Change is Life Refusing to be Embalmed Alive’

Posted: March 15, 2023 in Uncategorized

‘Change is Life Refusing to be Embalmed Alive’

Helen Garton in her book ‘Courage to Love’ wrote: “As he went on his way he saw a woman who had been gay from birth. His disciples asked him: ‘Rabbi, whose sin caused her to be lesbian? Hers or her parents’ sin?’ Jesus answered: ’Neither she nor her parents sinned; she was born that way so that God’s work might be revealed in her. While the day lasts, we must carry on the work of God; night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world I am the light of the world.’ With these words, he spat on the ground and made a paste with the spittle; he spread it on the disciple’s eyes and immediately her pain eased and she was able to be herself.

It is a bit of a truism for sure to say that ‘nothing in life is permanent except change’. We grow up, meet new people and move to different places. We lose loved ones along the way as well. The reality is that the whole universe is alive and changing, continually co-creating new possibilities of life are always emerging. “The world is a web of changing individuals and systems and cultures and truths, interacting with, affecting, and changing each other… Change occurs from moment to moment in our daily lives as we are acted upon and act, exercising creative freedom.” A serendipitous creating ever present process. And there is a school of thought that asserts that knowing we will not stay the same from day to day, from moment to moment, “is what makes life interesting and worth living.”

We have not always thought this. Traditional western thinking, influenced by none other than Plato, saw change as equaling decay and death. And when this thinking moved into western religion, the Divine/God was seen as ‘unchanging’, existing totally apart from the changing world. Many of us sang and still do sing hymns such as: “Immortal, Invisible, God only Wise” or “You are the Lord, you Changeth Not” or “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand” but many of us no longer can sing these other than as historic songs since outdated in their theology and use of words. Many of us are of a mind to deal with the thought that the so-called ‘divine plan’ was not written in stone at the beginning? That the Divine/God works in and through the changing world as part of it or more correctly as the very process by which it exists. This question is a must for all novel, and radical ideas in western thinking and religion? Some would say it is already too late given the demise of the institutional church that we are experiencing. What is happening is that Climate Change as an outcome of human interruption of the planets systems is demanding of theology a thorough revisioning and rethinking of religion and theology? And this is more than just theism verses atheism or religion verses secularism or science verses faith. These dichotomies are stale bread in the face of the ontological argument (that relating to the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being.) and we need a new story of ‘change’ as a result.

The anonymous biblical storyteller we call John, while not a ‘modern’ in any sense of the word’,
is also faced with the need for change within his small community. So he/she invites their exploration through a story of a blind man and his estimate of Jesus’ words rather than echoing something Jesus said. As a warm up we might need to say a couple of things at the beginning.
Because both biblical scholarship and one’s integrity require it.

The first is that this story is not a media report of an actual event. The subject of the story was not a real person “but a representative symbol.” (Spong 2013:143) As Bishop John Shelby Spong suggests in his Commentary: “He stands for the members of the Johannine community, who saw themselves as having once lived in the darkness of not seeing, but having been changed when ‘the light of the world’ permeated their darkness. That light brought to them a new perspective, which relativized everything that they had once assumed was ‘truth’.” (Spong 2013:143)

The second is that this raised another problem for the community. And it was that such ‘change’ as that advocated brought with it a real taste of ‘anxiety’. Spong continues his Commentary: “Would they simply stave off the threat—[embrace the light or deny it]—and then seek to rebuild their security walls and settle into the known routines of their past, or would they step into the light and walk with courage into the unknown, exposing themselves to the new realities that living in the light always brings?” (Spong 2013:143)

We know that context is always important when looking at and listening to a story. And the context in this biblical story is change that caused a split from the Jewish synagogue. Remember that there is always contention between groups of followers. Conflict between the Jewish Johannine community and the Jewish synagogue leaders was intense. At the time of writing and at many other times also. But here in the late 1st and early second century the result was Anger. Frustration. Anxiety. Change. Denunciation. Expulsion…. “as religious defenders of the faith are prone to do.” (Spong 2013:149)

In so many words, the storyteller is quite direct…  “If the Jewish traditionalists could not move out of the past… they were choosing to live in darkness, to hide in the religious security of yesterday… to refuse to step into the new life being offered, the new consciousness that invites the world into a new and unlimited understanding of what .life is all about.” (Spong 2013:150, 151) And we know from experience that at any time change can be either a threat
or what makes life interesting and worth living

We humans, born from 14 billion years of Earth’s invention, creativity, and increasing complexity, are the ‘ultimate dream animal’. Of all Earth’s species, we are the lucid dreamer.  “Through the profound mystery of conscious self-awareness, the human reaches a depth of seeing never before achieved in the history of life; and depth of seeing is depth of being.” (De Boer 2020:1)

Put another way… We are the species that sees but doesn’t only instinctively respond to what we see. We internalize it, engage with it emotionally. We seek to find meaning in the cosmic picture; its place in life and our ‘seeing’ and ‘discerning’, is our examining of it thoroughly in minute detail and then passing it back past the cosmic picture giving it meaning and purpose in the largest picture beyond our questions. One danger of recent times is that we have not completed the discernment process preferring to not step outside the confinements of a limited experience. We have made change a negative, unwanted part of life whereas it cannot be that without cost to what it means to be human. Change has been seen as the enemy of certainty as opposed to a vital part of its creation.

Pulitzer Prize winner. Mary Oliver (1935-2019) was a well-known and much-loved poet. Her ability to ‘see’ and ‘discern’ the world in which we all live and are a part, was central to her poetry. Her creativity was stirred by nature, by wonder, by discernment, and her poems are filled with imagery from daily walks: shore birds, water snakes, the phases of the moon, and humpback whales. Of her philosophy of life another has said: “Just pay attention to the natural world around you—the goldfinches, the swan, the wild geese. They will tell you what you need to know.” (Franklin 2017)

Nature is not a thing to be known. It is a process to be lived. A poem such as “What Can I Say” invites that ‘attention’…

What can I say that I have not said before?
So I’ll say it again.
The leaf has a song in it.
Stone is the face of patience.
Inside the river there is an unfinishable story
and you are somewhere in it
and it will never end until all ends.

Take your busy heart to the art museum and the
chamber of commerce
but take it also to the forest.
The song you heard singing in the leaf when you
were a child
is singing still.
I am of years lived, so far, seventy-four,
and the leaf is singing still.

It is a privilege of being human that we are curious creatures
—remember Nicodemus of a couple of weeks ago—
with a capacity for wonder.

Mary Oliver loved to wonder while she wandered. because wonder… Opens the door to beauty, “to muse about what fascinates us”. (Gleiser 2019) It also brings us into the richness and fullness of the present. Helps us detox against the frivolous ‘influencers’ of smart phones and selfies, and it asks questions aboutendless dependent growth policies, and of theories with measurable outcomes and assumptions of betterment. It invites critical thinking not as an adjunct to life but as intrinsic within it. Process and change demands it.

By ‘seeing’ more deeply, by increasing the scope of our sensitivities, we will all come to live more deeply as mor human and we can love the way this richness of the now makes us feel. Life refuses to be embalmed alive! Amen.

Christ, C. P. She Who Changes. Re-Imaging the Divine in the World. New York. Palgrave Macmillan, 2003De Boer, K. L. “Toward a New Cultural Reverie: A Cosmological Basis for the Ecological Citizen” in Minding Nature 13, 2, 2020. <> Franklin, R. “What Mary Oliver’s Critic Don’t Understand”. The New Yorker. Books. 20 November 2017. <> 
Gleiser, M. “I Wonder as I Wander. Why we need Sacred Places” in Orbiter Magazine, Vol 54 (12 December 2019). (Accessed 21 December 2019)
Spong, J. S. The Fourth Gospel. Tales of a Jewish Mystic. New York. HarperCollins, 2013

Hunt RAE


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