|Pen and Ink Reflections||
When you step out of your door in the morning, do you feel that you are stepping into a world of wonder in which you are intimately connected? Or, are you simply stepping into mere location? Is it just dead space which you are crossing so that you can get to where you need to go? Or, do you believe you are walking into a living universe? Those are questions which the great spiritual writer John O’Donohue used to ask and they lie right at the heart of the Season of Creation we have just begun this month. For it matters vitally how we view the world and where we locate God in relation to it. So much of our politics, our business and trade activities, and our lifestyles, are affected. If we believe that matter, material existence, doesn’t really matter to God, then we will end up acting in problematic ways. Or, as John O’Donohue used to say, if we do believe that when we step out we are walking into a living universe, then our walk ‘becomes a different thing’. So let us explore some of the theological paths which can underpin more loving and sustainable ways of living together on the Earth…
When I was young, parts of the country in which I grew up literally blew away. Living in Lincolnshire, one of England’s greatest agricultural counties, I could see this whenever I traveled. For I grew up as a child at the time of the greatest destruction of England’s hedgerows, many of them very ancient. Indeed, hedgerows are, as the Campaign to Protect Rural England has put it, ‘the most widespread semi-natural habitat in England’, and, more poetically, ‘the vital stitching point in the patchwork quilt of the English countryside’.1 They not only provide character, but essential life to all kinds of creatures, and help protect the soil itself without which there can be no sustainable farming yields. As a child however, I would see such features regularly ripped away, and a vast desert of landscape created, with vital topsoil whirling up in dust storms and carried away. Such soil frequently blinded us, reflecting the blinkered industrialised agricultural thinking which had produced it. It was an early lesson to me of how if we mistreat the land out of which we come and are fed, we also destroy ourselves. How then are we to live, without seeking the forgiveness of the land itself, and renewing creation together?...
Amidst the storm and heat, is there anything else to say about marriage from a Christian point of view? Well, yes, as larger dimensions are often ignored in marriage debates, not least among we Christians who claim to ‘know’ what the scriptures ‘teach’. So much has been couched in terms of modern individualistic bourgeois values that one wonders how many people have actually read, and pondered, either the history of marriage, or the scriptures that make some people, on different sides of the arguments, so jumpy. Actually, the official Australian Marriage Equality body did not really help during that awful postal survey. Whilst its aims were (for me at least) manifestly just, the mainstream campaign was not only reluctant to engage with controversy directed against gender diverse persons, but it was frustratingly often built on limited ideas of marriage as the choice merely of two individual persons, reflecting conventional contemporary norms of ‘couple-dom’. Now, admittedly, this was in the context of civil marriage alone. Yet, in this, in its assumptions about marriage, it was not so different from narrow ideas certain Christians seem to have. Instead, when we look at the Bible and Christian Tradition as a whole, we find something much, much, bigger. Today’s reading from Isaiah chapter 62 is a powerful expression of this. For, in Isaiah, as elsewhere in the Bible, marriage is not so much about an individual’s bourgeois expression of identity and legal and moral relationship to another individual. Nor is it ultimately really much about sex or gender, though those human aspects are caught up in biblical conceptions in a series of different ways. Rather, marriage is a profound symbol of divine relationship, involving the transformation of everything. For, as Isaiah 62 verses 1-5 makes startlingly clear, biblical marriage is about the marrying of all things, bringing healing and the restoration of justice and peace. Indeed, marriage as a vehicle of transformation is not only about whole communities rather than individual persons alone, but it is also not simply about human beings alone. It is also about the marrying of land, and creation as a whole: the fullness of the ‘new creation’ prophesied in Isaiah and fulfilled in Christ. Our little human relationships, if hugely precious, are ultimately just elements in this. For it it is thus so much more radical than any conventional conception of marriage…