When Groaning Transforms…

Do you groan? I wonder what the source and content of your groaning is?  What is the groaning of your deepest inner yearning? Or the groaning of cringe as you live, listen, and experience the variety of people, ideas, views and culture around you?  What is your groaning?

Sometimes I groan about things that are really superficial and irrelevant.  I get tired or anxious or caught up in the stress of life and little things seem to annoy me and become larger than necessary.  I can’t let them pass by and I groan!  I groaned the other day when I was watching Josh play soccer and one of his team was shoved in the back by an opposition player but the ref chose to let it go.  I groaned out loud (possibly it was more than a groan!!??)!  I also groaned when passes went astray or goals were missed.  I groan when some of our leaders open their mouths to change feet in public.  I groan when I hear propaganda that seems to be swallowed by a naïve public, the typical propaganda that surrounds the environment, war and conflict, people of other cultures, Aboriginal Australia…

This groaning grows in intensity at various levels of disbelief or despair that I feel when confronted by issues I can’t believe or change.  There are things that cause deep and painful groaning that I cannot contain.  This is a desperate groaning filled with an aching longing and hopelessness that I cannot assuage.  It is a deep groaning that often fails to find expression in appropriate words – there are none.  When I sit before deep pain that is unjust and uncontainable I feel the rise of a groaning within that is too deep for words.  It sits there and bubbles up in undifferentiated forms that are filled with images and thoughts. Here words simply do not come close to holding the reality and clumsily skirt around edges as they try to give some form or structure.

It is in these moments that the form of prayer is the offering of images or feelings or of simply sitting in the Presence of Mystery and Life and giving up the overwhelming feelings.  The Spirit, says Paul, gathers these feelings and holds them profoundly before the Presence of Love.  The Spirit groans in prayers more deeply expressed than our souls, minds and tongues can utter.  These longings, this groaning is held in the Heart of God with a profound gentleness and reverence.

Does this change anything?  In the world,  perhaps not, well certainly not always.  The ugly, evil acts continue to roll along and perpetrators aren’t always found or dealt with.  It can feel deeply pathetic and useless.  Injustice and evil prevail and all we have is our deep inner groaning, expressing the desperate pain or sadness that pervades our being.

I wonder, though, whether there isn’t a change in the world – certainly in me.  When my deep groaning is embraced into Grace and held at the Heart of Love, isn’t there an intimate knowing of my life, my hopes, my fears?  Isn’t there an intimate knowing of all that I am and of the deep pain of life that I feel in my being.  Isn’t this feeling connected to the pain in the One who holds everything in gentle grace?  I ponder the words of Paul in Romans 8 (one of the readings for this Sunday – Season of Creation).  He says that all creation groans with eager longing for its redemption, its emergence into new life.  The weight of futility is heavy and creation yearns for deliverance and salvation, healing and peace.  So do we!!

The created order awaits emergence from the long spell of dry and lifeless struggle.  It is like the world of winter bleakness and cold, of leafless trees and hibernating animals, that emerges in Spring to new life in the warming sun and longer days.  There is emergence from the place of longing into the hoped-for fulfilment of new life.

The in-built cycles and seasons of nature offer images and metaphors for the world finding new fulfilment and hope in emerging new life – redemption, healing, salvation are other words used for this restorative process.  There is a natural equilibrium, a homeostasis that brings balance and stability to life and systems.  When this balance is pushed too far, we find ourselves groaning, more and more deeply, yearning for restoration of our hope.  The earth is being pushed too far and we feel it in our bones.

The earth needs to breathe and find rest under the weight of human occupation and development.  It groans and as it does, so do we!  We groan deeply and longingly as we find ourselves alienated from creation and feel the weight of homeostasis out of balance.  We feel the crisis in our bones, even if not in our conscious minds.  There is heaviness to our being, to life in our small world.  Distractions keep this gnawing heaviness beyond our conscious recognition for only so long.

Creation groans, even as we do, for redemption, for release, for life in all its rich hope and promise.  The calling of nature invites us into relationship with the earth and its creatures.  The Judeo-Christian (and Islamic) traditions invite us into relationship with the world as stewards and carers, gardeners in the garden of the world to maintain its integrity and beauty.  God invites us to own our calling as co-creators in this new, emerging world, the evolving world where there are critical issues, deep groaning and longing hope.

As co-creators we work in the power of the Spirit of God, in co-operation with each other and in deep concern, care and connection with the earth itself to bring healing and life for all people.  These few weeks of the Seasons of Creation remind us that life is communally lived and we need one another.  In place of suspicion and condemnation there needs to be developed, a trust and relational experience through conversation, listening and sharing food.  In our church at the moment are a few paintings that portray a chalice. This is a metaphor for Grace in our midst, of hospitality, sharing, of a cup that holds our pain and offers new wine of God’s Kingdom.  As I looked at it today it seemed that this chalice was the vessel that reached out to hold my groaning, along with the groaning of the world and draw it into the Divine Heart to be shared back in celebratory wine of God’s Love.

I thought of the other passages that will be read this week, especially the one that speaks of the provision of quail and manna to those in the wilderness.  There was enough to sustain the people for each day, a generous abundance of love and grace, a chalice filled to the brim with transformed groaning and new wine!

By geoffstevenson

Relational Community in God

Recently I found a patch of sunlight and greedily sat in it absorbing its warmth and feeling the brightness and wonder of this warming light.  I took off my shoes and walked barefoot across the grass, still moist from recent rain.  Grass and patches of wet earth squelched between my toes and the cool freshness was wonderful.  I stopped and looked around at the flowers and plants, the sunny sky and was filled with a sense of connected peace.

There is something about touching the earth, feeling it beneath our feet and realising that we belong, not just to a great earth-covered sphere floating in the universe, but to this patch of dirt.  In a culture where economics defines our perceptions and motives, a piece of dirt is about economic ownership, investment, security… Somehow I seem removed from a more fundamental, essential reality that this piece of dirt is a connection with the earth and holds a sacred reality within it.  I have trouble looking beyond the boundary fences as I try to secure my possessions behind lock and key.  I speak in terms of legal ownership as if land can really be reduced to a pure legal or economic reality.  When I stand on the moist grass with the sun on my face I am aware that the sun, the breeze, the clouds, the rain and everything below the soil transcends my ownership and boundaries.  I realise that in many ways I am alienated from land, from nature, from various people and peoples and ultimately from God.  This alienation ebbs and flows such that there are moments of deep connection and moments of separated division or conflict.  In our modern society it is easy to segregate ourselves off from the natural world as we thrive on cityscapes or as tourists observing the world through glass.  The touch of the earth, the sun and gentle breeze are mediated through sterile attempts to recreate nature in our midst, all the while maintaining our distance and seeking comfort.

Our modern world induces a false sense of security as we are led to believe all we need is the material luxuries that fill our homes and overlay the space where dirt, raw and rich, once held sway.  We are amused by the images of people who live off land and engage with the natural world in the most fantastic ways – we endlessly watch them from the comfort and safety of our TV sets.  Hence, we refuse to believe the science of Climate Change, or if we do, deny its impact is worse than the economic doom and gloom that we are told will happen with measures to control and limit carbon emissions. We fail to grasp the crises that threaten the natural world or how our greedy extraction of every mineral and other resource from the earth threatens current and future generations.

The importance of land in the disputes that trouble our world is highly misunderstood, whether in Palestine, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and even Australia.  We cannot comprehend that Aboriginal Australians feel disconnected from their homes and the sacred places of their land.  We don’t know or understand their stories, their culture or their acute sense of land and how it impacts their sense of being.  We are disconnected from the earth in these ways and don’t share the history of attachment to land.  We can only own it and make it yield to our desires and power.

It is hard to comprehend the bitter hatred that exists between peoples who inhabit similar land, such as Palestine.  It is unfathomable to me to understand how deep are the sentiments of hatred that result in murder and mayhem – all because of the desire for exclusive land ownership.  Such is the depth of alienation despite sharing some sense of belonging to a particular patch of dirt.

One of our readings from the Seasons of Creation this week comes from Genesis 3:14–19; 4:8–16.  These passages are often taken as prescriptively speaking about sin, guilt, punishment and even original sin.  Alternatively, Rabbi Jonathan  Sacks suggests that Genesis 3 ‘is about the essential connection between mortality, individuality and personhood… It is also about otherness… and the otherness of the other.’  It isn’t until Eve is understood as a unique individual and named, ‘Eve’ rather than as part of a species, ‘woman’ and man receives his name, Adam, and they become known – by one another and God.  Sacks says, ‘Love is born when we recognise the integrity of otherness.  This is the meaning of love between people.  It is the meaning of love between us and God.  Only when we make space for the human other do we make space for the divine Other.  God created the world to make space for the otherness that is us.’

The stories speak to the realities of life – the difficult nature of daily grind in work; the painful reality of childbirth; the alienation between the earth and humans which results in struggle.  These stories speak to the alienation we feel in the world as we know it when the otherness of Divine-human relationships is denied or ignored or when we reject the unique otherness of one another.  Such rejection or isolation into our individual existence prevents the intimate knowing that brings liberation and life to the man and the woman.  Knowing and being known is a powerful and scary place and so many reject it implicitly and we hide ourselves as with the man and woman who hid naked in the garden.

When we refuse to acknowledge the otherness of each person and define ourselves and others through generic labels we nurture and experience alienation.  This existential alienation begins with unknowing, the unwillingness to be vulnerable before each other and embrace one another into a community of relationship.  The Hebrew story of creation speaks of being created into a relationship of God, described as ‘we’.  It is into this image of relational, creative and loving community that we find our existential reason for being.  When we deny this reality and the deeper reality of God in our midst, the source of life and all being, we find ourselves alienated and in conflict – with ourselves, one another, the earth and God.  In this alienated state we are capable of inhumane acts of violent hatred, abuse of power and greedy accumulation because we do not recognise unique personhood in one another – only generic labels.

In our acts of rebellion and individual self-gratification we are disconnected and lose our sense of belonging, of peace and ultimately of truth and life.  This Biblical story is one of finding our way back into relationship with the God who seeks us.

By geoffstevenson

Peace Across the Earth

In the funerals I have conducted over the last few weeks I have been reminded of the simple but significant words that come at the end of the service.  It is the part where we commit the ‘body to the elements, which are gentle to us at the time of our death.  Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, in the cycle of life and death the earth is replenished and life is eternally renewed.’  For the most part these important words are lost in the reality of grief and the sadness of letting go.  The physical presence of our being returns to the earth from where it came and is absorbed back into the soil, the earth, the universe.  The atoms of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and the various other elements and compounds that are us, are released into the universe of which we are part.  These atoms return to build new entities, new life and to become the substantial matter of the earth and the universe.

There is a gentleness in laying a body to rest, a sacredness in cremating or burying a body.  In the rawness of the moment we often miss this deep reality, its peacefulness and participation in recreation and renewal.  More than that, this act is a recognition of our oneness, our unity with the earth – we are creatures of the earth, formed from the dust and constituted from earth’s matter.  Of course we are more than that, our essential being consists of more than a body but our existence in this realm of time-space is one of a bodily, physical reality.  We are deeply connected to other living creatures, both animal and vegetable.  We share much common genetic information with other creatures and of course we share the basic elements of physical being – atoms and compounds of the earth.

There is a beauty in the earth that touches us. We are called into the presence of such beauty, whether in the garden, the beach, the bush and forest or the infinity of vistas and experiences of earthly beauty and wonder.  The sun on our backs warms us in body and spirit.  The gentle breeze on a hot day is cooling.  The rain that refreshes the earth is welcomed, especially in those dry regions that depend on water for crops.  Our lives are enriched by creatures that share our gardens or animals that share our lives.  We feel more deeply connected when we walk barefoot on the earth or stand beneath the awe of the night sky.

We are of the earth and the ancient stories of many cultures, like that of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters and the ancient Hebrews whose story we hold dear, remind us that we are derived from the earth.  We are created in love from the earth and God has breathed life into us – earth/dust and Spirit.

Yet, in our daily life our connection to the earth and dependence upon its fruits, its cycles of seasons and nature and air, water and heat are ignored or rejected.  We seem to do everything we can to deny our dependence.  We control our climate through air conditioning.  We control the course and flow of rivers to suit our aesthetic and practical needs.  We control the resources in the ground and place high economic import upon them.  Greed and economic desperation drive our extraction of minerals and other resources beyond our capacity to truly appreciate and use them.  It is more important to get them out of the ground, now, and yield an economic return for them despite what this does to the earth or how this impacts the future generations.

We are disconnected from the earth and think little of it.  We do not see ourselves as part of the beauty, wonder and diversity of the earth but as separate and above, beyond it.  We are sadly deceived and when we look more deeply at our lives the disconnection reveals itself in alienation and a sense of cosmic despair.  If we do not find ways to engage with life on this planet in the course of our living, something within us stagnates, withers and dies.  We are made for relationship with one another and with the earth and its creatures.  We find a deep sense of oneness, peace and sacred reality when we are connected to people, animals, plants and the earth itself.  A walk in the bush amidst the splendour and wonder of trees and other vegetation, birdlife and other creatures we encounter is renewing.  A walk on the beach or a swim in the ocean, a climb up a mountain or a journey through the wilderness all fill our minds and beings with wonder and renewed life and vitality.

This is how it should be but sadly isn’t in our sophisticated efforts to distance ourselves from the commonality and simplicity of the earth and it creatures.  Our clamour for power and wealth is the surest route to alienation of our beings from one another, from creation, from ourselves, as spirit and psyche are separated from body, and from the Creator who is omnipresent within and through all life.

Over these four weeks we will explore the seasons of creation and contemplate the earth and our deep connection with the earth.  We will remember the sacredness of life, of creation and of the One in whom all life has its being.

This week we have two beautiful passages from Psalm 139:(7-12) 13-16 and Acts 17:22-28.  These two wonderful passages point us to God as One in whom we live and move and have our being, an omnipresent God who never leaves us but is constantly in and through and around us.  This God is the essence of our very living and connects the sacredness of creation and the earth with humanity.  We live in God and we cannot go anywhere that God isn’t.  We are known in God, in our best, our worst, our questions, our certainty, everything is known and loved in God.  This is a source of humility and grace.  We can stop, breathe and relax in God because we do not have prove or defend ourselves.  The alienation we feel through division, suspicion, hatred and conflict finds healing and peace in God and we are enabled to live peaceably with one another and the earth.  This is the reality of God’s Reign, that we do not have to continue to fight or live in alienated isolation.  We can find ourselves and live in a unity of being that embraces all life and creation into our embrace that is tender, gentle and nurturing.  The earth and its resources are for the well-being of the planet, not just the few, rich enough to exploit people, systems and economics to make a profit and accumulate wealth.

The earth is the Lord’s and all in it!  Let us live in peace with all creation.


By geoffstevenson