Rev Ingrid Brown ‘The Earth is Sacred’ Sunday April 2nd

gilakas’la / čɛčɛ haθɛč,

I respectfully acknowledge that I live, work, play, and pray within the traditional territory of the K’ómoks Nation

I have a reading from thousands of years ago – from the book of Job, who was trying to make sense of great loss in his life.

  • Job 12: 7-11
  • If you want to learn,
  • Then ask the animals, and they will declare it to you;
  • Query the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
  • The fish in the sea will recount it for you.
  • Ask the plants of the earth and they will teach you.
  • Any of them can tell you who God is.
  • Every living thing is held in the hands of God,
  • The breath of every person is breathed by Them.

The second reading comes from the famous novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky in “The Brothers Karamazov” (19th Century)

  • Love all God’s Creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it.
  • Love every leaf,
  • Every ray of light.  Love the animals, love the plants, love everything.
  • If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things…
  • When you are left alone, pray.  Love to throw yourself on the earth and kiss it.
  • Kiss the earth and love it with an unceasing, consuming love.

How do you think the world might be different if we lived this truth each day?  If we lived with reverence for the earth, trusting that the natural world all around us would teach us what we needed to know, that the voice of the Creator would come through all that has been created, and that it is all inherently sacred?

In preparation for this teaching and exploring together, I have been revisiting some of what I learned and picking up more about Celtic Christianity which really is this beautiful amalgamation of what some might call paganism or earth based spirituality, and Christianity.  I have also been leaning into some of the earliest Christian writers who pushed against doctrines that are now fairly widely accepted – reopening some of my church history texts, turning, especially to Irenaeus – a Greek priest who taught mostly in Gaul – France in today’s geography – and who was in this back and forth discourse with others of his time.  He was alive in the late second century and one of the things he pushed back against was this idea that God created everything out of nothing – the phrase is creatio ex nihilo.  

Irenaeus taught against this saying that the universe is born out of the “substance” or the “Stuff” of God – not out of nothing, therefore the whole universe, and every thing in it, is sacred, holy, not neutral.

This was carried along and became a core tenant of Celtic expressions of Christianity – the vision of earth’s sacredness which ultimately is a challenge to imperial power – one of my favourite things.  Any ruling empire doesn’t want the people or the matter, the stuff of the earth, to be understood as sacred, because then people and planet – bodies of all kinds cannot just be used and exploited.

So Iranaeus taught – in the late 100s – taught that we must be reawakened to the body of the universe as sacred.  Not awakened to, right?  Reawakened.  He asserted, and I love this – that it is a truth we all hold within us.

Think for a moment of what many of us do when we hold a newborn baby?

What do we do?  (takes a deep sniff) – we inhale, we revere, we have awe.  There is something in us that knows our inherent value, seen most clearly in the newest ones.

I was snowshoeing with Carole and Tina last week and we came across the severed branches of several pine trees.  I reached out and gently stroked the sawn off limb – there was a sense of injustice, of even pain – we wondered if this was the act of someone caring for, pruning the trees, or someone taking for a wreath or other project.  As I touched the stub, the warmth of my finger melted the barely frozen sap and it came to life!  Of course I tasted it.  We sniff, we taste, we breathe in the forest or the seaside, the garden bed, and we know in our bodies that we are catching a glimpse of something eternal, something Love.  There is a knowing that stirs within our depths when we witness the flowering and fruiting of the earth, or watch those first beams of light emerging from the darkness of night.

Iranaeus taught – we are teaching – that this knowing cannot be erased from the core of our being, it is a knowing that we can, and given the state of the world I would argue we must – reawaken in us, and our communities.

Another beautiful writer that holds this is John Muir – if we fast forward about 1800 years.  He wrote that every life form, every rock formation is throbbing, pulsing with the divine.  That every tree and bush, every flower and creature, every hill and mountain is on fire with the divine.  That, I quote: All terrestrial things are essentially celestial.  He was well known in his later years for going on long journeys on foot – weeks long walks barefoot, insisting that when our soles touch the earth our souls more readily awaken to sacredness.  There is a story that Muir toyed with often, in the Hebrew Scriptures of Moses and the burning bush where Moses hears the voice of God and first tells him to remove his sandals, that he was standing on holy ground.  He understood this to mean all of the earth is God’s sacred, holy ground.

We know that these are ancient understandings – and yes, they are religious understandings.  Much destruction has been done to the earth and its creatures in the name of religion. But that is antithetical to the teachings. The book of Job that I read from earlier comes from somewhere in the 4th to 7th century BCE – Job, a devout Jew, knew that God was present in the earth.  The psalms are filled with the beauty, the glory of the divine known through the mountains and streams and sun and rain.  The apostle Paul taught that since the beginning of time, God was constantly being revealed in nature.  Dostoevsky knew it too, when he wrote of the wrestling of the brothers Karamazov in the 19th century.  We know it today.

But, I would argue, but something is different today.  In a time of buying rather than growing food, of turning on taps for water and using petroleum for – well, most things.  We have lost touch, as a culture, with the divine nature of the cosmos, of the earth, and all who call it home.  And we have lost touch, as a culture, with our own sacred connection.  I am not sure which came first – they are likely feeding one another.  But when we think of the earth as something created from nothing, something neutral, something to just be used, when we lose sight that it came from something, from the stuff of Love, the stuff of the great creator, then we also lose sight that we came from something, from the stuff of Love, the stuff of the great creator.

There is this deep, ancient understanding, a knowing of the sacredness of all things, including us.  And it is to that truth that we are being called to live fully into, to live into the deepest resonance of our beings.  We are invited to decolonize our understanding – remember that empire is counting on us – capitalism is counting on us – to be severed from connection to earth, one another and divine.

But that mystical stuff that pulses through the universe knows better – that mystical stuff that pulses through us knows better.  It urges us in a different direction – urges us to taste the sap, to take off our shoes to let our soles connect with the earth.


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