We’ve all seen the scenes: Humanity has destroyed themselves and now nature has reclaimed our cities and streets! From Logan’s Run to I Am Legend and every 12 Monkeys in between, we’ve been schooled in the thought that nature is just waiting for our demise so that the animals and grasses can again rule the plains.
I don’t think that’s exactly right. I love walking across Bethesda in the mornings. It’s not the exhaust or naughty honking that captivates me, but the bunnies and the chipmunks, the grass and the trees. It was just last year when Asplundh came through and devastated our trees with wanton limb trimming, and we wailed and gnashed our teeth. But a couple of seasonal turns later and they look like they’ll be ok, as if to make a rude gestures back at the trimmers and taunt, “Try it again, buddy!”
And the bunnies move like the tide across the heart of downtown Bethesda, ebbing and flowing into our flower gardens and munching our wild growing clover. They are gorgeous. They belong among us. Nature isn’t waiting for our demise, just for more of us to leave a seat at the table, to make a little more room for green things and furry things.
So this morning as I walked to my big glass and stone Starbucks to sit inside and sip my coffee in air conditioned humanness, I was so blessed to watch a young rabbit having it’s breakfast in the fresh, green dew-covered grass. I always cringe when it rains and I imagine what our dogs will do to our floors after going outside, but I am so happy for the bright new buds that the bunnies reap after those showers.
I wrote a haiku after watching the bunny…
paving, bricks, exhaust
a young rabbit / eats the new grass
Well, I’ve been working thru “Man and the Environment: A Study of St. Symeon the New Theologian” by Anestis G. Keselopoulos for a few years now. I will look in and read a little, then forget it, then find it again and try wading through some more… but today I decided to take a far less linear approach and start moving back and forth thru the book trying to grab some of the big ideas and only dig into successive paragraphs when needing more detail or illumination… and I feel like Anestis and I are getting something done… finally.
Here’s a quick rundown of what I’m taking away from St Symeon’s work, seen through Keselopoulos:
1) We have a real problem in the western dualistic mind as it leads us to be wrongly antagonistic toward matter. We’ve tended to view humanity as spiritual beings trapped in matter instead of whole beings intended, in fact created by God, to be beings of unified spirit and matter. This dualism and it’s subsequent antagonism leads us to subordinate the inferior matter to the superior spirit, thereby devaluing matter and all created things, even functionally separating matter (ultimate nothing) from God (ultimate everything).
2) Now, out of this functional separation of creation from it’s Creator (except as an object lesson every now and again for beauty), we have a free hand to develop any and all technologies or uses of matter regardless of their negative impact on creation. I think this is where some of us will actively be abusive of creation (both our own bodies and the created world around us), or we’ll be fairly apathetic of the abuse happening around us. We then are free to exercise a “domination” over creation that has no understanding of our shared essence or responsibility toward creation.
3) Christ came at a time when many had abandoned a true understanding of nature as a reflection of the Creator, and they had turned to worship the created out of that disconnect. We have not gone that way today, but instead I think many of us have such a morbid fear of somehow worshiping creation that in our separation of the created from the Creator we “ultimately denigrate” it instead of “ultimately deifying” it. So, anyone today who speaks of the connection between God and matter/creation, or of our responsibility to creation and matter as the people of God, intended to live a unity of spirit and matter, runs the risk of being called an idolater of the world who has forsaken the highest spiritual matters before us.
These things are running through my mind right now, or maybe I should say, running roughshod over my mind. I am very appreciative though of our Christian tribe having a deep and long non-dualistic tradition that becomes present and timeless as we continue to struggle through a epoch in which so many Christians have lived a life built on shaky premises such as “This life is just a dress rehearsal for eternity” or “It’s all gonna burn one day anyway.” We exist in a “now” that engages us in an exciting, dynamic and God-intended present existence, not only a hopeful future one.