My Fear of the Sound of an Axe

Celtic monks left the forest standing at the sites of their monasteries rather than cut them. Adaman, Columba’s biographer, tells the story of how the Irish King Aedh gave a plot of land in Doire to Columba:

And he [Columba] had so great a love for Doire, and the cutting of the oak trees went so greatly against him, that he could not find a place for his church the time he was building it that would let the front of it be to the east…. And he left it upon those that came after him not to cut a tree that fell of itself or was blown down by the wind in that place to the end of nine days, and then to share it between the people of the townland, bad and good, a third of it to the great house, and tenth to be given to the poor. And he put a verse in a hymn after he was gone away to Scotland that shows there was nothing worse to him than the cutting of that oakwood: “Though there is fear in me of death and of hell, I will not hide it that I have more fear of the sound of an axe over in Doire.”

– Commentary by Adamnan, as quoted in Lady Isabella Gregory, A Book of Saints and Wonders put down here by Lady Gregory according to the Old Writings and Memory of the People of Ireland, Irish University Press, Shannon, 1971, p. 17-18

Land and biblical theology

An excerpt from Jesus and the Land by Gary M. Burge

“Walter Brueggemann is correct when he suggests that land might be the central theme of biblical faith. “Biblical faith is the pursuit of historical belonging that includes a sense of destiny derived from such belonging.” And if this is so, he continues, land might be a way of “organizing biblical theology.” Brueggemann invites us to think carefully about (biblical) Israel’s experience with land along three trajectories: land promised, land possessed, and land lost. And in each of these categories we can discover the magnificent opportunities found in God’s grace and covenant, Israel’s historical struggles to possess this land in righteousness – to become the sort of people God intends – and the judgment that falls on Israel in the exile when all is lost.”

Fertility and Divinity

With the grass being so lush and green this Beltane, with all the heat and rain, I’ve been meditating on YHWH as the source of life and fertility.

In the process I’ve stumbled across a critique of Karl Barth by Walter Brueggemann, where he suggests Barth overplayed his hand in depicting YHWH as god of history in contrast to the Canaanite deities as gods of fertility. He particularly draws attention to Genesis 8:22, Psalm 104:27-30, and Hosea 2 as examples where YHWH is depicted as guarantor of the cycles of the seasons and the fruits of the earth.

In the process I have also been reflecting on places where YHWH is depicted as receptive rather than active, playing host rather than guest, inviting outsiders in. In particularly I’ve been reflecting on the YHWH of Jesus, who was often a quite motherly father.

The story of the sower

Spring has me thinking of the story of the sower. The artworks below illustrate the story from a variety of cultural perspectives. For those unfamiliar with the story, the Gospel of Mark retells it like this:

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Celebrating spring with Julian of Norwich

Be a gardener.
Dig a ditch,
toil and sweat,
and turn the earth upside down
and seek the deepness
and water the plants in time.
Continue this labor
and make sweet floods to run
and noble and abundant fruits
to spring.
Take this food and drink
and carry it to God
as your true worship.

A poem by fourteenth century British nun Julian of Norwich

Mystical Poetry by Hildegard of Bingen

God’s Word is in all creation

No creature has meaning

without the Word of God.

God’s Word is in all creation, visible and invisible.

The Word is living, being,

spirit, all verdant

all creativity.

This Word flashes out in

every creature.

This is how the spirit is in

the flesh – the Word is indivisible from God.

– Hildegard of Bingen

Is contemporary Christianity is way too anthropocentric?

I have to say, I think contemporary Christianity is way too anthropocentric. Some expressions are very individualistic, focussing on the “personal relationship with Jesus” and not much else. Others are more communal, emphasizing the “Kingdom of God” in which, refreshingly, horizontal relationships are affirmed as well. But this still falls short of affirming Jesus as Lord of earth, sky and sea and everything within them. It still falls short of the cosmic focus we find in Hebrews 1 and Colossians 1. Why is this important (when it sounds so esoteric)? Well, not only does it lead to short sightedness in the field of ethics (in terms of sins against God’s creation and God’s creatures) but it devalues the work of people primarily engaged with nature (such as artists and engineers) rather than other people (such as teachers and social workers). No wonder so many artists and creative types feel more affinity with occulture than contemporary church culture, even when considering some of the more missional expressions of it. So, as esoteric as it sounds, I think there is a missional imperative explore cosmic Christology, and it corollary, Christian cosmology more deeply than we have been. This is one of the things I have learned from engaging with alternative spiritualities.