Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Green Gospel: Reflections after a Visit to Camp McDowell

     The Bible is like Camp McDowell: a river runs through it.
     This River springs up in the first sentence of Genesis where it speaks of darkness on the face of a watery chaos, and of how “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” It continues until the last chapter of Revelation, which speaks of “the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb” through the streets of the heavenly Jerusalem. And the intervening pages are full of references to mighty floods, miraculous springs, and the ubiquitous River Jordan. In the Bible, water is the amniotic fluid of creation, an instrument of God’s blessing and (sometimes) wrath, and forms the threshold of the sacred and the boundary of the Holy Land. Genesis 1:20 has God saying “let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures,” and so they have to this day. “Yonder is the great and wide sea,” observes Psalm 104, “with its living things too many to number, creatures both small and great.”
    The biblical waters are clean and pure, nourishing the land and causing it to flourish. The Bible is the product of thirsty people familiar with dry places, people who knew the value of water. To them, separation from God was like a killing thirst, a dried-up water hole, and a rainless spring. To them, idolatry, injustice to the poor, and mistreatment of the powerless went hand in hand with drought and starvation. Jeremiah 17:11 says

“Like a partridge hatching what
    it did not lay,
   so are all who amass wealth
in mid-life it will leave them,
   and at their end they will prove
       to be fools.”
In Ezekiel 34:19, the apostasy of those entrusted with leadership is likened to a flock that is allowed to foul its own water supply:
   “When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet?
The profound co-dependence of human life with the natural world is acknowledged in Deuteronomy 20:19, where (in a kind of “just war doctrine”) it says:
      If you besiege a town for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you must not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them. Although you may take food from them, you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human beings that they should come under siege from you? You may destroy only the trees that you know do not produce food: you may cut them down for use in building siegeworks against the town that makes war with you, until it falls.”   
    But, as Psalm 84 says,

“Happy are the people whose strength is in you! Whose hearts are set on the pilgrims way. Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs, for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.”

      The “pilgrims way” is an ecological way, a green way, and a biblical way. It leads beside still waters and green pastures, and revives the soul (Psalm 23). The Bible holds out a vision of a resurrected earth, a healed creation, and a sacred land. In Job 12:7 it says,

“Ask the animals, and they
     will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they
     will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and
    they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will
         declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
        That the hand of the Lord has
               Done this?

      In the New Testament St. Paul writes that “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now”. (Romans 8:22). For Paul, Christ is the midwife of a new creation, the one for whom “creation waits with eager longing.” (Romans 8:19). The gospels present a Christ who is deeply “green”, conversant with the lives and language of peasants and fishermen, the one who leads us reliably on the “ pilgrims way”, the green way into the sacred land. In Revelation 5:13 it is Christ who summons

“every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, ‘To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and might forever and ever!”

    Truly, Camp McDowell is an outpost along the “pilgrim’s way,” a place where a “green gospel” can grow and flourish. It is a place where the words of the Prophet Hosea are being lived out:

“I will make for you a covenant on that day with the wild animals, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; and I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land; and I will make you lie down in safety.” (Hosea 3:18)

       Jon Sams

1 comment:

Mary Johnson said...

Thank you, Jon, for this missive from the verdant banks of Clear Creek. Wonderful to know you are still going there and sending out the Word. Especially enjoyed the excerpt from Job!