God as Wholeness – All Creation Groans pt.1

Ecosystems Discernment Committee of The Hermitage Community 

God as Wholeness: “All Creation Groans” An Eco-Theology Retreat

Summer Solstice, June 20, 2020

Introduction: View an introductory video for this retreat. 

Session 1: Practicing Union, Practicing Paradise

Once again, the current events—the ongoing youth trials accusing the U.S. Government of hijacking their futures by refusing to acknowledge, and change policies for the mitigation of, climate change, the blatant killing of black folk by the police and ordinary citizens, the waves of Coronavirus undulating through our societies, and the economic fallout from all of this—make us wonder. What are we, as Christians, to do in the face of these seemingly catastrophic and entrenched situations? Is there a faithful response to such devastating issues? One of the responses of the church through the centuries has been to echo St. Paul’s words: “… God chose to make known how great … are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” Colossians 1:27. We are to live with Christ in us. How is this accomplished? I hope the seeds of reflection in the following readings will begin to give you an answer to that question. But more, I hope that your life is so “hidden with Christ in God,” that you already know what to do. “Follow me,” Jesus says on several occasions in his ministry. That open invitation holds the key to becoming one with God. Let us begin.

Practicing Union

Read John 15:18-17:26. Use the following questions for reflection.

WORLD: In this long passage, Jesus uses the word “world” in a couple of senses. In 15:18-19; 16:8-10 & 33; 17:13-18 the word clearly means “anything opposed to God.” But, in 16:20-21, & 28; 17:5-11 & 20-25, the sense is more clearly “what is not in heaven.” Now, this is significant because by it we understand that “the world” is not always opposing God, sometimes it is merely a place where God is not from. However, we do not subscribe to the idea that “God is in his heaven and all is right with the world.” Rather, our work is to find God everywhere in the universe which God created, even in the world. Sometimes, folks talk about God as if God were only to be found in “Nature” or “the wild.” And yet, that places humans in perpetual opposition to God. (For more on this last point, see the Orion article by Wendell Berry listed below.) On the other hand, Christians believe that Christ came to show the way to the Father; that all may approach God and be with God.

Think about this: have you ever felt closer to God in a natural environment than you feel in your usual lifeworld? Why do you think this is? Alternatively, have you felt God’s  presence when in a place where people live and gather? Why is God more palpable in some places and times than others? Do you think that Jesus was aware of this when he was teaching and praying as recorded in John’s gospel?

UNION: In the passage from John, Jesus sets up an elaborate argument about the triune presence of God, Father, Son and Holy  Spirit. He also invites his disciples and those who will hear about him from the disciples (that’s us!) into a glorious union with that Trinity. What is the most striking aspect for you of this invitation in this passage? Is there, in this passage, any basis for exclusion from union with God? What is it? Is there an antidote to exclusion in this passage? What is it? 

Practicing Paradise

Read at least the first 10 pages of the article, “Practicing Paradise: Contemplative Awareness and Ecological Renewal” by Douglas Burton-Christie (Anglican Theological Review, Volume 94, Number 2, pp. 281-303). [If the document is too small to read, click on it to make it screen-sized.] Use the following questions for your reflection.

PARADISE LOST: Burton-Christie asserts: “The persistent presence of violence, suffering, and death makes it difficult if not impossible to believe in the idea that, in the world as we know it, “everything is in fact paradise.” It seems more honest to acknowledge that paradise is simply lost to us, that if it exists at all it must be as part of a future hope, never to be fully realized in our current existence.” Do you agree with this assessment? Why or why not? How does Burton-Christie’s definition of “paradise” help you understand his statement? What do you know from scripture that addresses the quality of paradise as Burton-Christie imagines it?

PRACTICING PARADISE: What keeps you from “practicing paradise?” Why does Burton-Christie believe that this practice is a most essential part of Christianity? Do you agree? Do you “practice paradise?” What are your practices?

THREE CRUCIAL IDEAS: Trace the ideas of “transfiguration, identity and grace” in Burton-Christie’s exposition of Thomas Merton’s correspondence with D.T. Suzuki. What does Merton mean by each of these terms? How does grasping – and living – these ideas help us to live in “Paradise” (Union with God)?

ANYTHING ELSE? What else did you notice in your reading of Christie’s article?

For Further Reading:

Douglas E. Christie, The Blue Sapphire of the Mind: Notes for a Contemplative Ecology, (Oxford University Press, New York: 2013).

Wendell Berry, “Wild and Domestic,” Orion Magazine, online: https://orionmagazine.org/article/wild-and-domestic/, Accessed June 2020.

Scott Russell Sanders, “Conscience and Resistance,” Orion Magazine, online: https://orionmagazine.org/article/conscience-and-resistance/, Accessed June 2020.

After you finish this part of the retreat, continue to Session 2: Union with God, Interconnection, and Vulnerability