An eco-spirituality through the seasons
By Al Fritsch, SJ
* Table of Contents
ECO-SPIRITUALITY IN MARCH
March raises our temperate climate anticipations, for the
Earth is ready to burst out and bring forth salvation. This is the
season of deliverance, of Lent, and of the celebration of the Feast
of the Incarnation. New life is coming soon, and our entire being
is in tune with this welcoming event. Winter is finally fading,
though it still may have some strong fits and starts. We keep our
focus on God's creation, even amid the blemishes imposed on it by
human shortcomings. Now we see that a Savior is coming and the
elements of his mission become all the more evident. His coming
teaches us much about our own Earth healing ministry.
March is when we have to be keenly observant of the swelling
buds and the semi-hidden shoots. Birds are returning, darting
about, and singing with greater gusto, yet they bid us to stop and
listen. The very first greens sprinkled with wild garlic give us
the taste of the season. We need to make a special effort to smell
the forsythia, daffodils, and the serviceberry for their fragrances
are faint. We spade the cool soil seeking spring's first warmth,
and we feel the sharp winds of early March giving way over the
month to the gentle breezes of April's growth. Life is returning,
but we have to struggle to master it. Thus this is the season of
self-denial, a time of focus, a bringing together of heavenly
aspirations with earthly experience.
In March we ask some fundamental questions. Upon describing
some of the characteristics of this season, we ask, does Jesus as
perfect ecologist exhibit them? With respect to his coming is he
both divine and human? How is he both obedience to the Divine Will
and fully involved in growing in age and wisdom with a human family
situation? What does he tell us as a miraculous healer? As a
patient teacher? As one who comes to actively liberate an
oppressed and captive people? What do we do to imitate Jesus
through our environmental actions, our prayer life, and our growing
understanding of ecological justice issues?
A. EXPERIENCES OF DELIVERANCE
Christ as perfect model comes among us, is the word spoken in
our midst; before our eyes he tastes the fullness of human
acceptance and rejection, presents an aroma of Divine grace, and
touches us in our hearts through love and a more radical
compassion. Our beings must come to terms with this perfect model
of ecological balance. Who is he? That basic question found
throughout the Gospels is the question we delve into but we do so
starting simply by experiencing our Earth on which he is born, is
obedient, dwells, heals, teaches, and is transfigured. We are
truly challenged by Jesus, for he invites us to come to terms with
ourselves by coming to know him. This eco-spirituality through the
seasons does not back away from this rather difficult and life-long
assignment; we proceed freely, respectfully and with simplicity.
1. Observe the Soaring
Look at the birds of the sky. They do not sow or reap
or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
It was nice going to the field after school at this time of
year, and following my dad as he plowed (ground-breaking as opposed
to tilling or cultivating) with the team of horses. It was for him
the hardest work of the year, holding the heavy plow steady and
still directing the three-horse team properly. He was always
accompanied by a massive number of opportunistic birds of various
species (cow birds, swallows, red-winged blackbirds, etc.), which
allowed him to deliver their grub and worm-filled lunches and
suppers. It took human effort and yet these chirping gatherers
seemed so happy -- and they were. I have often thought that Christ
came into our care-free world and delivered himself for us through
great effort like that of a plowman. And he did so freely.
Care-free birds. They have not yet secured tonight's meal,
and still they sing, swoop about, preen, and carry on as though
they are millionaires without a care in the world. If we didn't
have tonight's meal bought, paid for, stored, and prepared in some
fashion, we would be quite upset. However, even birds in long
distance flight, sing cheerfully, and then rest a little to gain
the energy to move on. What a life?
Quality to see -- Freedom. From the seemingly carefree birds
respecting no boundaries and operating on instincts, we can learn
valuable lessons as Jesus indicates to us. We, who pride ourselves
on being Appalachians and always "free," are all too often
susceptible to concerns and cares that truly restrict that
God-given freedom. We dig the grooves in which we find ourselves,
struggling to move along rutted tracks of our own making. We
fetter ourselves in worry, and wonder what tomorrow will bring. We
cannot fly in the air like a bird; we can hardly get out of the
land-based confines that we have made for ourselves. We, who
should trust in God who makes us free people, often restrict our
own freedom through false hopes and desires, which enslave us to
routine and self-centered activities. We are highly influenced by
what others expect of us and we appear content to remain in the
grooves made by our misdeeds. Let's learn from the birds; they
tell us something about how we are to handle life's persistent
problems. So in March we should endure a wee bit of carefreeness.
2. Listen to the Floods of Spring
Yahweh, the rivers raise,
the rivers raise their voices,
the rivers raise their thunders;
greater than the voice of the ocean,
transcending the waves of the sea,
Yahweh reigns transcendent in the heights.
(Psalm 93: 3-4) also (Habakkuk 3:10)
I never felt more helpless than when the flood waters reached
the highway (KY 1329) and raced down it, showing the speed of the
rising waters. I stood momentarily motionless and listened to the
roar of the tide as it came through the narrow constricted
Rockcastle River Valley from a relatively large upstream watershed.
The runoff comes so unexpectedly, so quickly, so forcefully. High
water bears the making of disasters, which have occurred many times
in Appalachia. The sounds of the flooding rivers and creeks are
terrifying to those who live in these parts. The experience is
most often quite personal and familial, for flood plains are the
only affordable home sites for so many folks.
We love our rivers and creeks, but we learn to respect them as
unmanageable creatures at certain times. Waterways have their
quiet moments for wading, fishing or swimming. But then comes the
muddy swirling tide, and all humans and wildlife scramble to stay
clear of the high waters. "We'll be there if the creeks don't
rise" is an Appalachian expression, referring to unexpected and
dangerous floods -- and often March is the time for these.
Quality to emphasize -- Respect. Nature teaches us to use our
streams well but to keep our distance, especially when the
otherwise slow-moving stream is on a rampage. Nothing teaches us
respect for nature better than a rapidly rising stream. Its voice
is its roar, and we both hear and heed its advice. Obey the
warnings and get to high ground. What we need to hear more clearly
is the voice of the coming Word, prepare for the coming in a
special and personal way. Respect what you can do and give and
avoid super-human heroic dreams. Live in obedience to God's will.
3. Smell and Taste the Dandelions
How fragrant your perfumes,
more fragrant than all other spices!
(The Song of Songs 4:10b)
Nothing tastes better after a long winter than a mess of
spring dandelion greens prepared in a mouth-watering manner. Mama
always prepared dandelions by dicing in onions, boiled eggs, and
potatoes and covering them over with vinegar and bacon grease and
a dash of salt and pepper. That dish would be the special delight
of an early spring supper.
My favorite flowers include ornamentals and "pests." None is
more noble than the dandelion, which can actually be spotted
blooming in our region in every month of the year -- at least in a
rather subdued manner in certain places in the winter months. The
dandelion, like Appalachian people, can thrive amid great
adversity. The roots of the dandelion (lion's teeth) are deep and
strong and can be dried to make a nutritious coffee-like beverage,
which some find pleasing. The humble dandelion flower is the
source of a yellow wine, which has its unique aroma and taste.
Dandelions are some of the year's earliest flowery fragrances.
Later flowers will offer us a more pungent scent, but the dandelion
with its slight floral odor holds preeminence by early arrival.
Those who regard dandelions as pests should try harvesting these
hearty plants for all their good parts -- leaf, flower and root.
They will prove less labor intensive than cultivated greens. Yes,
dandelions are friends, if we but see and taste and smell the
simple and often overlooked things of life.
Quality to champion -- Simplicity. The dandelion is there for
the taking and yet we often ignore and overlook it. What we learn
is that Christ's coming among us is so simply done that it even
surprises his relatives and friends. These and others who regard
themselves as important are scandalized that his attention is so
often given to the poor, the sick and the ignored folks whom he
meets. He simply heals them and does so on any day of the week.
What a horror, a miracle on the Sabbath! We too are called to act
simply and without pretention in healing this wounded Earth.
4. Whoa, Fresh Horseradish!
That night, the flesh is to be eaten,
roasted over a fire; it must be eaten with
unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
Each region has its own foods, and so it is in Appalachia. Our
people do not like some of the spicier foods of more tropical
climates, but we do like horseradish, a rather strong herb. In
late winter, our horseradish reaches its maximum strength, and upon
digging the root, the fun begins. As long as the horseradish root
is kept below the surface of water there is no problem. But when
the horseradish is ground, our eyes water profusely, for the juices
and mist arising by grinding the root are quite sharp, to say the
least. It's time to have a good cry about various subjects.
This herb, horseradish reminds us of the Chosen People's
Passover menu ingredient of bitter herbs, the taste of endured
oppression. We know the Israelites use roasted lamb and
unleavened bread and bitter herbs -- a symbol of the torture and
pain endured in captivity. For the Appalachian there is a solemn
recalling as well of the forbearers who cleared the land,
homesteaded and worked the mines. These were people who liked
their tasty regional foods and acquired through such substance the
strength to carry on. As we return to our table, and dab
horseradish on favorite dishes, let's recall the pioneers who went
before us to make us who we are. And let's continue to use it on
ham, baked beans, grits, gravy, and a hundred other things. Try
spreading it on a peanut butter sandwich or take a pinch to help
stay awake when driving. It always works wonders.
Quality to experience -- Endurance. To become like the perfect
model, Jesus, takes a certain amount of strength and perseverance.
We need to make an effort to learn what makes him who he is. We
may delve far more deeply than we would like, but it is the effort
that is so important. Besides, it may not be the big words or
concepts that make us stumble; it is our lack of faith that we can
succeed in our own ways of learning. What comes down from Heaven
is majestic; what comes up from Earth is all that we are -- and
there is a nobility to that also, which must not be overlooked.
The union of the two may spark lively debate, but there is
something profoundly simple here, if we just learn what it is. And
maybe through our education we too can unite Heaven and Earth.
5. Freshly-Turned Soil Beckoning Us to Touch
For as the earth makes fresh things grow,
as a garden makes seeds spring up,
so will the Lord Yahweh make both integrity and praise
spring up in the sight of the nations.
It is utter joy to have that first day of serious gardening in
March. Now once again we are in touch with living Earth and all
its multitude of organisms. Upturning the soil gives a sense of
utter freshness. Organic matter is now being converted to humus.
I just like to let a little of this rich organic matter filter
between my fingers. Getting garden dirt under my fingernails
doesn't seem to be such a burden after all. It is eventually washed
away, but it is the symbol of working hands that is so important in
keeping us properly oriented.
We balance our heavenly call from on high with the earthly
humility of our origins. For we are both dust and bound for
eternal glory -- and thus we glory in both. To touch the earth is
a sacramental sign of our redemption. We need to do so with
reverence and respect. When the snow melts and the land starts to
warm up, our minds turn to gardening and we go outdoors as soon as
possible. It is great to touch that soil and get it in our
fingers, on the palms of our hands, and right up to our elbows.
Rich soil, earthworm-filled dirt, granular humus. We now have
something to glorify that is below our feet. When we are truly
connected to our Earth, we feel an electric current coursing
through our bodies.
Qualities to ponder -- Rootedness/Rootlessness. From dust and
into dust we hear on Ash Wednesday, and remember these words
through the time of Lenten austerity. The soil becomes our source
of humility, of simple living, of knowing who we are, where we come
from, how we are rooted, and where we will eternally rest. To be
closer to and know our Earth is to know ourselves, for we are
strangely attached to and defined by this planet. And yet even
more ironic, our rootedness is mixed with our wanderlust, for all
is change and we have no lasting city. Are we really able to
reconcile these seemingly contradictory movements within ourselves?
Now is the time to come to grips with who we are and what is our
destiny. We look to that perfect model Jesus, find out who he is,
and see how he handles those moments of being both mobile and still
deeply connected to his roots. We study Jesus, the embarrassment
to those inclined to sit too long without using their hands.
B. REFLECTIONS: THE COMING OF THE LORD
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin
Mary, and became man. The Nicene Creed
In February we insisted that we must affirm what we hold, be
responsible for our actions and become involved. We follow the
incarnate Christ, who is the Father's own affirmation, responses to
our need, and is involved in the struggles of the human family.
In our turn, we human beings are not autonomous; though different
from other creatures, we are closely related, interconnected, and
our earthly destinies are bound together. We are both bound to
Earth through common origins and relationships, and have a divinely
guided eternal destiny. How close Earth as we know it enters
directly into that destiny is unknown, though a foreshadowing of a
common destiny is detected at times. We strive to know more about
Jesus Christ -- the perfect ecological model: Eternal Word,
Incarnate Babe and Obedient Son, Healer, Teacher, and Liberator.
1. Observing the First Signs of Deliverance
Yahweh created me when his purpose first unfolded,
before the oldest of his works.
From everlasting I was firmly set,
from the beginning, before the earth came into being.
The deep was not, when I was born
there were no springs to gush with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
before the hills, I came to birth;
before he made the earth, the countryside,
or the first grains of the world's dust.
When he fixed the heavens firm, I was there,
when he drew a ring on the surface of the deep,
when he thickened the clouds above,
when he fixed fast the springs of the deep,
when he assigned the sea its boundaries
-- and the waters will not invade the shore --
when he laid down the foundations of the earth,
I was by his side, a master craftsman,
delighting him day after day,
ever at play in his presence,
at play everywhere in his world
delighting to be with the sons of men.
(Proverbs 8: 22-31)
For youth, birthdays come after long anticipation for they do
not yet have the relatively shortened spans of accumulating
lifetime between each event. Longing and awaiting are part of the
celebration. Only my tenth birthday in 1943 was punctuated with a
party. After treats, my friends and I were driven to Maysville and
we spent the afternoon on a bluff overlooking the German prisoner
of war camp and we watched the prisoners play soccer -- a game we
American youngsters had previously known absolutely nothing about.
With reverence and reluctance we tiptoe into the sanctuary of
the Incarnation mystery. To "incarnate" (a theological and not a
strictly biblical term) means to be endowed with flesh or being a
living example of or personified. From a theological perspective,
"incarnation" means "the Word was made flesh, he lived among us"
(John 1:14); the dictionary says incarnation is "the effectuation
of the hypostatic union through the conception of the second person
of the Trinity in the womb of the Virgin Mary." Mary conceives and
bears a son who is the divine Word, a person with a union of a
wholly divine nature and a wholly human nature. For some, these
are unfamiliar terms cast in centuries of extreme controversy
involving the leading intellectual in the early Church and
resulting in councils or gatherings of bishops on these weighty
matters: Nicea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431),
Chalcedon (451), etc. Readers are urged to read further into this
early Christian history.
Wayward human beings waited a long time for the Christ, a
God-given promise. During this long wait God prepared a chosen
people among whom the Messiah was to be born. After millennia of
prayerful waiting, a faithful remnant awaited the coming event all
the more eagerly. Key happenings occurred: the promise to Adam
and Eve, the Covenant with Noah, the Promise to Abraham to be
father of the race, the Exodus or liberation from captivity, the
Mosaic Law, the Davidic Covenant as to the Messianic lineage, the
Captivity in Babylon, the building and rebuilding of the Temple --
and the finally the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. It was both
an event and the culmination of a historical process, a "messianic
From what we can perceive now, this process of advent extends
back through human and even pre-human history to the very origins
of the universe itself. This coming is "Salvation History," what
Karl Rahner (The Trinity, p. 5) calls "the domain of God's self-
communication, specifically, God's self-revelation and activity
through Christ and the Spirit. Christ is the first-born of all
creation (Colossians 1:15); He was with God in the beginning (John
1:2). Gustavo Gutierrez says that there is not the juxtaposition
of a profane and a sacred history but one single destiny assumed by
Christ, the Lord of history (Reference: Essential Writings,
Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Press, 1996, p. 79). He continues that
the history of salvation is at the heart of human history and that
the salvific action of God underlies human existence. (We will
treat "Salvation History" in greater length in the late summer and
autumn of eco-spirituality, when we speak of our participation in
on-going salvation history).
The Divine ways. God's love for human beings in their plight
takes the form of a promised Messiah, one sent to save the human
race, one like us in every way but sin. This Messiah expresses
God's love in personal form, for all of God's love is personal.
Begotten from all eternity, the Son of God lives and moves among us
-- God and man. In due time and in a foretold place, the Word
comes to reveal the fullness of God's love. The Word is God's
perfect gift, the divine self-communication, God manifested in the
person of Jesus.
Historical consciousness. Cultures have differed in the degree
of their own historical consciousness -- the story of their
ancestors and how these contributed to molding people into whom
they are. Today, modern research methods -- libraries, the
Internet, cultural centers, and genealogical services -- permit us
to uncover details about long lost ancestors and close and distant
relatives. Calendars and clocks give exact dates and times of
occurrences. We can carbon-date objects to within a relatively
short span. Geographical Positioning Systems (GPS) give exact
spatial positions to within three feet, although identifying these
positions formerly took involved calculation with far less
precision. Both times and places are ascertained. These can give
us a clearer picture of past events, historic places, and thus the
possibility of a heightened awareness of history. The age of the
Universe and the Earth herself are now measured with relatively
improved accuracy to so many billions of years; the advent of human
beings is determined in tens and hundreds of thousands of years.
With such measurements we speak about the Coming of Christ as an
event two thousand years ago in the last of the ages, a very short
span in relation to the total geologic age of the universe.
Preparation. Through that growth in historic consciousness we
begin to appreciate the long period of time that went into God's
preparation for the coming of the Incarnate Word. A unity of pre-
history and history brings creation and salvation into one grand
act. Gutierrez argues from Old Testament texts that various
passages in Isaiah and elsewhere refer simultaneously to two
events: creation and liberation from Egypt. Thus he considers
these as one salvific act (Reference: Essential Writings, p. 81).
Certainly the process includes a chosen time in a chosen place, the
Holy Land. Creation and liberation are found in Jesus "through whom
all things are made" and through him all things are to be freed.
God wants this to be a simple arrival among the poor, not the
birth into reigning power (nonetheless, to humble folks of the
House of David -- a royal lineage). The Coming occurs during the
period of the Pax Romana, not at the seat of power in Rome or even
in Jerusalem, but in a cave in Bethlehem to modest visitors from an
obscure hill town in Galilee -- a territory considered somewhat
gentile by the more puritan inhabitants of Judea. Mary is chosen
and prepared, preserved pure and transparent of all creatures; her
spouse Joseph is faithful and loyal and willing to sacrifice all
for his family. The birth event includes angels and shepherds, and
a cave as birthplace among livestock. Could such a Messianic
coming have been dreamed by us, or is it exclusively Yahweh's play?
Observers and Participants. We stand outside this vast
movement of creation and history and ask what it is all about. We
can make ourselves observers to the coming of the Son of God, being
people willing to give praise to God's ongoing creative act. We
see and we believe and we praise the merciful God who accomplishes
the promises of old. And we give these praises in speechless
admiration, for we are people caught in the paralysis of awe.
But we are also called by God to partake in salvation history. The
coming of the Lord takes place in our expanding worldwide
neighborhood, the HERE, at this time of urgency, the NOW, and
includes all in the neighborhood, the WE. Participation involves
awareness of compressed space, urgent time, and a uniting people,
and Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, is here. He is the foremost
ingredient in the totality of healing our wounded Earth. In turn,
we must do more than observe; through healing, we extend his
presence on this Earth.
You see, God's grace has been revealed, and it has made
salvation possible for the whole human race and has taught us that
we have to give up everything that does not lead to God, and all
our worldly ambitions; we must be self-restrained and live good and
religious lives here in this present world, while we are waiting in
hope for the blessing which will come with the Appearing of the
glory of our great God and savior Christ Jesus. (Titus 2:11-13)
Application: Our participation with and in Christ stretches
out to all who hopefully seek Christ's presence in their
resignation and patient expectancy. Believing and loving
communities profess a common creed and unite in worship to express
their faith and love. Communities of hope are far more mysterious.
The prisoner behinds bars with little hope of freedom or the hungry
child in the sub-Saharan village with parents dead from AIDS appear
to have little hope of being relieved of their circumstances. But
each lives on in implicit hope that has passed down through the
millennia, awaiting the Messiah. Christ is that hope to and for
the imprisoned, orphans and terminally ill. All exude a spiritual
energy, which accumulates in the Heart of the loving Christ. Now
that hope is fulfilled and transcends space and time.
Liberation comes bringing a chance to participate in the
healing of the Earth, even when someone is behind bars or on a
hospice bed -- a joining of hopeful hearts whether through active
work or passive suffering. We share a joint enterprise in and
through Christ and so his coming is our hope realized in space and
time. By analogy, we "incarnate" Christ (by being the type or
embodiment of the Incarnate Mystery) in our own lives. We make
Christ present through our actions; we offer the opportunity for
Heaven and Earth to meet in visible form through our eco-
spirituality. March is perfect for this meeting, this wedding of
Heaven and Earth. We are called to enliven all the credal articles
of faith in our actions. Anytime we become deeply immersed in
earthly affairs and yet do this in a godly manner, we participate
more fully in the incarnate mystery of Jesus Christ. Only then is
the mystery proximate to us; distance has been greatly reduced
when we accept the mystery not just as an article of faith, but as
alive. Only then do Heaven and Earth kiss and the hypostatic union
emerge in a slight glimmer through its cloud of sacred mystery.
2. Incarnation Event: A Word is Spoken
Send Victory like a dew, you heavens,
and let the clouds rain it down.
Let the earth open
for salvation to spring up.
Let deliverance, too bud forth,
which I, Yahweh, shall create. (Isaiah 45:8)
"Remember you are dust and into dust you shall return." I
remember that I dreaded the approaching of Ash Wednesday each year,
especially when I was young. It came dripping with in somberness
and adorned with its purple and lack of flowers. On hearing the
solemn words that dread only grew; but all changed when I was
touched with dust. I was marked to take part in the season of Lent
like all the rest around me. This changing season was full of
sensory phenomena -- the budding forth, the sounds of birds, the
smell of fires with the burning of plant beds throughout the
countryside, the taste of meatless meals, and the touch of the
ashes on the forehead. The Mystery of Easter and new life were
emerging ever so faintly, and we had forty days to mull over this
changing of the seasons. Christ is coming among us.
God reaches down ever so gently; Earth, personified in Mary,
springs up with a "yes," and thus deliverance has finally come.
From Mary's human womb "buds forth" a savior. This imagery is the
opposite of what some painters depict: of an observing Mary
silently saying "yes" after observing the Annunciation event.
Rather, hers is a joyful and enthusiastic response to the gentle
whisper of God from above. The Earth through Mary springs up to
say "yes" to the moment the eternal Word is spoken in our midst.
At this moment she truly is "Earth Mother."
God kisses the Earth. God could have spoken to expectant
human beings by a roll of trumpets and a floating down from on high
after forcefully assembling the masses as audience. Hollywood
theatricals are not necessarily God's ways. The Holy One wanted no
parade of a political Messiah with sword-wielding angels slaying
the Roman legions. Even the disciples still had such grandiose
messianic expectations at the time of the Ascension. The
alternative involves humble people who now see that the lowly are
exalted (Luke 1:52), a radical democratic, grassroots movement from
bottom up, and now becoming incorporated within our Christian
political aspirations -- though it has taken years of struggle for
the believing community to realize this to be God's way.
In our own time, the last days God has spoken to us through
the ...Son...appointed to inherit everything and through whom he
made everything there is. (Hebrews l:2)
Models of action. From the ranks of the humble come Mary,
prophets, apostles, and great saints down through the ages. Women
show a uniqueness in a humble way of healing, their grace and their
courage is central to the drama of Incarnation. Mary is the prime
collaborator in the great mystery of redemption, the one who says
the ultimate "yes" to God, "let what you have said be done to me"
(Luke 1:38). She becomes Theodokos -- the bearer of God; she is
full of grace, mother of the Savior, New Eve, foremost model of all
women, central receiver of the Good News; and her affirmation is an
acceptance from the fullness of freedom in her heart. Her prayer
of joy, recited daily as the evening prayer of the Church, is one
of the most revolutionary responses in human history -- the hungry
filled with good things and the rich sent away empty (Luke 1:53);
all generations will call her blessed, because God has done great
things for her, (Luke 1:48) -- utter humility.
Seasonal imagery. Patristic writers call this bonding a
wedding of Heaven and Earth, of God and human beings, a "cosmic
communion," which extends now to the community of all beings.
The event is the NOW; the HERE is Nazareth now extended to the
whole Earth; and the WE are the participants in the cosmic
communion. What we are called to do is to bring that Good News to
Love and Loyalty now meet,
Righteousness and Peace now embrace;
Loyalty reaches up (springs) from Earth
And Righteousness leans down from Heaven.
(Psalm 85: 10-11)
Our imagery is as important as our words, for we show that we are
willing to make this more than an academic exercise of learning or
knowing. We do not ignore these struggled-for truths (the dogmas
of the Incarnation event) for they have come to us at the great
price of centuries of controversy. Rather we accept them as part
of heavenly inspiration, for within our conservationist ethic we
know that all suffering and struggle ultimately have a good
outcome. Without that ethic we would ignore all of this as
fanciful speculation. Rather, with loyalty, we seek to reach up to
Love containing all truths, this spoken Word. The heavenly
treasury of righteousness leans down and with loyalty and
enthusiasm we reach up with a "spring," which comes in this
Self-communication of the Father. Again we ask over and over,
who is this Jesus who is central to all history? Karl Rahner
speaks of "the Son" as the "self-communication of the Father" and
he says Jesus knew himself as the concrete man, as son and as
"absolute bringer of salvation" in the role of more than a prophet.
The Father's will, salvation, pardon and kingdom are "there" in
proximity, and his self-communication entails, as an effect
produced by itself, its radical acceptance (Reference: The Trinity,
p. 63). We will let this stand but return with fuller explanation
after our Pentecost event in summer. Even the theological
treatment is mysterious!
Human adoration. Where do we stand as simple observers and
participants in the Incarnation event? First, the eternal Word is
now spoken in time, and thus Earth herself is blessed in a special
way. We listen from a distance in time and hear the Word spoken,
and know it continues to resonate; we stand in awe like shepherds
at the stable adoring the new-born king, the Word now incarnate in
our Eucharist. The patron of ecology, St. Francis, initiated the
crib (Creche) as a teaching tool par excellence for all of us from
small children to wise elders. The creche has become a prime
observational point for viewing the Nativity happening, and the
simple images speak louder than complex verbiage. We are struck by
the simplicity of this event, which is really the most momentous.
At this site we hear the angels sing, "Hosanna in the highest," and
we join them with the adoration of a child.
Our God comes not as in Elijah's fiery chariot returning from
heaven or a volcano from the bowels of Earth -- the advent of other
gods or imagined messiahs. Rather the Word comes as gentle rain on
a parched Earth, and all of us are invited to spring up as fragile
and expectant blossoms. We peer down into the Earth, into a cave,
and see our God coming to us, not in noble and regal attire, but as
a tiny fragile being, an infant in swaddling clothes.
Grassroots spirituality. This movement starts as a radiance
from light illuminating a cave -- not the concepts of a learned
human being in an ivory tower. Here is the manager filled with
straw, the warming of the animals' breath in the cold winter night,
the holy family who can find no other abode, the infant amid the
hay. A world that had forgotten love finds love personified in
innocence and the fragile condition of a new-born child. Hopes
spring up, not in the lofty observatory scanning the stars, but in
a forsaken place hardly fit as a refuge for a homeless family
having a child. Here, people at the grassroots of society can
identify. Bonaventure, Francis' biographer, tells us that hay,
which is the mattress in the manger proves a cure when eaten by
sick people and animals. The night becomes as day; the woods with
the crowds ring out as did the rocks in jubilation (Reference:
Maria Jaoudi, Christian & Islamic Spirituality,: Sharing a
Journey, Paulist Press, p. 82). Such is the concreteness of the
story in the everyday lives of simple folks. Here utter simplicity
and the Holy One meet, and we begin to sense who this Jesus is.
Who is this Jesus? Pagans and Jews and people of every age
ask this question. We seek to know people from their origins and
early life. Part of the Luke and Matthew infancy narratives seek
an answer to this. Joseph Fitzmyer says that there is a historic
nucleus to those parallel stories: the reign of Herod, the virgin
Mary, Joseph being of the House of David, angelic announcements,
Jesus as Son of David, the Holy Spirit, Joseph not being involved,
the name "Jesus" as Savior, the birth after Mary and Joseph came
together, the birth place of Jesus in Bethlehem, and the childhood
"Meanwhile the child grew in maturity, and he was filled with
wisdom and God's favor was with him." (Luke 2:40)
The Presentation. The presentation of Jesus (Luke 2) is a
brief public appearance of this infant who is Emmanuel, God with
us. Humble Mary and Joseph make their "poor folks" offering of
turtle doves. The Christ child is the light from light now coming
to us the gentiles and the "pagani," the world's rural people.
Mary and Joseph, in fidelity to their religious tradition, give
back to the Creator their first-born, a continuation in gratitude
for God's prime gift to us. The son given is total receptivity, a
gift returned from God back to God. Two elderly people in the
Temple, Simeon and Anna, express their sense of privilege to
witness to the Messiah's coming. The old order is passing away and
a new one is being born. Now, Master, you can let your servant go
in peace, just as you promised... (Luke 2:29). These blessed elders
do not mourn their growing older, but give thanks for having lived
so long. Anna, age 84, praises God for deliverance. For Mary,
most pure, the purification rite is performed in the Temple, but it
will continue through the life and suffering and death of her son.
Simeon says that a sword will pierce your (Mary's) own soul too --
so the secret thoughts of many will be laid bare (Luke 2:35).
Mary's transparency is extended to others in and through her own
He then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived
under their authority. His mother stored all these things in her
heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with
God and his fellow human beings. (Luke 2:51-52)
The finding in the Temple. Only one Gospel account gives us
a glimpse of Jesus as he grew in age and wisdom; this pertains to
his family journey to Jerusalem at the age of twelve. The
circumstance could have been an honest mistake, or, as some infer,
a deliberate action involving Jesus breaking away and coming closer
to his heavenly Father. Mary and Joseph, knowing how obedient he
always is, think that he is traveling with others in the extended
family group back to Nazareth. He, in turn, knows that he can do
as he sees fit because the large family group travels slowly. As
an exuberant youth who can travel rapidly, Jesus decides to spend
more time in the Temple -- his Father's House. A youth is breaking
away, and parents are willing to accept this as part of his journey
of life, his bar mitzvah. And God is with them as a family. His
loss causes them pain; his finding, joy. He returns with them and
lived under their authority. (Luke 2:51)
The hidden life. Who is this Jesus who comes among us and
lives such a hidden existence at Nazareth for about 90 percent of
his life? Abraham Lincoln summed up the history of his own youth
as "I was a poor boy," and much of his hidden life has been turned
into a myth with a historic nucleus. Perhaps Jesus' small cluster
of relatives and friends say they know who he is, but they are
truly surprised when he acts so out of expected character in his
public ministry. Do they really know him? They seem to project
their own narrow world view on Jesus. These close acquaintances
see Jesus over a period when he performs many routine activities:
studies, helps as a carpenter, and performs a multitude of chores
belonging to simple small town life in Galilee. Jesus' life is
even hidden from them.
Growing in age and wisdom. Jesus grows up as a normal human
being -- and is educated. Since he is divine, all he has to do is
tap into his infinite store of truth and bring it out. Such
pretending sounds good to those of us who struggle to learn and
know, but it also belittles Jesus' own normal maturation. Jesus
learns, and he learns something in the Temple affair, namely, that
giving time to divine matters can impinge on human relationships.
To spend extra time in the Temple only leads to confusion by his
earthly parental guardians. There is no sin involved, only the
pains of the maturation process. And he learns something in this
episode -- and most likely it never occurs again. In his hidden
life, even Jesus' divinity seems to be concealed from him so that
he truly grows in age and wisdom, even though he has immense
intuition and enthusiasm -- the God within. So in a lesser way do
we all come to maturity.
Luke's approach. St. Luke's Gospel is seen as one half of his
complete literary treatment, which also includes the Acts of the
Apostles. In the Gospel, Jesus grows in age and wisdom (a growth
in consciousness of the mission involved); in the Acts, the Church
advances in age and wisdom (an awareness of itself) through events
in which the number of believers increases. Jesus starts at
Nazareth and proceeds to Jerusalem with an emerging ministry; the
Church starts at Jerusalem at Pentecost and proceeds to Rome
learning all the way. The way in which knowledge grows in the two
writings is similar because the Church seeks to imitate Christ in
its coming to understand its mission -- and this occurs over a time
period that continues even to now. More on this ecclesial growth
of consciousness will be said later.
Constant obedience. The obedience exhibited by Jesus in small
matters is repeated over and over in ever larger ones. After being
publicly baptized in the Jordan, Jesus is led by the Spirit into
the desert to be tempted. His ministry is one of obedience to the
will of God, a fact seen each time he is at prayer and especially
at the climax of his ministry during his agony in the Garden. But
in all his actions, from youth to the moment of suffering and
death, obedience to God's will stands out -- "not mine but thine be
done." From this total acceptance springs forth total sharing --
the Holy Spirit. We, as followers of Christ, seek to obey God's
will, just as we ordinarily obey authorities in our lives, e.g.,
parents, superiors. Obedience requires patience, humility and
prayerfulness to determine when legitimate obedience is in order.
In all things, we seek an openness to the call of God. Then being
other christs, we totally receive and are impelled to share gifts
The HERE and NOW. We are descendants of people of faith.
They believed in the future to such a degree that they bore and
nurtured children, and yet for 99% of us, our ancestry is only a
few generations of names and dates. We honor their graves; we
remember them in our celebrations; we hold their photos in revered
places. To look back occasionally, though not walk backward lest
we stumble, is a way to get our perspective on life's journey. The
story does not end in a cave in Bethlehem, or in the flight into
Egypt. We are going to the light -- the distant place where things
will be better. For us, as for Jesus of the House of David, our
journey of faith starts with our ancestors who nurtured us in faith
and love. Similarly, we look ahead and hope for better things.
God is faithful and sends forth a savior. We remember our past and
those deceased loved ones; and we await the destiny. The "present"
is built on love, and this virtue alone will endure when faith and
hope fade away.
Applications: Each of these joyful mysteries turns us to the
Christ who comes among us, affirming us as worthy of acting as
healers, inviting us to take responsibility for the faults we have
perpetrated, and involving us in ongoing salvation history. His is
a privileged invitation; one that elicits our gratitude. The
Incarnate Word as model invites us to accept the challenge to heal
the Earth, to follow in his pattern of actions rather than in his
exact footsteps. Simply put, our world is different from the Judea
of 2000 years ago; we have different paces, gaits, and manners of
walking. However, by analogy as Jesus acts so should we. An eco-
spirituality that finds Jesus as model has much to learn from his
life before his public ministry:
* Annunciation -- God is the source of all blessings and so
God freely sends the Eternal Word through an announcement that
heralds a new age; we see each God's creative act as blessing;
though unworthy, we enter into the Incarnation mystery as healers
of the Earth. Will we say "yes" as does Mary? We participate in
Mary's blessing when we stand beside her accepting the divine Word
and presenting him to others. While we do not physically bear
Christ through the gestation period, we carry the gift of Christ to
others when we bear the Good News, the word now becoming flesh in
the deeds we perform.
* Nativity -- Shepherds and Magi come and adore Jesus, giving
simple gifts of attention and respect. God's creation is subject
to our deliberate attention and deepest respect, and we must be
willing to focus on specific times, places and people.
* Presentation -- Jesus is presented in the Temple as gift to
God; like Simeon and Anna we thank God that we are privileged to
live and work in these times and observe the history unfolding
before our eyes. Mary hears that her participation will not be a
bed of roses; we find that to heal the Earth involves future
difficulties for us, especially in incorporating others in the
* Youth in Temple -- Jesus finds himself in obeying his
Father's Divine will and in obeying Mary and Joseph; we too must
see the profundity of our calling to preserve and restore our
wounded Earth and yet realize that changes occur through natural
processes which must be learned and respected.
* Growth in age and wisdom -- Jesus grows in age and wisdom
during those three decades of the hidden life; we must realize the
time it takes to become experienced healers and have the patience
to avoid shortcuts; healers mature with both time and learning.
We are open to grow in age and wisdom, seeing that we are called to
something profound in preserving and restoring our wounded earth.
Now is the time of fidelity, and obedience; more will follow.
3. Jesus as Healer
I order you: get up, pick up your stretcher, and go off home.
I always feel utterly powerless when visiting the ill at a
hospital. I would like to do what Jesus does and heal the person
on the spot, but that is beyond my powers. Instead, I pray with
the sick persons in my and their powerlessness. Isn't this their
and my entry into the total suffering of the Christ of the world?
Am I not invited to join with them in compassion and let it rest at
that? The final outcome is in God's hands; we are mere
instruments, but we are called to be healers nonetheless. I always
leave the hospital feeling a little more healed myself.
We find much of Jesus' time in public ministry is taken up
with healing and teaching the crowds present, the disciples in
particular, and the rest of us Johnny's-come-lately. We know that
Jesus heals a wide variety of people from all sorts of ailments.
From his healing we learn to approach the condition of illness and
are motivated to perfect our healing ministry. From his teaching
we learn that much must be done to teach others how to use the
Earth's resources properly. From our 21st century perspective, we
rediscover Jesus, the healer, and see how his great compassion for
those ill and lacking wholeness translates into action today.
Jesus comes to bring wholeness in all its forms: physical, mental
and spiritual. We may have more confidence in the curative powers
of modern medicine, but don't they still have a mystique of magic
about them -- along with high price tags? Sickness is not a
condition induced by evil spirits, but it still takes a holy person
to drive out the demons of substance-abuse causing so much of the
preventable illness today.
Healing as a sign. We regard healing as one of the signs of
the Messianic age, the initiation of God's reign of love, justice,
joy, peace, wholeness, and the conquest of evil powers at work in
the world. These initial acts of healing are signs of the great
moment of healing soon to come on Calvary, when the entire world is
healed through the blood of Christ. It is for that reason that the
Christ comes into the world, sharing our human condition and
enduring our situation. Healing is part of this making whole
again, not a wonder-working opportunity; it is coupled with
teaching and being called "Rabbi." Jesus teaches us to forgive
others and to become whole again ourselves within a healing process
that is profoundly spiritual; Jesus shows a spiritual healing of
immense importance though the healing of body; in compassion and
mercy he extends this healing to the entire Church and its
ministers. People no longer need to be burdened by sin but can
trust in God's mercy and take on newness of life.
Accepting the present condition. Jesus accepts but does not
rejoice or even seem passive in the face of the afflictions of
others. He is far more willing to permit suffering to his own
person than to others, and he is always moved with compassion when
approaching others who suffer. Jesus desires physical healing to
the utmost, but by far the greatest affliction is moral illness.
Over and over, he is quick to point out that the ones who suffer
spiritual afflictions are far more in need of healing than those
with physical ailments. He is quick to forgive, and he sets up the
circumstances in which his ministers are empowered to effect
spiritual healing where and whenever the opportunity arises. He
spends time organizing a healing church with its sacraments of
Eucharist, Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick.
Jesus attends to each. Jesus says that those with
disabilities praise God through their own acceptance in joy. He
sees each person who is ill as someone of special importance, not
a statistic, not a handicap. Jesus loves each and rewards each
with kindly attention. Be cured. Arise. Sin no more. Your
daughter is healed. Jesus does not glory in being a wonder worker
through his healing; rather he wants to show something deeper --
God's power. God is the fullness of life and wellbeing, and to
bring another to that state is part of the healing process. By
accepting God's will, whether as Paul says by living or by dying,
we acknowledge and show our gratitude for the love given. Whatever
the calling, to live or to die, we are invited to open ourselves to
Love, to overcome our weaknesses and to allow gratitude to bud
forth as a spring plant. Becoming whole is entering into the
divine Mystery that is unfolding for us.
Applications. We follow in Christ's footsteps, seeing a
primary role of healing to be restoring others so that they can
carry on. We may not have the miraculous power of physically
healing, but we can bring a spiritual wholeness to the world -- and
that is a primary level of healing. That goes beyond a sense of a
basic healing hand; through the sacraments we share the power to
spiritually heal; in our union with the Lord we bring God's grace
through the sacramental sign. We become spiritually whole whether
or not we are made physically well; we discover the willingness to
live and die in the Lord. Then our own good deeds become self-
communication of our interior love, a unified whole act of giving
in readiness, receiving gifts, and sharing enthusiasm with others.
We believe in healing. No one would enter the healing
profession unless he or she really believes that recovery is
possible. Spiritual healing offers the same opportunity. Unless
we believe that we can effect healing in some way, the power that
transcends us is not as well presented to the ill and to those who
surround them. We believe in elementary communications, and the
sick know this. We fervently pray for total recovery, if that be
God's will, but we are certain that spiritual enhancement is of
paramount importance. Last of all, we sincerely believe the Earth
deserves to be healed, and we are called to help bring this
We hope for healing. Through the process of healing,
liberation comes to us all, including the healers themselves. Part
of the lack of internal healing is that we show our own confusion
within the mystery of suffering and illness. We want to run from
it at every moment, or, if we stay, we hope to leave quite soon.
We hope that spiritual healing enhances the healing ministry of the
physicians, nurses and health care workers who have physical health
service responsibilities. As Earth healers we take our own
Hippocratic Oath; we must do all in our power to bring healing to
those within our care. These must not be empty words; we hope to
complete the task ahead of us and must see that healing involves
our own process of becoming more whole while we bring that
wholeness to a wounded Earth.
We love to heal. What does Jesus teach us about healing the
Earth? Jesus teaches us to love the ones to be healed and the
healing process itself. "Look what they have done to my Earth."
Jesus teaches us to heal gently, patiently, compassionately,
lovingly. Hearts can be touched, for illness is a supreme teaching
moment, raw material in the grand economy of salvation. Although
not possessing miraculous powers, we can participate fully in the
miracle of life, and each time we bring wholeness even in some
small way, we heal another -- and heal ourselves in the process.
Each confrontation with illness is an opportunity to reassert life,
a unique time and place -- and this is a wonderful experience. So
miracles are more than means to a deeper understanding; miracles
are the very environmental process. Our restorative work is a
wonder though we do not glory in being wonder workers. The wonders
are both the restored and the act of restoration. We are invited
to enter into God's creative work, and that is a greater sight to
behold than just looking upon what God has done in the past. The
ill afford us the unique opportunity to allow God's power to be
Scientific healing. A broader community works in the arena of
discovering, researching, developing, manufacturing, and dispensing
medicines for and to those who suffer and are ill. In such a
fashion our brothers and sisters in the medical research fields
have found many cures for diseases such as leprosy, which plagued
the people of Jesus' day. The work of drug development is a
continuation of the healing ministry of Jesus and contributes to
the healing of the total person. This field deserves our prayerful
attention -- and watchfulness over costs and pricing.
4. Jesus as Teacher
How blest are the poor in spirit;
the reign of God is theirs.
Blessed are the sorrowing; they shall be consoled.
[Blest are the lowly; they shall inherit the land.]
Bless are they who hunger and thirst for holiness;
they shall have their fill.
Blest are they who show mercy; mercy shall be theirs.
Bless are the single-hearted, for they shall see God.
Blest too the peacemakers;
they shall be called children of God.
Blest are those persecuted for holiness' sake;
the reign of God is theirs. (Matthew 5: 2-11)
Who can really teach when syllabuses, grades, testing scores
and academic credentials are the major concern? What about the
learners? Do we forget what teaching is all about? I never
consider myself to be a teacher and I suspect this has more to do
with the regimentation connected with the profession. Several say
that I am able to teach well in a non-formal situation. My
happiest memories are the courses in environmental science and
earth sciences that I taught to the students in Jellico, Tennessee
at the Mountain Women's Exchange; the students were older mountain
women wanting to get their degrees through an accredited college
(Carson-Newman). The structure did not seem rigid; and maybe that
is why these are generally happy memories.
At critical moments in our personal and corporate history we
need guides. In no age has the need for Jesus as teacher and model
been greater than today. We are awash in a sea of materialism and
so many of our people are adrift without know it. Thus we are
incapable of handling the mission of healing the Earth. We simply
do not know how to act. The challenge is to convert to simpler
ways of living and to do so effectively. Is this challenge even
possible given human nature and the unwillingness of people to
change? Let's call upon Jesus as teacher to change hearts and
The Thrust of the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes teach us that
blessing will come to the "down and out." It is not a blessing of
rich of heart, the successful and powerful, evil doers, the overly
competitive, the complex of heart, the warmongers, and those who
lord it over others. No, Jesus stands on the side of those who are
truly blessed, the little people, the great majority of a world
becoming more and more burdened with class divisions. Each
beatitude is a vision and promise of better times, a new reign now
coming where the little people are to receive their blessings --
and God will reign. In these beatitudes God teaches us to see the
emerging of the seemingly dead things of Earth. And the beatitudes
relate to Jesus' own way of living and the blessing that comes from
Thy Kingdom come. This part of the "Our Father" prayer is
pregnant with meaning. It is a prayerful hope that the kingdom will
come; it is a stated certainty that it will occur; it is a
commitment that we participate in bringing about the Kingdom. The
heart of Jesus' teachings is to be alert and ready for the
Messianic Age now arriving, an age filled with possibilities. We
learn to live good and holy lives as we await his coming, for the
present order is giving way to the new. Exactly how this Kingdom
will finally be shaped is uncertain, even though we are promised it
will be based on justice. However, the transforming process
involves us, for we are not mere observers; we partake in this
sublime prayer, proclamation and teaching tool. Forgive us, we
pray, as we forgive others. We are invited to help bring the
Kingdom to its total coming through loving concern and mercy, not
violence and vindictiveness; we are urged to see this as an
emerging kingdom, an ongoing current happening, and a future
fulfillment of that which has already begun. And we are asked to
teach this simple message to others drowning in their consumer
Parables. Jesus also is patient and teaches the endurance of
a good teacher; his parables are very down-to-Earth, as he goes
ahead of us giving us a blueprint for action. As teacher, he
invites us to carry on the teaching role he has started using his
parables as a cornerstone; they are meant for all in a variety of
degrees; they touch everybody for all are invited to understand at
their own levels. Jesus shows the patience of the God of the Old
Testament with a wayward and imperfect people. For instance, Jonah
is not satisfied even when his mission to Nineveh is a success; God
is patient and teaches him that he must look beyond his small world
and see the fullness of God's own vision and mercy to all people.
Jesus teaches the same even when his closest disciples do not fully
grasp his mission. The Jonah story's counterpart is the parable of
the Good Samaritan: salvation is for all; neighbors are even those
who are despised and normally considered enemies. Over and over,
and one after another, lessons are taught about God's love, mercy,
and concern, and our need to respond in similar ways.
Environmental beatitudes. Blessed is the wounded and denuded
Earth that will flower into fruition this year. Blessed are the
ones who sow and plant; they will find satisfaction in knowing
there will be a happy harvester in a little while. Blessed are the
returning birds; they will find a safe habitat. Blessed are the
endangered species; they now have a protector. Blessed are those
who seek to live simply; they will be marginalized and considered
unpatriotic. Blessed are they who attack the corporate structures;
they will be persecuted just as happened to the prophets of old.
Our Application. Jesus did not like to be called titles
because these titles carried immense baggage in his day as well as
in ours -- Rabbi, the Professor, the academic gown, the learned
degrees. Jesus is divine and his message is both eternal wisdom
and teaching that is urgently needed and timely now. We too must
take our teaching role seriously and see that it is godly to impart
wisdom to others, and that this must be done expeditiously and
clearly. We find in Jesus' approach a number of aspects worth
imitating within the context of our culture and current situation:
* Teach anywhere freely -- Jesus teaches the multitudes where
he finds them -- in the open fields, in the Temple precincts or in
small groups as his disciples. He holds teaching in high regard
and so should we. In being like Jesus we need to accept that
teaching can be anywhere -- in the openness of nature, in the more
formal settings of lectures, and with individuals and small groups.
We do not have to wait for a multimillion dollar classroom
facility. Why can we not teach on the Internet? It is cheaper and
more convenient. Jesus does not take up a collection; neither
should we. If there are expenses, just pass the hat.
* Teach creatively -- We should respect teaching even when we
rebel against the over formalism of the present educational
enterprise that can hurt students and drain the enthusiasm of
teachers. Jesus teaches in parables that reach the masses in
different ways. That is why we draw so much from the parable
approach. Our examples ought to be concrete even when we move to
rather complex issues. And that is the challenge in this current
writing. What will be the October of eco-spirituality be?
* Teach everyone simply -- Some ask with a touch of
impatience, "Who is your audience?" When it comes to environment
and the Earth, every human inhabitant of the Earth is the audience.
However, some can read and some cannot; some are quite bright and
some do not know the left hand from the right; some make themselves
illiterate through television addiction.
* Teaching with patience -- Teaching all people means having
an acute awareness of the degree of endurance required of those who
grasp in part; will they give up or be encouraged to continue?
It's hard not to confuse or overwhelm the whole host of students or
to tailor remarks to those more inclined to respond.
* Teach the Good News -- We are motivated to go out to others
and spread the Good News through teaching, proclamation (homily,
sermon and formal speech), prayer, encouragement, and giving
information and publicity, all of which require energy and time.
But part of the good news for us is that we learn in teaching, just
as missionaries receive while delivering. To picture ourselves as
exclusive teachers, and others as total learners is elitist. Our
role as learners is to follow the perfect eco-activist -- and the
coming section shows just how much we have to learn.
5. Jesus as Liberator
The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for he has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives
and to the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free,
to proclaim the Lord's year of favor. (Luke 4: 18-19)
When I went to Washington in 1970 to work on environmental
issues I joined the Center for the Study of Responsive Law directed
by Ralph Nader. One of Ralph's cautions to co-workers who were
dealing with public interest issues was never to take even a cup of
coffee from a representative of an alleged polluting company. A
fellow chemist came one day from Kentucky and was a kindly
gentleman; he asked me to sit down some place with him and just talk
about the environmental crisis. I did not regard him as a culprit
and so sat in the local diner over a cup of coffee. A while later
his company became involved in a pollution battle; I disregarded
the issue in favor of another issue at hand; later it occurred to
me that my disregard was due to that cup of coffee.
Jesus enters the synagogue of his home town of Nazareth and
there in the public place makes his definitive mission statement
using the words of the prophet Isaiah (61:1-2). Jesus publicly
announces that this text is "being fulfilled today." He places
clearly before all to see the HERE (Narazeth), the NOW (his public
ministry) and the WE (his audience of local folks). He tells them
plainly that no prophet is accepted in his own country. The crowd
that had so quickly given him approval soon becomes enraged and
turns on him, and even makes an attempt to kill him.
Good News and hostility. Jesus comes in the public arena both
to proclaim and to bring about Good News or gospel. The demand is
for a definitive response, a "yes." There's no "maybe" to Jesus'
message and invitation. Such a definitive demand evokes hostility
for those stamped with "maybe." The challenge hits like a streak
of lightning and, if not accepted, bounces off with sparks and
fire. Perhaps the hearers find such words very out of character
for the person that they projected Jesus to be and to have become.
Why could he not say pleasant things? If so, he might even attain
a mega-church status. Why these dramatic words of liberation,
which are so demanding on ordinary people and so anathema to the
established order? Jesus' message includes elements of both
personal and community liberation. Healing ourselves as
individuals allows us to confront more formidable external forces.
Bringing Good News is not an either/or, but a both/and with a
primary focus on internal reform at the initial process. We must
be liberated within so that we will be free enough to engage in the
broader liberation without, where massive resources and power press
in on every side.
Growing storm. Jesus evokes hostility that seems to grow the
closer he gets to the seat of political and religious power --
Jerusalem. His herald, John the Baptist, is first imprisoned and
then killed; the scribes and pharisees shadow him, ask questions,
show discontent with his healing on the Sabbath, question those
with whom he associates, point out the failures of conduct of his
disciples, and do not like his association with Yahweh. They try
to trip him up about allegiance to Caesar; they try to push him
into one or other factional camps; they conspire and plan how to
weaken his ministry. Jesus responds in a forthright manner.
The establishment. We address a recurring problem, which
baffles us: How do we arouse or contend with righteous anger? We
certainly cannot suppress it; rather we see in Christ how we are
to recognize it, thank God for it, control it, and channel it for
the good of all, especially the oppressed. We need to know where
to turn our anger or who will be the target. Jesus does not avoid
that either. He deliberately overturned tables, and most likely
the changers did not get all their own coins back. He is at the
very moment compassionate by telling the ones selling doves to get
their wares out of there. The commercial establishments with their
clutter, extra high rates for changing money to Temple coinage, and
other devices upset him as they did the prophets before him.
Jesus' cleansing of the Temple (John 2:13-25) is a high point
in his ministry from the standpoint of an environmental activist.
One commentary says, "Precisely why the business of the temple
offended Jesus is not clear." Others are more aware of activism in
this age and speak of the maddening commercialism of the Court of
the Gentiles in the 30-acre Temple complex in Jerusalem. Former
prophets had railed against the commerce in the Temple. The
commentator proposes that Jesus opposes the carnival-like
atmosphere, cheating against the poor, and commercial activity in
a sacred place.
Note: My concern is not inspired by Liberation Theology; my
affinity for this portion of Christ's work predates that theology
stemming from Latin America. If there are similarities, that is
because all Christians who work to overcome oppression will
naturally think alike even though expressions are locally
Confronting the establishment. Corporations exist at the
pleasure of the people and this was more clearly known in the early
days of the United States than it is now. These institutions are
incorporated by particular states or the nation and need to be
accountable to them in many ways: renewing incorporation,
reporting earnings, withholding taxes, obtaining distinct
identification numbers, establishing communication with local
authorities, and carrying out the public trust in specific areas.
In the evolution of our nation these agencies took on certain
"rights" as though they were citizens. This devolved further into
retention of vast accumulated financial power and the use of that
power to influence governmental legislation related to their own
self-interest. The situation instead of being controlled further
and further, has actually gotten more out of hand through
globalization and shifting of finances or production facilities
from one nation to another with ease. A friendly and beholden
government tends to overlook and permit the power of these
institutions to lobby excessively, buy and retain candidates, and
get tax breaks denied the less influential portions of the
population. We need confrontation.
For practices Jews it was necessary to rid themselves of coins
with Caesar's image -- thus money-changing. But why the driving
out the animals used for sacrifice? Zeal for the Father's house
moves him -- for Jesus is an activist. All four gospels tell of
this episode: John 2: 13-22 adds Zeal for your house will devour
me, from Psalm 69:9; Jesus quotes Scripture in saying it is to be
a house of prayer and yet this sacred "commons" has been turned
into a marketplace: my house will be a house of prayer...(Luke 19,
45-46), for all the peoples (Isaiah 56:7) (Mark 11:15-18). Mark
adds that Jesus says "but you have turned it into a robbers' den"
taken from Jeremiah 7:11; (also in Matthew 21: 12-13). The episode
occurs in all three synoptic gospels in the time immediately before
the passion and death and is followed by the plot to kill him by
his enemies. In John the episode comes very early, but his entire
Gospel shows the struggle of light and darkness. The episode is
quite pivotal, even though non-activists may see it as an
Qualities of the Act. Driving out the moneychangers involves
* Jesus acts alone -- He is without the immediate support of
his disciples. This action must be undertaken and so he acts in a
traditional prophetic manner -- but it is before the Spirit has
come to the disciples and they are somewhat paralyzed.
* Jesus is driven by the Spirit -- He is led by the spirit in
all that he does whether it be to the desert or to his public
ministry or to Jerusalem where this event occurs. Critics would
ask what Spirit, and Jesus' response is the Spirit who causes all
the good to occur in his ministry.
* Jesus acts with authority -- He shows that this authority is
of divine origin. To use this authority forcefully, as he does,
involves a risk to his own career, and this makes the action all
the more effective. Jesus sees the Temple as a sacred place that
is a commons for all the people, and yet it has been desecrated.
The critics are so much a part of the system that they do not
recognize the desecrating act, so they blame him for destruction.
His response is that if they destroy this temple (meaning his
body), it will be rebuilt in three days, speaking of his own
* Jesus stands up for the poor -- He does not come to confirm
the privileges of the establishment. Jesus is bound to the side of
the poor who have a right to make their pilgrimage and pray in the
common Temple area. Others regard this as a place of traditional
commerce but that crowds out what people are meant to have.
Critics would say he needs to act respectfully. However, when some
have power and some are powerless, a balanced choice is to opt for
the poor, not to refuse to take sides.
* Jesus exhibits righteous anger -- An authentic eco-
spirituality does not suppress righteous anger; it directs it
properly. Jesus is authentic; he has to act the way he acts. So
Application: Jesus comes freely among us showing us in his
life the free gift of God's grace. But by exercising that freedom
he finds that the risk of rejection and all it entails is part of
the price of ministry. We confront our broken world in an
atmosphere of free response. Total liberation is only achieved in
a spirit of freedom, not compulsion. Freely we are given freedom,
and in freedom we help free others. We are led by the Spirit to
speak out boldly at whatever the cost, much like Stephen, the first
martyr. Festering anger could turn us into hate-filled people who
can burn up inside. The challenge is to imitate Christ and control
our anger when it arises -- all the while loving all mercifully.
We are liberated, called to help liberate others, and seeing the
need to work for the ultimate liberation of all the oppressed in
the world. All the while we cannot allow our righteous anger to
Self-denial. Keeping our balance requires an effort, and Lent
is the time to reestablish our spiritual equilibrium. That means
practicing our self-denial so we can resist the materialistic
culture all around us by controlling the almost insatiable appetite
for consumer products of every description. Through Lenten
exercises of self denial we can convert our own bodies into more
ready instruments for healing, teaching and liberating.
Self control may be achieved through different forms of
regimentation and discipline: fasting for periods of time;
abstaining from certain foods such as meat; self-flagellation as
practiced by certain religious groups and within certain cultures;
milder forms of mortification such as cold showers; rising early or
having a set schedule that is rigidly adhered to; restricting
ourselves in certain luxuries such as sweets or fatty foods,
snacking, purchase of unneeded items or watching television or
video or computer games; and engaging in additional positive acts
such as visiting the sick or spending more time in conversation
within a family. Taking on an environmental issue may be an
exercise in self-control, requiring additional discipline as to use
of time and personal resources.
None of these methods, which do no bodily harm to the
individual, are wrong. Spiritual directors (including St. Ignatius
who performed severe acts of mortification when younger) discourage
excessive fasting from food or drink for the sake of quality
performance of work which is more important. All such acts have
some place for certain individuals and groups, or for periods in
one's life; they should not be given an objective rating as though
a saintly person does a more difficult type of discipline. So much
depends on the movements of the spirit within each of us. The
methods of self-control may change over a lifetime. Fasting from
food is healthy, both physically and spiritually, even though some
of us find this difficult to do. We hear from people who
successfully fast that the stomach needs rest from food.
Further Analysis. Over-focusing on individual weaknesses
stops us from a deeper look into the society in which we live.
Corporate wrongdoing is rapidly emerging as a major problem because
of the vastly increasing power of multi-national economic
institutions. We are manipulated by powers beyond our initial
insight. In my late teens I was drawn by television advertisements
and billboards to smoke and did so for a number of years. Yes, I
freely chose this practice when it seemed so relaxing and socially
acceptable. In more recent years, the vast financial settlements
being awarded to smokers are making us realized that part of the
blame rests with tobacco manufacturing companies making immense
profits off people who "chose" to smoke. A half a century ago
people did not realize the power of tobacco advertising campaigns
to influence individuals to succumb to addictive substance abuse.
The realization is spreading to drugs, medicines and fast food
Questions more than answers. To come to know Jesus seems to
raise more questions than it does answers. If he calls us to
profound sharing, what is the place of luxuries in a world of
profound need when people starve and are homeless? Are we to blame
for a world with no peace, no resolution of the environmental
crisis, no security regardless of how much is spent on military
hardware? What is all this talk about sophisticated weaponry, or
standing armies? How do we remove the economic class boundaries
that divide the human family? How can we restore the environment
when we tolerate the so-called co-existence of the destitute and
the super rich? Where is tolerance? Justice? Where is our sense
of democracy when we allow some to exercise such economic and
political control over the powerless and destitute? Are we so far
from days of slavery when some are enslaved against their wills?
Where is a modern Lincoln who sees a world unable to remain half
free (haves) and half slave (have-nots)? How long must the hungry
stay hungry? Does not Christ's coming into the world bring a
promise of freedom, life and justice? When does our gentleness
move to righteous anger, lest we forget the Holy Innocents, the
flight into Egypt, Stephen, the first martyr -- all Christmas-time
events? Can we forget the beheading of John the Baptist? And
again, who is this Jesus we are called to serve as perfect
Our actions need to be in conformity with those of the perfect
ecologist, Jesus. If that be the case, then what should they
include? First we begin by finding areas that touch on the lives
of others and prepare ourselves to confront environmental culprits.
Since we need to prepare ourselves for such works, it is important
that we practice self-denial, in order to become more in tune with
the Christ of the poor. The third aspect is to challenge the
limited nature of our past actions, especially when directed to
solely charitable activities.
1. Environmental actions: Take up an Environmental Issue
I have worked on trying to curb and regulate off-road vehicles
since 1990, and have attained only partial success. Much of the
problem is that this form of environmental degradation (soil
erosion, noise pollution, water quality damage in creekbeds, and
wildlife disturbance) is being performed by a few irresponsible
individual operators of vehicles. However, behind the scenes are
the domestic and foreign ORV manufacturers who pressure people into
buying these expensive and highly damaging forms of outdoor
recreation. They paint a picture of the ultimate nature
experience: a travesty of pretending to be environmental when the
instrument can easily destroy so much. What is regarded by the
riders as an outdoor experience can become a license to assault
fragile territory in areas with low police enforcement. And these
vehicles have a poor safety record with over 40% of deaths being
among youth. The pressures are so great that we do not expect any
form of good regulation for a while -- but we keep trying.
In springtime, activism takes on new life. The range of
environmental tasks is formidable: trail maintenance, river and
creek cleanup, litter pickup, clearance of exotic invasive species,
tree planting, forest and wildscape management, and on and on. The
soon-to-be foliaged landscape beckons the helping hands of
concerned people, but outdoor spring tasks could await the still
more amenable weather of April and May. This is a last chance to
focus on winter indoor activities, which may vary according to
one's given circumstances. Characterize your steps with the
elements of March: freedom, respect, simplicity, endurance and
Choose an issue freely and well. It should be something
linked with a personal experience of yours through direct
observation, monitoring and recording (February's environmental
action). Feel strongly about the issue and realize the shortage of
helping hands. Don't choose a crowded field. Know the talents it
takes and the resources needed. Accept support, be humble enough
to beg for help from organizations close at hand or at a distance.
Remember, the outcome of the project is more than worth the
battle; some issues are not very important in the scheme of
things, whereas others could make a big difference.
Respect your own resources. What one regards as unimportant
may require the total effort of another. An issue that seems quite
limited to a highly energetic person may be just right for an older
or a physically challenged individual. Thus contributions in time
and effort should not be graded with a rigid objectivity, because
of the actual limits on the activist's own time, financial
commitments, talent and energy. Respect your limitations and work
Simply accept that risks are involved. Environmental activism
involves a public commitment. We are often on the right track but
we may be overly emotional or too heavily biased to see the
limitations of our own words and activities. If the activism
involves a specific business or touches the profits or livelihood
of special interest groups, be prepared for some negative feedback
or even the undercutting of one's credibility. Simply put, keep a
good sense of decency, charity, and openness.
Green matter is often gray. The possibility is that any one
of us does not have the full story. If working with others,
discuss possible alternatives or scenarios in which something might
be wrong, misinterpreted or misconstrued. Double check references
and leads; don't go too fast. March is a good time to take on a
new environmental issue or to renew an old one. Don't expect the
work to be completed in a day or even this month. Often it takes
years to curb environmental degradation before a thorough
restoration can be achieved. Practice good endurance in coming to
Act locally. Being rooted in our communities requires that we
see problem areas that have local significance. Broader issues may
seem and are highly enticing, but teaching others to be healers
requires that we work with sicknesses that they can easily
2. An Activist Prayer of Consolation
This is my chosen son; listen to him. (Luke 9:34)
This unknown soul came up and thanked me for a little something
I had said and done, and it came at just the right moment in my
life. My work that day was transfigured; it was all full of light.
We all need the consoling touch of God's hand in our lives.
We are not tough guys who can make it through life with nothing but
a promise. We need a good word, a pat on the back, a smile -- all
these are the seasonings, which make the everyday life flavorful
and liveable. And we are confident that our merciful God gives
these moments of encouragement. We are blessed, and if we take a
moment we discover the consoling spirit in the sea of love in which
we are immersed as a babe in the womb.
The transfiguration is a complex event that is really
celebrated twice in the liturgical year, once in the high summer in
early August, when the glory of the Lord is shining with full
foliage and harvest produce, and once in Lent when Jesus and the
disciples need consolation to carry through the upcoming Calvary
experience. The transfiguration is recorded in all three synoptic
gospels as well as in St. Peter's second letter.
The episode. Jesus takes the three disciples up the mountain.
This harks back to Moses going up Mount Sinai and receiving the
Law. While standing in center stage, Jesus talks with Moses and
Elijah; thus he stands out as the greatest of the lawgivers and the
prophets. Jesus' face is radiant and shines like the sun. Peter's
reaction is to say -- "It is good for us to be here;" in our
everyday language he could have said -- "Let's take a picture" --
and he offers to erect a stone memorial (incidentally, today on
Mount Tabor sits the beautiful church of the Transfiguration). The
three tents refer to the giving of the law in the Feast of
Tabernacles. God the Father confirms the solemn nature of the
event through sanctioning of events to follow, while the disciples
are paralyzed in fright.
Consolation. The Transfiguration is filled with consolation.
Jesus needs this for the mission which he is soon to undergo -- and
so will the disciples who are called to look beyond as well; after
the terror of Christ's Passion comes the future glory. To be
transfigured (transformed so as to be glorified) is to anticipate
what is approaching and reach out beyond it. Transfiguration is
the vision of a better world, and occasionally we come to the
hilltop, a vista from which we see ahead. No wonder the
Transfiguration occurred on beautiful Mount Tabor overlooking the
lake and rolling hills of Galilee. We too need our moments of
consolation -- and God provides them. Stop a moment and look at
the awakening landscape; God gives us these moments and when they
come we should glory in them -- the Gift-givers free gifts.
3. Charity Versus Social Justice
If I feed the poor they call me a saint; when I ask why they
are poor they call me a communist.
Archbishop Helder Camara
Over and over in my own ministry, I find that it is far easier
to get people to donate to charity than to the work that I am
engaged in here in Appalachia. On the other hand, I now regard a
large portion of Appalachian charity as pure bandaids. It helps
the person, especially when there has been a fire that burned down
a home, or a flash flood, or a major illness or sudden death. But
the folks who become more or less dependent upon charity are not
helped at all. And it takes a wise and insightful person to
discern the difference between real need and the people who use
charity as a crutch to get through an irresponsible life. In much
the same vane, I know one group of religious sisters who were told
to leave or their lives might be threatened; at the very time,
another better known group who came to give out charity captured
headlines; the local coal company even gave them a vehicle to help
them do their work.
The third portion of this month's actions refers to the hard
decisions most of us have to make. How much of a resource is to be
given to those who need immediate charity and how much is to be
devoted to long-range causes of injustice? Should we disturb the
works of charity givers when they obey that very elementary form of
humble Christian service? Asking questions is always in keeping
with the continual call of Christ to each of us. Should our
compassion extend to deeper causes of the poverty? Jesus, as
liberator, confronts an establishment that brings oppression to a
people. This is the same Jesus who feeds the hungry by the
thousand and heals the sick who are brought to him. When do we
feed the multitudes and when do we take up justice issues with
Stay at stage one? We are torn by the impulse either to give
food directly to the hungry or to change unjust systems that cause
the hunger. Couldn't we be saints by blessing the poor in either
set of actions, whether by handing out food or by challenging the
system? And isn't it safer to do the former? Many thank us and
the neighborhood smiles. Isn't it wise to seek this form of
consolation? If we satisfy the hungry, don't we receive praise,
encourage others to join our ranks, and become better Christians?
And if we penetrate into the causes of hunger don't they call us
leftists? That is not part of the beatitudes, or is it? Let's
continue the first state of direct service, while we raise the
people's consciousness to some day, maybe even after we are gone,
to penetrate into the second level of humble service.
Move to stage two? At stage one we see the people in need and
we respond since our salvation is at stake. A belly needed to be
fed today, not a year from now. The old adage is about giving a
fish and teaching someone to fish. But there is more. What if the
fish are dying from pollution, or have been overfished by fishing
factories owned by distant corporations? So when must we do more?
The first stage is at least temporarily satisfying but we see
issues emerging that could be handled through democratic processes.
Legislators could be influenced to act if the proper information
were made available. A demonstration, a recruitment program, an
organizing effort could prove fruitful. Even a prophetic
witnessing on the part of an individual could have some effect --
if truly led by the Spirit.
Stage two questions. What if --
* we have a chance of success even in the longer run?
* we see very clearly where the problem lies?
* we can at least initiate a process that may take time?
* we can influence others to ask deeper questions as well?
* we are part of a democratic situation with some possible
degree of attention and some penetration of the problem?
* we anticipate that others can be enlisted to help?
* we are not afraid of the consequences since we see this as
* we are convinced that charity work is simply not sufficient?
* we anticipate that there could be tragic outcomes, but that
is part of what needs to be done?
* we are convinced by spiritual guidance that we are ideal for
* we see clearly that Jesus drives out the money changers from
the Temple, confronts the power establishment for their attitudes,
calls his earthly ruler a fox, prepares his disciples to operate
for the betterment of all under threats, and accepts suffering and
death while holding fast to what he believes?
* we see the call to justice as a deeper calling and one more
in tune with a balanced and healing eco-spirituality?
The more basic question. Is not eco-spirituality a movement,
a march to ever deeper levels of involvement? At the first stage
we must feed those who are starving and offer the homeless shelter.
But just as Jesus both fed the hungry and challenged the system, so
should we. To be like the perfect ecologist we need to keep both
levels in mind even while we may be handing out food or clothes,
even while we record environmental degradation, even while we
lobby and help fashion better regulations, even while we engage the
system through some form of direct action. Charity without justice
is unrealistic. On the other hand, commitment to social justice
issues alone without some empirical feedback through direct works
of mercy is not complete and often lacking in sensitivity; the
complexity of issues, the failure of some to understand, and the
overwhelming stress may erode the person's stamina.
Our resolution is to see both stages as necessary for the
transformation of the world. But it is more: stage two is a deeper
calling. We do not just feed people from the level of our own
plenty; we assist people on a level where their own participation
is utterly important. We do not just work for the poor; we work
hand-in-hand with the poor in solidarity with them and their needs.
We can now anticipate that there may even be a deeper stage of
humility that will be developed later -- as we reflect on the
suffering and death of the Lord.
SUMMARY: TOWARDS A RADICAL COMPASSION
During Lent we look beyond the glory of God's creation as
focused upon the eco-spirituality of January; we burrow into the
desolation of February in ever greater detail; we search further
into the inner realms of our own hearts. This turning within while
acting without requires that we not be swept away in the tide of
earthly desolation. Thus in the spirit of the Incarnation event we
do two things: we look down and see the Earth; we look up and see
the transfigured Jesus, a consolation for us all. The reality
keeps our feet steady; the vision allows us to remain enthusiastic
and still center at least momentarily on the union of Heaven's
destiny and Earth's experience within ourselves. Lenten discipline
teaches us to see the bigger picture and checks any tendency to
focus too narrowly , whether inwardly, upwardly, or downwardly. We
are willing to be cautious and gaze in all directions before we
cross over into action.
Christ, the perfect ecologist, comes among his own, and his
own do not receive him. This actual rejection does not change his
modus vivendi in any way. Jesus teaches us to buck up our courage.
Let's move as he does: feeding the people when hungry; directly
challenging the system when necessary. We journey with Jesus to
Jerusalem and, in the manner in which Jesus understands his broader
mission, we deepen our own compassion that reaches beyond assisting
people who are hungry or homeless; we make a first attempt to look
into the causes of hunger and homelessness. Our sense of mercy
opens the door for the simultaneous challenge within a
participatory democracy: we see and interact with people in need
throughout the world; we enter more deeply and publicly into their
own suffering through a growing solidarity; we begin to experience
pain when they suffer.
Winter's compassion involved seeing the needs of all creation
and taking the basic steps to alleviate those needs. A lively
spirituality in the face of desolation will be willing to confront
and not flee from the terrible sight. Springtime difference
includes the willingness to risk getting angry at the aggressors,
the polluters, the ones who cause the damage and desolation. A
shallow compassion overlooks the oppressor and focuses only on the
one suffering, as though bandaging the effect will treat the cause.
A Jesus-based deepening compassion embodies both mercy for the
victim and righteous anger at the culprit. Compassion becomes a
balm that soothes and heals; it is also a laxative that starts
deeper things moving; maybe, just possibly, it is ultimately the
glue that holds us as a People of God together.
We now see more deeply into the question of who this Jesus is:
namely someone who can be both merciful and angry at the same time,
and is willing to express either emotion when necessary. Jesus may
cry over Jerusalem, and Jesus becomes angry with those who cause it
impending destruction. Now we walk with Jesus in the palm-strewn
streets and approach the April of eco-spirituality, the compassion
of suffering unto death. A radically compassionate eco-
spirituality is not a juggler of two balls at the same time. It is
the adept ability to be mindful of where both balls are placed and
to handle each when it needs to be juggled. The radically
compassionate person says "yes" here and now to this, and "yes"
there and then when another issue comes forth; our emerging eco-
spirituality is becoming more aware of the HERE and NOW. The
judgment is not to dip in and out of global issues; the judgment
is to confine our attention to one place and time: our Calvary and
our Good Friday.
Incarnation is listening to the word spoken in our hearts; in
hearing that word we look out and see the location of its birth in
our individual stable and among our limited shepherd friends. We
hear the Word; we give it flesh with our own special earthly
experiences. The inspiration is divine; the means of making it
visible takes all my own human power; both are within my person as
activist; both help make me a person with a compassionate eco-
spirituality. My inspiration needs to be enfleshed; my flesh needs
to be inspired. Both must be simultaneously present in the same
person if we are to be like Jesus. Incarnation involves seeking
and finding in the same person the human experience and the divine
inspiration. Then we become Christ to the hungry and oppressed.
Jesus is God-Man and the hyphen has been the focus of
centuries of battle in which we find ourselves limited. By being
conservation-conscious, we accept the theological distinctions and
do not again tread over old battlefields. We are keen about
knowing results and we seek to apply these in our lives. We are to
be like Christ, and that is, in an analogous fashion, to take on
his character. We as believers are human but born again into the
divine family, a family of compassion. We take on the divine
character of Jesus not only individually but also as the Body of
Christ, the corporate presence of Jesus in the world around. Yes,
we are a human church and we emphasize this fact often enough when
our individual or collective faults are revealed. But we are
called to destiny and this gives our ministry a divine character.
As we imitate Christ, who is divine and human, we ought to fashion
our radical compassion to be human and godly.