The Living Earth!

Posted: September 23, 2020 in Uncategorized

The Living Earth!

Exodus 17: 1-7

Water from the Rock

From the wilderness of Sin, the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ So, Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’

How often do we take for granted the significance of rivers in our lives? How often do we as New Zealanders stand at the riverbank, be it in the bush or in the city and almost feel the gentle or the awesome power and the wonder of the river. There is something about a river that seems to offer a connection to all the emotions, hope, fear, comfort and alienation. The river is beautiful, even those that seem to go by with the bottom on the top in their colour and density. The debri and the loose land that travels to the ocean and the life-giving fruit of the precipitation cycle. Rivers reflect our very own life cycle as a living event in the time and space world.

Most of us as New Zealanders live within a few kms of a river, on a group of islands in the Southern Ocean. We take for granted the living moving source of dynamic, creativity that we live within and we are slowly awakening to the fact that everything we do for ourselves has an effect on that creativity and on the outcome of that creativity. We are also slowly growing aware that every thing we as individuals do contributes to that change. We are beginning to understand that what is sacred is less about what we have and more about what we do. That to live life with a living planet we need to see the depth of the relationship we have with it rather than how we live on it.

One of the reasons New Zealanders enjoy rivers is that we find there a beauty that seems primal and life-enhancing.

To stand in a bush stream with the sun’s light

dancing through the overhanging leaves.

To feel the gentle cold trickle of life

as it passes by one’s ankle shimmering in sunlit movement

as it welcomes and leaves one’s legs,

the sound of its intent flickering bright

In sound it becomes intimate

in its promise of life

and in its leaving for bigger things.

Our ears moved by its beautiful cadence

at once to hear its beauty and lose it contrite

to the life of its purpose, beyond, downhill and ocean bound,

a promised return in its song.

Suppose it dried up tomorrow?

Why should I care as I cannot swim?

Its here today and gone tomorrow and will come again aright.

Who needs the river they say

Can they be serious?

dry up the rivers

and there wouldn’t be anybody around to miss them

for without the river, there would be no life – alright!

It doesn’t matter where on Earth we live because everyone is utterly dependent on the existence of that lovely, living water be it saltwater or fresh water.
And here’s the important rub. There may be plenty of water in the universe without life,
but nowhere is there life without water…’ ‘No blue, no green.’ So, in line with today’s Season of Creation theme of ‘Rivers’ we might reflect that we are living in a scientific, pluralistic age.

And unless we have been living with heads in the sand, we will also be aware of the current universal debates about how our modern life-style is harming other creatures, diminishing the functioning of ecosystems, and altering our global climate patterns. It could be claimed that the very planet is in peril, at least of the extinction of the species that inhabit it. If all of creation is suffering then it would be fair to say that rivers are in danger within their cycle.  The oceans that rivers depend upon are drowning in plastic pollution and that must affect the cycle. The deforestation of the land that is in huge swathes in places taking place, invade the cycle to deposit additional soil into the cycle that changes the constitution of the water and again affects the cycle of renewal and refreshment of the land mass.

While rivers pale into insignificance when faced with the global volume of the aceans and science informs us that approximately 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by ocean. As a continuous body of water, the ocean is a mass that is required through a smaller mass of rivers to feed the land and all the species that depend on their relationship with the land. Rivers are crucial lifeline in the cycle of life.

Rivers are a part of the oceans effect on the biosphere. In that oceanic evaporation is a phase of the water cycle, and thus they are part of the source of most rainfall and along with ocean temperatures they determine both climate and wind patterns that affect life on land. Rivers are primary distributors of life in that they are a crucial part of the life cycle.

Rex Hunt tells an indigenous Australian story from the Yuin Nation from the South Coast of New South Wales, that goes like this:

“Grandmother Moon, she comes up and shines down her light upon us.  She pulls the tides of the sea. She has that much strength she can pull water up into the sky and hold it, until it’s time to water her garden, Mother Earth. Mother Earth, Father Sky, Grandmother Moon and Grandfather Sun have the major roles to play in all life. “Water is connected to Mother Earth and to Father Sky. Water is also connected to Grandmother Moon, as she can lift the water and drop it down through Father Sky. Mother Earth then takes the water and she distributes it through rivers, streams and lakes. Father Sky holds many stories; through time he has led the way water for us to navigate over water and land. He’s there for us, he helps us find our way.”

For the people of the Yuin Nation the ocean is called Gadu – “the source of all waters that bring life to Mother Earth.” (Morgan & Garrett 2018:70-71,74)

Rex Hunt quotes a Bill McKibben author and founder of the environmental organizations Step It Up and 350.Organd was considered one of the first to warn of the dangers of global warming. He raises some interesting and challenging points that I think are pertinent to our theme today. They are as follows; “The oceans… are distinctly more acid and their level is rising; they are also warmer, which means the greatest storms of our planet, hurricanes and cyclones, have become more powerful” (McKibben 2010:45).

At the same time research is showing the earth’s ice caps and glaciers are melting with “disconcerting and unexpected speed.” (McKibben 2010:45) We have already raised the temperature nearly a degree Celsius. “…the ocean is more acid than anytime in the last eight hundred thousand years, and at current rates by 2050 it will be more corrosive than anytime in the past 20 million years.” (McKibben 2010:10)

And again. Name a major feature of the earth’s surface and you’ll find massive change.” (McKibben 2010:5) And perhaps the most challenging quote “The earth that we knew – the only earth that we ever knew – is gone.”  (McKibben 2010:27)

It is fair to say that what all this means is that we can be numbed by all the figures and percentages. We can say the scientists are probably overstating our woes. And we can accept that the anticipated future can be paralysed by our fears. Indeed, it’s hard to brace ourselves “for the jump to a new world when we still, kind of, live in the old one… We’re so used to living with a philosophy of growth and linear progress that we can’t imagine alternatives; at best we embrace the squishy sustainable, with its implied claim that we can keep on as before.” (McKibben 2010:102)

But is it all doom and gloom? Does the fact that we have permanently lost ground in our relationship with the planet mean that there is no hope, that extinction of the species is immanent and not changeable. McKibben himself is not all negative and alarmist about this He does offer some suggestions – some words or metaphors – for change. And those five words are: Durable, Sturdy, Stable, Hardy, Robust. He suggests that for of us it means reshaping our society:

• from big to smaller,

• from growth to maintenance,

• from expansion to scale down,

• from global to neighbourhood.

But will we do this when it seems we will lose something we think we have gained? Human beings, especially in the so-called ‘West’, have historically been reluctant to consider themselves as part of the web of nature. Even as a web within a web has been difficult to grasp. And when it comes to countries even clean green New Zealand has been found wanting. Look at our waste. Look at our land development.

Governments since the early 1990s have all adopted a strategy of more-or-less do little to nothing at home and work hard to prevent others from taking major action.

So there has been an encouragement of community apathy. Time will tell whether or not as a result of Covid-19 governments will take the opportunity to change direction enough to halt the destructive process.

If our biblical tradition in its historical expression suggests anything, human beings are part of nature. The problems come when Christians – usually fundamentalists – claim that the mythical stories of Genesis 1 and 2, are more ‘true’ or more ‘factual’ than science and evolution. So in many quarters there is a raging attack on ‘progressive’ religion:

• from fundamentalists who don’t believe one can accept evolution and be religious, and

• from the ‘new atheists’ who caricature all people of religion as fundamentalists. (Michael Zimmerman The Clergy Letter Project, 22/5/2010).

But modern science is saying and has been saying, again and again: the universe must be regarded as a whole; It is of intrinsic value, and each part, galaxy, organism, individual atom, participates in that intrinsic value as each part participates in this wonderful web of life. Each part… rather than one species or organism separating itself out as more important than the rest. It is time for radical change.  It is urgent. To recall the words of a long-haired, locust eating desert sage: ‘The axe is at the root of the tree.’

As we face this election the demand needs to be that we live differently. And that demand is for a paradigm shift in who we think we are.  (McFague 2008:44)

And to finish with another quote; Let us see ourselves and rivers as part of the “whole complex, interrelated and interacting unitary universe of matter-energy in space-time, a universe of which humans are an integral part…” (Gillette 2006:1) Amen.

Gillett, P. R. “Theology of, by, and for Religious Naturalism” in Journal of Liberal Religion 6, 1, 1-6. (An online journal), 2006
Hamilton, C. Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change. Melbourne. Black Inc, 2007
Morgan, J.  & G. Garrett.  On The Edge: A-Way with the Ocean. Reservoir. Morning Star Publishing, 2018
McFague, S. A New Climate for Theology. God, the World, and Global Warming. Minneapolis. Fortress Press, 2008.
McKibben, Bill. Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. Melbourne. Black Inc., 2010
Peters, K. E. Dancing with the Sacred. Evolution, Ecology, and God. Harrisburg. Trinity Press International, 2002

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