Saturday, 28 April 2007

Bridging Christianity and Animism (Part 2)

One of the most inspiring articles I have read in the past few years was by Mark I. Wallace (Associate Professor in the Department of Religion and member of the Interpretation Theory Committee and the Environmental Studies Committee at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania). It was called The Green Face of God: Christianity in an age of Ecocide and can be found at Cross Currents Magazine. This brief extract from some text on his website highlights his thinking of the way in which environmental issues and Christianity can be viewed through a different perspective of the Holy Spirit.
If Christianity is both disease and cure in regard to the ecocrisis, then what role can the ancient earth wisdom within Christianity play in making our respective bioregions vital places in which to live and work? Theologically speaking, I believe that hope for a renewed earth is best founded on belief in God as Earth Spirit, the benevolent, all-encompassing divine force within the biosphere who continually indwells and works to maintain the integrity of all forms of life. The Spirit is the enfleshment of God within every thing that burrows, creeps, runs, swims, and flies across the earth. The Spirit is the promise of God's material, palpable presence within the good earth God has made for the sustenance and health of all beings. God continually pours out Godself into the cosmos through Earth Spirit, the driving force within the universe who brings each thing into its natural fruition. In this sense, God is carnal: through the Spirit, God incarnates Godself within the natural order in order to nurture and protect every form of life. The Holy Spirit, therefore, is an enfleshed being, an earthly life-form who interanimates life on earth as an outflowing of God's compassion for all things. The Nicene Creed in 381 C.E. named the Spirit as "the Lord, the Giver of Life." In this book, I will try to make sense of this ancient appellation by reenvisioning the Holy Spirit as God's invigorating corporal presence within the society of all living beings.

I will outline some of his thinking in a following post. I am surprised that in all my years of church life I had never come across any thinking that made a connection between the Holy Spirit and the life energy that flows through all living things in such a context as this. As Mark points out:
In the main, historic Christianity understands the divine life as a Sky God. In nursery rhymes, sermons, hymnody, iconography, and theological teachings, God is pictured as a bodiless, immaterial being who inhabits a timeless, heavenly realm far beyond the vicissitudes of life on earth. Of course, in the person of Jesus, God did become an enfleshed life-form in ancient history. But the incarnation is generally understood as a long-ago, punctiliar event limited to a particular human being, namely, Jesus of Nazareth. Sadly, for many Christians, the incarnation of God in Jesus does not carry the promise that God, in any palpable sense, is continually enfleshed within the natural world as we know it. Rather, for the better part of church history, the divine life and the natural world have been viewed as two separate and distinct orders of being. Occasionally, God may intervene in the natural realm in order to achieve some other-worldly objective -- as in the case of sending Jesus to earth in order to redeem humankind from its sins. But occasional divine visitations do not entail the continual coinhabitation of God in the earth. Indeed, the majority theological judgment is that any suggestion that God is somehow embedded in the earth smacks of heathenism, paganism, and idolatry. Whatever else God is, God is not a nature deity captive to the limitations and vagaries of mortal life-forms. God is not bound to the impermanent flux of an ever-changing earth. God cannot be regarded as existing on a continuum with creaturely life-forms. It is for these reasons, according to majority opinion, that biblical religion forbids the fashioning of graven images as representations of the divine life: God is not a bull or a snake or a lion. On the contrary, so the majority argument goes, God abides in an eternally unchanging heavenly realm where suffering and disappointment are no more and every tear is wiped dry.

To me, God is in the earth, in the plants and trees, in nature around me, in the earth and in me. It is through them that I touch the Divine.

No comments: