I am divided this morning. Do I speak about our deep connection to the Earth’s oceans or do I address the beginnings of an oceanic apocalypse? I will speak to both, and with God’s grace, may I do justice our interconnectedness with our oceans and all life and the challenges to those oceans and to ourselves in the very near future.
The oceans originated as the planet cooled down, releasing steam that became the oceans of the earth. But there was another source of waters of the oceans as thousands of comets, made of ice struck the Earth, adding to the oceans’ water. I marvel as we are part of the Earth’s story, the formation of oceans and 2 billion years ago life arising in the oceans. The Season of Creation is an opportunity to celebrate God’s creation, that story, and how we fit into that story. This Sunday we look at the oceans.
Today’s reading is from Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, a Lutheran Pastor and author of Creation Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit. I already read her book before I attended her workshop at the Parliament of World Religions last October. She drafted me as a participant into the reading. Her refrain “I am water, I am waiting…” is so important to realize. It is even haunting. It raises a deep question for me: We are water. What is water waiting for?
We humans have our sense of kinship with water and the oceans. The oceans cover some 70% of our planet. Our bodies carry the markers of our kinship with the oceans. Our bodies are 65-70% water and we have sodium in the waters of our bodies. We enflesh ocean water in our bodies. Our flesh marks our profound kinship with all waters and the oceans, and if we did a genealogical or ancestry tree, we can trace our origins to that very day in the oceans when the first cells became alive.
The oceans are full of mystery, a myriad of life forms and species, and,
of course, beauty. When you were last on the beach, watched the waves come in, and the waters appear to be dynamic and alive with motion and life. People gravitate to the beaches not only because they enjoy the sun and water, but we are drawn there because we have a distant memory ofancestral kinship. We are interconnected.
There is a strong biblical tradition between the Holy Spirit and water, from the creation of water on this planet, to the formation of lakes and rivers, streams, to the water used to baptize Jesus and ourselves, to water we drink and bathe in. Water is a symbol of the Spirit, and the Spirit brings life and healing. Water is the vitality, and the waters of the Earth form the blood of the Earth. The Spirit is involved with life-giving faith (Jn. 1-15), baptisms (Acts 8:26-40, 11:1-18). She is the Spirit in the water flowing from the pierced Jesus’ body on the cross. As fire, there is the story of tongues of fire descending on the disciples in the upper room on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). The Spirit sparks the inclusive and multicultural mission of the Jesus movement to the nations.
For theologian Mark Wallace, God’s Spirit has been infusing the universe and the Earth, in particular, since their inception. It is in its Earth-centered mode; the Spirit is cruciform—that is, She suffers the pain and torment of the Earth and its life: “God as Spirit lives among us in great sorrow and deep anguish. She suffers and groans with creation, and she suffers in her connection to the oceans as we pollute it, trash, create climate change that warms the waters and kills the coral reefs, and as we hunt marine life to extinction.
From the viewpoint of green spirituality, the God who knows death through the cross of Jesus is the crucified God, but God is also the Spirit who enfleshes divine presence in nature and the elements of the universe. God the Spirit the Sustainer of life experience the woundedness of nature, of the oceans, and the suffering of marine life. .
Now let speak me about the spirituality inclusive of the ocean. A wonderful example is Rachel Carson, naturalist and author, and she recounts a formative epiphany in college that drew her to the sea:
Years ago on a night when rain and wind bear against the windows of my college dormitory room, a line from (Tennyson’s) “Locksley Hall’” burned itself into my mind—“For the mighty wind arises, roaring seaward, and I go.” I can still remember my intense emotional response as that line spoke to something within me seeming to tell me that my own path led to the sea—which I have never seen—and that my own destiny was somehow linked with the sea. And so, as you know, it has been.
Carson became a “biographer of the sea,” detailing direct, personal appreciation of individual organisms as well as her love for the Maine seacoast. Paul Brooks writes, “She felt a spiritual as well as a physical closeness to the individual creatures about whom she wrote: a sense of identification that is an essential element in her literary style.” She wrote three books on the seas, sea life and the shores of Maine. She took scientific samples of sea-life near the shore, examined them carefully and tenderly, so that she could release them back into the ocean without any harm. This expresses a profound reverence for life.
She addressed human harm to the oceans some sixty years ago: “It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist; the threat is rather to life itself.” (The Sea Around Us)
In the later years of her life, Carson became a public champion for not only the oceans but for all human and non-human life:
In contemplating “the exceeding beauty of the earth” these people have found calmness and courage. For there is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of birds; in the ebb and flow of the tides; in the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in these repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.
Mankind has gone very far into an artificial world of his own creation. He has sought to insulate himself, with steel and concrete, from the realities of earth and water. Perhaps he is intoxicated with his own power, as he goes farther and farther into experiments for the destruction of himself and his world. For this unhappy trend there is no single remedy – no panacea. But I believe that the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.
Carson models for us a spirituality of connecting with the natural beauty of the Earth’s oceans. Natural beauty and the experience of wonder was pivotal for spiritual development. When humanity replaced the natural with the artificial, Carson understood that humanity blocked its spiritual growth because we are ocean life that transitioned to the land. Yet we are still connected to the ocean. We human need nature to teach us the wonder of creation, it complexity and beauty.
At communion, after you receiving communion and the blessing, go the water in container in front of the altar. It is salt water, and touch the water and bless your forehead to indicate your connectedness to the oceans and concern for oceans ensouled with God’s Spirit.
The Oceanic Apocalypse:
The former NASA climate scientist, James Hansen, called our attention to climate change in 1988. Some listened to Hansen then, and more recently, he is co-authored a scientific study of the ice melting in Antarctica, yet to undergo review that we will find disturbing. They suggest the seal levels could rise 10 times faster than previously models suggested. It could reach 10 feet by the end of the century, and such cities as New York, Miami, London, Shanghai and Rio de Janiero, and other cities will be submerged. Some island nations will disappear, and many countries will experience massive population dislocation from the seashores on a scale hard to imagine.
Weeks ago we have witnessed massive flooding in Louisiana destroying more 40,000 houses. If we do not cut down the emission from carbon dioxide, methane, and climate warming gases, Hansen and his team share,
We conclude that multi-meter sea-level rise would become practically unavoidable. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea-level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.
This is an apocalypse, in my opinion. Let me first, say we need to vote in November for the Earth, for the oceans, and for life.
Just look not at the rising sea levels but examine what is actually happening within the oceans themselves.
But there are other Earth signs of the health of the oceans: the coral reefs are blanching and dying, the acidification of the oceans. Scientists discovered the congregation of 35,000 seals on one beach. This indicated the increased loss of artic ice. Melting artic ice and warming oceans jeopardize all plant and marine life, and other connected life. All life in the ocean may become extinct through global warming, over-harvesting of fish, or callous hunting tens of thousands of shark for their fins for shark-fin soup or medicinal properties. The prognosis for continued life in the oceans this century is bleak.
I can’t wrap my spirit around the fact what humanity will be like if the oceans die and all ocean life. The oceans, like the Earth, are alive. The Spirit of God is the sustainer of all life and universe processes that began at the Big Bang to evolve into galactic processes and then planetary processes that produced life in the oceans 2 billion years ago. God’s Spirit ensouled in the waters and early Christians maintained that Christ is in all the waters of the Earth. When we crucify creation, even a part of creation, we are crucifying the Spirit and Christ. We trample upon what is beloved and dear to God. There, I invite you this Season of Creation to re-invigorate your commitment to fight climate change, vote for candidates that support responsible care for the environment, and live with compassion with God’s Earth.