Or, put the other way around, when we are one with God’s creation, living within our means in the cosmos, we are becoming one with the Incarnation of Christ, and actualizing justice and peace with our neighbor.
Amidst all the tragic news this week, in Boston and Texas, I almost missed the pictures of flooding, right here in Chicago. It was on the far SW side, where I saw the report of a man who was kayaking down the street where he lived, paddling by cars that were up to their windshields in a river of water! A reporter asked this leading question, “do you really have to use a kayak to get around?” “Well no,” said the man, “not if I want to get out my waders!” It was a surreal picture!
And so later, when I saw the TV images in Watertown, MA of the hiding place of Suspect #2 on Friday, it all seemed to make sense. Like Noah’s Ark, moored on dry land after the deluge, the 19 year old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was discovered in a dry-docked-boat in somebody’s driveway. The perfect picture, of being disconnected, from the natural world!
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, bridges this divide. On this traditional Good Shepherd Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, we take comfort in the Green Pastures he provides for us, the pristine waters, the pathways of righteousness, the healing oil, and an overflowing abundance of holy wine – all which make possible to us a confidence, trust, and hope, which is the foundation of our faith and spiritual well-being, even in the midst of life’s dark valley’s and hidden enemies.
Franciscan writer Richard Rohr put it this way, “Two thousand years ago was the human incarnation of God in Jesus. But before that there was the first and original incarnation, through light, water and land; sun, moon and stars; plants, trees and fruit; birds, cattle and fish, and ‘every kind of wild beast,’ according to our own creation story in Genesis (1:3-25). The sacred,” he says, “is established from the beginning and it is universal. We live in a sacred and enchanted universe.”
On this Good Shepherd Sunday, we are reminded that, everything is interconnected – spirit and world; faith and being; insects, humans and permafrost. Or as Barry Commoner once said – a biologist by training, who along with Rachel Carson, called attention to the hazards of DDT, and was also a Presidential Candidate opposite Ronald Regan in 1980 – “Everything is connected to everything else. Everything must go somewhere. And, there is no free lunch.”
At Chicago Filmworks on Clark last week, I saw a documentary called, “Atomic Mom.” It’s about a daughter who walked with her mom on a difficult journey, back in time if you will, to when she was a researcher at Los Alamos, TX. Her mom was a scientist in the Army, who recorded the effects of radiation when they were still doing above-ground nuclear testing. The A-bombs rendered the land uninhabitable, land the government had simply appropriated from the Shoshone Tribe. She never gave the effects a second thought, back then. The government made everything top secret, no one talked to anyone else, and she concluded, even her very thinking became compartmentalized.
Now, some 60 years later, when much of the information has been declassified, she agreed, with the urging of her daughter, to speak on camera. She was still quite stoic about it, but what brought out the emotions for her was remembering the tests on animals, especially dogs. “The one thing I just can’t do now,” she said, “is to go in the same room with my dog when he gets his trim.” It reminds her in a visceral way, of the bald spots and falling-out-hair of the dogs she worked with, that were sick and dying with radiation poisoning. “Can you imagine the suffering of the soldiers back then, who were lined up to absorb the atomic bomb blasts with only rubber bands around their pant legs – nothing on their faces or heads,” she asked?! But it was her memory of the dogs, for some reason, that brought tears to her eyes. Freed from the secrecy of “compartmentalization” the truth was revealed, in all of life’s true inter-connectedness.
Revelation, that most misunderstood book of the Christian scriptures, is full of atomic-like blasts, blood and guts. But we haven’t been very good at understanding what is revealed. As a people who are too often caught up in the sacrificial system of one victim after another, we have too quickly bought into the false salvation of sacred violence. That we should, get on the right side of God to avoid punishment, or, buy into a “winners and losers” mentality instead of the grace of God, that we must disassociate ourselves from God’s next sorry victims. John of Patmos, the writer of Revelation, would have been disappointed, if not appalled, at this interpretation.
Instead, New Testament Professor Barbara Rossing calls this chapter 7, a “salvation interlude,” in which John “delivers an amazing and hope-filled surprise: assuring God's people they are protected,” even within the deluge and tragedies of our world.
there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb (Rev. 7:9)
these are those who will be singing in a loud voice, praising our Host at the Eucharistic Table, in the presence of our enemies. And in this vision of the realm of God, there will be no victims any longer. The last enemy, death, has been destroyed by the innocent victim himself, by Christ, the sacrificial Lamb who is also our Good Shepherd!
Most of us don’t sing much anymore, save for, church, and, Happy Birthday, I suppose. Every new or old song is just one click away to download, and listen to. But I predict that folk singing will be making a comeback soon, because, we can’t do without the life-giving joy of singing with our own voices, and, if for no other reason than I saw it start at the Grammy Awards this year! The whole crowd of on-lookers that night, joined in on the, “Hey, Ho,” of the little known, off-beat band, The Lumineers, also singing the chorus “I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweetheart.”
And so, in John’s vision, it seems interesting to me that the globally diverse crowd, singing praises to the Lamb in Revelation, was joined by these apocalyptic “four living creatures,” who were patterned after those in Ezekiel and Daniel. The “four living creatures,” said John of Patmos, “had eyes in front and behind, the first like a lion, the second like an ox, the third with a human face, and the fourth like a flying eagle, each with six wings, and they sang day and night.” It was natural that the vision John had, of the redeemed creation to come, on earth, included well voiced creatures, a unification of human and animal, in this sacred and enchanted universe, we live in.
Our vision at Unity, we say, is to be an urban green space, welcoming everyone. But seeing, the four living creatures have not showed up at our door step, thus far, we just welcome, people and their animals! When we are one with God’s creation, we are becoming one with the Incarnation of Christ.
Tomorrow, of course, is Earth Day, the, Día de la Creación, a day which itself is a kind of eschatological banqueting table, prepared in the presence of so many environmental enemies like, pollution, oil spills, the Keystone XL pipeline, rising ocean tides, and melting glaciers. We can no longer say, “we wait,” with eager longing for the vision of Revelation to come, if that means as humans, we are disconnecting ourselves from the natural world. For the result of this compartmentalization, has been our own spiritual malaise, causing our estrangement from the realm of God, like a useless dry-docked boat. Everything is inter-connected, and so with every light we turn on, in how we grow and distribute our food, and how we fight our wars, we make a statement about how we are living out our faith, and confessing who we believe in.
Everything must go somewhere, said Barry Commoner, and there is no free lunch – at least, not until we learn to live within our means, by living into this redeemed, holy and incarnational world, the realm where God is hosting, in a single peaceful kingdom, for all heaven and earth, the one joyful and never ending banquet. Yes, Christ’s Thanksgiving meal is free, a holy communion that extends into our urban green space, and where we are singing to the Lamb, who is also our Good Shepherd. And one of those songs we sing, just might be, “Hey, Ho, I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweetheart.”