Spirit and the Groaning of Creation

We can almost taste the buds of spring at this time of the year. I think of the cherry blossoms, the scent of the early blooms, the tulips in Skagit County, the daffodils coming then the dahlias. A wellspring of color with the promise that the best is yet to come.

Yet, for people of faith, for Christians as we move toward Easter, it seems more like the middle of winter than the buds of spring. It’s like a Nor'easter suddenly hits powerfully. I do not mean a recent blizzard that hit the East Coast, but the storm that reveals once more the signs of the times we are in. First four news stories from three nights ago and one more from the week: a mosque is set on fire once again in Bellevue; a video shows a young man sharing his story vulnerably with Tukwila police after his house was burglarized only to have those police turn him over to ICE and indefinite immigration detention in Tacoma; a Lyft driver shouts racial slurs at an African American passenger in Seattle; a young white male makes his own weapons to kill, puts them in packages and mails them; a young black male, unarmed, is killed at his grandmother’s house.

Still, we draw strength from our traditions, gathered together as community, to recognize the shoulders on which we stand and to discern how through listening attuned to the Spirit, we too must change if we want to be the change we want to see.

We recall the timeless message of Elie Wiesel:
“Every human being is a dwelling of God – man or woman or child, Christian or Jewish or Buddhist (or Muslim). Any person, by virtue of being a son or a daughter of humanity, is a living sanctuary whom nobody has the right to invade.” (Linda Rabben, Sanctuary and Asylum, 122; Letty Russell, Just Hospitality, 87)

I love the Romans reading for today. It seems like the Spirit is working here, there and everywhere, dwelling within us and ushering us forth not only to be faithful observers to this season of Lent, but to change, to become a new creation. We are given this new mandate by the ever-creating and sustaining God, whose Spirit is the active agent for us becoming the change that we want to see. And once transformed, even transfigured, creatures aligned with the Creator, we are sent forth to do works beyond even our imagination. And this centers around the response-ability of the people of God to welcome in the very redemption of the whole of creation, in the freedom that we enjoy as the children of God. Such a holy task is our very vocation, one that makes us in a way “co-creators” with God. If this word is made flesh through us, how great it is to celebrate this exalted status in God’s chain of command!

Of course, there’s a catch. We cannot make the reweaving of creation happen by ourselves; and, we are told that in God’s capacity through us, all of creation is redeemed alongside of us.
Not only the pretty parts or the springy parts, but the dryness of summer, the turning of fall, and the storms of winter. The parts of the harmony of people living congruently with the earth…and those parts where the sanctity of the earth is being violated. Oh! Which means we have to use all of our senses to perceive where God’s ways are not being followed. Where the Holy Spirit is already at work doing what she does best: bring order out of chaos, act as Advocate, bear justice, restore beauty, breathe in healing and wholeness.

In many places what we see is not what God would want. The devastation of the tar sands in Alberta for example. Extraction of endless coal on Native land and mother earth, leaving an unthinkable gouge for the sake of an unrenewable fossil fuel. Efforts to place non-native fish in areas where the sacred salmon swim, spawn, and die. Devastation of the Amazon, which are the earth’s lungs and therefore our lungs. And the people who are impacted by the degradation of the earth, most often people forced into poverty, more often people of color and quite often in the Southern Hemisphere where colonialism set a standard of the theft of resources that leaves countries impoverished and often without recourse.

As Pope Francis says in his encyclical Laudato Si, “Praised Be,” what we encounter is the simultaneous cry of the earth and cry of the poor. The cry of the earth must take into account the human beings who are deprived of land, livelihood, liberty, and life. Human beings are called to be full participants in a redeemed creation. What is needed is an integral ecology that can only be the fruit of a major transformation of our story and our practice, beginning with us.

The great Archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero, whose anniversary of assassination was yesterday, led the charge for the liberation of the Salvadoran people in the face of military and death squad repression of the simple, joyful, faithful people who yearned to breathe free…and to eat from the fruits of their labor. It was said of Romero that when he died he would rise again with the Salvadoran people. This he surely has done and for this reason he will be canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church.

He said, “…Put all your determination, all your self-giving, all your self-sacrifice, even to giving your lives, to the cause of the true liberation guaranteed by the one on whom God’s Spirit is poured out. (Christ) will not show us false ways, and he will make his own the people’s desire for liberation and justice. Their desire cries out to God, and God must hear that cry.”
- Blessed Oscar Romero, January 27, 1980

The medicine that Romero reminds us of is the same as we hear in Romans 8, that of steadfast love that we see in Christ’s death on the cross and that we commit to in baptism, that God’s love will accompany us through the Passover to new life, on earth as in heaven. God offers his spirit, the breath of God within us and among us that answers the bell of baptism and propels us to do God’s will, namely to share our daily bread in thrush-like singing of the Reign of God.

Now there is a pathway out of the entanglements of the violation of creation. When all seems lost and forsaken, God offers a way out of no way – the justice of love in action, freely given in the Spirit, found in the 4-fold path of lament, repent, discern and act.

When a British Columbia mining company sought to open a gold mine in rural El Salvador, the company thought for sure under international trade rules they could pressure the poor residents of this tiny country to acquiescing under their corporate might. More than a decade long battle emerged. For the villagers the choice was gold or water. The Lempa River uncontaminated, or a large-scale gold mining operation, bringing immense profits to the company. Such an operation would pose a threat to the drinking water because of the cyanide ore process used to extract the gold, while using 24,000 gallons of water per hour, according to a study published by Harvard (Emily Achtenberg at https://revista.drclas.harvard.edu/book/resistance-mining-el-salvador), the amount a typical Salvadoran family would use in 20 years. Potential for toxic run-off, let alone effects from very possible earthquakes and torrential rains. Creation groaning once more. Where is God? How would the people of God be accountable if this country, named after the Savior, suffered even greater environmental degradation?

With lives and livelihoods at stake, resistance was nonviolent and fierce, backed by the churches. One year ago this week, a law was passed in the country banning mining for gold and other metals. One lawmaker was quoted as saying, “Today not only Salvadorans will judge the actions we take to protect the environment, because this is a borderless issue. The environment belongs to all of us.” (New York Times, April 1, 2017).

Such an ecumenical spirit is a manifestation of the Spirit interceding for us when we don’t even know how to pray. For, according to Leonardo Boff, “The Spirit is caught up in ‘creating community with what is most distant and for human creatures that absolute Otherness, God.’” The earth is God’s and not to be violated. Through the Spirit, we may discern and act consistent with what is life-affirming, imbued, even “pregnant” with hope.

Creation also groans whenever its human creatures experience oppression. Such violence in our own nation today can be overwhelming. Yet, we can straighten our backs and begin to walk gently on the earth springing forth new buds of creation. The Women’s March last year and the March for Our Lives yesterday being two great examples. The narrative of hate, discrimination and dehumanization is an unacceptable and intolerable strain on the spirit of democracy and a scandal to the movement of the Reign of God on earth as in heaven. It must be challenged by a restored narrative of hospitality and hope. Our collective wells of water, guided by the Spirit, will crest in a wave of people whose stories, faces and lives are valued as having inherent dignity and worth and whose voices must rise and speak their truths. And with fierce winds blowing, with an overwhelming power that comes from God and not from us, the earthenware pots that we are can pull the curtain on the xenophobic, racist, impoverishing and diminishing story and replace it with community-affirming love. This love that does justice resides safe in the knowledge that our nation’s liberation is bound up with our faithfulness to what God has done, is doing and will do before us and among us. The good news antidote where we are called to be agents of a new season in God’s image.
Such a gift of freedom as God’s children in hope of a renewed creation recognizes our capacity and audacity as full and whole human beings breathing with the Spirit: where the dominant culture would tear down, we are to build up; where the dominant culture says we are first and foremost consumers, we assert that we are children of God beloved in God’s eyes for who we are, not what we have; where the dominant culture feeds violence, we live lives of peacemaking and reconciliation; where the dominant culture honors accumulation, power, and prestige, we are drawn to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

Passing over to spring requires going through the cross to new and renewed freedom in our lives. Our Japanese maple, planted at our house when we first moved there 18 years ago, still stands, its root at an ever so slight angle. Slightly off center, like me and all of us. We may not be perfect in the faith that does justice, but in the Spirit we are firmly planted. And our leaves turn beautiful colors, beyond measure.

The great writer and theologian Dorothee Soelle helps us to receive the ushering of the Spirit as it continues to dream in us.

It’s not you who should solve my problems, God,
but I yours, God of the asylum-seekers.
It’s not you who should feed the hungry,
but I who should protect your children
from the terror of the banks and armies.
It’s not you who should make room for the refugees,
but I who should receive you,
hardly hidden God of the desolate.
You dreamed me, God,
practicing walking upright
and learning to kneel down
more beautiful than I am now,
happier than I dare to be
freer than our country allows.
Don’t stop dreaming me, God.
--Dorothee Soelle, quoted in Susanna Snyder, “Looking through the Bars: Immigration Detention and the Ethics of Mysticism.” Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics, 35, 1 (2015): 167-187.

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