Thursday, January 19, 2023

 

Sermon: Dominion’s Contents

Rev. Dr. Douglas Olds

Point Reyes (CA) Community Presbyterian Church

January 22, 2023

 

 

We recently marked the 2 year anniversary of an insurrection at the US Capitol. We are increasingly learning that the impetus for such did not originate only from militant militias or radical politicians, but with reactionary religious actors.

My sermon this morning will unpack two linked concepts held by a core of these religious reactionaries: dominionism as a top-down authoritarian theology that seeks political control; and Spiritual Warfare as a church mission of so-called “power evangelism and transformation.” These concepts and movements are harmful to the communities Christians serve. All Christians committed to peace, virtue, and the shalom of their communities should recognize dominionism that seeks compliance with its favored social order, that seeks to exercise political control as a diversion from the bottom-up practice of Gospel virtues. And to recognize that “transformation”—the rebranding of Spiritual Warfare and Mapping-- is a radically misplaced focus on demons rather than neighbors.

Presbyterians have traditionally been suspicious of charismatic revival institutionalization. There has been since the 1980s a Pentecostal revival of the idea that God is doing “something new” to lead the Church by sending new, independent, and self-verifying prophets and apostles to bypass denominations based on established systems of oversight and historical confessions. These self-claimed prophets and apostles are unaccountable to denominations instead to act as charismatic entrepreneurs, actualizing the visions and dreams they claim God is sending to them as individuals to redirect and lead whole churches, whole societies.

This revival of charisma has been institutionalized, of sorts, in a continually shifting alliance of obscured networks and names under the influence of the now deceased C. Peter Wagner, a professor at Fuller Seminary who started as an academic theorist of church growth. He concluded that the way to church growth and opening the world to universal evangelization was through channeling charismatic energy especially institutionalized in Pentecostal circles. While many church growth initiatives based on charismatic leadership (too often narcissistic leadership) flame out after a while, Wagner’s so-called New Apostolic movement is designed to continually recruit the ambitious: new prophets and apostles to renew the direction and outworkings of charismatic energy. This movement, built for longevity, has rapidly moved into political spheres, accelerating since 2000 as the contested election of Al Gore and George W. Bush escalated simmering religious tensions over race and abortion into more open social and political conflict. Now extending toward destabilizing U.S. Constitutional governing institutions.

As we saw up to and including J6, some charismatic and fundamentalist religious networks organized their followers to interfere in elections and, on J6, the operation of Constitutional assemblies. Top NAR leaders were in the White House on January 5th, 2021, holding secret hours-long meetings with top White House officials. Prior they led a national campaign to whip up violent rhetoric at NAR-aligned churches. They mobilized their followers to converge on WDC, holding a series of rallies culminating in the march on the Capitol that turned seditious.[1]

So WHY? why this charismatic fury: and the What? what is the religion behind this anti-Constitutional insurrection?

In my understanding, this amalgam of institutionalized charismatic fury and the insurrection impulse is grounded in 1) a profound misreading of the Biblical idea of “dominion”; 2) a mistaken Christology—who Christ is, how he serves, and what he intends; 3) and a wrong focus on evil spirits and disembodied demons instead of a loving orientation toward flesh and blood neighbors. The first error is primarily about the “what” of God, and the third error, the focus on demonology, is practical—a mistaken knowledge of the “how” of God. The Christological error is a blend of both: it mistakes the “what” of Christ and the “how” of Christ.

Taking up the third point first: the movement of Spiritual Warfare and Spiritual Mapping intensified around 1997, when C. Peter Wagner became interested in "Spiritual Mapping" that was developing in local prayer warfare networks nationwide and in Canada. After being culturally dormant since the Civil War, the terms “Spiritual Warfare” and “Spiritual Mapping” began appearing again in published literature during the Reagan Administration for reasons we will get to later. Since then, the published frequency of these phrases has increased 10-fold, indicating their spread and cultural adoptions.[2]

Researcher Bruce Wilson explains  

the cosmology [of Spiritual warriors and mappers has] demon powers hold[ing] sway over the Earth, and it's the task of believers to identify & defeat the demons. There are several dimensions to this. Wagner & his core NAR cohort developed methods by which they could defeat "territorial spirits"—[the] major demons that controlled large areas, even whole regions of the world. They did this through elaborate ceremonies, by filling a whole stadium with believe[r]s literally shouting out their spiritual warfare; [by learning the names of the demons in order to control them.]

You can do it on the cosmic level, the city level, even in your neighborhood. In the Spiritual Mapping part, you identify the demonic influences that hold sway at whatever scale you're working at. AND you identify institutions, businesses, locales, and - crucially *people* who are associated with the demon spirits/influences. Idea being that the demons need to be invited in [by people] to do their evil mischief - demons need points of intersection with "the natural".[3]

Spiritual mapping and warfare [because of adverse publicity now being called “transformation”]  is done by walking the streets, praying, and feeding geographical data into databases.

Businesses, mosques, or Unitarian Church, a Masonic Lodge, a porn shop... or even, as a public school playground frequented by high school drama students. The "spiritual mappers" from [these networks] would pray for people too, but all the while they were compiling data - and an ideological enemies list - which might one day be turned to uglier ends.

Transformation is the process of how charismatic Christians, through collective acts of Spiritual Mapping/Spiritual Warfare, have claimed to have "transformed" their cities & towns. Crime all but vanishes, people lose their addictions, vegetables grow to enormous size, and everyone becomes a born-again charismatic Christian.[4]

Soon, not just businesses but individuals are located and identified as possessed by demons. To be harassed and sometimes, in Africa, to be evicted from their towns as witches.

 It's quite a crafty method for the mass-distribution of an eliminationist ideology - there exist evil individuals impeding the collective progress of humanity. And, we don't … need to kill them! Drumming them out of town will suffice. Subsequent "Transformations" … become increasingly malevolent… We see the wholesale destruction of native religious practice, city police forces are enlisted for the "transformation" project.[5]

The function of these mapping and warfare exercises is to wrest dominion that these religious warriors believe demons are exercising over geographical areas. They claim local victories that justify expanding the war for spiritual dominion.

Guatemala in the early 80s under Efrain Ríos Montt, a proclaimed “Born Again Evangelical,” pursued an program of “social cleansing” of Marxists.

Ríos believed that religious morality was more important than civil rights, he could dismiss people who do not subordinate themselves to his religious ideals… in December 1982, a group of North Americans interviewed [the pastor of California evangelical-supported church Ríos attended:] El Verbo…, who told them: “The Army doesn’t massacre the Indians. It massacres demons, and the Indians are demon possessed: they are communists.”[6]

 After his mobilization of death squads in the 1980s, Ríos was later convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity. American nationals enabled by Reagan administration policy contributed the ideological foundation for such eliminationalist religion and politics.

One of Reagan’s initiatives was to “privatize” foreign affairs, opening up unaccountable-to-the-Constitution private missions in overseas realms. American and foreign Spiritual Warfare networks entered into the foreign policy domain under this aegis of “discipling nations” by expelling/eliminating demons. While the phrase “territorial spirits” seems to have entered published books around the end of WWII, its published frequency has exploded nearly 8-fold from 1984 to now.[7]

An important aside here: “go and make disciples of nations” [per Matt 28:19] is of the “ethnos,” a territorial people not a government, so that “discipling nations” is about creating, by bottom-up practices of virtue, a multi-ethnic Christian worshipping and shalom-spreading, missionary community. Discipling nations is not a top-down sequence to expel demons above and install religious strong men as governing autocrats only then to purify an ethnic order through evangelization.

Theocratic private mercenaries in Guatemala became death squads under the rubric of “low intensity conflicts” so that SWSM networks aligned with USG policy for ongoing struggles against “Marxism.”[8] Marxism has become a dog whistle in certain circles for post-cold war operations domestically and abroad that private networks of SWSM have involved themselves.

Guatemala became a violently dysfunctional society with religious reactionaries working for constituting it on terms of “Christian citizenship.” In this way, Guatamala has been a laboratory of charismatic authoritarianism pushing the frontiers of cultural and ethnic genocide. These are radically contrary to Jesus’ command to disciple all ethnic peoples by leading them to green pastures in the peace-making church.

The Reagan administration initiative to privatize foreign affairs continues to this day to promote the private expression and export, in deadly fashion, of popular American folk fundamentalism that translates inner experience to the outer condition.[9] If one is battling demons within oneself, one is tempted to universalize that battle in American manifest destiny, the preeminent American folk ideology. Many of us remember Reagan’s religious framing of his Dominionist political vision: America was “a shining city on a hill,” a meme written by slaveholder and first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, in 1630. The eliminationist ideology of American exceptionalism has deep roots in toxic Dominionism powered by slaves. It’s not a huge leap from considering neighbors in bondage to sin to making bondage a reality—making heathen bodies into corpses or into chattel slaves to save their souls. Toxic theology has real world effects.

Dominionism undergirds an imperial, power-seeking branch of charismatic and theocratic American religion working to “disciple the nations” by conquering and displacing their territorial spirits. The dominionist doctrine of American Manifest destiny and policies of anti-Marxism and “anti-terrorism” have become in certain circles categories of demonology. The next step is to call out witches and then eliminate them. This is where hyper-Calvinist white nationalism fits with imperial power-seeking charismatic Pentecostalism. Spiritual Warriors see demons controlling politics; congruently doctrines of “total depravity” often attribute a radical Manichaean dichotomy of evil or good, retrobate or saved to categories of political human actors. These are your neighbors. The blend of American Manifest Destiny as dominionism with Manichaean demonology applied to real people is the most pernicious of toxic theologies.

Toxic theology undergirding political violence and eliminational “social cleansing” is tragically mistaken in focus, in how God intends us to practice dominion, and in Christology—what Christ revealed to us about God and humanity—how God is incarnated in humanity to bring shalom from the bottom up, in virtues. Christology reveals how disciples in union in Christ are to be in the world.  And it isn’t to cleanse our politics by demonizing and eliminating our neighbor or enslaving them to our values. Or subverting Constitutional policy-making assemblies justified in and by the moral will of We the People because the misled, on J6, saw We the People corrupted by sin and demons both individual and systemic.

Up to now, my sermon has posed three questions:

·         What is biblical dominion? 

·         Are we Christians directed to battle against demons on the ground or in other nations?

·         And how does Christ—how does having an authentic Christology—a true understanding of Christ person and ministry--direct us to live in a political world?

First, Biblical dominion is gentling “grace pressure,” not hard power--antagonistic domination and compliance seeking by means of pagan imperial norms. I can’t take the time to present the voluminous Biblical witness on this point, but suffice Torah of the King Deut 17 and the peaceful images of Gen 1 as the world is formed and dominion granted to humanity. The domineering cruelty of ANE monarchs, esp. when it was mimicked in Israel and Judah, was Biblically and prophetically condemned. Dominion is gently encountering creation, taming its beastly agonistic strife by the practice of virtues, the pattern and grace pressure exemplified by Christ.

The pagans saw the chaos of creation exemplified in the sea. One of its myths has the Persian emperor Xerxes whipping the tides after a storm destroyed his fleet.  Isa. 45:19 I did not create the world to be a chaos.  How does Jesus encounter and tame the waters? By calmly walking on them: Dominion in the way of Jesus grace pressure, not whipping. Gentling the horse, not breaking it.

Second: fundamentalist Manichaeism--Either you’re with us or you’re evil-- is contra Ephesians 6:12.

It behooves us to recognize the combinatorial role of evangelical/charismatic Protestants in fascist, reactionary political uprisings in Guatemala, the U.S., and now in Brazil, and to hold them accountable.

“Our battle is not against flesh and blood.” I can say much more, but I’ll let the Apostle Paul originate that meme for our age: “Our battle is not against flesh and blood.” Focusing on gaining power over demons and what is occult is both a misplaced focus from loving our neighbors, but psychically most dangerous as well.

For Christ’s disciples: There can be NO domination in "dominionism." "Subduing" the land (Gen. 1:28) involves Christ's gentling presence, not control and compliance through "breaking" as of a horse. I titled this Sermon, “Dominion’s Contents.” Both its CON-tents and Dominion’s con-TENTS. Dominion has a content that brings contentment to others. Dominion is messianic, at a minimum fulfilling Deut. 17. It is pictured in the watchful and light presence of a kestrel aloft not the soaring of eagles. By contrast, dominionism as a religion is dis-contenting. It is a miss-content. It misses what dominion is meant to contain.

Dominion is the fold of the lamb of God incarnated as a baby born in a manger where outside is the howling wolf lair of imperial Rome. Dominion is re-learning to walk with a gentling and virtuous presence in a world of chaotic rage. “Grace pressure” is exercising dominion that subdues chaos. Any dominion absent the centrality of the Sermon on the Mount so to hybridize with non-Christlike strife brings about false mission, false Christology, and toxic theology. I call it metaphysical mud: the idea that violence can bring in the conditions of God’s peace and order.

Unlike Sermon on the Mount theology originating from a manger, Dominionist theology is an expedient tower to check into to plan and launch conflict. That transient hotel tower turns into a mirrored prison of our own violent making from which only God can release.

Dominion is walking in the way of Jesus in the world. Bringing the divine attributes to the earth from heaven. It is not an imperial destiny for a nation.

“Our battle is not against flesh and blood.” If something bleeds, they are not our enemy. Let God control what is unseen, both demons and hidden conspiracies. When you think of kingdom faith as a war to be won—religion seeking dominion without Christian virtue-- you will focus on demons and see people as enemies to be conquered by compulsion and strife. When you think of kingdom faith as a world to be explored and gentled, a local community with which to dance and paint and sup, you will see neighbors to be virtuously encountered and loved. May Christ’s way be so for you and me:

AMEN.




[

NOTES

[1]Coulter, Dale M. “Neocharismatic Christianity and the Rise of the New Apostolic Reformation.” Firebrand Magazine. Last modified January 18, 2021. Accessed January 11, 2023. https://firebrandmag.com/articles/neocharismatic-christianity-and-the-rise-of-the-new-apostolic-reformation. 

Taylor, Matthew D., and Bradley Onishi. “Evidence Strongly Suggests Trump Was Collaborating with Christian Nationalist Leaders Before January 6th.” Religion Dispatches, January 6, 2023. https://religiondispatches.org/evidence-strongly-suggests-trump-was-collaborating-with-christian-nationalist-leaders-before-january-6th/.

Onishi, Bradley and Daniel Miller, “Charismatic Revival Fury: Dutch Sheets and NAR Go To Battle on J6." Straight White American Jesus. Podcast, January 2, 2023.

[2]books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=spiritual+mapping%2C+&year_start=1800&year_end=2019&corpus=26&smoothing=3

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Egoshi, Miho. 2018. “Evangelical Dictatorship Driving the Guatemalan Civil War: Reconsidering Ríos Montt, the ‘Savior of La Nueva Guatemala.’” https://academicworks.cuny.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1780&context=cc_etds_theses. https://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2012/julaug/spiritualwarfare.html?paging=off

[7] https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=territorial+spirits&year_start=1800&year_end=2019&corpus=26&smoothing=3

[8] @brucewilson, Twitter, 1/4/23.

[9] R. Holvast (2008), Spiritual Mapping: The Turbulent Career of a Contested American Missionary Paradigm, 1989-2005.  https://dspace.library.uu.nl/handle/1874/29340

Saturday, December 31, 2022


What’s in a Name?

Point Reyes (CA) Community Presbyterian Church

Rev. Douglas Olds

January 1, 2023


 First (OT) Reading: Ecclesiastes 3:1-13.

3 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 

    2a time to be born, and a time to die; 

    a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 

    3a time to kill, and a time to heal; 

    a time to break down, and a time to build up; 

    4a time to weep, and a time to laugh; 

    a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 

    5a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; 

    a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 

    6a time to seek, and a time to lose; 

    a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 

    7a time to tear, and a time to sew; 

    a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 

    8a time to love, and a time to hate; 

    a time for war, and a time for peace. 

9 What gain have the workers from their toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. 11 He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a “sense of past and future’ [olam] into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; 13 moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. 


 GOSPEL READING : Luke 2:15-21: 

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.//


Let us pray from the Litany of the Feast of the Holy Name:

Jesus, Son of the living God, 

splendor of the Father,

brightness of eternal light.

 sun of justice.

 most amiable.

most admirable.

Jesus, the mighty God.

Father of the world to come.

angel of great counsel.

most powerful.

patient.

obedient.

meek and humble of heart.

Jesus, author of life.

example of virtues.

zealous lover of souls.

Jesus, our God.

Jesus, our refuge.

Jesus, father of the poor.

Jesus, treasure of the faithful.

Jesus, good Shepherd.

Jesus, true light.

eternal wisdom.

infinite goodness.

Jesus, our way and our life.

Jesus, joy of Angels.

Jesus, King and

Master of the Apostles.

 teacher of the Evangelists.

strength of Martyrs.

Jesus, light of Confessors.

Jesus, crown of Saints.

[We ask for your gracious hearing], O Jesus. AMEN.



Today our Church’s calendar celebrates the Feast of Jesus Name. 

In earlier times the Church called this calendar festival the Circumcision of the Lord. 

    Both circumcision & Jesus’ name are listed in this morning’s Gospel reading from Luke as occurring on the 8th day after birth.  Because the Christian Church has considered that the sacrament of Baptism substitutes for OT rituals of circumcision,  we moderns honor the naming of Jesus rather than his circumcision as we consider the dawning of a new calendar year. 

    Before I speak about a New Year, I want to propose some considerations of what Jesus’ name means for us—why we pray in Jesus’ name, & why names are power.

Traditional & ancient societies deemed knowing the name of another gave one power.  

The goal, as in old Hollywood Westerns, was to keep your own name private while you tried to learn the names of others. 

Aliases are important in these systems: “the Pecos Kid,” “Wild Bill,” “Doc or Kit.” 

    These more traditional cultures believed that being able to know the real name of a demon gave one power over that demon.  We see conservative Christians today who practice Spiritual Warfare on a national & political stage  consumed with learning the names of demons over the powers & principalities. 

    I believe that this focus on demonic names is misplaced.  Rather than learning the names of demons to have controlling power over them, it is more important to learn the name of your neighbor in both church & society & act graciously & non-dominatingly toward them.. 

Demons hide their names, western outlaws covered up their identities. By contrast, the Gospel accounts of Jesus coming into the world reveal his name early after conception.

In the Gospel of Matthew, an angel visits Joseph to announce to him what he is to call the child. 

In the Gospel of Luke, the angel announces to Mary the name of the child to be called Jesus. 

The name of Jesus. 

The name of Jesus that the Apostle Paul says in Phillippians (2: 9) is over every name in the world. 

The name of Jesus in which we pray, because it has a power & honor which brings grace from heaven. 

    Unlike ancient pagans who invoked incantations, Christians pray this in Jesus’ name because it is he who reveals God’s ultimate character & will in grace & word, so that an invocation of the name “Jesus” makes prayer efficacious. It brings results.

But there is more to be said.

    “The naming—or the renaming—of a person is even more significant when it is God Godself who is doing the naming."[3].

The name Jesus which we celebrate in today’s church calendar is both divine—announced by angels--& has the intrinsic power of the divine name. 

The angel in Matthew chapter 1 says that the name “Jesus” indicates that he will “save his people” from their sins. 

    The Semitic/Aramaic form Yeshua is often rendered in the Greek as Jesus (Iesous),  which also hearkens back to the OT antecedent “Joshua” yəhôšûaʿ who opened up the earthly promised land after the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the desert. 

yəhôšûaʿ is adapted into "Yeshua" in the Books of Ezra & Nehemiah when the Temple is being rebuilt, with the earliest Greek Bibles called the Septuagint—at least 2 centuries before Jesus' birth--rendered as the Greek name Jesus. 

    Yeshua became a common name starting around the time of the Jews’ exile from Judah in the Babylonian captivity. The name’s popularity suggests that the message “the Lord saves” was particularly relevant in this period, which was marked by great uncertainty & foreign, imperial rule. 

    Iesous” becomes the Greek form of the name that marks the congruent anxious historical period when new temples to God are being built. 

    Yeshua was a name for anxious parents as the Judahites are dominated by Mesopotamian imperial powers, “Iesous” when Judeans become dominated by the Roman imperial power.

 Yeshua/Iesous as names cycle through ancient Jewish traditions.

The name Jesus thus renders yəhôšûaʿ, Joshua, & Yeshua: “YHWH is saving help/generosity.” 

Joshua announces something of the earth-bound character of God, the conqueror by grace. 

Isaiah 45:22 (NRSV) uses the same verb:

22Turn to me & be saved --hiw·wǒš·ʿûʹ -- all the ends of the earth! For I am God, & there is no other. 

Isaiah is announcing the need to be saved & that God is named for that task. 

    The naming of Jesus by the angel announces that the savior is arriving, with both Isaiah & Matthew also naming the coming one Emmanuel, “God with us.” In the announcement of the name, the Angel is announcing God's solidarity with anxious Judeans. Jesus/Yeshua was a surprisingly common name at the time.

    Relatedly, a second way to transliterate the name is “Yesh-ua,” with “Yesh” meaning “belonging to,” so that Yeshua belongs to Ja, belongs to God. The one who is named as belonging to God & the bringer of conquering grace will also belong to God  & will open up the new promised temple in the heavens that comes down to earth.

    God through Joshua had liberated Israel from wandering in the desert after slavery under Pharaoh once before & would do it again. This time by liberating the Jewish people from their Roman-backed overlords & installing a new political & religious order in its place. We need only follow him our leader into that new, spiritual temple that dispenses & rewards grace. And as we follow, we pray in that powerful & manifold name.

    This is my opening message for today’s Festival of Jesus’ Name. 

In the divine instruction that Joseph & Mary call their son ‘Jesus’, the child—the Joshua Commander of the Israelite Wanderers of the Lord in human flesh—is identified in times of anxiety & imperial domination with the great Holy Warrior who achieved the victorious entry of God’s liberated people into the promised land on earth. 

    In the naming of Mary & Joseph’s son, a window into our own incorporation into the praying & victorious community that enters the promised heavenly temple can be opened this Christmas season./

    Thirteen years ago this season I was in Jerusalem for the pealing of the noontime bells from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which marked, according to tradition, the cave where Jesus’s body was laid after being brought down from the Cross. 

    As the bells rang, my heart sang with the words, “Holy Holy Holy, you are blessed.” I was moved to tears of joy in that plaza outside the church. 

Jesus, the name & Word of God, escaped the tomb & lives evermore & eternally in the Holy of Holies. 

Praying in his name leads us there as God the Father gives grace to those who honor his son by the name.

    Now we have moved into the New Year’s phase of the secular calendar in the midst of the 12 day Christmas season. 

Our first reading this morning has us consider how the history-conquering announcement & effect of Jesus’ name fits into the historical understanding of the pre-incarnation people of God, the ancient Israelites. 

    Our reading from Ecclesiastes (3: 1-13) suggests that history cycles.  In the personal & the cultural:  

Ecclesiastes 3For everything there is a season, & a time for every matter under heaven: 

Birth & death, planting & plucking, killing & healing; deconstruction & rebuilding, weeping & laughing, mourning & dancing, embracing & rejecting, seeking & losing, tearing & sewing, silence & speaking, loving & hating, war & peace.

Everything is possible, but without God the human attempt to guide history is vanity. Which side of this list do we choose to participate and pray for? There is only one side, God in Jesus' side. 

    Strategizing the consequences of human acts by human systems of morality,  especially attempts to secure peace through finance, is fruitless vanity [1]. 

Continuing confusion on the world stage may be a feature of 2023. 

The dichotomies of Ecclesiastes 3 suggests that there will be a lot of political and cultural phenomena people don’t understand and thus reject in favor of simplistic conspiracies and preposterous readings of the Bible. 

“The craft of accurate sense-making will be in high demand, once people realize their old mental models [put in service of religious tribes and controlling power] have failed.” [2] 

    Peace-loving and holiness-guided Christians are in position to make sense and meaning of seeming chaos from what Ecclesiastes notes as the sense implanted into our minds by God of eternity--from the position that God is controlling history for the Holy Spirit’s progressive purposes.

OT life before the widespread receipt of the Holy Spirit was perceived as cycles to make sense of purported chaos, but the spirit-guided OT prophets & the NT announce progress, a landing on the better ground of the teeter-totter dichotomies listed in Ecclesisastes. 

    The victory of grace in the name of Jesus means that the cycles of sin have been broken in history,  though perhaps not in every individual life./

    "Mircea Eliade, the great Romanian historian of religion, proposed that ‘traditional’ societies lived in ‘cyclical time,’ innocent of history…In traditional societies, according to Eliade, everything important has already happened. All the great founding gestures go back to mythic times, when animals could talk or turn into humans, sky & earth were not yet separated, & it was possible to create genuinely new things (marriage, or cooking, or war). 

    People living in this mental world of cyclical history saw their own actions as simply repeating the creative gestures of gods & ancestors in less powerful ways,  or as invoking primordial powers through ritual. According to Eliade, historical events thus tended to merge into archetypes. If anyone in what he considered a traditional society does do something remarkable – establishes or destroys a city, creates a unique piece of music – the deed will eventually end up being attributed to some mythic figure anyway. 

    The alternative notion, that history is actually going somewhere (the Last Days, Judgment, Redemption), is what Eliade referred to as ‘linear time’, in which historical events take on significance in relation to the future, not just the past. 

    This ‘linear’ sense of time was a relatively recent innovation in human thought. Embracing the notion that events unfold in cumulative sequences, as opposed to recapitulating some deeper pattern, brought on the “terror of history” that rendered humans less able to weather the [necessary] vicissitudes of war, injustice & misfortune,  plunging us instead into an age of increasing anxiety &, ultimately, nihilism. 

    Eliade[’s…] basic argument was that the ‘terror of history’ was introduced by the [Old Testament prophets] [4]

who saw life in God as full of ups & downs, with ups the final word on earth. 

NOT: as a simplistic reading from Ecclesiastes might suggest, that we can't control anything that happens to us, & we can't predict what the future on earth will hold, only when history is fulfilled & arrives “in heaven.” /

So what comes in this new year? 

    A culturally significant portion of religious conservatives believes that “the church seems to be headed into the same sort of antagonistic world as the first followers of Jesus experienced.  The small band of disciples left on earth to spread the gospel was surrounded by enemies,  many of them lethal. 

The church of today is seen headed into the past.” [5]

But is it?

Is this really a Christian message for the New Year? 

That we need to go back into the past, to repeat its cycles of so-called Holy Wars against the unfaithful & rebuild the Jerusalem temple? 

To recall the Persian emperor Cyrus as our security-ensuring political messiah? 

To blow shofars so that enemy walls of Jericho at the nation’s capitol crumble?

Is the New Year going to experience these or any other recrudescence of cyclical sin & history? 

So like traditional people we will (and want to) see history repeating? 

Tragically & violently? 

    To consider this possibility, let us practice  the virtue of recollection to understand human history as cyclic or progressive. 

The Feast of the Holy Name litany that I quoted from in my opening prayer considers the character of Jesus to recognize the one who belongs to God [Yesh-ua], the one who saves. 

The One who guides history. 

The meaning of God’s name reveals that the incarnation of God is going to bring radical change to the cycles of sin & the defeat of the powers of death: greed, selfishness, domination, violence, & authoritarian impurities of all sorts.

    As God redeems these defeats to sway history to the positive side of the Ecclesiastes 3 lists, we recognize what the name embodies, so that we may work toward developing those same excellences. 

If we do, we may be confident that we live inside Jesus’s Spirit-led historical progress. 

By virtuously following Jesus’s example, we participate in God’s church bringing progress to history defined as shalom.  If by contrast our values are strife, war, contention, hierarchy, pride, tyranny, then we may expect to be dominated by the cyclic eruptions of history’s sins. 

Personal ethics & hopes matter. 

Live into the name of God in Jesus’ shalom.

Into human cultures that try to force history into violent cycles to make it predictable to the fearful, the Name of God in Jesus ensures that the serpent’s cycles of sin are crushed & to bring to fruition the progress of shalom. 

    The name announced by the angel transforms history into the process of the Holy Spirit: 

that the name’s announcement is soft power! 

    New Year’s Day is a time of recollection & anticipation. Recollection of God’s activity in the past year & what can be relied upon in the new. 

    The Church is in one of those seasons of life where so many things seem to be going wrong. 

We may feel it is hard to imagine being more stressed & how it's likely there are more crises to come. 

In times like these, we are like a wounded animal tempted to retreat & isolate. 

But where is the growth & sanctification in that?

Instead, Christians welcome times like these as opportunities—opportunities to grow spiritually by serving others. To stay the course & let Jesus illuminate the way by his excellent virtues & faithfulness.

    Living prayerfully inside the name of Jesus who bears such grace-dispensing virtues is the potential of grace to disrupt history for the better. In his name’s constant call to prayer, we recall the revolutionary historical inbreaking of grace. 

    We can, through a cyclical reading of history, "make the God of the Bible look like a vindictive Canaanite war god." [6]  Or—We can make the God of the Bible in the name Jesus where the Word of God is read with a progressive view of history, where the Spirit is leading toward the heavenly destiny of abundance and peace.

Where the name of God involves grace.

"Only one name is a right reading of Scripture."/

    We Christians bear the honor & responsibility of reflecting Jesus’ name of Christ, the anointed ruler.

Let us strive to live lives that honor & reflect that name in which we pray,

As we pray for God's blessing for the beginning of the civil New Year to make it a year of universal progres  and not the return of cyclical violence.   I can't tell you what your new year's resolutions should be, I am goinga to resist the proliferating mating calls of petroleum and cryptofinance, 

I am going to resist the dog whistles of racism and fascism, 

I am going to resist the triggering slogans for warrior religious nationalists, pandemic disinformation, and social strife. 

While we cannot individually bring in our preferred future by our strategems, 

 we can trust that God is in control & has a plan for history that includes us as individuals. 

    Last night many of us sung: “Auld Lang Syne.” Which is a wistful tradition, just don’t make it the incantation of your heart. 

Don’t make it into a soundtrack for nationalism.

A compulsion to bring back safety, predictability, and uniformity of an imagined past,a compulsion to live in the past is the signal of living with the Terror of history.

Nostalgiacs and reactionaries choose to go back in time toward feelings of a golden age of safety while living in terror of the future—anticipating a final but cataclysmic restoration of the Garden of Eden.

    Progressive Christian forecasters by contrast apply a more linear trajectory to the Spirit-led unfolding of the Kingdom of God on Earth as in Heaven, open to the wonder of ever-advancing, ever-renewing & challenging newness—the forward trajectory of soul growth that overcomes fear & anxiety.

    The Ecclesiastes reading explicitly speaks of the Virtues of silence, gratitude, recollection, courage, acceptance, impartiality. By these, God transforms us from the self-directing agents in service of recrudescent sin into the dispensers of radiating grace. 

God will transform tears into dance [Psalm 30:11–12], shame into joy.

The New Year is a time to dance. 

Dance in the purity of conscience. 

Dance & pray in Jesus’ name. AMEN.//


----------

Notes:

[1] "The most extreme of vanities," Ecclesiastes 1:2. הֲבֵ֤ל הֲבָלִים 

[2] Dave Troy @davetroy, Twitter December 30, 2022.

[3] Alastair Roberts, https://theopolisinstitute.com/you-shall-call-his-name-joshua/

[4]Graeber, David, and David Wengrow. The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021, 497.

[5] Michael S. Heiser, Facebook post, 2/8/22.

[6] Zahnd, Brian. “God Is Like Jesus.” Brian Zahnd, August 12, 2011.  https://brianzahnd.com/2011/08/god-is-like-jesus-2/.



Wednesday, June 15, 2022

 

 The 'Three Mile an Hour God’

"Jesus is a walking God; God is a 'three mile an hour God.'"[1]

A sermon by Rev. Douglas Olds

Ps. 119:105, "Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path."

 Ephesians 5:12b–16  everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Be careful then how you live [walk], not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.


For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’?

This statement of Jesus is found in the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and Mark: (Mt 9:5, Lk 5.23, Mk 2.9).  This is, as I shall pick up later, not a rhetorical question. But first I want to discuss the restoration of mobility to the paralytic which in part restored his ability to practice his culture.

The prophets and disciples were people who walked. Prodigiously. Jesus instructs his disciples to walk out into the surrounding villages to testify and preach. He commands the paralytic to walk forth from his bed.  Walking is a central feature in the spread Jesus’s announcement of the Kingdom of God.  Abraham is commanded by God repeatedly to  ק֥וּם לֵךְ֙ (qûm lek,“arise and go forward” [Gen. 28:2, cf. 12:1 et al.]), get up and walk, get up and go as a nomad toward the promised land.

The activity of sustained walking, and the centrality of it as transportation, may be one of the most distinguishing differences between the Biblical age and ours. A culture that devoted 4 hours a day or more to walking developed virtues seemingly foreign to us: virtues of contemplation, recollection, stillness of mind, disinterestedness, and asceticism.  Virtues tie body and soul together. The virtues of walking tie our ruminations of mind with the rhythms of our somatic, bodily exertions.

 "Knowledge is a rumor until it lives in muscle," an African proverb states. The soul’s religious insights are developed in harmony with the body.  The Resurrection confirms that our soul’s destiny is not to evacuate the body, but to be reconciled and integrated with it.  The soul’s work and insights during long walks become integrated with memory of the body’s movements in the Biblical anthropological portrait of Homo ambulans.  

Henry David Thoreau proposed walking as a spiritual discipline.  It was for him a reflective activity that took place necessarily away from society where he could discern and discover his true identity. Thoreau proposed a contemplative narrative to guide his walks and structure what he found both inside and outside himself during the walks. In his essay, “Walking”[2] (based on Lectures he began in the 1850s), Thoreau employed the “metaphor of the walker as a crusader to the Holy Land and places the devil himself in opposition to the freedom and wildness that the walker craves… The ‘Prince of Darkness’ is the surveyor who places the stakes that keep the walker away from the landscape.” [3]

During these reverie-structured “saunters,” Thoreau would encounter the "Whoa!" of the Evil one to the wildness [and freedom] he sought.” It was the devil, he concluded, who fenced off the private ownership of what was communally-owned nature –its springs of Enlightenment it provided him.

In his daydreams during walks, Thoreau placed obstacles and encounters into a framework of good and evil. In this, Thoreau displayed a Judaic consciousness. The singer Leonard Cohen endorsed the same narrative plot: "It's good to be between a ruined house of bondage and a holy promised land." And Wendell Berry: “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” Distinguishing these states of ruin and holiness during our own pastoral wandering may illuminate what we personally find necessary for social life versus what is cordoned off for our private and personal use.  Employing Thoreau’s narrative of walking in a Holy Land is a way of not only living more closely—resonating--with nature. It is also a way of living more closely with our own spirit.  We need only take care not to make this walk among community solely about our right to solitude lest we assert ownership over it in conflict with others’ –God’s--rightful claims. It’s a crowded world, and we must conclude that God wills it so.

As an injunction for sauntering in wilderness, Earth-Firster Dave Forman proposed that all surveyor stakes and ribbons encountered be obliterated as a protest of economic development. However, an appropriate solitude of walking inside an appreciation of creation’s goodness--and wildness’s fall from grace--is implicitly a spiritual discipline of generosity and covenant-keeping worthy of the Sabbath.  The walker in this state seeks spiritual knowledge of self and creation that may be rare or fleeting in apprehension, but with repetition may add up to a revelation about God and self.

Through walking in God’s Kingdom, we can remain alert to evidence of possibly unfathomable knowledge. Thoreau writes: "Give me a wildness whose glance no civilization can endure…My desire for knowledge is intermittent; but my desire to bathe my head in atmospheres unknown to my feet is perennial and constant. The highest that we can attain is not Knowledge, but Sympathy with [Cosmic Nature’s] Intelligence."[4]  This distinction between a personal knowledge and God’s grant of Cosmic Intelligence demonstrates the necessity of the virtue of humility to the walk and the work, lest one be misled into thinking that the spiritual insights one develops is self-merited.  Rather, our walk ideally aligns us with the giver of all good gifts, what I would call the Divine logos which Thoreau defines as Nature. 

Thoreau uses the image of the rooster as the bragging "expression of the health and soundness of Nature," rousing humanity to alert perception--to "a pure morning joy" in our journeying.

A spiritualized narrative of walking excludes, of course, the immobilized who may suffer a profound physical disability.  We must look for alternative visions for our journey through the world that can encompass these folks.  As an alternative to walking in the promised land, descrying its ruins and obstacles, Melville in Moby Dick offers the vision of sailing: "What could be more full of meaning?—for the pulpit is ever this earth's foremost part…and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence it is the God of breezes fair or foul is first [encountered]. Yes, the world's a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow." 

One immobilized advances as if situated and perched on the prow of a bouncing ship. The wheelchair- or bed-bound might note the rhythms of the breezes and the direction of the birds signaling land. We might contemplate the narrative of Nature from the perspective of their discovery--that their narrative encounters society as the Sea.  And from that perspective, it might be as if the world turns past us on the sea as we sit on an unmoving boat. The weather changes, the breezes shift, the birds fly by, the dolphins circle underneath and beside. The movements are all relative, it is our perspective that shifts from an immobile body to a moving cosmos.

The Bible is full of these metaphorical alternatives regarding God’s activity:  these metaphors empower devotion and understanding.  But some aspects of society and the natural condition that surround and overshadow it are not of God.  I think of the anti-Christic sin of warfare, specifically of Drone warfare. Zubair Rehman, a 13-year-old Pakistani, uttered this evaluation of his environmental condition: “I no longer love blue skies. I prefer grey skies. The drones don’t fly when the skies are grey." How tragic, how foreign to God’s intended creation and humanity where drones have taken away the freedom of mobility and its potential to bond with Nature and neighbors. Drone warfare inhibits the walking cultures of the East, inhibiting it as much as a wall or barrier. Perhaps worse than impeding relationship with others, drones impede a relationship with nature--with the full creation. Drone warfare leads to fear and huddling in shadow and structure. Drones disable civilians in their flight path, creating invalids, the type that Jesus healed and which we are instructed also to heal.  90% of casualties by weaponized drones are civilians.[5] Drones dehumanize by maiming and inhibiting the human capability of mobility. They also depersonalize individuals by substituting their identity with a geographical coordinate. The latter is precise, the first is neglected. Drones also depersonalize through its technology’s racial bias that cannot recognize facial features in dark skin as effectively as it can lighter skin.[6]  Drone “signature strikes,” especially when automatized inside Artificial Intelligence, lead to the injustice of a sloppy slaughter of black and brown innocents.

Resisting the advent and spread of drone warfare is a way of healing the immobilized and depersonalized—restoring the presence of nature and community in their lives. Code Pink pickets at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, for its drone warfare operations.  Another picketing and resistance operation against drone warfare is happening by employees and community members at Google’s headquarters. Google’s Project Maven participates in the application of the military-industrial complex to weaponize and automate big data inside drone warfare./

Jurgen Moltmann writes of the walk of faith that “seek[s] community with the human Christ in every situation in life, and in every situation experiencing his own history."  To find Christ, and to sustain the human Christ in his struggle, God sends us into “a real world, a world of starving children and murderous competition, of lonely rooms and smug clubs, of shattered dreams and burned out hopes,”[7] of corrupt politics and closed minds, of resentful bigots and phony pieties. It is up to us to counter and resist the misreadings of the Gospel. The authentic announcement of God’s Kingdom forgives sins, announces release to captives, and justice for the oppressed.  The good news humanizes and identifies. It does not kill persons and personalities, it does not kill the capabilities of free thought and free mobility. It does not link riches with God’s favor and poverty with God’s hatred.

Albert Einstein said, “A human being…experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings, as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical illusion of his consciousness. This delusion is kind of a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion, to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and foundation for inner security.”  We can expand our human circle and our experience of it by walking the neighborhoods that God has placed us amidst.

Our journeying may be better visualized as a shared dance in embrace with the Holy. If, as Kurt Vonnegut writes, "Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God," our guided saunters and joyous waltzes through creation honor God and embraces the wisdom God graces to impart to us. We dance that we become movements in joy.   Our joyous journeying obeys the “summons to think about how the world can be practiced differently.”[8] The walk that dances meets God and neighbors “in the middle,” establishing new centers for eternity, transforming dead space into living place. The ramifying circumincessions of creatures, Logos, and Spirit divinize. They are process by which the living Christ is becoming all-in-all, the onset of new hypostatic union(s) of Spirit and incarnated beings, bringing forth a new Creation with creatures becoming increasingly intimate and familiar with, and accomplished toward, the divine will. At the eschaton, the process will come complete.

Moving through nature either by walking or sailing or dancing within a contemplative Christian narrative presupposes the virtue of disinterestedness—a determined lack of greed in grasping what is natural and shared to privatize it for personal gain. Our journeying with a grasping gaze—a greed of spirit--is not the kind of walk Jesus engaged. Our mobility leads us astray if it is done without a generous spiritual outlook. 

Pay heed to your journeys; pay heed to your capability of mobility, for the freedom of movement to discover the wonder of the world. Listen to your body—when walking and when praying--and do not think of it as your enemy. What do you do with the miraculous gift of the body? You have the capacity to see, to feel and to hear and to understand. To move about. What do you do with it? Do you bless, do you curse, do you forgive, do you begrudge?

To return to Jesus’ question that began this sermon, “For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’?”  It’s not rhetorical. Ancient Israel thought only God could forgive sins, so they would never dare to pardon their neighbor.  The Jews of Jesus’s time would have expected healing to be an easier vocation for the religion.   Healing requires presence, but the restoration of mobility to one immobilized by the weaponized drones flying overhead requires a political and cultural commitment out of reach for most.  Yet Jesus shows us that we can bring about neighborhoods of shalom through forgiveness. By Jesus’s question, we are to understand, I think, that we are to forgive the trespasses of others against our prerogatives to ownership, to privacy, to self-respect.  We CAN forgive because He forgave us. The injunction to heal and the injunction to forgive in our Scriptural passage this morning is the defining character of God’s love, as is the Abrahamic injunction to get up and walk. Get up and dance. The love from God intended for us, and the intention for us to love God back, and oh, our neighbor as well: these I considered on walks. 

May this spiritual journeying that walks and dances by faith be for you and me. Amen.



[1] http://justiceunbound.org/carousel/the-three-mile-an-hour-god-and-the-imago-dei-within-us/

[4] Ibid

 

[5] Marjorie Cohn, Bay Area Interfaith Conference on Drone Warfare, Pacific School of Religion Chapel. April 28, 2018.

[6] Ibid.

[8] Attributed to Walter Brueggemann.

Monday, April 25, 2022

 

Spiritual Exercises for Atmospheric Alignment

Rev. Dr. Douglas Olds

Spring 2022

Christians cannot avoid the ramparts of resistance to climate-driven social and ecological change, either as survivors or as agents of transformation. To not just survive but to transform our lives and others requires spiritual resources to develop resilience—to raise awareness of our dependence on and commitment to atmospheric balances and cycles.

This Appendix offers a set of spiritual exercises and practices to build resilient conscientiousness of, and alignment with, the Atmosphere as the abode of the Holy Spirit and her intimate communion with all of life. Three sets of examples of leading exercises and praxis of atmospheric awareness and alignment follow: processing in perpendicular, atmospheric space, connecting atmosphere and neighborhood, and sacramental liturgies.[1] These exercises are designed to situate people in the encompassing bosom of the atmosphere, for them to circle back on their material inconsequence so to neither wield nor hire big, sky-busting combustion, thereby growing in, by aligning and giving due honor to, Spirit.

Warmup: Poetic Wordplay, Explore the parallels

Read the following verse aloud, then silently focus on single words to locate them in space and time. Rearrange the parallels. Imagine and recast the verbs as nouns and the nouns as verbs.

“Unfurl over us a shelter of your peace.”[2]

What does this wordplay suggest about the dynamics, procession, and interaction of Creation and Spirit?

Now read Genesis 1.1-8. Is your imagination and spiritual understanding of the atmosphere changed by this reading? Of Creation or Creator? Journal your insights or share them with any group in which you are participating in this exercise.

Now consider the desire for the Spirit in our gasps. Focus on the heart’s restlessness. After focusing on this desire of lungs and hearts, the pulse of prayer begins. 

    Exercise: Recollecting communion with history

Take time to identify an ancestor in faith or blood who guides you in your activism and commitment to the cause of earth and atmospheric balance and health. Introduce the group to this figure by giving thanks for him/her, then share a brief description of how and why this person enables or inspires you in earth care ministry.

I.                    Recollection and Despair: catharsis and accountability

Despair is an intimacy with fear generated by closing in on truth (Chödrön 1997, 1), our meeting our match in the challenges of reality. It may manifest in rage, bitterness, and isolation. Practicing the virtue of recollection of our past enchantment with nature structures lament at our displacement and disenchantment inside a degraded present. What follows may be an individual or group exercise:

Read aloud the opening to the Book of Lamentations and note how grief is paired with recollection. Consider how emotion is paired with experience to pierce the heart of its audience. Name those emotions. How might this structure be useful for liturgy or pastoral care and counseling? How might this energy be allowed to be, unrepressed and not silenced among congregants reporting climate despair? Might the experience, out of nowhere, of emotional catharsis from despair cause our struggles to cease and train our hearts and minds to relax? (Ibid., 17). How can we identify with these emotions of pain and isolation?

            Socially, we often avoid grief and deem despair as an enemy. However, consider David as a personality revealed in the Psalms. He routinely reveals his own struggle with persecution and trial as he finds refuge in the landforms of wild nature—physical structures with agency that he attributes to God’s foresight and planning for him, that allows him to call God his “Rock.” Psalm 7 involves David’s lament of structural evil. How may your lament animate expectation of God’s intervention? Is that intervention coming soon, in the near-term? A result of individual prayer? Or of a necessary massed action of prayer and resistance right now? Or does God’s resolution of our lament await a new world or new heaven?

After considering personal materialism and consumerism pray the psalms of lament (e.g. Pss. 7.1; 10. 1; 13; 17, 77, 86, 88.14; 89.42; 102). Outline their flow, their subjects, their requests, and their resolutions. Consider playing with the words, syntax, and subjective structure (as above) to generate new ideas. Adapt lament over global heating and climate disruption into your own prayer life, considering intercessory requests for victims of its injustices. Any expression of violence echoes. A word of grace sings in the soul, touching the motive cords of renewal.

Guided Imagery, Practice 1: Breathing the virtues of recollection and gratitude.

Like respiration, spiritual rhythms both take in and let go. In this, the breathing spirit dances with us through space, where meaning is found in the ever-changing middle.

a.   Focus on your breathing--on the air filling your lungs. Recall a time in your life when you found yourself carried in the bosom of God in nature. Continuing to focus on your breathing, link that breathing with your recollected memory.  Breathe in recollection, breathe out gratitude.

b.   Say to yourself, “this place and memory are holy.”

c.   Now move your focus to the place in your throat that gives rise to voice and anticipate giving voice to your memory. From deep within your lungs, anticipate how you will offer up your memory to this group. Continue breathing out gratitude.

d.   Feel the spirit filling your lungs in anticipation of activating your speech. When you feel ready, tell us the place you are recalling and the feelings you have about that place.

e.    Does your memory include elegance (parsimony and beauty) and/or enchantment? How would you define these? How does God’s role in your life impact your appreciation of beauty and enchantment in your life under the sky?

Guided Imagery, Practice 2: Via Negativa (contemplating the invisible God).

a.   Ground yourself in this place, noting its solidity and your stillness. Imagine lifting your arms as branches of a tree to take in the atmosphere [carbon dioxide and water vapor]. Feel the air on your face, hair, and skin. Feel yourself living inside a compartment of skin, in close contact with the air.

b.   Enter your inner heart and try to sense the bosom of God in an invisible atmosphere. How do these inner sensations affect your communion with the invisible, with Spirit?

c.   Now open yourselves to the wonder of a planet racing around the sun, and the solar system racing through space at unimaginable speeds inside an expanding universe.   Feel the giddiness and lightheadedness of such imaginable speed as the stars race away from each other like dots on an expanding balloon.

d.   Take flight in your imaginings through this cosmos, discerning lights amidst the darkness.

e.    Now return to the earth slowly. As you approach the earth from afar, experience its shimmer, a blue globe against a black background of space. Sense the thin haze of atmosphere surrounding it.

f.   Return to the solid earth. Now open your eyes and focus on the empty space between objects. What do you see? Feel? Can you imagine the atmosphere filling that space? Can you sense the invisible?

g.  How might you see and hear God’s Holy Spirit in the breath and voice of other people? In the soothing whispers and murmurs of wind; of leaves; of water?

B. Circular Movement of embodied desire and prayer

Come to the place, where every breath is praise,

And God is breathing through each passing breeze.

Be planted by the waterside and raise

 

Your arms with Christ beneath these rooted trees,

Who lift their breathing leaves up to the skies.

Be rooted too, as still and strong as these,

 

Open alike to sun and rain. Arise

From meditation by these waters. Bear

The fruits of that deep rootedness. Be wise

 

In the trees’ long wisdom. Learn to share

The secret of their patience. Pass the day

In their green fastness and their quiet air.

 

Slowly discern a life, a truth, a way,

Where simple being flowers in delight.

Then let the chaff of life just blow away.[4]

Sit comfortably with feet planted on ground. Close your eyes. Place your palms flat down on your lap or knees. Calm yourself, then think of your deepest longing for the Earth that can be expressed to the Holy Spirit. Slowly imagine how you would embody a petition—a cry upward. How would you move your palms and arms? Now embody that movement.  Freeze that movement in some moment as you petition and pray to the Holy Spirit to answer your longing. After your prayer is finished, slowly return your arms to your lap. Concentrate on your expectations: how is your posture affected by waiting on the Spirit? Maintain this posture of waiting and/or expectation. Where are your palms? What is their orientation?

After a time, imagine receiving an answer to your prayer in your deepest heart. How do you embody that receipt? What do you do with your arms, your palms? How do you cradle your receipt of God’s answer, of the Spirit’s intercession? What circuit have your arms and palms traveled in the process of contemplation of desire, expression of longing, waiting, and then reception? How does the awareness of air influence the pattern and circuit of your arms? How does the starting place and ending place of this circuit seem different? What have you learned of what is encompassed--of the middle of being?

C. Linearity in Space: Inhabiting the Genius of Place

Scripture: Ps. 84.1-4, Gen. 1:1-6; Any psalm attributed to David with nature themes.

Preparatory Poetic Meditation:

I find you in all Things and in all

My fellow creatures, pulsing with your life;

As a tiny seed you sleep in what is small

And in the vast you vastly yield yourself.

 

The wondrous game that power plays with Things

Is to move in such submission through the world:

Groping in roots and growing thick in trunks

And in treetops like a rising from the dead.[5]

Exercise: Walk in nature; let an object in it find you. How can you consider it as a subject: feather, piece of bark, shell, rock? Being conscious of the air that separates you, slowly move to touch it, reducing your distance. Spend time trying to experience it for what it is—a subject. Smell it, focusing on the aroma’s connection with the air that builds intimacy with the natural subject. Slowly consider: How is object converted into subject by touch, sight, and smell? Are there sounds in its environment? How might they link with the experience of this natural subject? How has the air mediated appreciation of subject? What does this subject reveal about its agency in the world of the Creator?[6]

Summary Prayer:

When I open my eyes, my God, on all that you have created

I have heaven already in my hands.

Serenely I gather in my lap

Roses and lilies and all green things

While I praise your works.

 

My own works I ascribe entirely to you.

Gladness springs forth from sorrow

And joy brings happiness.[7]

 

Spiral Practice: Feeling Connected to the global awakening and resistance

Spiral movement: circular, but never returning to the same place, but cognizant of the start’s centripetal and centrifugal forces in the travel (Ps. 107.4-5). Global Heating and Climate Crisis cannot be faced alone. Its huge challenge requires collective commitment and solidarity of support and action.

Walk in a circle and honor or thank these, our human companions on this extraordinary journey of resisting combustion-fueled consumerism and Climate Injustice.

Prayer to deliberate and initiate civil resistance:

What can I do for justice, peace and creation?

To learn new love for life, my life, part of creation,

Related to everything that lives and moves.

To let myself be challenged

When I see around me human destruction of the world.

To break through the veil of deception

That hides from my eyes brutal facts.

And to resist, wherever I can, with subversive power.[8]

 Perpendicularity as Worship: Reverence toward the Spirit

 (Guiding breathing and voice inward and upward).

            Sit in a circle if in a group. Close your eyes: Slowly focus on your skin: how the air may tickle, how the hair on your arms and legs pick up the breeze. Become aware of your breathing, locating the entry of air into your nose and mouth, its travel into your lungs. Visualize the air in your lungs connecting via blood to your heart. Focus on your heartbeat. Practice calming. Now anticipate praying with the Holy Spirit. Feel the breath welling up within as a prelude to speech, your breath in your lungs ascending into your throat. Feel the life pulse in your throat’s jugular.

Make some simple vocal sounds, concentrating on the throat’s voicebox (where Israelites located the nephesh, the soul). Follow these vocal sounds further upward into the sky, following in your mind’s eye these words as they seek their ascendant subject. After this practice, now follow the same awareness as you gently vocalize a petition or expression of gratitude for the air to the Spirit in the Sky. Allow yourself to experience intimacy with that Spirit in the involvement of air with breathing and vocal expression. How does that awareness of your soul/nephesh’s intimacy of vocal communication, pulse, and breath affect your words? Open your eyes and look upward. Focus on varying layers of the atmosphere: the nearness of nature above you, then to the clouds, and then beyond into the blue. What lies beyond? Keep extending your awareness and opening your senses to the variety of heights. After a time, close your eyes and again return to prayer. Give thanks for any new awareness, surrender, or conscientiousness of the intimacy of Spirit, air, breath, heartbeat, and your soul’s voice and longing. Focus again on the Spirit inside you breathing out the vocal, blood pulsing expression of your nephesh’s gratitude.[9] Extend this process to all living creatures. Experience the communion of the Holy Spirit with material breath in the voiced word of compassion, the highest refinement of the human soul’s reverence and hospitality of others (Guardini 1998,175).[10]

Questions for group or individual reflection: How has the Spirit’s hiddenness and operations inside you become more revealed to your awareness by this exercise? How has your respect for all creatures—and all peoples—as equals in intimate connection by these energies of the Spirit? How do you connect the messages of the Spirit from Genesis 1 to a reverence of God’s presence? Of God’s process in your life and world?

Closing prayer:

To you, Comforter, we cry;

To you, the gift of Spirit most high, true fount of life, the coolness of our soul’s anointing by your breaths of love, let your light impart to all of our senses your eternal and unfailing might—to strengthen our weakness and give power to your will. Amen.[11]

II.                 Liturgical and Sacramental Praxis

The awareness of atmospheric trusteeship may be promoted by ritual or in a prayerful attitude of the sacred. Dahill (2015) proposes moving church rituals and sacraments outdoors from the confines of the built sanctuary into the cathedral of the sky.

  1. Prayer of Confession

O God, hear our lament over nature’s “un-creation.” Allow our lament to be rooted in infinite hope so that our purpose does not whither when its champions are bent low or lopped off. We confess our participation in what we now lament: an extractive material economy out of ecological balance. We repent of climate catastrophe and injustice. We ask, dear God, for the Holy Spirit’s re-vitalizing forgiveness and guidance. All for the sake of restoring your trust in us to tend and flourish inside your bright and beautiful creation.

  1. Baptism in the Wild[12]

Human alienation from nature may be countered by a Christian spirituality of biocentric re-immersion into reality, cultivating loyalty to the genius of place and planet. “Rewilding” is a Christian spiritual practice for the Anthropocene. Perceiving the disconnection of contemporary human life from its ecological foundation reveals the link between spiritless consumerism and hasty, combustion-fueled materialism on the horizontal plane. Human obsession with the horizontal plane of the ephemeral obstructs the awareness of eternity which integrates verticality and horizontality in the living rhythms and harmonious alignments of the animated world inside well-ordered nature. Perpendicularity recognizes the Sky’s punctuated sustenance of nature in rain, air, storm, the intimacy of plant and animal respiration—and our own--inside landscaped moieties of human artifice and wild naturalness.  The danger is the former has irretrievably swallowed up the latter. As a corrective of human alienation from nature, Dahill (2005) proposes the liturgical renewal of and venue shift for baptism:

Our bodies have formed themselves in delicate reciprocity with the manifold textures, sounds, and shapes of an animate earth—our eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with other eyes, as our ears are attuned by their very structure to the howling of wolves and the honking of geese. To shut ourselves off from these other voices, to continue by our lifestyles to condemn these other sensibilities to the oblivion of extinction, is to rob our own senses of their integrity, and to rob our minds of their coherence…Out in contact and conviviality [with open-aired nature is] an astonishing fullness of the baptismal life, a much wilder immersion.

It is after immersion in water that Jesus re-emerges into air to meet the Spirit “coming as a dove” (Mt. 3.16). These processive images through water and air recapitulate the sequence of Gen. 1.1-4, with the immersion of God’s incarnate Son at the historical point of border entry by the people into the promised Land, a people sent within the covenantal dispensation of obedience as agents of conquest in the land suffering the cosmic effects of the fall. The spiritual conquerer Jesus emerges by biological necessity to meet with the sent Spirit in the Sky, for the restoration of the ontology of shalom, beauty, and freedom.

Baptism liturgically incarnates the wild death-in-birth and birth-in-death experience of a liminal, refugee mother in labor suffocating under social eviction and the threat of extinction (cf. Rom. 8) then released by joy. Rather than inert backdrops of a solely spiritualized drama, the water (cf. Hab. 2.14) and atmosphere have agency in the transmission of the energies of the Trinity manifested by the voice from heaven, the airborne kinematics of the dove, and the baptismal washing and anointing that returns forth (in an extension of divine missio) a new family into the wider cosmos of land and nature. Just as social outsiders and animals were participants in the messiah’s birthing into the land that was promised, all of intended Creation becomes incorporated into the promised renewal dramatized in baptism, intimate agents in the salvific renewal of Eden on this earth. The cosmos is reaffirmed in both its materiality and infused spiritual essence flowing from both the Godhead (in union) and now the presence of the new family of anointed trustees (in communion). God’s new superintendence of gracious love manifests as maternal and not dominating, ever steadfast in loyalty and care (hesed). The wails of the newly delivered give way at (and process in) the mother’s joy—her shouting and singing at the astounding punctuation of being and history—to become the beneficiary of a new earth. Christ becomes all-in-all, the Spirit diffuses forth through Creation as the Creator intended, bringing what is elected in the cosmos home in adoption and purification, the glorious summation of physical quickening revealed in ringing eternal praise and shining and blissful theophoric heartbeats.

For you shall go out in joy,

  and be led back in peace;

the mountains and the hills before you

  shall burst into song,

  and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands

(--Isa. 55:12; cf. Pss. 65:13; 98:7-8; Zech. 2:14).



[1] "With the body, man stands in fellowship with the earth; with the spirit, which is from above, man is related to heaven” (Bavinck 2012 [1908], 1).

[2]I am indebted for the idea of sacred wordplay and for this translation by Cantor Sharon Bernstein of וּפְרוֹשׂ עָלֵינוּ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶךָ (Ufros aleinu sukat sh'lomecha). From the Hashkiveinu, the second liturgical blessing following the Shema during Maariv recited on the Sabbath. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hashkiveinu.

An alternative text for this exercise is the song “Breathe,” a recording released by the performer Michael W. Smith on 9/11/2001. The musical performance of this song is available on the web by Smith as well as by Rebecca St. James and would be a suitable preface or complement for a practice, “Finding your Breath.” (These lyrics could also be introduced to include Spiritual reflection on the anniversary of that Black Flag day):

This is the air I breathe--

Your holy presence living in me;

This is my daily bread--

Your very word spoken to me;

And I --I'm desperate for you

And I-- I'm lost without you (Howe, Barnett, and Zolleyn 2001).

[3] A New Zealand Prayer Book (Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia), 163.

[4] https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2020/05/07/beatus-vir-a-reflection-on-psalm-1/

[5] Rilke (2005). “Only where there is praise may lamentation / go.” --Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus, I.8.

[6] This exercise adapts Hamilton-Poore (2007).

[7] Hildegaard of Bingen [1098-1179), Windows of Faith: Prayers of Holy Hildegaard, ed. By Walburga Storch, OSB (Liturgical Press, 1997, 65), from Hamilton-Poore (2007)

[8] Marga Buhrig (1915-2002). From Hamilton-Poore (2007)

[9] Connect this exercise to singing, which may be the most exalted form of these connections.

[10]A contemplation from Bonaventure (The Soul's Journey into God, VI) emphasizes the relational [atmospheric mediating] foci embodied in this exercise:

The highest good must be most self-diffusive. But the greatest self-diffusion cannot exist unless it is actual and intrinsic, substantial and hypostatic, natural and voluntary, free and necessary, lacking nothing and perfect…as in the case in a producing by way of generation and spiration, so that it is from an eternal principle eternally coproducing so that there would be a beloved and a cobeloved, the one generated and the other spirated, and this is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit—unless these were present, it would by no means be the highest good because it would not diffuse itself in the highest degree…Hence another diffusion can be conceived greater than this, namely, one in which the one diffusing communicates to the other his entire substance and nature…If, therefore, you can behold with your mind’s eye the purity of goodness, which is the pure act of a principle loving in charity with a love that is both free and due and a mixture of both, which is the fullest diffusion by way of nature and will, which is a diffusion by way of the Word, in which all things are said, and by way of the Gift, in which other gifts are given, then you can see that through the highest communicability of the good, there must be a Trinity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

[11] Adapted from Creator Spiritus by Rabanus Maurus (776-856) presented in Hamilton-Poore (2007).

[12] Preparatory reading: Ps. 65. 5-13 on the processive presence and character of the sustaining Godhead.