The Voice of the Earth in Genesis 1, Norman Habel, The Earth Bible Project
I am Earth, I was first revealed when God summoned the primal waters to part. I came forth from the waters as a living domain with the potential to give birth. I count this a great honor and grounds for celebration. I am a valuable part of the cosmos.
At the request of God, I brought forth, like a mother, all the flora that covers the land. I gave birth to vegetation that has the capacity to reproduce. After the flora that comes from within me is interconnected with me and is nurtured through me.
At the request of God, I also brought forth, like a mother, the fauna that live on the Earth. They are my offspring and depend upon me for subsistence. All fauna depend on the vegetation I produce for their survival and enjoyment of life. I am Earth, the source of daily life for the flora and fauna that I have generated from within me.
Sad to say, there is another story that has invaded my world, the story of the so-called god-image creatures called humans. Instead of recognizing that these god-image creatures are beings interdependent with Earth and other Earth creatures, this story claims that the god-image creatures belong to the superior ruling class or species, thereby demeaning their nonhuman kin an diminishing their value. Instead of respecting me as their home and life source, the god image creatures claim a mandate to crush me like an enemy or slave.
My voice needs to be heard and intrusive story about the humans in Gen. 1:26-28 named for what it is from my perspective: the creature of a group of power hungry humans.
In the mythic story of Creation in six days, God rests on the seventh day. Genesis 1 is a mythic story that speaks about our origins. But this is the same story told from a different perspective. Biblical scholar and founder of the Earth Bible Project Norman Habel re-envisions the story told from the Earth’s perspective and voice. This has the impact of de-emphasizing the anthropocentrism or the view that humanity is exceptional and above all species. If we could listen to the elements and life on Earth, we would receive a harsh critique on on human greed and selfishness. Further on in the story is the verse:
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
This verse has been used to justify our exploitation and use of the world. It implies a patriarchal exceptionalism and used to justify industrial and corporate plundering of the Earth. We humans have elevated our position in our arrogance. Everything has been made for our benefit and use. We can do whatever we want to the land, soil, water, air—the terrain we name Earth. The first chapter of Genesis—God says six times, it is “good,” and the last time it is “very good.” God creates for intimacy and delight. It communicates a major truth of our planet and the universe, everything is interrelated. We are all interconnected to each other and everything else.
Environmentalist Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, observes, “We’re running Genesis backward, de-creating.” Let me talk about “de-creating.”
There is the denial of climate change by the current Trump administration. Scott Pruitt was named as head of the EPA, an organization to protect our environment and health. And he is attempting to undo EPA regulations for the sake of fossil fuel companies. Mr. Pruitt belongs to a Baptist church in Oklahoma that believes that the Earth was created some five or six thousand years ago. Mr. Trump has withdrawn the US from the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce carbon emissions in our country. He has signed an executive order that allows coal companies to dump coal ash no longer in ponds that impact aquifers but now directly into the rivers—water supply for towns and cities. The President has asked his Secretary of the Interior to eliminate or reduce the national monuments so that corporations may drill for oil and gas. He supports the Canadian Keystone XL pipeline to cross the largest aquifer in the heartland that provides water to millions of families and farmers. There are numerous oil spills such as Deep Horizon in the Gulf. We frack the earth to withdraw natural gas and oil. We poison the waters and create earthquakes.
Our overdependency and now political resistance to renewable energies are warming up the planet, and the glaciers are melting. Sea-level rise is proposed by the end of the century to rise by 8-11 feet. The earth is heating up. At preview of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Before the Flood at Cal State University, Northridge, I was on a panel when a Muslin woman scientist spoke about the temperatures for one week in the summer of 2016 in the Arab Emirates reached 160’s Fahrenheit.
Last week I attended a UCC environmental retreat, I heard a presentation from a clergy from the island nation of Tuvalu, square miles, 12,000 indigenous people in the Pacific Ocean. The nation is sinking, and few nations are listening to their pleas. Very sad and prophetic of the future. I also heard the youth Water Protectors from the Standing Rock Reservation. Impressive group of youth fighting to safeguard their water from the Dakota pipeline. The water protectors listen and fight for the water and land with courage and love be.
Our addiction to beef is leading to massive deforestation of the Amazon forest or palm oil in the deforestation of large tracks of jungle in Indonesia. We do this regardless of the consequences to the planet and other life. We have lost 100 million trees in the Sierras through drought, beetle infestation, and apocalyptic raging fires.
Corporate greed and our own consumerism outweigh the lives of future generations of human animals and nonhuman animals. The sixth extinction of nonhuman life is taking place right now.
Contemplative spiritual teacher and writer Matthew Fox sums our situation aptly, “the killing of Mother Earth in our time is the number one ethical, spiritual, and human issue of our planet.” Nothing is more real, and we have little time before the tipping point where the planet’s temperature rise of 4 degrees Celsus will be inevitable and all life will face unparalleled disaster.
The Earth reading does not continue to include the verses that God rested on the seventh day. For many Jews, the seventh day becomes a Sabbath time of rest, re-creation, and erotic delight. In the Jewish tradition, when you make love on the Sabbath, you are twice blessed. Try preaching that in a mainline Christian, and congregants panic. I did in a LGBT church, and one bright congregant asked “if we are twice blessed then are we also twice blessed on the Muslim and Christian Sabbaths.” I said, “Of course, you are blessed twice to the third power which is eightfold.”
There is a cultural amnesia on “Why God rested?” We forget that for the previous verse in Genesis 1:28 to subdue and dominate the Earth. Unless we come to some appreciation of God’s resting, we will take the Earth as place to dominate and exploit. Why does God rest? One of my favorite, eco-spiritual authors, Norman Wirzba writes,
God takes complete delight in what is made. Delight marks the moment when we find whatever is in our presence so lovely and so good that there is no other place we want to be. All we want to do is to soak it up, be fully present to it, and cherish the goodness of the world God has made. Something so good cannot be enjoyed from a distance or in the abstract. It requires the deep knowledge that comes from “union,” from tasting of it. (Wirzba)
When God takes delight, the evolution of the world becomes creation. “Creation” is a theological term arising from delight, union, and erotic intimacy with the world. I understand creation as “seeing the world or nature as God sees it.” We need more “delight” in the Earth, for Sabbath delight arouses in us the excitement and intimate connection with the evolving world. Let quote Wirzba again on a Sabbath perspective.
No creature, no body whatsoever, should be neglected, despised or abused. Each body is God’s love made visible, touchable, smellable, hearable, and delectable… Nothing in God’s creation is to be despised or forgotten. (Wirzba)
Here in this spirituality of delight is the realization of bodily interrelatedness, the basis of a spirituality of compassionate care for all life and for the Earth. All bodies, whether human animal and nonhuman animal, matter to the Creator, and they should matter to all spiritual peoples.
This delight in the Earth, I would suggest, reflects the 7th principle of Unitarian Universalism: “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. This is the truth of all spiritualities that live with Earth and all life.” We are all interrelated, everything in the universe, including the divine is interconnectedness.
A possible solution to human de-creating or ego-centric relationship to the world is our eco-conversion. “Eco-conversion” is turning away from human self-centeredness to understanding ourselves as part of a network of life, and that everything is interrelated. Once we let go of ego-centeredness and view ourselves an interdependent with the Earth and the web of life, we become a part of that interdependent network. It opens us a new relational understanding with the natural world and that God interrelated with the Earth and all life. Eco-conversion is viewing all life as God views life.
We must recover and re-connect our bodies with the Earth, the land, and other life. In fact, I would argue that all of us need to compost the Earth and the interrelatedness of all life into our spiritualities. It connects us to God’s delight in life and the Earth.
Humanity is greedy for more; consumerism without restraint drives us to want more and better things. It is not an ecological economy, but driven by corporate greed over the need of life. What is missing in many of our lives is intimacy with and delight in nature, which is linked physically and spiritually with the Earth. In his book, Home Ground, Language for an American Landscape, Barry Lopez writes,
Many American poets and novelists have recognized that something emotive abides in the land, and that it can be recognized and evoked even if it cannot thoroughly plumbed. It is inaccessible to the analytic researcher, invisible to the ironist. To hear the unembodied call of a place, that numinous voice, one has to wait for it to speak through the harmony of its features—the soughing (moaning) of the wind across it, its upward reach against a clear night sky, its fragrance after a rain.
I suggest that you take your church outside into nature. There John Muir found the beatitudes in the Sierra mountains, he found baptism in the glaciers. He practiced an ancient form of meditation, lectio divina, meditative attentiveness of scripture. Desert fathers and mothers in Egypt transferred these techniques to nature. Galileo spoke of two Bibles: the Hebrew-Christian Bible and the Bible of Nature.
Engage Nature meditatively, listen. Listening is paying attention. Pay attention to the trees, vines, plants, streams, and nonhuman animals. Petaluma is extremely blessed with enchanting and beautiful , and I am enchanted by its forests, love the Armstrong Forest, the ocean coast, the green hills and life abundant. Pay attention to the landscape and to the web of life, and I guarantee that you fall in love with the Creator’s Earth.
Mystics, conservationists, biologists, and religious founder found the divine present in nature. Moses discovered God in a burning bush and on a mountain top, the Buddha under the Bodhi tree, Jesus in the Judean wilderness, Mohammed in a cave outside of Mecca, and numerous indigenous peoples as they listened to the voices within natures and followed their spirit guides.
The Buddha discovered the interrelatedness of everything under the Bodhi Tree, and this is the foundation for Buddhist compassion for all life.
In the spirit of the Buddha’s discovery, the Engaged Thai monk, Buddhadasa, lived in a forest jungle Watt in Thailand. He writes,
The entire cosmos is a cooperative. The sun, the moon, and the stars live together as a cooperative. The same is true for humans and animals, trees, and the earth. When we realize that the world is a mutual, interdependent, cooperative enterprise… then we can build a noble environment. If our lives are not based on this truth, then we shall perish.
When I was in Thailand, I met an Abbot of a Forest Watt. When he discovered that I was not only a professor in Buddhist studies but also a Christian clergy, he shared an observation, “At the level of meditation, we agree on love.”
Jesus, in his forty days in the Judean wilderness, preached the kindom of God that was grounded in a primary ethical principle: “Be compassionate as Abba God is.” God’s compassion was directed to humanity and to the entire Earth, the web of life. If I had the time, I could explore more spiritual traditions: But the Buddha and the Christ agree: We are all interconnected with the web of life, the Earth is in us and all life.
Go out today and cherish the hills and the environment here in Petaluma. Fall in love, connect with a tree or flower, or your non-human companion animal, walk in a garden, the John Muir Forest, or canoe down the Petaluma River. If you fall in love with God’s Earth, you will share God’s delight and passion for life. Let us join together to fight for the Earth and all life. Join me as I found a green team in the UCC, let us delight in life together.