Christianity · Liturgy · Theology

Humanity and Creation II – a sermon given Sunday 9 September 2018

Text of a sermon given at St Hilda’s Anglican Church, North Perth, Sunday 9 September 2018.

Genesis 1: 1-31, Psalm 33: 1-9, John 1: 1-14.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

For many churches September is the season of Creation. And many churches this month will focus on both the beauty of God’s earth, and the ongoing damage being done to her. A single example of such damage revealed this week was release of coal-laden water near the Great Barrier Reef.

While it is easy to reject such environmental vandalism, which leaves our seas, rivers and forests polluted and degraded, it is harder to see that the root cause of this vandalism lies at the heart of such benign activities as eco-tourism and even nature documentaries.

In both cases however, the environment – the Land – is seen as separate to humanity, to be used as we see fit. The first, for short term private economic gain, the second for a short-term private experience of ‘nature’.

Such an impoverishment of Creation, I would argue, may be well be considered as similar to blasphemy.

For within our scriptures there is an unexplored understanding of Creation which, if it was fully embraced would change our world, utterly, completely and irrevocably.

font
9th or 10th century Anglo-Saxon font from St Hilda’s.

In our first reading from Genesis, God famously declares Creation as good. Everything, from the tiniest spore of fungus to the great, overwhelming panoply of galaxies that surround us – all created, completely out of exuberant love, by God as his ‘good Creation’.

Crucially however, humanity is not created separate to Creation – to despoil or to enjoy. In this first account of Creation we are created as an image of God, on the sixth day as part of the sweep of Creation. The single stated purpose for our existence; to be stewards of Creation.

Genesis continues with another account of Creation where we are formed from the dust of the ground, Adam the earth creature, formed from Adamah the earth herself. Our reason for existence – to tend a garden.

And what is the nature of this ground, this Land, this earth we are created to tend and are formed from? – Our psalm today is clear:

The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.

The earth beneath us right now – full of love. The soil we dig our hands into as we garden – full of love. The food we eat – grown within and out of steadfast love.

Christianity enthusiastically declares that we are not just connected to the earth – separated but linked entities. It says boldly and clearly that we are formed of the world, as part of Creation, as part of the land. And this is why even activities such as eco-tourism, which may reinforce the separation of humanity and Creation, need to be considered with care.

We are of the earth, we are part of the seamless tapestry of the unknowable economy of Creation. Here in Australia we are blessed to learn this truth by listening to the voices of our Aboriginal sisters, brothers and companions who have lived it for 60 000 years.

One of those voices is the Reverend Lenore Parker, a Yaegl elder from the country we now call northern New-South Wales. She is responsible for the beautiful and powerful prayer. “A thanksgiving for Australia”, included in our prayer book. I’m sure this has been prayed here more than once, you probably know it. It begins “God of holy dreaming, Great Creator Spirit’ …

I heard Aunty Lenore speak last year at the Whadjuk-Bibulumum day at Wollaston Theological College. One of the many things she said has remained with me. Speaking about the church, our church, she said, despite its name, the church would remain the Church of England in Australia unless it opened itself and welcomed the Land into the church.

Note, she did not say welcome our first nations peoples into the church – which is another story – but the Land itself.

What would this look like? Our church filled with the Land? I am not sure, but I expect it would be very good.

And our Gospel today gives even more Good News – that all things – all of Creation – including you, and me and everyone we know, was brought into being through Christ.

Without him not one thing came into being

This means everything within this amazing 90 billion light years span of space, full of galaxies, stars, planets, comets, mountains and lakes, and … us. We are ALL brought into being through Christ, created to tend and to garden and …

Well, the reading goes onto to outline our destiny our telos, our endpoint,

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,

So … here we are, gardeners of Creation, formed from the earth herself, made in the image of God and destined to be children of God. It really cannot get much better can it?

God however, only gives us the power to become children of God. We are not fully formed, we are not yet fully perfected as she wishes us to be – we still have work to do – in the garden! And we still have to unfold and become the person God made us to be and calls us to be at every moment of every day.

Our tradition teaches that we become more the person God calls us to be through communion. Communion with God as Trinity, communion with the redemptive love of Christ through body and blood, communion with each other, and communion with Creation.

Creation is inextricably linked with humanity’s spiritual growth, as we are creation also. And again, this is something our Aboriginal sisters, brothers and companions can provide much insight into. We cannot fully understand this mysterious economy of salvation; but we trust that as we participate more in the life of God, Creation itself is affected by that participation. And as creation itself unfolds in its God created purpose, the more we unfold.

Being made in the image of God, as we love and care for Creation we help bring Creation towards what it is meant to be. This is why we’re the gardeners. Since we are made in the image of God, God can be present through us, through our conscious choice – and so, through us, God may tend to her Garden of Creation.

So as followers of Christ, we worship God; As followers of Christ we are one with Creation and as followers of Christ we bring Creation to its fullness. Our life as Christians and as sustainers of Creation cannot be separated, since our God who is One, made us for this purpose.

Amen.

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Christianity · Liturgy · Theology

We Worship on Stolen Land: a short reflection

australian_aboriginal_flagThe other day I attended another protest rally for Aboriginal justice. The scope and scale of the injustice explored by the speakers is too great to detail here. Suffice to say not a lot has changed since my first rally in the 1980s.

One of the keys areas that white Australia* does not seem to understand is the Aboriginal experience of Land. I am deliberately avoiding the term ‘connection to the Land’ as this implies, linguistically at least, an equivalence with New Age workshop experiences where one ‘connects to the Land’ before going off to sip a café latte. The concept of connecting to the Land implies two separate entities, one connecting to the other. While I cannot speak on Aboriginal experience of land, being a white Australian*, I suspect something different is involved.

Personally the closest I can come to an understanding is my own ongoing, intense connection (consciously using that term here) to the Land of my birth and childhood. The intensity and beauty of this felt normal as a boy, and it was only after leaving that I realised what it was. This is so intense I have consciously made decisions not to visit, because I fear I could never leave again and Perth is where my home and family are.

And this is nothing like the lives of the first nations people here.

As a kid, I accidently stumbled on woodland paths that I found out later were parts of old faery stories echoing a past time, perhaps like aboriginal peoples, when myth and story were sacred and explained the living features of the land. I was not the recipient of an ongoing culture of the Land, from conception onward, embodying 60 000 years of unbroken civilisation.

So, as white invaders^  we cannot understand the importance of Land for the first Australians*. At each gathering of first nation peoples I am privileged to attend, I am exposed to the barest understanding of the pain suffered by dispossession of Land and  forcible relocation to other Lands, particularly dying outside one’s own Country.

As white invaders, our culture and religious background cannot encompass the reality of the Land as lived by the first peoples on this continent. Our conceptual, legal and cultural framework of ownership creates an impassable barrier. Our cultural religious tradition has a foundational myth of divinely mandated dispossession  and genocide of first nation peoples. I will not go on …

It does seem to me, however, one thing we can do, as Christians and others of faith, is tell the truth:

WE WORSHIP ON STOLEN LAND

The Land where we pray, where we go to church, where our cathedrals, chapels and private sacred spaces are built, is stolen. Sovereignty was never ceded: it always was, and always will be, Aboriginal Land. As Peter Garrett sang on behalf of all white invaders over thirty years ago:

The time has come
A fact’s a fact
It belongs to them
Let’s give it back.

Recently as part of my own spiritual practice, I have begun adding words to reflect this truth. As well as acknowledging the original owners of the Land where I practice, and inviting the Spirit of the Land to be present, I acknowledge sovereignty has never been ceded. That I stand on stolen Aboriginal Land.

How would such truth telling – for that is simply what it is – look in our churches, in our liturgy, in our lives? I am not sure, but we need to find out.

Always was, always will be,
Aboriginal Land.

 

* The country we now call ‘Australia’.

^ I use this term in a the present tense, since even if not actively involved in ongoing dispossession of the Land, we all benefit from that dispossession.

Christianity · Liturgy · Theology

A Quick Note on Ordination

Sometimes a blog is inspired, gestates and finally comes to birth because a blogger got annoyed. This is one of those times.

The other day a university lecturer was addressing folk training towards Ordination. She’s an ordained minister herself in a non-Anglican church*. She asserted one needs to work out whether ordination (A) makes an ontological difference to the person ordained, or if it is (B) a ceremonial recognition of, essentially, a job. She then compounded this by saying, admittedly playfully, we need to decide if there is ‘magic’ done at the ceremony which changes the ordinand.

We can see where she is coming from. No matter. What concerns me the most is not her opinion, option B, ‘job’, but rather the method of framing the choice at all. Oh, and the magic.

Let’s deal with the magic first.

There is no magic involved in ordination. Magic centres on the will of the magician. Ordination is concerned with the will of God. I know that from a phenomenological perspective there is little difference between religion and magic: Toby has status ‘A’, undergoes a ceremony and now has status B. This happens with ordination and with magical initiation. However, from a theological and ecclesial perspective the two are polar opposites. This is because, theologically, it is the will of God which changes the ordinand, not the will of the people. This is not convincing as it stands, just words really, but please attend to the deeper concern I have with how my lecturer framed the question.

ordinands1

Personhood Constantly Being Called into Trinitarian Being

From a Christian ontological perspective we are not individuals. We are persons. And as such we are not separate, atomised selves, but are in fact constantly called into being by that mystery we label as ‘God’. Moreover we are called into being in her image; that is in the self-effacing, eternal relating of the Trinity. God is not a being but is being itself. In the text book set by lecturer herself it states that we are “creatures that are ceaselessly spoken by the Creator”^. We are not fixed but are called into being every moment of every day. This is why some Christian traditions recognize the tragic end of those people who have consciously and decisively rejected this calling into being by God – as a cessation of existence, or since we are made imago dei ‘forever’, an eternal state devoid of God’s presence. Uber sad panda.

While we are all called into being by God, the Christian traditions (at least the Catholic ones) recognise that the church itself is also established and called into being by God – to do her work for all people and especially the baptised. The church is the mystical bride of Christ and embodies the work and telos of God through its ecclesial structures. See Michael Ramsay’s The Gospel and the Catholic Church and my next but last post.

As such then one of the aims of baptism is to bring the person within the church on the inner and outer levels. The person, once baptised is now also brought into being at each moment by God through her church. This is what is meant by a being a member of the Body of Christ. Baptism changes us forever – and the metaphors of an indelible mark or stamp work only to convey the timeless grace the sacrament brings. There is no form to the soul, no individual, ghostly, independent ontological entity which may receive such a mark. It is a metaphor. The ‘mark’ is the Cross, and baptism, since it brings the person into being also through the church which embodies the Cross, makes our lives cruciform.

And so for ordination. My lecturer makes the modern mistake of assuming an individuated, self-existing, autonomous soul. The Reverend Sarah Coakely, systematic theologian is quite clear: “Autonomy does not exist. It has never existed and it is a modern fallacy that it does”.

And so there is no separate ‘soul’ there for the ordination ceremony to perform its ‘magic’ upon. There is only a person who God has chosen to now bring into being, moment by moment, in a different manner than before. An ordained priest or deacon never functions alone, only as a vessel for the corporate action of the Church. As people they are not given any ‘ability’ to preside over the sacraments. That WOULD be a magical point of view.

In the sacramental role, clergy are merely the servants chosen by God and the church to empty themselves and stand in Persona Christi on behalf of the Church. This is why the priest serves only at the pleasure of the Bishop who acts on behalf of the Church. Clergy are still brought into being within the church as the baptised, as the Laos, but are now also brought into being for a corporate purpose, of God, embodied in her church. Without the church they cannot perform their priestly role, and this is one of the reasons why in Anglican tradition the Eucharist cannot be performed alone, but always with the people.

Ordination is not magic, and it is certainly not a job. What a choice! And we will misunderstand it completely without understanding the radical nature of personhood Christianity teaches – that we are members of one another, in Christ. ‘Nuff said.  Thanks. 🙂

* Yes, this is an attempt to create a new Anglican hegemony 🙂

^ McIntosh, Mark A. Divine Teaching. p.25.

Christianity · Theology

The Five Anglican Marks of Mission and the Pentagrammaton

I’m knocking this up in my lunch break, so please excuse its rough nature.

My new job intersects my spirituality beautifully and sometimes throws up interesting connections. Today after meditation and preparing to work on a document concerning the Anglican Marks of Mission I saw a link between the Five Marks and the Holy Pentagrammaton, the name of Jesus.

The Marks of Mission are:

  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
  2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers.
  3. To respond to human need by loving service.
  4. To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation.
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

http://www.anglicancommunion.org/identity/marks-of-mission.aspx

I do not for a second think the Anglican Communion developed this schema with reference to the Holy Five-Lettered Name of God, YHShVH, which is an esoteric, post-reformation symbolic adaption of the Hebrew name for Jesus.

However, sometimes things do cohere and I am very capable of seeing meaning in all sorts of things 🙂 It is interesting to note the history of the Marks though. Originally four and then quickly expanded to five (to include care of Creation). There was also a movement to enlarge the schema to six marks, but in the end the fourth mark was expanded keeping the schema intact. Some folk (myself included) see poetic significance and resonance with the Five Wounds of Christ. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The Pentagrammaton has rich resonances, among which are the four ancient elemental principles (plus spirit) and the Worlds of the Qabalah. It is often displayed as a pentagram (which was a Christian symbol long before modern Neo-Paganism adopted it).

The Pentagrammaton also connects with the Five Marks:

Letter of YHShVH

Element Wound

Mark

Yod Fire Foot To transform unjust structures of society.
Heh Water Hand To respond to human need by loving service.
Shin Spirit Side (heart) To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
Vau Air Hand To teach, baptise and nurture new believers.
Heh (final) Earth Foot To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation.

On the Pentagram:

pentagrmmaton and marks of mission

  • The proclamation of the Kingdom obviously relates to the Spirit – it is from this that all other Marks follow. It is the heart of the matter, which is why it relates to Christ’s central wound, whence flows blood and water for the sake of the entire world.
  • Teaching and baptising is the extension of the church and Christ to the person. It therefore relates to the extended and open hand which draws one into the Church (baptism).  In the scheme of the elements it relates to Air, the use of the airy intellect in teaching and guiding one towards Confirmation and beyond.
  • The response to human need by loving service relates to the depth of the Watery Heh. Again, this is an action of the hand, extended in love to the other.

We now move to the communal and the letters here relate to the feet, movement and action in the world, for the group not just the person. Perfect for the two basal points of the diagram 🙂

  • Transformation of society and the purging of injustice relates to Fire, the power of the Christian message to change all things throughout the world.
  • Caring for God’s creation obviously relates to the element of Earth, another communal endeavour.

It is of course significant that the Spirit in this diagram, the proclamation of the Kingdom connects directly (right and left) to social justice (Fire) and ecological care (Earth), both communal processes.* This shows clearly the Kingdom is corporate and not individual. In Christ, there are no ‘individuals’. There is only the person, existing within and interdependent on Creation and the Social (bottom left and right).

OK? Enough now, back to work!

* It is also kinda neat that my job concerns these two areas directly 🙂

 

Christianity · Liturgy · Theology

The One and the Many – every Sunday

My first serious girlfriend came from good Roman Catholic stock. Having tried (and failed) to be raised as a Christian child and finding nothing but lifeless platitudes in high school ‘prayer groups’ this was terribly exciting for me. At the first opportunity I went along to Holy Communion with her and watched with interest as she responded and genuflected and crossed and engaged with the liturgy. Afterwards I eagerly questioned her about the meaning of her responses and words. She looked at me blankly. Now when I say ‘blankly’, I do not mean that she did not know the meaning but she could not even reproduce the words she had spoken with such fluency half hour earlier.

Such is the way with some Sunday Christians.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that 🙂 We are after all both animal and communal. Rote reproduction and synching in with the group mind is natural for us. It is part of who we are. It is the ‘animal soul’ aspect of our beings. It is what keeps us alive every day and allows us to drive through peak hour traffic or shop in in a busy supermarket.

It can however be taken too far, as the Gospel According to Python shows.

As Buddhism and 80s pop music philosopher Howard Jones assert our regular self, the self that feels it is ‘an individual’ is really nothing more than a “jumbled mess of preconceived ideas”. This explains why we, as individuals can go to church and act like my girlfriend. It explains the definitely rote, unthinking responses in church, ‘Praise be to God’ and wot not. We easily fall into this. We easily fall into unconsciousness and it is the aim of depth spirituality to wake us up.

There is a wonderful story about Gautama Buddha teaching a group of students on a hot, sultry day when the flies were out. A fly kept trying to land on Gautama’s head and he would shoo it away and continue his preaching. After a little while he lifted his hand and shooed again. “Why Master”, asked a student “are you shooing the fly away? It has already left”. Gautama replied, “yes, but the first time I did it without thinking and so now I do it again with consciousness.”

Christianity aims to wake us up, to be conscious, to allow us access to the eternal verities and to serve the One through a radical and completely personal change of heart and life. It also insists on communal worship where we can easily fall into group and animal soul behaviour. And this is one of the greatest gifts of Sunday mornings.

When we enter group worship we literally exist between that tension of group-animal, automatic self and our individual, conscious engagement with the liturgy. We have to choose to be conscious; we have to choose to actively engage on the ‘inner’ levels with the prayers and the liturgy. And we have to continue to engage in communal responses and actions. We cannot be purely individual in church: we have to be both self and group. This is one of the main points of church. Of course we are helped in this movement between the automatically reacting group-mind and conscious choice by the presence of Christ who chose to move beyond his instincts of fear self-preservation towards a cruel and tortuous death.

This tension between group-reaction and individual-choice is a microcosm of the spiritual life. It is a condensed experience of the struggles to move from being the ‘natural man’ as St Paul (and the GD) puts it to being ‘spiritual’ (or ‘more than human’ as the GD puts it).

So every Sunday morning we are given a gift of tension that surmises and reproduces our life-long task. As we engage with that tension we are empowered and learn to participate in the greater tension of our spiritual life. It is a gift of the path of theosis, participation in God through changing ourselves towards perfection, as Christ was perfect, yet remaining always broken and imperfect.

And yet there is more, as there always is 🙂

christian art, angels worshipping chaliceIn Christian theology the worship of the One is eternal and continuing, beyond temporality, beyond our experience of time. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. The angels continually sing ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ before the One. This occurs in Kairos, a time beyond temporality (Kronos) a time where we can assert every day, at every moment, that THIS is day Christ was born, died and was resurrected. (We see this understanding also in Buddhist myths of Gautama’s birth, enlightenment and death occurring on the same day of the year).

Our physical church services move us from Kronos to Kairos and we enter the continual worship, as the liturgy says; “with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven”. Now this is mind bogglingly awesome if we stop to think about it. We participate in the transcendent and the physical liturgy as one. In the Orthodox traditions the worshippers represent the Cherubim. We worship side by side with the angels. Thus our communal worship in church is more than we can see, and more, much more significant than we can imagine.

In most Orthodox and esoteric Christian theology human beings are gifted with qualities the angels do not have, most often described as reason. Therefore when we enter church and worship as and side by side with the angels, not just the people next to us who rote-read the lines, we are bringing to the worship of the One something unique and wonderful. We – every one of us, imperfect and broken – are adding to the eternal, uncreated unfolding of the fullness of the One. We are engaging in acts that hasten the Kingdom when all shall be consumed and become infinite and holy, when each individual being is perfectly united with the One, yet still existing to worship the One, expressed by the holy name that is One and Many – ELOHIM.

🙂 Every. Sunday. Morning. 🙂