This is the first in a sermon series on the four elements: Earth, Water, Fire and Air.
Last week I told you about Matthew Fox’s prophetic dream in which a voice said to him, “There is only one thing wrong with humanity… they have forgotten a sense of the sacred.” And then we talked about being sacred beings ourselves and practicing seeing others as sacred. Now we’re going to expand our scope to talk about the sacredness of the four elements that, as Cait Johnson said, have grounded human spirituality: earth, water, fire, and air. In this post-modern era, most people have lost the intimate connection our ancestors had with creation. Perhaps an exploration of these elements will help us to recover a sense of how intertwined we are with all things, and with the Divine.
(For the full video version, click here.)
The Bible abounds with references to the earth, mountains, soil for growing, land for living and worshiping, fields for herds to graze, animals and plants. But there is one line that should never have been written about the earth, and that is Genesis 1:26: “Let us make humankind… and let them have dominion” over everything, basically. Our inclusive Bible changed the words to “be stewards of” – their footnote says:
This passage, because of its traditional translation – “subdue the earth, and have dominion over… every living thing on it” – has been used to excuse human kind’s penchant for trampling the earth and subjugating its creatures. Unfortunately, the actual Hebrew is even more brutal, prompting traditional translations to soften the language somewhat. But this charge immediately follows the statement that we were created in God’s image – that is, to be like God – so surely the idea of stewardship and caretaking, not violation and destruction is inherent in that calling.
We have forgotten that earth is sacred. We have forgotten that we are interconnected. If we had not forgotten, perhaps we would have learned earlier not to over-farm our fields in what some are referring to as “suicidal agriculture.” The Dust Bowl of the depression years is returning in places like Oklahoma, but no one talks about it. We’re destroying entire mountains for coal in the Appalachians. Fracking is contaminating clean water and land. We’re killing the bee population with pesticides, poisoning our oceans with oil spills, and we’ve become a throw-away society ignoring the resulting problem of waste. I could go on and on…
We’ve forgotten that we are sacred and earth is sacred. Fred Bahnson, a United Methodist pastor and founder of a community garden in North Carolina calls the soil a sacrament. He says, “The earth itself holds the memory of the beginning of all things, the memory of God.” That’s a powerful statement. To think that all that has been, and all that will be, has returned to the earth; and that if they earth could speak, it would know everything that has ever happened. When we walk on the ground we tread on the generations, civilizations and history that has preceded us.
Journalist Kristin Ohlson said, “I was stunned by what I learned about life in the soil… that we stand on the surface of the earth, we’re atop a vast underground kingdom of microorganisms without which life as we know it wouldn’t exist.” We may not like bugs and worms, but we need them for our existence. They are part of the vast web that sustains life, and are also sacred.
Sallie McFague offers the metaphor of “body” to describe the relationship between God and the world, she reminds us of both scientific truth and a sacred mystery. “What if we saw the earth as part of the body of God, not as separate from God (who dwells elsewhere), but as the visible reality of the invisible?”
Awareness is the key to experiencing the Divine in the Earth. Not walking blindly through life, but with a recognition that the ground we walk on is full of life that sustains our lives and we must care for it. The paper we use comes from trees that were living, energetic things and we need to conserve and recycle. The animals are part of our spirit… can we imagine our hearts leaping with the deer, soaring with the sparrows, hopping with the rabbits, knowing they are our brothers and sisters? Can we be mindful of the food that we eat, the life that was given for our lives, the miracle of the plants grown from small seed and soil that sustain us and give us nutrients?
The ground we walk upon is holy. The trees and flowers we walk among are sacred. The animals are part of us. If we can take some time to re-ground ourselves (no pun intended) in the very basic elements of life around us, I believe we will also re-ground ourselves in God and the depths of the Spirit.
Love & Light!