March 8, 2020 – Falling in Love Outward

Text:  Exodus 3:1-15

The poet, Robinson Jeffers, said, it’s quite possible to fall in love outward without hating inward. His words invites us to expand our horizon beyond our limited boundaries. Falling in love with the world is not only good for the soul, but also fulfilling our calling as Christians. For, we believe in God who so loved, and is still loving the world.

One of the biggest mistakes Christianity made was to draw a distinction between what’s spiritual and what’s material. The well-known Christmas carol, Joy to the World, sums it up: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King.” (I love singing good old hymns, but that doesn’t mean that I agree with the theologies behind the hymns.) It assumes that the earth is in deep trouble needing outside help. The God of transcendence comes to rescue the sinful world. The earth has a passive role to play – to receive the King as its ruler and saviour. In this theology, we don’t have to be participants in creation but to be spectators of what God does for us. Dualism begets a hierarchical structure, which accepts the power imbalance between God and the world, heaven and earth, human and nature, men and women, the rich and the poor, and the list goes on. It is here in dualism we can find a root cause of any form of oppression whether it’s sexism, racism, ableism, ageism or homophobia. In our relationship with the rest of creation, a dualistic worldview gave the church permission not to be concerned about earth, and what’s happening to it. Conventional faith has informed Christians that they are good to go as long as their personal relationship with God is safe and sound. A personalized spirituality, although it may bring comfort and peace on a personal level, can’t solve the global crisis facing all of us, economic inequality and climate crisis, both of which share the same root cause – individualism and capitalism. To put it more bluntly, any spirituality without a communal aspect can be a threat to our world because such spirituality still assumes the individual right to consume and to own anything – money, property, resources or land – without considering the creation as a whole.

The global crisis demands a new theology based on communal spirituality. We all belong to the earth which is the body of God. It supports, delights, nurtures and sustains us. Redefining our place in the grand scheme of things is like playing a jigsaw puzzle. When thousands of pieces remain as individuals we have no clue. But once we see how each piece is related to other pieces, we can begin to see a bigger picture, and we can put them back in place. Each piece has its own meaning and beauty in relation to the whole. No one can thrive alone. Spirituality is not about a one-on-one relationship with God, but about growing in relationship with others, including God and the natural world. Climate change proves that individualism is harmful, and that independence is a lie. We have learned that interdependence is much closer to our nature, and that interconnectedness – seeing oneness in all things – is our ultimate goal.

Stan McKay, Cree elder and former moderator explains a cycle of human life with a medicine wheel. From the time we were born and throughout the early childhood, we learned to depend on others completely. In this period, no one could survive by themselves. Gradually, we learned to say no, and we started to learn to be independent throughout our youth and young adult years. We then enter into a time when we learn to be interdependent. We live by giving and receiving. Eventually, we find ourselves in relation to everything else, and we learn the interconnectedness of everything.

Such awareness doesn’t come to us overnight nor does it come to us naturally with aging. I believe, however, anyone can achieve this stage of life with love as defined by Iris Murdoch, the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real. Such love is born out of I-Thou relationship. Nothing or no one exists as an object. Instead, all are welcomed, celebrated and affirmed as they tell of God. In this encounter, we stay open to the mystery with endless possibilities for transformation. That is, even the bunnies I see in my backyard and the stray cat in my neighbourhood tells me something of God.

For Moses, it is the burning bush that is telling him of God’s glory. The bush is not a commodity. It manifests God. I am particularly interested in how they meet. It’s like two lovers finally find their partners. The bush start sending a sign of love by burning but not being consumed. Moses doesn’t miss the sign. He stops what he is doing, tending the sheep, and comes close to the bush to pay attention. The bush depends on Moses’ curiosity in order to communicate. Moses depends on the mystic beauty of the bush in order to change his life. He has come to realize where he truly belongs – it’s not the geographical location but his relationship with God and creation. Moses experiences conversion from isolation to community, from confusion to clarity, from indifference to compassion. This encounter enables Moses to find a path to interconnectedness. That’s why the place he is standing is holy ground. The Bible doesn’t give us details as to how this encounter made an impact on Moses throughout his life journey. But I like to imagine that Moses treasured his experience of the burning bush so much so that even facing his mortality he remembered how his journey was unfolding from the mountain of God. Though Moses was never able to enter the land God promised to give his people as he was only able to see it from a distance, his legacy has continued to live on.

The life of Moses reminds me of a nurse log I saw when I was on the West Coast. Nurse logs are lying-down trees that having lived several hundred years as standing trees and are now into a second career as homes for other trees. The body of the nurse log provides a warm, nutrient-rich birthplace for young saplings of all sorts to grow. It is not just seeds from the nurse tree that grow on it, but anything and everything. All are welcome! The nurse log can live another several hundred years as the giver of new life from its body. A new tree stretches its roots around the nurse log and still retains this odd position after the nurse log disappears. With the hole between its roots, it is a visible sign of the invisible tree that nurtured it. What is living and what is dead? Life and death are intertwined.

The way of a nurse log was the way Moses lived his life, and has continued to live even after death through the next generations. That is the way of Jesus and of the life he calls us to live. We are called to live like a forest. No one can ultimately own anything. We are to live off one another, and to support and care for each other. Turns out, falling in love outward is our highest calling.

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1 “RJ to Frederic I. Carpenter” from The Collected Letters of Robinson Jeffers, with Selected Letters of Una Jeffers: Volume One, 1890-1930.

2 Sallie McFague, “Eath Economy: A Spirituality of Limits”, 2010 Reflections, A Magazine of Theological and Ethical Inquiry from Yale Divinity School.