Jul 20 2014

The Rebirthing of God

_CES4997The Rebirthing of God is the title of John Philip Newell’s new book.  Its subtitle is Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings.  This week I will be at the Ghost Ranch in New Mexico  taking a workshop with Newell that focuses on this book.  I am certainly looking forward to that.  In the meantime, I’ve been reading the book itself.

In this brand new book Newell speaks of the death of Christianity as we know it and of the need for “the rebirthing of God.”  He believes that this rebirthing is a good thing “pointing to a radical reemergence of the Divine from deep with us.”  In each of the book’s eight chapters Newell discusses something the church needs to reconnect with. Having read a number of his other books I was not surprised to discover that the first thing he believes we need to reconnect to is the earth.  Newell concurs with eco-theologian Thomas Berry that “we need to move from a spirituality of alienation from the natural world to a spirituality of intimacy with the natural world.”

_DSC2209Reflecting on both the Book of Genesis and the writings of Julian of Norwich Newell notes that we are not only made by God but are also “of God.”  He says “We are made of the Light that was in the beginning.  We are made of the Wisdom that fashioned the universe in its glory and interrelatedness.   We are made of the Love that longs for oneness.”  He sees one of our great needs “the desire to move back into relationship with everything else that is of God.”  This means “choosing to move in harmony with the universe again, knowing the rising of the sun and the whiteness of the moon as part of us, seeing the beauty and wildness of the creatures as expressions of what is also within us, the unnameable and untameable presence of the Divine in all things.  It means growing in awareness of earth’s sacredness, knowing that its moist greenness issues forth directly from the ever-fresh fecundity of God.”

If you are a regular reader of Seeing Creation you know that I write often about the sacredness of the earth.  I, too, feel that Christianity has suffered greatly by setting up a false dichotomy between the spiritual and material world.  This false dichotomy has kept many from being open to experiencing God in the natural world.   This is most strange considering the Biblical insistence that God is certainly to be found in the Creation.

_DSC1465I appreciate the fact that Newell utilizes the teachings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.  He refers to de Chardin as  “the first modern Christian prophet of the sacredness of the universe.”  De Chardin once wrote “at the heart of matter is the heart of God” and “the deeper we move into the mystery of any created thing, the closer we come to the Divine Presence.”  These are things I believe too. De Chardin believed that the Incarnation of Christ “points to the oneness of heaven and earth, the Divine and the human, spirit and matter” and also “reveals the essential sacredness of every person and everything that has been created.”

_CES1384In case you’re wondering, in the remaining chapters of his book Newell goes on to talk about how reconnecting with compassion, the Light, the journey, spiritual practice, nonviolence, the unconscious and love will also be important facets of the rebirthing of God.  I’ve not read the whole book yet but already I have found much encouragement about the future of Christianity in it.  If we would just take seriously this first part, reconnecting to the earth, it would make a world of difference.  I plan to keep pointing others in this direction and ask you to do the same.

–Chuck

(I took the images shown above near my home in Henderson, KY.)


Dec 18 2011

Seeing Creation After Bethlehem

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” John 1:14

Even though I was a history major in college I do not consider myself much of a historian.  Still, I do remember that at the time of Christ many Greeks believed that matter was evil.  Only things related to the spirit were considered good.  This philosophy affected many early Christians.  There was the belief among some early followers that the body and all things material were corrupt.  One can only imagine how those holding such a view looked at the natural world.

Today we can say with confidence that the material world is not evil.  We know from Genesis 1 that the world was created by God and that He declared it “good.”  But even if we didn’t have this passage, the birth of Christ also makes the same positive affirmation.  How so?  Simply by His willingness to take on human flesh in the Incarnation God affirms the goodness of the material world and Creation.

Although you rarely hear people declaring the material world evil these days there are still many who make a clear distinction between things sacred and secular.  After the coming of Christ I am not sure that even this is a valid distinction.  The coming of Jesus as Emmanuel—God with us—reveals the truth that the divine presence permeates all of the world.  As Emmanuel, God remains present in and around us.  This means that if we truly have eyes to see then we will discern His presence in Creation and in those around us.  Jesus himself said “the kingdom of God is in your midst.”  If we look closely we will see it all around us.

While I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a couple of weeks ago I had a chance to spend some time at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.  In additions to her delightful paintings, the museum displays a number of sayings from the famous artist.  O’Keeffe once said, “seeing takes time.”  When it comes to seeing the divine in this present world it does, in fact, take time.  But if we will be persistent in our looking and open to God’s wonderful surprises, we will discover that the God who made Himself known through the Child born in Bethlehem is still very much in our midst.

–Chuck

(I took the two pictures above on my recent trip to New Mexico.)


Dec 14 2011

“Winter Snow”

I have to admit when I heard what the special music was going to be for last Sunday’s service I wondered if it was actually a religious song.  The title of the song was “Winter Snow.”  It sure didn’t sound like a “religious” song but once I heard it sung by one of our youth I realized that my concerns were for aught.  In fact, it turned out that the song was both beautiful and inspirational, with a message most appropriate for an Advent service and for the readers of this blog.

Here are the words to “Winter Snow” as penned by Audrey Assad.  “Could’ve come like a mighty storm with all the strength of a hurricane.  You could’ve come like a forest fire with the power of Heaven in Your flame.  But You came like a winter snow—quiet and soft and slow—falling from the sky in the night to the earth below.  Could’ve swept in like a tidal wave or an ocean to ravish our hearts.  You could have come through like a roaring flood to wipe away the things we’ve scarred.  No, Your voice wasn’t in a bush burning.  No, Your voice wasn’t in a rushing wind.  It was still, it was small, it was hidden.”

I hope you’ll give some thought to these words in the days to come.  As the celebration of Christmas draws near we can find in nature a reminder of the miracle of the Incarnation.  The song writer is correct, Jesus could have come in any number of ways to the earth, but God’s plan was for him to come in a still, small, hidden way—to come “quiet and soft and slow” like a winter snow.

There is so much about Jesus’ coming I find incomprehensible.  Even with all the prophecies of the Old Testament I don’t think anyone could have imagined the Son of God coming as he did.  I am certain not even the prophets themselves could have imagined God becoming one of us “like a winter snow.”

If you’re lucky enough to have a good snow in the coming days (I know, some would consider that unlucky), I hope that you’ll pause to think about this song and the parallels there are between a winter snow and the birth of our Savior.  And whether you experience that snow or not, I hope and pray that in some still, small and hidden way you will experience Emmanuel, God with us, in your own particular way.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Arches National Park.  The bottom image was taken at Bryce Canyon National Park.)


Dec 13 2009

Joy to the World!

Bryce Canyon 802Today is the third Sunday in Advent and the theme for this particular Sunday each year is joy.  If one will pause to reflect on the meaning of this special season he or she cannot help but experience joy.  It truly is amazing that the One who created the world became part of it as a vulnerable little baby.  John 1:14 says “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  A few verses earlier the Gospel writer says “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (v. 3) 

I think a lot of people fail to understand that at Christmas we celebrate the birth of the Creator of the world.  Speaking of Jesus the apostle Paul said, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by him all things were created…” (Colossians 1:15-16) 

Bryce Canyon 959I realize that during this season we usually focus on how God sent His Son into the world to provide for our salvation but we should also note the amazing fact that in that Bethlehem stable the Creator became a part of the world He created.  One of the implications of this for me is that because of the Incarnation we stand on “hallowed ground.”  The world is not just “good” as the author of Genesis reminds us; it is holy too.

One of the most popular Christmas carols is “Joy to the World.”  The song indicates that because Jesus came there is cause to rejoice.  In fact, the song exhorts “heaven and nature” to sing for joy at Christ’s coming.  During my trip this past week to southern Utah there were many times I felt like singing God’s praises for the gift of His Son.  There were even times when I looked at the incredible beauty of Christ’s Creation that it seemed like nature was ready to sing too.  And that is only fitting.  When we remember that Jesus is both the world’s Creator and Savior, why shouldn’t “heaven and nature sing”?

–Chuck

(The pictures above were taken this past week at Bryce Canyon National Park.)