In my November Rector’s Ruminations, I invited your attention to a vision I S.E.E. (Stewardship, Environment, Evangelization) for Emmanuel Parish. In reflecting on the “S” of S.E.E., Stewardship I noted that being a steward involves everything we do after we say “I believe” in how we spend our time, talent and treasure.
As we begin Advent and approach the season of the Incarnation, Christmastide, I invite you to a consideration of the first “E” of S.E.E., the Environment, and closely associated with it, other “E” terms, EARTH, ECOLOGY, and to take some linguistic liberty, ENCARNATION as a variation on the Latinized incarnatus (in+caro – “flesh”) to a Greek rendering Encarnation. My purpose in this rendering is to posit the Environment, the Earth, as the “Enfleshment” of God. Fear not – I am not suggesting some form of pantheism (the worship of the Earth as God or Goddess) but rather a pan(en)theism (God in the earth) fundamental to all the Abrahamic faiths including and especially Christianity where God indwells all of creation as evident in the second Genesis account of creation where God is incarnate/encarnate in the environment of the cosmos to include the Earth. While we do not worship the Earth (pantheism), we are called as stewards to revere and respect the earth (panentheism) by caring for God’s presence and holiness in all creation.
The earth or environment as the encarnation or enfleshment of God is difficult for us to grasp given the fact that in an Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment age we tend to think of and treat the earth as an object rather than a subject.
Stewarding the Earth, however, calls us to see the earth not as an object to be exploited, divided, sold, conquered or used as a possession but rather to understand it as a living organism to be cared for and nurtured as our oikos – home, dwelling place, habitation; etymologically the root of the word “Ecology.”
Said differently, the concept of the Earth as Gaia, our mother personified as a living entity, helps us to retrieve our relationship to our environment as a subject to another subject, recognizing a mode of interdependence, not a subject to object independence. The Earth, humus, is the basis of our hum(us)anity as clearly articulated in the first Genesis creation account where the creation of humanity follows the creation of the earth and in the second creation account which emphasizes, “The Lord God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (Gen. 2:7). We remember our humus origin in The Burial Rite and on Ash Wednesday -“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” But we forget this essential fact in the way we move from the “wonder to the plunder” of our environment, our habitation, our mother. The earth is our fellow creature and existed prior to the evolution of humankind as the species homo sapien. We do not possess the earth; it possesses us and “harming the Earth heaps contempt on the Creator” as stated by Chief Seattle in his address to President Pierce in 1854. Or in the poetic words of Ecclesiastes 1:4, “A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.”
Unfortunately much of contemporary spirituality suggests that the spirit of God transcends the material, matter or mater earth.
Encarnation as a corrective points to our spirituality as grounded in the land, the earth, our mother, which gives life and nurture to all living things. If the earth dies, we shall all die, whether this is a part of our spirituality or not. We have lost our love, our reverence for the earth and nature and are in danger of being “so spiritually minded that we are of no earthly use.”
Theologically, Sallie McFague in her book, Models of God, suggests the metaphor of the earth as God’s body, or what I have termed “encarnation.” She states that the earth is not an inanimate substance but a living being throbbing with energy, and manifesting continuity with spirit. Such a metaphor of the world as God’s body also creates a different understanding of sin. Sin becomes the refusal to realize one’s radical interdependence with all that lives: sin is the desire to set oneself apart from all others as not needing them or being needed by them. Sin is the refusal to be the eyes, the consciousness of the cosmos.
All of which leads us back to the question of stewardship. How are we to steward the earth, our environment, our ecology, our home place as co-creators with god, our special vocation as Stewards of the Earth?
First, in prayer and gratitude as we do today in The Eucharist, thanksgiving for the gift of creation, simple bread and wine as well as our monetary gifts. Second, to further embrace and deepen our commitment as a Genesis Covenant Parish in preserving and bettering this island home through individual and community efforts. Third, in teaching and practicing “A Catechism of Creation, An Episcopal Understanding” to all members of the Church and especially our children. Fourth, and finally through our parish outreach program and individual efforts in giving of our time, talent and money to support organizations committed to stewarding this earth, “our fragile island home.”
I close with a line from “The Cloud” by Percy Bysshe Shelley,
I am the daughter of Earth and Water,And the nursling of the Sky;
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores,
I change, but I cannot die.