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All of creation is our family


Five years ago, I was invited to lead a weekend young adult retreat of folks who were alumni of an Episcopal summer camp, and the theme of the weekend was essentially HOW TO BE A HUMAN BEING framed in relationship to the incarnation of God in the person Jesus.

It was a beautiful May weekend in Sonoma County California where this retreat center was, it was this, like, sprawling estate property on a hillside overlooking winery after winery with a huge cattle ranch next door so you'd wake up in the morning and walk to the dining hall and in the foreground, there would be cows mooing at you, and in the background a couple miles of vineyards.

And one of the things I planned for the weekend was a Saturday afternoon hike that incorporated a riff on the Stations of the Cross. The Stations of the Cross are a little storytelling ritual we do on Good Friday where we slowly walk through 14 readings that tell the story of the death of Jesus. And instead, we compiled a series of readings that tell the narrative arc of creation and birth and life in scripture, and we called it the Stations of the Incarnation. We took a three mile hike through the backcountry of this ranch and we read from Genesis 1 and John 1 and 1 John 1, we read poetry about war and life and stillness, we heard a piece from the Vagina Monologues, we read this Paul Harvey eighth day of creation fanfic and even a little excerpt from The Velveteen Rabbit which is a much, much sadder story than I remember it being. And everything we read felt so true and important, in part because everybody on that retreat loved each other a whole bunch and had shared a lot of life together, and because everything feels important and good and true when you're on a dirt road with cowing mooing in the distance, and on the top of a grassy knoll, under the big lavender dusk sky.

These readings we've shared today establish a few important things:

God made us.

God made us good. God made creation good.

All of creations are our family, our siblings, are brothers and sisters

--the sun the moon the stars, the wind and water and earth.

These readings establish that

The lilies of the field and the sparrows of the sky are clothed more exquisitely in their nakedness than Solomon is all his wealth and that

The work of caretaking this creation is in both strength and softness, and always in proximity, in showing up for that which is right in front of us and in need of our care.

We stack all these things on top of each other and shine a light through them and we get a picture of the work and the grace of getting to be a human being, made in the image of God, and sharing in this beautiful creation. We have been given a gift, both of this life and this world within which to live it and it is in the consistent and deep appreciation of that gift that we can figure out what it means to be a Christian. It is only in the appreciation of this gift that Christianity makes any sense at all! If we think our mission here is to conquer and to subjugate, the Gospel doesn't make any sense at all. If we think our goal here is to hoard power and extort where we can from our fellow human and extract from and impoverish nature for our own gain, then Christianity doesn't make any sense. If we think our work is to scrap for supremacy over our fellow man and that impulse to conquer extends to the natural world, then we end up precisely where we are today, with an ailing creation and a world full of war.

It is only from the position of seeing all of creation, and our lives in it, as a gift that Christianity makes any sense at all. This creation is not a bank to withdraw from, nor is it our competition in a game to be won. This creation, and all of God's people in it, is a gift given to us to be cherished, and we are a gift given to one another. I am given to you, you are given to me, you are given to one another -- you are given to this earth, and this earth is given back to you. We all belong to one another, and we all belong to God. That is the only way this Christianity stuff makes any sense at all. You are my siblings, and I am this earth's sibling. And how we make a family together is the work of what we are doing here.

From this framework, to have been given dominion over creation is not to be blessed with the privilege of control but to be saddled with the burden of reconciliation and repair -- both with nature and with our fellow man. It a tough work but it is about our return to the foundational nature in which we are made. We are good. Nature is good. God gave us to one another, and it is our work to make right the relationship between us. And it's hard because that is so not what we are taught to do.

There's a lot of ways to frame what that work looks like, but I might propose that rather than thinking we trying to domesticate nature or apologize into an awkward stalemate between us and our neighbor, I might say that we are trying to re-wild ourselves into relationship with all of creation, the kind of brash childlike longing to study every flower, roll down every grassy hillside, do cannonballs into the pool and make friends with everybody on the playground. I think we are trying to re-wild ourselves into the state of finding every caterpillar, every flower, every frog, every classmate, every swingset to be an incredible and unexpected gift to us. Between childhood and adulthood, there's a lot that stacks up in the space gap between us and one another, pretense, embarrassment, shame, the slow process of repressing our longings for fear that they are unacceptable. But I have to think that the profound awe of St. Francis is what caused him to call the earth his sister, the wind his brother, and to preach to the birds and have them preach back.

I wish I could say succinctly what to do to cultivate the awe that draws us back into relationship with one another and with the earth, but I suppose all I can say is that if you put yourself into the right situation enough, it shows up unexpected. I think there comes a time at the end of a game night where the laughter of an entire room quiets down and the gathered group of people sigh altogether at once, and you get it. You show up to church or bible study week after week and you sit back down in your pew after communion, or you log off zoom and shut your bible, and you get it. Or you find yourself wandering through trails out the back property and your fellow retreaters have fallen silent and the lavender dusk sky seems to unfurl itself before you, and for one minute you just,,, get it. That the earth is our sister, and God our mother, and that we all belong to each other. And it is from there that the work of Christianity begins.


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