I began this reflection with an off the cuff connection with Earthquakes, Hurricanes, the news of a Chinese Icebreaker making its way through the Northwest Passage and a reference to the Forest Fires that have ravaged BC, Southern Alberta and Northern Montana over the past months and weeks. These are also Creation and it is important to place them beside the more gentle and placid images we hold of Creation.
Let us pray: Creating and Creator – guide these words and use them that they may tell a story of you. Amen.
Yesterday, in a completely different context, I told the story of the Apollo astronauts who were the first to circle the moon, heading away from the earth to circle the dark side and then re-emerge on the other side, the first human beings in history to lose sight of our planet home and then to watch earth rise in a way that is similar to the way that all of us, earthlings have watched the moon and sun rise from our vantage point on earth. The astronauts of Apollo 17 took a photo of the earth as they headed towards the moon. That photograph which has been dubbed The Blue Marble has appeared in countless places – an icon of this planet that we call home. Yesterday, as I recalled that image and the occasion of the first earth rise seen by the Apollo 8 crew – I was reminded of a statement by philosopher Buckminster Fuller, who stated upon hearing of the first witness of Earth Rise and perhaps even more after seeing the Blue Marble photograph – that from now on every conflict on earth would have to be considered a civil war.
Well as I just mentioned that image came to mind in a different context, on a different topic, but it came to mind again as I reflected on the theme I was being called to explore this morning.
The particular view that drew me to that imagining here is that those images of the earth from a perspective never seen before and in some ways the photographic proof that we as human beings are encapsulated on a spinning blue planet in a vast, limitless universe. It makes me feel the same way that stopping in a dark sky place on a clear night, as I did some times on night time drives on the Yellowhead highway between Edmonton and Jasper. I would stop in safe places of the highway where there was practically no earthly light and observe the night time sky, the Milky Way clearly visible. I would feel very small and very large at the same time.
It’s a perspective that conveniently isolates us from the kind of power to which we’ve been witness over the past few weeks. That Blue Marble image of the earth is an idyllic, beautiful photograph of our home. And to paraphrase the words of Genesis – it is good, it is very good.
And I think that we often take that distant view of our planet home and superimpose it on our connection with the earth at a much closer elevation – ground level actually.
We see the wilderness outside of our doors in the same kind of idyllic, beautiful way. We’ve had the advantage of living in two very different and beautiful places over the past quarter century. In the middle of the Rocky Mountains, surrounded by the kind of beauty that many people spend large amounts of money to come and see and here in this sub-arctic taiga and classic example of the Canadian Shield which comprises so much of the country which gives its name to this geographic, geologic feature.
And so, when we think about the Season of Creation and imagine our place in Creation, and the ways we treat Creation and enjoy Creation, yes we think about some of the inherent dangers of places like this – that there are lots of things that can happen to us if we spend more time than we mean to in it and if we are not careful about the way we approach it.
What we are less likely to think of, is the way in which Creation can unleash power that is uncontrollable.
But we cannot have a season of creation and all the good thoughts, gratitude and positive vibes that living in a place like this provides, without also being aware of the ways in which, as my title suggests, creation can be Groaning, Quaking, Roaring, and Rushing.
Witness the last few weeks in the history of our earth. Hurricane Harvey, an earthquake in Mexico, and then right on the heels of Harvey came Irma with concern about the other tropical depressions that are to come.
What do we say when the power of Creation overwhelms us? How does it affect our understanding of God as Creator and Creating? In the wake of such destructive natural phenomena could we not just as easily use Destroying as another name for God?
Of course none of us would want to think of God that way, but the questions abound, including the most basic theological question of all: Where is God in all of this?
You’ve already heard some of the answers – I have, and so I can assume that you have too. They inevitably follow the stories of tragedy that accompany the aftermath of a destructive natural disaster. God is not in the destruction, but in the stories of the heroism of professional and amateur search and rescue people, in the stories of selflessness as people risk their own welfare or contribute their own financial resources to assist people who are often much worse off – although not always and perhaps even more selflessly when people who have experienced disaster equal or greater than the ones whom they reach out to help.
God is in the response. God is in the ways that people reach out to help each other. God is in the arms that reach out to support people who feel that they’ve lost everything or who wonder how they will every regroup and rebuild. God is in comforting words to those who are grieving the death of loved ones. God can be found in so many places in the response to disasters like these.
But still we address God as Creator and Creating. Can we come to terms with this in the midst of the power of Category Five Hurricanes and 8.something earthquakes?
I believe so – because in a way similar to the way I felt on those Yellowhead Highway star gazing opportunities – such events make me feel both large and small – small because any power I might have pales in comparison to the awesome power of a Hurricane like Harvey or Irma or the awesome power that is unleashed when the earth shakes even a little bit – which despite the destructiveness of an 8.2 earthquake is really just a little bit of shaking in relative terms. But large because I too am a product of creation. I am a part of this wonderful, complicated, awesome, co-dependent thing that we call creation.
And of course, its more than this – for the discoverers – another name for scientists are telling us that this power is not reserved just for God. We wield some of that power ourselves thanks to Creator and Creating. Our action or inaction, they say is making hurricanes more powerful. The ways in which we are using Creation are burning up resources and filling up the air with carbon dioxide. Heat is getting trapped. Glaciers and ice caps are melting. Islands and coastlines are disappearing. And worst of all, the people most affected are the ones who have the least ability to do something about it.
I fretted about this reflection all week because I knew that Creation events of weeks just past – even though in many ways they could be called Destruction events – were calling me to reflect not just on an idyllic, positive perspective on the wonders and pleasures and beauty of creation. I wondered what I could say, and felt that I needed to say something to sum it all up in a deep and lasting way. To make it all make sense.
But of course, it was a mistake to think that I could do so. It’s a metaphor for the troubles and goodness that describe life. Life is beautiful and very difficult. Life is hard and full of wonder. Life is a challenge often and sometimes it is easy.
And in all of this, the trouble and the goodness, the beauty and the difficulty, the hard times and the times full of wonder, in the challenge and the ease – we have our God – who is with us in all of these – who shows power and peace and compassion and strength and challenge and comfort in infinite measure when we most need any of them and often at times when we feel we want just the opposite.
There is no one answer. The answer can sometimes be found in the questions. The answer can sometimes be found in the questing. The answer comes in trouble and in beauty. And we are meant to embrace it as God’s people. Amen.