SCRIPTURE Jeremiah 2:7; Job 12:7-12; Psalm 24:1-2; Romans 8:18-23
There is a chorus that sings:
“This world is not my home, I’m just passing through. My treasures are laid up – somewhere beyond the blue. I can’t feel at home in this world anymore”.
It’s a fun song to sing, but I find a theological disconnect in this song. THIS world IS our home. The Greek word for home is ‘oikos’. It is also the root word for both ecology and economy. The science of ecology is about protecting and preserving the complicated, interconnected web of relationships that make earth – our home function – we could call it earth-keeping or house-keeping.
And if we think about home-economics as earth-keeping as well, we are called to steward the limited resources of our home planet. What we forget is that God has given us this world as a precious gift on loan.
Psalm 24 reminds us – The Earth belongs to God.
Psalm 50.10 ‘Every wild animal of the forest is mine and the cattle on a thousand hills.’
Psalm 115:16: “The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth God has given to human beings.”
God created us to inhabit this good Earth and has placed us as stewards to live in and look after creation.
But how often are we oblivious to creation, where we no longer notice the beauty stirring our souls, when we lose connection with the ecological web of life that sustains us. or that we carry responsibility for our home. The creation that God loves, the creation that sustains us, is being damaged, depleted, poisoned. Jeremiah 2 that we just heard, “I brought you to a garden land where you could eat lush fruit. But you barged in and polluted my land, trashed and defiled my dear land.
We are in the 4th week of a worship series based on a book written by Christine Valters Paintner, Earth Our Original Monastery. She writes:
Humanity has wrecked havoc on nature with the rampant use of plastics toxins, chemicals and fossil fuels. The Contemplative path steers us toward seeing the truth of things and discern what we are being called to release in terms of habits, practices and ways of being that burden us and weigh us down as well as those habits that bring harm to earth. Christine invites us into a prayer of lament. To express grief and pain at the abuse, pollution, and corruption of our home – planet earth.
Peter Sawtell, Executive Director of Eco-Justice Ministries:
It is difficult to enter into lament. Yet I know that I must enter into that pain more frequently and honestly than I do now. If the trauma being inflicted on creation does not bring us to tears, if we never break through denial and rational barriers to feel our hearts breaking; if we are not overwhelmed with grief at times – then we have not entered into honest worship. Lament is both difficult and necessary. May we find the courage to grieve.
Worship invites us to bring our authentic lives before God, to open ourselves fully and honestly to God. We might prefer our encounters with the divine to always be joyous, orderly or predictable. But there are times when circumstances will call forth unspeakable sorrow and pain. If our worship is to be genuine, there must be times of lament, inviting us to express deep sorrow, grief, a sense of loss or regret.
The prophet Jeremiah is the Bible’s expert on lamentation. Listen to his images which are painfully relevant.
From ch. 6: O my poor people, put on sackcloth, and roll in ashes; make mourning, most bitter lamentation: for suddenly the destroyer will come upon us. (6:26) From Ch. 9: Take up weeping and wailing for the mountains, and a lamentation for the pastures of the wilderness, because they are laid waste so that no one passes through, and the lowing of cattle is not heard; both the birds of the air and the animals have fled and are gone. I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, a lair of jackals; and I will make the towns of Judah a desolation, without inhabitant. (9:10-11)
It is not only Jeremiah who laments. Over 1/3 of the 150 psalms are categorized as laments. If we are true to scripture, we will cry out in grief and anger when we experience suffering, injustice and loss. Walter Brueggemann describes lament as a necessary act of truth-telling about our disorientation. The spiritual practice of Lament is a way of communicating with God when we feel overwhelmed by chaos, when we are suffering, fearful, or in pain. When we lament, we do not necessarily expect to be rescued with reminders that everything is going to be ok. Acknowledging that something is not right – it begins to loosen the cry stuck in our throats and softens the hardness of our hearts. We live in a culture that wants us to to deny the reality of disorientation, suffering, and grief, and encourages distraction or tries to cheer us up with messages of ‘be strong’, ‘move on’, or ‘think positive’.
Jesus tells his disciples that if they do not speak out, cry out, the very stones will cry out. In Romans 8, Paul uses the image of creation like a pregnant woman, groaning in pain and longing to be set free from bondage. Creation is waiting in anticipation for humanity to worship God by caring for this fragile, wonderful world.
Christine writes that lament is a necessary stage in the creative resolution of terrible suffering, and that it helps us to release layers of grief in new ways. When we allow pain to move through us, we create conditions for catharsis. We begin to discover a kinship of grief with one another and feel a deeper solidarity with all of earth’s creatures because of our interconnection with them and it releases a tremendous amount of energy for living. Mystics tell us when we practice lament and allow our hearts to experience grief, it opens new pathways where transformation can enter in. Christine offers a spiritual exercise based on the Ignatian Examen – I am going to invite you into that space.
If you were a stone, how would you cry out. If you were the earth, how might you be groaning in pain right now. Name the sorrow and suffering we experience on behalf of Earth. We need to groan in lament. You may want to pause and get a piece of paper to write on – or better yet, gather a few stones and write on them. Later you can choose to create an altar outside in your yard or take the stones to a waters edge to throw and release.
When did you feel disconnected from nature?
Was there a time this week when you were unaware or unconscious of earth supporting you?
Was there a moment when you felt you wasted or exploited the resources of earth?
Were there moments when your soul felt arid and dry?
Offer forgiveness to yourself. Breathe deeply and let this go.
What grace you most need to support you through this next day.
As you continue this Examen reflection, we will listen to Jeff playing “Gather Us In” by Marty Haugen. We offered this song to you in worship a month ago, but it is worth replaying today as we enter into the spiritual practice of lament. Tom placed images over the music contrasting the tensions of the beauty of nature against more disturbing events and images that we would rather turn away from — the images demonstrating the polarities and juxtaposition of how God gathers us all in – back to the heart of God, inviting us to imagine a different way of living in resurrection hope – from isolation and war and health scares and refugee crises to a place of peace, connection, and beauty, into the kingdom of God. Gather Us In.
Here in this place new light is streaming –
Now is the darkness vanished away.
See in this space our fears and our dreamings –
Brought here to you in the light of this day.
Gather us in, the lost and forsaken – Gather us in, the blind and the lame.
Call to us now and we shall awaken – We shall arise at the sound of our name
play Gather us In
Many of the laments in scripture do not end with hopeful messages, but they do remind us that God is with us. God enters into the chaos and suffering alongside us, even if we don’t feel God’s presence, even if things don’t make sense. We hold on to God’s promised presence and trust God’s providence. God, through Nature, also has a way of offering consolation to our hearts, so I invite you into a time of continued reflection:
When have you been most deeply aware of the beauty of creation?
When have you experienced yourself as a participant in nature rather than an observer?
When did you hold an Earth cherishing consciousness?
Breathe in, savor it, and allow it to expand. Become aware of how it feels in your body.
Offer gratitude for this experience.
Don sent me a video reflection this week he calls “Lake Night Sounds” reflecting back on his childhood. In this reflection, he talks about what the lake was like at night before and after a coal power plant was built nearby. It demonstrates the impact humans have had on nature, and the possibilities of healing the land