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Invitation and Gloria
A Theology of Kinship with Creation
Invitation to Worship:
We extend our worshipping community by inviting all our kin in
creation to celebrate with us.
With the psalmists we not only praise God for creation but also
worship with our kin in creation.
We are also conscious of relating to other creatures as our kin—
including Earth as a primal parent.
We sing a Gloria that reflect our desire peace for on Earth, with Earth and with all our kin in creation.
Invitation to Worship:
A Theology of Kinship with Creation A New Consciousness We have reflected on how our worship takes place in a sanctuary called Earth, a sacred site in our cosmos. Planet Earth is the ‘where?’ for our worship. We now ask ‘who?’ With whom do we celebrate in this blue-green sanctuary? Who do we invite to join us in worship, especially during a Season of creation? Who are the voices singing with us when we chant in this sanctuary called Earth?
Many Christian liturgies include references to all creation joining with the Christian community in praise. We find expressions like ‘joining in the hymn of all creation’, ‘let heaven and nature sing’ and ‘let all creation join in one, to praise his holy name.’ In most Christian liturgies, however, the voices of creation are more like a faint choir in the background. Rarely are we conscious of the creatures of Earth as active participants in our worship.
In our discussion of the theology of sanctuary above, we identified the need to ‘open our church windows’ and become conscious of the natural world around us as a sanctuary where God has chosen to reveal God’s presence. In this chapter we open the windows a little wider to be conscious of our kin in creation worshipping with us. We have acknowledged the background music of creation praising the Creator. We now need to become conscious of our kin in creation being active partners with us in lamentation and praise, in sacrament and song.
Barriers to Kinship Before we can consciously worship with our kin in creation, however, we need to face a major obstacle that prevents us from participating with more than fellow Christians who have a common faith orientation. This obstacle is more than the physical barrier of church walls, a gothic vision and stained glass windows that have been typical of traditional worship contexts. This obstacle involves our faith understanding of our relationship to the animate and inanimate world around us.
In Western thought since the Enlightenment, Earth has generally been considered an ‘it’, inanimate matter that had no intrinsic worth. Earth was dead, not alive like humans— Earth was a non-personal resource for humans. Earth was material and in no way spiritual or spirit filled. Even worse, Earth was viewed as a team of natural forces that had to be harnessed. The Earth was wild and had to be tamed, an alien place that humans made their temporary home, a cursed piece of fallen creation that only reluctantly yielded up its treasures.
In most Western Christian teaching, human beings were believed to be of a totally different order of being than anything else in creation. Human beings alone bore the image of God; and that image was the mark that separated them from any other species.
Humans really belong to the realm of God above, not the domain of dumb creatures below.
The image of God was variously interpreted as human reason, a higher level of consciousness or the capacity to have a personal relationship with God. Whatever the interpretation of the image of God, it usually functioned to reinforce a sense of sharp separation between humans as personal and Earth as impersonal and therefore incapable of genuine worship.
The theory of evolution emphasised that humans do have a biological connection with other creatures, but from an evolutionary perspective non-humans were usually viewed as inferior, without a developed brain or reason and lower in the hierarchy of beings. The thought of worshipping with inferior beings was considered taboo. The idea of singing chorales with dumb cattle was viewed as ridiculous. The suggestion that we should celebrate in some personal way with this ‘it’ called Earth was thought to be nothing short of paganism.
This dualistic perspective has become engrained in Western thought and Western Christianity, a perspective we will explore further in our next chapter. There is still a sense of deep separation between the spiritual and the material, between heaven and Earth, between spirit and matter. To view Earth as other than mere matter requires, for most of us, a radical change of consciousness. To consider worshipping with Earth demands something like an ecological conversion, a fresh recognition of our kin in creation.
The Primal Precedent
One of the important theological movements to overcome this negative orientation to Earth was led by Matthew Fox who emphasised a creation spirituality. One of the significant sources of his theology was the domain of primal religion. Many Indigenous peoples experienced nature as spiritual and personal with Earth as mother and life as sacramental. (Fox, 1983) Some, like Paul Santmire, arguing from a classical Christian perspective, have provided a significant critique of the theology of Fox. According to Santmire, Fox …seeks to strip away what he considers to be the false theological constructions of so-called fall-redemption theology in order to reveal the original blessings of God in the created order, through the marvellous activity and wondrous manifestations of the eternal Logos of God. (Santmire, 2000, 19).
Without in any way negating the centrality of the fall-redemption theology of our Christian heritage, it is becoming increasingly apparent, I suggest, that the spirituality of Indigenous peoples may well have much to teach us. We need to recognise from the outset that God was present and alive in Indigenous lands long before colonial peoples invaded with the message of the Gospel. God did not leave these peoples without a witness of God’s presence, a truth to which Paul repeatedly testifies. (Acts 17.22-28;
Rom. 1.20) These manifestations of the presence of God are evident in the faith and worship of many Indigenous peoples who discern the spiritual in creation. This experience of Earth as living and spiritual is confessed, for example, by Indigenous Christians in Australia. Two such experiences cited by the elders in Rainbow Spirit Theology testify to this experience.
The first is by Patrick Dodson and the second by George Rosendale.
The land is a living place made up of sky, clouds, rivers, trees, the wind, the sand;
and the Spirit has placed my own spirit there in my own country. It is something—and yet it is not a thing—it is a living entity. It belongs to me. I belong to it. I rest in it. I come from there. (Rainbow Spirit Elders, p. 32) Aboriginal culture is spiritual. I am spiritual. Inside of me is spirit and land, both given to me by the Creator Spirit. There is a piece of land in me and it keeps drawing me back like a magnet to the land from which I came. Because the land, too, is spiritual! This land owns me. The one piece of land I claim to have a spiritual connection with—a connection between me and the land—is the piece of land under the tree where I was born, the place where my mother buried the afterbirth and umbilical cord. The spiritual link with that piece of land goes back to the ancestors in the Dreaming. This is both a personal and a sacred connection—between the land, me and my ancestors. (Rainbow Spirit Elders, p.12) In an article called ‘Creation as Kin: A Native American View’ George Tinker articulates the respect his peoples have for all members of creation as kin. All are equal members of
the family in the circle of creation. He writes:
The circle is a key symbol for self-understanding in these tribes, representing the whole of the universe and our part in it. We see ourselves as coequal participants in the circle, standing neither above nor below anything else in God’s creation.
There is no hierarchy in our cultural context, even of species, because the circle has no beginning or end. (1992, 147).
Tinker then outlines how this Indigenous perspective is reflected in certain rituals of the Lakota and Dakota peoples who use the phrase mitakue oyasin that functions somewhat like amen in Christianity. He adds, The usual translation offered is “For all my relations”. Yet like most Native symbols, mitakuye oyasin is polyvalent in its meaning. Certainly one is praying for one’s close kin, aunts, cousins, children, grandparents, and so on. And relations can be understood as fellow tribal members or even all Indian people.
At the same time, the phrase includes all human beings, all two-legged relatives of one another, and the ever expanding circle does not stop there. Every Lakota who prays this prayer knows that our relatives necessarily include the four-legged, the wingeds, and all the living, moving things in mother Earth. (p, 148) These primal testimonies urge us to reconsider whether our own biblical heritage preserves a similar sense of the personal and spiritual in creation. Does the Bible reflect a sense of kinship with living creatures? Or does the concept of the image of God exclude any such consciousness of a living relationship with Earth or the non-human creatures of Earth? Are there traditions in the Bible that reveal deep bonds between humans and the rest of the natural world?
Kinship with Earth Traditionally kin and kinship have been associated with human relations and cultural systems. A closer consideration of these concepts in this context suggests that a wider interpretation of how we relate as kin also deserves attention.
Kin refers to those with whom we are related as a group, whether as family, clan or community. Kin have a common nature, origin, ancestor, spirit or quality. The relationship of kin is a given, implying specific ties and obligations. Kinship refers to this relationship and the affinity it embraces. Kinship systems are those systems that function in specific cultures, involving particular rights, duties and affiliations.
Can we speak of a kinship with Earth? Or is the idea that Earth is our primal parent, mother or common ancestor simply a metaphor to reflect our biological roots? Do the Scriptures offer us any clues as to our relationship with Earth?
Is Earth more than the material stuff from which I was created? Is Earth also a true parent with a deep impulse to nurture me as a child? Does the old image of mother nature evident in Indigenous cultures preserve a precious truth? Is there also a spiritual bond with Earth as our mother? These are some of the questions that keep stirring within us as we trace our connections with creation.
One of the clearest Earth readings that identify Earth as our mother is found in the opening chapter of the Book of Job. After being unjustly harassed by the God of heaven and deprived of all possessions, Job turns to Earth as his initial source of life and comfort.
His words are famous.
Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there!
YHWH gives and YHWH takes away!
Blessed be the name of YHWH. (Job 1.21) The God who sits in heaven making a wager with the Satan may intervene to give and take Job’s possessions. Those in the heavenly council may play fast and loose with the life of Job. Ultimately, however, Job declares that his origin and his end are with his mother—Earth! When Job said he would return ‘there’, he meant Earth not heaven, his biological origins not his human mother or the high heaven from which God was hounding him.
It is clear from Job’s speech in chapter 3 that the expression ‘there’ refers to Earth, the place where all humans reside when they die, whether they are taskmasters or slaves (Job 3. 17-18). That place is a place of rest for all. That place is home, the mother from which Job emerged, the source and solace of his life under harassment from heaven.
Psalm 139 includes a similar reference to Earth as mother. The Psalmist explores the wonder of human birth, the intricate mysteries of human embryos moulded every day by the Creator. The fascinating dimension of this portrait is that the poet begins by giving us the impression that the embryo is being delicately created in our human mother. As we read, we discover that there is another dimension, a deeper womb—mother Earth.
For you, you formed my inner being, You knit me together in my mother’s womb!
I praise you because I am an amazing creation.
Your work is awesome!
My spirit really knows that.
My frame was not hidden from you When I was made in secret, Intricately woven in the depths of Earth. (139.13-15) Earlier in the Psalm, the poet reflected on God’s deep understanding of every aspect of the Psalmist’s life and inner being. The spirit of God, the hidden divine presence, penetrates into even the most hidden crevices of the cosmos (139.7-8). The spirit is present when the embryo is formed, penetrating the depths of Earth. The spirit knows the impulse to give birth that lies deep in Earth and every mother. Every child is an Earth child.
The intricate and fragile birth process deep in Earth is an awesome and wondrous reality.
This mystery of God in Earth enabling birth is more than an intellectual insight, a biological discovery. This mystery stirs in the Psalmist an impulse to praise. He has experienced that reality in person. Deep within his soul he knows that his Earth birth is true. There is a connection between the spirit of the poet, the creating spirit of God and the deep womb of Earth. They are bound together in the spiritual mystery of birth.
This insight of the Psalmist, echoed by peoples of many ancient and Indigenous cultures, celebrates Earth as kin. Every child is an Earth child, forever linked as a family with a common ancestor, Earth. This is one of the mysteries of creation that invites us to worship with Earth in a Season of Creation.
Kinship with Creatures Many traditions have long recognised Earth as a parent or mother, some in a spiritual or relational sense and some in a biological or even evolutionary sense. Does this mean that individual creatures or components of creation are also our kin in some sense. Or is this but a theological metaphor, a relic from our primal past?