The Luminous Web of Divine Connectivity…

This morning I went for my early morning walk in the warm sunshine.  Around the local creeks I wandered and enjoyed the birdsong in the creek valleys.  Diverse and beautiful, the birds sang through the morning.  The creek bubbled over rocks and also filled the valley with gentle sound.  The occasional flickering of tree branches and leaves as a gentle breeze came and went added to the symphony.  Of course the scurrying of lizards and insects and, I suspect, other wildlife added a rhythmic variety, along with my footsteps on stones, sand and leaf litter.  It was lovely to wander through the dappled sunlight that filtered through trees, ferns and bushes.  The diversity of plant life is beautiful – especially if you can turn a blind eye to the infiltration of weeds.

A walk through the local bush is a levelling experience that reminds me I am part of this beautiful world, another creature alongside the multitude of diverse and beautiful creatures that share this neighbourhood – and planet.  I am not alone and as I wandered I wondered about the connections between me and them and us.  The trees I passed and saw but couldn’t stop to really look at are fellow creatures and their existence is important to me in so many ways.  From the oxygen they release and the carbon dioxide they absorb, to the beauty they offer my life and the coolness of shade on a hot day I feel connected in some strange mystical way to these diverse creatures of different species.  I need them as they need me, us.

As I wandered and pondered I recognised the interconnectedness of things in the world; that we are all interdependent and need each other.  Recently I listened to a podcast that spoke of Quantum Entanglement, a deeply complex part of quantum physics that I don’t really understand but which fascinates me.  The speaker, Robin Meyers, is a theologian not a scientist and he put it in the simple way that he and I could understand.  What fascinated me is that physicists are developing ideas and theories and observing patterns where, at the smallest level of nature, particles that are in some way related impact each other.  Regardless of where they are in the universe if they have been related or connected in some way then the actions (decisions?) of one will instantly affect the other.  It is incredible and complex but also wonderful and probably something that most indigenous cultures have known in some way at a macro level for millennia – everything is connected and inter-related.

We know this as well.  We know about eco-systems and the relationships between creatures in a food chain.  We know that particular warm air current in one part of the world have a profound effect upon weather in another part of the world – droughts or winter snow storms.  We know that particular aerosols and hydro-carbons destroy the o-zone layer and that allows higher levels of ultra-violet radiation through and levels of melanoma and skin cancer rise.  We know that increasing levels of green-house gases affect the atmosphere and it’s ability to release heat and weather patterns are affected, including an overall warming of the earth.  We know that introducing species to control pests usually leads to worse pests – eg the Cane Toad; fox… We know that when one person in a complex set of relationships does or says something, others can be affected for good or bad.  We know that when someone in the world perpetrates an evil, there is a ripple effect that radiates out and impacts many, many more people.  We are all inter-connected and held together in a web of relationships and interdependency.

The weeks of September in many churches are a Season of Creation and this week the focus is on the cosmos, the world and the worlds beyond the world – a universe so vast and profoundly large and complex we cannot really comprehend it.  The night sky glows with stars that radiate light from impossibly large distances away and actually reveal something of the history of the universe (because it takes so long to get to us!).  The moon has a profound impact on tides and waterways and even people (and the long-observed lunacy that erupts when there is a full moon).  This week’s readings include Proverbs 8:22-31 and Colossians 1:15-20.  The first speaks of Wisdom which is described as being with God from the beginning and the source from which all things came into being.  Wisdom (or Sophia in Greek) is feminine and the ever-present reality rejoicing in the creative processes of the cosmos.  The Colossians passage speaks of the eternal Christ, often referred to as the Cosmic Christ who, again, is the ever-present reality in which all things were/are created and who holds all things together.  God is in all, around all and through all things.  This image is far from the grandfatherly figure in the sky with long white hair and beard who intervenes as necessary to tinker or fix a few things, answer some prayers but who, for most people, seems mysteriously distant or absent.   This alternate image is beautifully captured for me in a term used by Barbara Brown Taylor in her book of the same name, The Luminous Web.  God is like a luminous web that holds all things in a Divine balance that is grounded in love and wisdom.  This Luminous Web is the force, the power, the love and everything else that we know as ‘God’ and more.  It is a mystery that we cannot really comprehend in all its brilliant wonder.

The Luminous Web that is God, connects us to each other and holds all things in connected, interdependent community, a living organism of multiple species co-existent within the Divine Heart, the Luminous Web of God.  This image is similar for me to the internet, the World Wide Web, that in its wondrous mystery connects people across time and space through wires or wi-fi.  We log into web sites, facebook, twitter and other social media and send emails that connect with people near and far in quick time.  We are connected and share photos and stories, problems, pain and joy.  We send invitations and wisdom, along with simplistic nonsense, but in all we are connected and held together.  It is with far more complexity and mystery that the Luminous Web of Divine wisdom and love holds all things in the creative connectivity of interdependence and shared life.  It is wisdom alongside power, energy and love that brings forth and holds creation in energetic, life-giving embrace – the unifying impulse in all creation and the ordering force in all things.  This Luminous Web is an ordering and reconciling force that brings all creation into the heart of God and liberates all creatures to become the truly unique and beautiful expressions of life that each is created to be.  In order to achieve this deep sense of being we need the power and life of God, love and wisdom.  We also need each other and all creatures who share this planet, our beautiful home.

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By geoffstevenson

Shrewd Self-Interest…

Some years ago we were holidaying on the Central Coast on the escarpment overlooking MacMasters Beach.  The view from the house was wonderful, overlooking the bay from MacMasters to Copacabana.  On the sunny days parrots came down to eat bread off the balcony and the surf rolled in below us.  One afternoon/evening, though, the clouds grew increasingly darker until they were brilliant black and glowing in the low remnant sunlight in the distant Western sky.  They were moving fast and rolling around in violent fashion.  Suddenly great bursts of thunder rumbled through the sky and shattered the silence.  Soon powerful flashes of lightning burst through the sky over the Pacific Ocean.  Slowly at first, they built up to rapid bursts that sizzled through the black sky.  We could hear the sizzle and the smell of ozone as magnificent bursts of lighting flooded the sky with the brilliant light from the millions of volts of electricity.  These strikes were followed by roaring thunder that reverberated through everything in a display of power and might that left me feeling vulnerable and small before its magnificence.  This is the power of nature.

Whether thunder storms, cyclones, tornadoes, storms are a reminder of the power on the forces of nature – especially when out of control in all their wild fury.  It isn’t hard to understand why many ancient cultures (and more recent ones) feared the storms and worshipped storm gods in order to appease their power and seek protection.  In the Old Testament, the revelation of Yahweh, the God of Israel, was usually accompanied by the various manifestations of storms and nature’s power.  God was assumed to be the one who had the forces of nature within ‘his’ power and control – they obeyed his commands.  We see this belief echoed in some stories of Jesus controlling storms and calling nature to submit to his power.

In various ways people through history have understood God or their various forms of gods, to be revealed in the power and wonder of the world and to be in control of the breadth of nature.  Nature is a powerful witness to the wonder and mystery of life and of the Divine.  As we engage more fully with the natural world we understand the intricate and vital connections and relationships between all things.  Ecosystems, food chains, relationships between species that are mutually dependent, and the various cycles implicit and explicit within the natural world reveal the profound interconnectedness of all things.  In the midst of all this we encounter and experience the Divine in all mystery and wonder, beauty and power. We want to name, define and control God and nature and all else but as we engage more fully with the natural world we discover we can only work with these powers, this mystery.  We find ourselves in awe before the power of the world around us and before the mystery we call God.

Through September many churches are engaging in a Season of Creation whereby they reflect on the beauty, wonder and fragility of the world around us.  They hear the call for the humanity to remember our place within the whole ecosystem of life as stewards called to care for the earth and its creatures.  We are reminded of the absolute necessity of the relationships between us and all the earth.  Our spiritual, physical and emotional well-being depend upon the restoration of our relationships with the earth and its creatures.  We cannot live fully and truly if we continue to destroy the world in which we live through the abuse of environment and the destruction of ecosystems that we ultimately depend upon.  Care for the environment is not simply about leaving it alone but actively working to care for and restore the earth.  Management of forests and removal of built-up wastes through the judicious use of back-burning, for example, restores the earth and maintains its integrity.  Whatever way we look at it, the message is clear: The earth is suffering under the weight of human activity and we need to relearn the ancient practices and wisdom, even if we don’t retain the associated mythology.  The Season of Creation invites us to reflect on the wisdom literature of the ancient world and to rekindle a sense of wonder, along with the restoration of relationships with all things.

Other churches will read an intriguing story from Luke’s Gospel (Luke 16:1-13), which speaks about an unjust or dishonest steward.  This middle man for a wealthy landowner is responsible for the buying and selling of goods on behalf of the master,  He has control over the business interests in a particular region.  He takes his cut on the profits and lives it up.  Stories emerge that he is squandering the Master’s wealth and he is called in and reprimanded.  In desperation (and recognition that if he is sacked he isn’t fit to do manual labour and doesn’t want t beg), he hatches a scheme to use some of his (and perhaps the Master’s?) wealth to nurture some relationships with his master’s clients so they will look favourably upon him.  He reduces their debts significantly and they are indeed grateful and act favourably towards him.  The Master, surprisingly commends the steward for his actions and Jesus uses him as a positive example of how we might act and live.  Suffice it to say that scholars and other argue endlessly over this puzzling story and its implications.  In reality this is the only way to fully engage it – to argue and debate it within a group.

One of the clear implications within the story is that the steward, out of self-interest, acts shrewdly and reverses the nature of the relationships between himself and those who are in debt to his Master.  No longer do they relate through the power that debts imposes and implies but through mercy and even something approaching justice (even though the Steward doesn’t ever appeal to justice).  There is a more genuine relationship between him and the clients.  His shrewd desperation restores something of the relationship and he realises that relationships are more important to his future than money alone.  He uses his resources to rebalance relationships and create a positive future – which, incidentally, benefits all people involved.  This is the nature of God’s realm, a reversing of the power imbalances and a restoration of relationship between people and people.

The crossover between this story and the Season of Creation is that relationships are at the heart of our future.  If we do not see the desperate need for the restoration of relationships and learn to act shrewdly we will suffer – or continue to suffer as the earth struggles with changing climates, distorted ecosystems and the imbalance of relationships between humans and non-human creation.  The story from Luke invites us to shrewd restoration of relationships, if not for the well-being of all, then for our own self-interest that will also ultimately benefit all creation and bring peace to the earth.

By geoffstevenson

Lost and Found…

What’s it like to be lost?  I’ve been lost a few times, the usual sort of being lost where I’m driving somewhere and realise I don’t know the way.  I guess that’s what being lost is really all about – not knowing the way.  I can’t imagine what it is like for those who get truly lost – bushwalkers caught overnight in rugged bush and not knowing where they are or how to get out.  The further they walk the worse it gets until exhausted they drop and wait out the long night in the cold.  There are others who are lost in wilderness areas or deserts and unknowingly walk in circles.  When such people are lost and someone knows they are lost or there is some kind of message, search parties are sent out and much is invested in seeking out the one who is lost.  There are the stories of those lost in the Southern Ocean in damaged boats, drifting aimlessly with little or no hope.  Great time, energy and resources are spent looking for the lost person.  When they find the lost soul, there is relief and celebrating – although sometimes this is accompanied by questions, anger and frustration if that person was irresponsible…

When the lost ones are children or more vulnerable people, there is a much higher level of intensity and concern.  There is the additional helplessness in this person and everything is done to try and find them.  Such searches are heartbreaking as we listen to updates and await good news.  As hours then days go by concern, fear, anxiety and tension rise and the likelihood of finding the child alive fades.  If the person is found the rejoicing and celebration is very great.  The relief is palpable and everyone feels a sense of gratitude.  Of course much praying and focussed thought is spent in the time of searching as everything, absolutely everything is done to find the vulnerable person or child.

Lost and found are themes in our lives.  Whilst many of us may never experience such serious physical lost-ness, we do know the sense of existential lost-ness; we know what it means to feel disconnected from life or the world around or other people.  We know the times when meaning and purpose seem to have disappeared from our very existence.  Such times of grief when we come face to face with the death of someone close and our lives unravel.  What we thought was an even, steady journey through life suddenly rocks and rolls with grief and pain radiating all through us.  The stability of life is suddenly wrenched from under us and we feel helpless and lost.

A profound unsettling experience catapulted much of the Western world into a feeling of pain, helplessness and fear just 15 years ago this Sunday.  Terrorists took over commercial jets and flew them into the World Trade Centre towers in New York.  The confidence and security that people had embraced was suddenly shot through, replaced by fear and terror.  Grief and shock spread through the world, rippling out from the heart of New York.  How?  Why?  Who?  People suddenly felt lost.  That which they had believed and trusted in was shown to be powerless, even futile in the face of such determined, ruthless and evil hatred.  This new power shattered any illusions of security and stability.

In the face of such feelings of grief, struggle, fear we feel lost.  This sense of being disconnected or losing our way is also common as we engage in the changes of life and the world around us.  The things we thought were sure and safe prove themselves vulnerable and the way we thought we were travelling is uncertain – where are we going?  Does materialism and money, power and position, status and prestige offer us any surety in life?  Do these things provide direction and meaning, hope and purpose or answer the deep existential questions that confront us in life?  Do they provide answers in the face of life’s challenges and profound questions?  When everything is turned upside down and chaos pervades my existence, where can I find sustenance, meaning and direction?

These are the questions and issues that Jesus was intent on addressing in people’s lives.  Jesus was concerned to speak into the deeper meaning and purpose of human life and offer a way out of the immense feeling of being lost.  As he reached out to people of all backgrounds, people exhibiting all manner of loneliness, hurt, alienation, hopelessness, searching, grief, illness or those deluded by the cultural expectations or the pursuit of power, wealth or status, he offered a way into the heart of God.  This is the place where we find ourselves fully immersed in love, where truth and reality collide and we begin to see more clearly.  It is the place where we can ask the deepest, most painful and difficult questions.  It is the place where we begin to find our way again.

Many of Jesus’ stories are about the lost being found and the lonely, outcast or vulnerable being embraced into the faithful community of love and peace where we can discover wholeness as we journey together towards the ‘Promised Land’ of hope, and love.  This week our gospel reading (Luke 15:1-10) speaks directly into the sense of being lost.  Jesus uses simple scenarios of people losing something of value and hunting it down desperately until it is found.  There is great joy.  We know this story.  We lose things, we search and celebrate their being found.  Jesus declares that God is a searching, seeking God who comes to each of us at any and every moment of life with the welcome of a home and place to belong.  We find ourselves fully and freely welcomed into the heart of God and along with fellow pilgrims on this journey through life travel into the unfolding future.

There is a story of a bus driver who worked in London.  He was called into a meeting and told that Billy Graham the US evangelist was coming to Wembley Stadium and they needed all drivers to do extra shifts to bring people in for the rallies.  He delivered a bus load of people who thanked him and one couple invited him in.  He politely declined.  In time he moved to New York and took up a job driving a bus.  Again he was called into a meeting where they were told that Billy Graham is coming to town and everyone will need to do extra shifts to bring people in.  He delivered a bus load of people who all thanked him; one couple invited him in suggesting he’d really appreciate what Billy Graham had to say.  Again he politely declined.  Soon after he and his wife, an Australian, return to Sydney where he took up a job as a bus driver and was called into a meeting and was told Billy Graham was coming to town and all need to do extra shifts.  He delivered his group and was asked to come in and hear what God had to say.  He was about to decline when he realised that wherever he went in the world Billy Graham followed so he might as well listen to what he has to say.  That night God spoke to his heart and mind and he discovered what he had been yearning for, for some time.  He found his way into God’s heart.

By geoffstevenson

The Life For Which We Yearn…

Jim Wallis is an evangelical Christian who champions social justice and radically inclusive love and is the author of several books.  One was about ‘God’s Politics’ and challenged both sides of the political divides in the US to embrace radical alternatives that cared for the poor and vulnerable both at home and overseas.  He called for true justice and integrity.  On his national book tour he was surprised to discover hundreds of young people turning up.  Typically he had never had such large interest in these talks and signings.  He wondered why?  Why did hundreds of people, predominantly young adults, come to venues all across the country to hear this message that was radical, challenging and confronting?  Why did they come out to hear words that called them out of comfortable, mostly middle-class lives into a way that invited them to turn their backs on the myth of accumulation and security through having more money, possessions and personal power?  Come they did and lapped it up.

Wallis began to talk these young people and ask questions.  What he discovered surprised him: these young people wanted something worth living and dying for!  They wanted their lives to embrace something meaningful and important, something greater than themselves and the individualistic lives of their parents.  They wanted to journey into a place that would create a better world, a more just and caring world.  They were attracted to the idea of a community of people sharing life together and becoming a transformative community in the world.  They were fed up with the false promises of leaders and politicians who never seemed to change or offer anything new.  They saw through their parent’s fixation with money, possessions, lifestyles, ambition and security and wanted something else that would touch their deep yearnings and confront the ongoing problems and issues of the world all around them.

Wallis’ message was nothing new, just a modern interpretation of the essential message of Jesus and his call to live the life of radical love and justice.  He proclaims the joy and deep sense of living that comes from shucking of the things that enslave us and journeying into the freedom of God.  This is truly something worth living and dying for, the message and radical love that will transform the world as it has done time and again.

I thought of this when I read the harsh words of Jesus in this week’s gospel (Luke 14:25-33).  In it Jesus speaks of hating parents, siblings and other family members.  He even speaks of hating one’s own life.  It seems shocking and surprising as we hold together the notion of love and Jesus’ talk of hate.   Family have an almost sacred appeal to many people.  To others family is a bondage that wounds spirit, mind or body or directs their lives into paths that are respectable but life-denying.  I remember the movie, ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ in which an English teacher offered young men in a private English boy’s school a vision of who they could be.  He used poetry and literature to open their minds to possibilities, to life and to a community that journeyed together and supported one another to be.  The young men were under extreme pressure to conform to the images of their parents – especially their fathers.  One was expected to become a doctor, another a lawyer and so on.  The pressure to work hard and conform, to fulfil expectations and maintain the way of the family was intense.  As one young man was encouraged to follow his deepest passion as an actor, he found a life that gave him joy, meaning and renewed purpose.  Each day was an adventure and he was filled with life and energy.  His first major role gave him the most wonderful sense of fulfilment – he knew that this was what he was created for!  He didn’t want to be the doctor, lawyer or whatever his driven father wanted him to be.  This led to deep conflict and his father forbade him to continue acting.  As the young man sought to follow his passion and calling he came into deeper conflict with his family and there was division.  For the father there was shame and anger as his son chose a ‘lesser life’.

This is the sense of Jesus’ words.  In a culture where family was paramount, anything that went against the father’s will was shameful.  To follow Jesus would bring people into conflict with strict family cultures that could be binding and restrictive.  For a Jewish person in Luke’s world to become a Christian would be to renounce the family’s tradition and faith.  Such an action would be considered deeply shameful and hateful.  Therefore Jesus’ words are about the reality of people breaking out from the strictures of family, culture, expectation and even nationalism to walk in the new way of God that is life-giving, transformative, inclusive, communal and radically grounded in love and justice.  He warns that putting anything before God’s way will not deliver the life God promises.  If we think that having enough money or power, status… is more important than following God, we will settle for a distant second.  If we put anything before God and God’s way we will be choosing something else and something that Jesus claims to be inferior to the life and joy that comes only in God.

This week we also read Psalm 139, which is a profound reminder of the presence of God that is everywhere present and holds us in the deepest grace. God is present in our conception and formation in the womb, knows us intimately and loves us more profoundly than we can ever fathom.  Nowhere we go can separate us from God’s presence or love and nothing we do or think or say can stop God loving us!  I find this psalm profoundly affirming and beautiful.  It invites me to ponder where life is truly and deeply to be found.  Theologian Paul Tillich describes God as the ground of all being which resonates with the words attributed to the Apostle Paul in Acts 17, where he is claimed to have said to the people of Athens that ‘God is the One in whom we live and move and have our being’.

This notion that God is the very essence of what life is about and the One who holds life and energises, inspires and nurtures its very being is profound and invites us to reflect on Jesus’ words more deeply.  If God is the source, sustainer and essence of life   then we would do well to put the way of God before all else.  Our security, hope and joy will be found essentially within God!  We will discover the truest expression of who we are within God and the community that surrounds us on this journey into deeper, richer living.  The way of God may bring us into conflict with family, culture, nation, ambition… when the values of love, justice, inclusive community, mercy, hope and life for all are compromised.   We may face the choice of two different paths.  Jesus warns us to consider the cost of following his way – is this the life we want?

By geoffstevenson