Editor’s note: Pat Bailey, pastor of Telluride’s Christ Presbyterian Church, continues with his exploration of Spirituality with Religion. While this installment is not exactly a traditional tribute to Mother’s Day, it is a tribute to the mother of us all: Mother Nature. His insistence on Her importance in a re-envisioned Christian theology is unrelenting.
In my doctoral dissertation I am claiming the need for a re-visioning of the Christian church’s theology and its understanding of mission, the need for a more natural, integrative theology and for an earth-focused, contextual approach to mission. In the next few posts I will consider why a change in the church’s sense of mission is needed.
As a second year physics major, my daughter returned home for Christmas break eager to share her newfound explanations and queries about the wonders of the natural world: why the sky is blue, theories about time travel, and the elusive quality of composite particles called glue balls. Overall her studies had stimulated a deep sense of awe as her horizons expanded to view the wonder of existence and life. Declaring again the Christmas message of divine presence in the birth of a child, I pondered anew if this message was being heard as something denying or affirming that wonder of existence and life as persons experience and seek to understand it today, denying or affirming the incarnation of God in the broader sweep of earthly existence.
For many people today Christian proclamation not only fails to align with their perspectives of reality, it also fails to compete with a sense of awe that those perspectives provide as they contemplate the mystery and wonder of Nature and of human existence therein.
Another expression of profound awe is found in naturalist Loren Eiseley’s classic book, “The Immense Journey.” Eiseley’s look into the long past of geological formation and biological evolution brings him to both awe and humility, and these cause him to challenge assumptions about humanity’s location in the theme of things:
“We see ourselves as the culmination and the end, and if we do indeed consider our passing, we think that sunlight will go with us and the earth be dark. We are the end. For us continents rose and fell, for us the waters and the air were mastered, for us the great living web has pulsated and grown more intricate.”
Eiseley comments that a man once told him to deny such anthropocentrism was to deny God. Eiseley’s response was puzzlement: to him, evolution was still ongoing and would continue on beyond human speciation.
Thoughtful people are growingly dissatisfied with a view of human existence as somehow separate from Nature and the processes of Nature, human life as some predetermined stasis or end rather than part of a perpetual and open-ended emergence of multifarious forms. If Christian theology and proclamation takes humanity out of this stream and forever exiles it from this garden, then no one should be surprised at the loss of awe and humility and the disposition to live peaceably upon, in, and as part of this earth.
Will my daughter and others like her be lost to the spirituality and wisdom of the Christian faith because the church seeks to convert them away from an embodied, temporal, in-earthed, and interdependent existence?
What do you think about Mother Nature in this context on Mother’s Day???