we were, and are, and yet shall be. Throughout the ages, Religions have considered creation to be God’s work. Where did we come from, where did everything come from? Many religious people quickly answer: from God. And then evolutionary scientists respond: no, we evolved. But what if it isn’t an argument? What if both answers are true? Early in my ministry, that is the conclusion I struggled to articulate – both answers are true.
Here is how it works for me, my creative answer. I begin with my experiences of life rather than set theories and doctrines about reality. My experiences lead me to understand that my small corner of universe is a dynamic, evolving reality – and that matches what science says. My experiences also lead me to see there is a holiness pervading all life – and that is what liberal theology says. “Everything, everything, everything is holy now.” (Peter Mayer)
In seminary we talked about incarnation theology. It is a theology that speaks of spirit in the material. For Christianity this tends to be focalized in the person of Jesus – Jesus is The Incarnation, the embodiment of God in humanity. Of course, most liberal Christians acknowledge that while Jesus was the particular incarnation of God, all people have some God within; they say all humanity has a ‘spark of the divine.” We Unitarian Universalists like that part; we speak about everyone and everything as an embodiment of the holy.
This idea shows up early in scripture. In the first chapter of Genesis!
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
-Genesis 1: 26-27
Embedded in the Biblical story of Creation is this creative notion that we have a little divinity within each of us. For ages since, theologians have argued about what, exactly, is the ‘likeness’ and ‘image’ of God in us. Christian theologians agree that we have the Imago Dei. Despite the classic art and contemporary cartoons depicting God as an old man, a little like Zeus or a cuddly version of Odin, few theologians seriously suggests God looks like us physically. So if we set aside the literal interpretation, what are the other options?
Early Church theologians such as Ambrose said the soul was the image; Athanasius claimed it was our rationality. Augustine, suggested a mirror of the trinity of the Godhead with the image of God being our triune faculties of soul: memoria, intellectus, amor. Early mystics proposed the image of God was in the sexual union (or reunion, perhaps) of man and woman. Reformers such as John Calvin insisted the image of God was our original righteousness prior to the fall into sin. Jewish theologians commend self-consciousness and self-determination as the image; others suggest it is our innate nobility.
Early Universalists spoke of the Image of God as the reason God’s love includes everyone, and by extension, that image of God in us is our capacity to love others. On the Unitarian side, William Ellery Channing, the founder of American Unitarianism, proposed our capacity to be good is the image of God within as God is morally perfect.
Christian theologian Karl Barth offered an historical survey of the doctrine in which he acknowledged a crucial point that throughout the history of this, each interpreter has been steeped in the context of their own era and culture. (K. Barth, Church Dogmatics III/I, 1958)
Thus, all these interpretations of the Image of God say more about the interpreters and their cultural contexts than they do about the reality of existence and human nature. In essence, whatever we would name as the best quality of humanity, the finest attribute to which we can aspire – that is the Image of God.
So when I suggest that the image of God is really our creativity, our capacity to participate in creation, you can be assured I am telling you almost nothing about God and a whole lot of what I value about humanity. My own understanding of God is informed by Process Theology, I see the holy as a constant flow of unfolding energy; it is the spirit of becoming, leading into the next aspect of life. Thus, the image of God I see within is that which also is in process, that which is constantly in creation, ever spinning and becoming.
And with all that is going on with Earth Day coming up, and our celebrations, and the political commentary in the news about the climate crisis, I sometimes wonder if this ever spinning creation I am talking about here is spinning out of control.
Have you ever ridden the teacups at a carnival? I remember one time when our oldest Brin was maybe 3 years old there was a rinky-dink carnival set up in the parking lot of a run-down mall. They had very little business at that hour and we climbed into the teacup ride.
She was so excited. The operator smiled at us and started the ride. If you know the ride, you know the whole thing starts slow and builds up in speed, and as the whole ride circles around, each teacup can also spin. So we’re spinning away and I look at my daughter’s grinning face and ask, “Do you want to go faster?” she nods excitedly.
I no longer remember exactly how it worked, if I leaned forward or leaned back to get it spinning faster, but all the sudden we started whipping around. And the blood drained out of my daughter’s face. The operator of the ride noticed and quickly shut down the ride. Nice guy. I bought her some ice cream to help her perk back up. I double checked online last night to see if my memory of this ride was correct and found the line: “Under modern H&S guidelines children’s rides should not spin faster than eight times per minute.”
My point in telling you this story is that like the mechanical tea cup ride, we can manipulate the situation to spin faster if we want to. In the past century or so, the human species has made great strides in eradicating some major diseases, dramatically extended the average lifespan, and created an abundance of luxury available at our fingertips – or at least at the fingertips of some.
Our distribution of the abundance we have extracted from the earth is still problematic but the amount is indisputable. We have pushed the carrying capacity well beyond the limit because we have manipulated the situation to spin faster. We are spinning our tea cup beyond the guidelines for such rides, spinning faster than is recommended. We are out of alignment. How long will it hold?
A few weeks back at our Question Box sermon, I answered a question about climate change with Johanna Macy’s ‘three responses.’ Some stay in denial, refusing to acknowledge to looming disruption. Some succumb to despair, seeing no hope in the looking disruption. I refuse to either ignore the situation or despair of our chances. And Macy proposes the third way, the way of the Great Turning, the choice to hold hope.
I remain hopeful that we will harness the creative resilience that has marked our species throughout time. Creativity is the key. New solutions are always unfolding. In many ways, the biggest trick is to adjust our perspective enough to re-center our values on creativity.
The root language connection between creation and creativity is obvious. Artists are creators. Our creativity is rooted in nature, in our nature as humans and in the earth. It is important to honor the creativity we offer the world. Do you sing or paint? Sculpt or garden? Do you work with new ideas and concepts? Do you write poems or stories? It is holy work because it is creative work. If creation is the purview of the gods, artists and mothers are the most holy people on earth.
How can learn about my creativity, the youth asked Brian Swimme. Look to the earth, look to the whole universe and the grand adventure of creation ongoing. Go walk in the park by the base of the gorge and wake up. Seek the creative exchange of the Universe in you. Starhawk, in her book The Earth Path, writes, “We are not separate from nature but in fact are nature.”
At our 24 hour spirituality retreat this coming weekend for example, we meet up the Sky Lake Retreat center in Windsor. It is a beautiful location and every year we leave a few hours in the afternoon for people to just be in nature. We encourage folks to walk around the lake or take a nap on the grass, to walk in beauty either alone or in company. It is not something extra; it is a key piece of the schedule.
Our world needs our creativity. The image of God is our capacity to create. It is also the image of the earth and universe stamped as an identity on our souls. We are one with the creative creation in which we live. How can I learn about my creativity? In exchange with all creation, the earth and you give and receive together. You are creative because you are the earth, because you have the image of God within. And this spinning, unfolding, majestic multi-connected universe is in you and Our Universe is a Universe of surprise.
In a world without end
May it be so