Back to the Garden & the Ground of Being

by susan on April 5, 2016

environment-759Gen, 1:1-2, 2:5-9, 15

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
…when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.
And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.

earthPsalm 8:3-9

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

John 1:1-4, 14a

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us…

Again and again, scripture invites us into deep connection with creation.

It started with the ancient story of our beginnings found in Genesis. The first two chapters describe living things being made from nothing. A formless void is turned into heavens & earth, water & land, and finally a garden – a garden in which humankind is placed to till the soil. The Hebrew word translated “till” actually means “serve”. Humans were placed in a garden to serve and care for the earth.

Work, play and rest were meant to take place in relationship to creation.

No doubt, since our beginnings, we have experienced moments of profound connection to creation, moments when we were overwhelmed with praise, wonder and humility. Experiences like these have caused us to say with the psalmist: Who are we that you, Creator God, remember us?!

I feel that way often when I stare into the sky, into the sea or at the amazing variety of creatures that inhabit our planet. The earth is such an amazing, complex array of life that was brought into being by some crazy collision of time, space, energy & creativity. Matter is a divine mystery, and a marvelous one at that!

To be human is to live in deep connection to creation. We were designed that way.

Yet, somehow and at some point, we have become increasingly disconnected from our roots. Instead of serving the soil, we began to argue over its ownership. Even the story of scripture became about lands being conquered, divided and conquered again.

The earth became a commodity.
Instead of being caretakers, we became consumers.

We’ve become disconnected in lots of ways over time. For example, it’s no longer necessary to grow our own food, to feel the ground beneath our feet as we walk from one place to another, or to interact with the variety of animals that fill our planet (except for our pets & those we keep in cages for our own entertainment). Take a minute to consider some other ways you have seen or experienced this disconnection from our roots.

Efficiency, productivity and consumption have replaced connection, and the cost has been great – not only to the earth, but to all who inhabit it.

I can’t help but wonder if our struggle to find meaning, intimacy and wholeness can be traced back to this gradual disconnection from our roots. I can’t help but think that in moving from our identities as creatures and caretakers, we have also distanced ourselves from the source of life.

There is an image of God that has resonated with me since I first encountered it in seminary. It comes from German theologian & philosopher, Paul Tillich. Tillich saw God not as a “a being” and certainly not a bearded white man sitting on a throne in the sky. Rather, he saw God as the “Ground of Being” itself. He believed God was the creative, life-giving foundation beneath everything else that came into being.

Perhaps that is what John was bearing witness to when he introduced the God in the flesh as,“All things came into being through him” (John 1:3).

Reconnecting with the earth is not just about saving our planet, it’s about reconnecting with our Ground of being.

Diana Butler Bass describes her own reconnection this way,

Over the decades, faith has taken me increasingly toward the soil, not away from it. To this garden, to the earth. And God is here. God the Earth-maker, God the Gardener, God the Ground of Being. ‘We are not tourists here,’ writes philosopher Mary Midgly, ‘We are at home in this world, because we were made for it.’  (Grounded, 64)

By reconnecting with the earth, we will also be returning to God.

What will that look like for us? How will returning change our habits, our way of life and our daily rhythms? How will it change our relationships?

IMG_2690 (2)Earlier this week, I took the morning to walk on the beach. We live so close, it’s a shame to not go every now and then. I called this walk “post lent & holy week regrouping”. I started walking and immediately felt my spirits soar. The salt air, the cool breeze, the carefree smiles of those passing by. A peace rushed over me. And, then I saw him in his regular spot.

He was there dancing in the waves right where they break onto the beach. I don’t yet know his name or his story, although I hope to one day. His belongings sit in piles on the beach while he walks back and forth to the sea. I assume he’s homeless and have often thought this would probably be where I’d prefer to be if God forbid, I had no place to go. I’ve also often felt sorry for him as I’ve seen him there on other days, thinking I should probably stop and help this poor soul out, as if he needs a little bit of what I have.

Funny, though, on this day, I felt no need to offer food or clothing. I just watched him and I took notice. I noticed how content, how in tune, how connected he seemed to the water and the sand and the rhythm of the ocean. I noticed his smile, his body enjoying the fresh air and feel of the sea. I pondered the simplicity of it all.

Is it possible that he’s not the one who needs my help, but that he is helping me get a glimpse of trust, of joy, of deep connection to creation? Is it possible that he has learned not to need the conveniences I think are essential?

While I don’t think becoming homeless is the solution to our disconnection, I was reminded that something needs to change.

We need to return,
to become re-rooted in
God’s divine ecosystem again.

We need to relearn the rhythms, the responsibility, and the deep joy that comes from being connected to creation.

What might that look like for us?
How might our return to our roots give us and our neighbors new life?

In this excerpt from her poem CitraSolv Abstract, Christie Melby-Gibbon challenges us:

Turn the heart. Turn the world.
It is the season of resurrection.
and the ground spills forth again
its longing for new life,
green and pulsing
with impossible hope.
Turn the heart
that we might again take our place
in the intricate weave of things and live.

[source of first two images: Wikimedia Commons]

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