Monday, February 09, 2009

Green Faith Day II

Question 2

Different versions of the creation story in Genesis describe our relationship with the world as being one of us having “control”, “rule” or “dominion” “over” our planet. This has been used as a mandate for exploiting creation. How should we understand it today?

The problem is that we have misunderstood this passage all along. God gives responsibility for tending the earth before the incident with the snake, the occasion of the first conversation. Up to that point, Adam and Eve had an undistracted communion with God; the optimum nurture and care of the earth was implicit in the instruction.

Irenaeus (2nd century) is good on this point; the kenotic hymn reiterates it. Equality with God (being made in the imageless image of God) is not license for grasping, as Tom Wright nuances the Greek harpagmon; God's idea of power is the opposite of "rule" and "dominion over".

But, thanks in large part to the desire of institutional church for mind-control, the art and work of silence, which restores communion with God, has been lost to Christianity's interpretative repertoire. [See my forthcoming article in Word and World, April, 2009, and a forthcoming book, Silence: A User's Guide.]

All we can do now is to try to re-learn how to listen to the earth, which is speaking to us all the time. Like the child and the horse in The Horse Whisperer we must become receptive so that the earth may heal our perception, in order to heal itself. Sadly, again like the child and the horse, we may have to be brought to the place where we look over the edge of the abyss before we are able to relearn this skill. By then it will be too late.

Wendell Berry has written a poem that sums up what this sort of listening is like:


By Wendell Berry

I would not have been a poet
except that I have been in love
alive in this mortal world,
or an essayist except that I
have been bewildered and afraid,
or a storyteller had I not heard
stories passing to me through the air,
or a writer at all except
I have been wakeful at night
and words have come to me
out of their deep caves
needing to be remembered.
But on the days I am lucky
or blessed, I am silent.
I go into the one body
that two make in a making marriage
that for all our trying, all
our deaf-and-dumb of speech,
has no tongue. Or I give myself
to gravity, light, and air
and am carried back
to solitary work in fields
and woods, where my hands
rest upon a world unnamed,
complete, unanswerable, and final
as our daily bread and meat.
The way of love leads all ways
to life beyond words, silent
and secret. To serve that triumph
I have done all the rest.

"VII" from the poem 1994 by Wendell Berry from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997, © Counterpoint, 1998.


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