Reflection by Mart the Rev
Anne and I were walking through a forest plantation in Galicia in North-west Spain when we encountered a charming quite elderly woman coming towards us. She smiled warmly and continued on her way. We were quite a way from any town or village and it was a bit of a surprise to meet her out for a walk on such a wet day. A few days earlier an elderly man had met us in a similar way near an 800-year-old bridge.
Both times I wondered how often they had walked these paths. All their lives? It is quite possible, there was a feel in Spain that the communities were traditional and that change was slow. It wasn’t hard to imagine that the parents and grandparents of these two had walked the same tracks. Just a few moments after I sneakily photographed the elderly woman, a man, who might well have been her son, walked past us, following his mother, at a decent distance, to make sure she was ok.
On the Camino Anne and I frequently passed through areas with ancient bridges and pathways. The Camino trail itself dates back to the 9th century AD, with the peak number of pilgrims walking in the 12th century. These two characters seemed so very connected to their part of these pathways. I imagined that there was little on the trail that surprised them, for each bend, and so many of the trees, would have been deeply familiar to them. I wondered to what degree, if any, these two understood themselves as having any identity apart from this land and these pathways.
After preparing this reflection I wrote a poem…
If I should lose you first
if I should lose you first
the last place I would want to go
would be down our path
the one that began
when we first held hands
and our hearts missed many beats
the one where our daughter
swung between us
filling the air with chatter
the one where we
wept our sorrows
and laughed our joys
if I should lose you first
the last place I would want to go
would be down this path
that I walk every day
to find you walking
my whole life with me
Every day on the trail, and for our whole time away, Anne and I wore our pounamu pendants. It was our very deliberate attempt to remind ourselves that wherever we are and are going, and whatever surprises the day will bring, what we do know is where we are from and to where we need to return. A friend wrote a poem for our coming home, in it he has these lines:
‘this island te wai pounamu, this greenstone edge of [the] world… this heart of universe,
we hear the heartbeat of our mother when we put our ear to your skin
my feet walk your spine, my toes dip the water of your blue edge,
and my bones will be yours soon enough, soon enough.’
What pathways and trails do you connect with? Are there particular mountains and rivers that speak to you of home? What places do you sense your identity is especially linked to? Does God speak to you in these places?
Being people of faith we claim a linkage to a big story, and ancient story that goes a long, long way back. In what ways do you understand your identity formed by this ancient framework? Christian – following Jesus. Pilgrim – making your way in his Way. What about created? Created in God’s image. Child of God. Known as we were knitted in our mother’s wombs. Do you understand yourself as created in this way?
The connectivity of things is exercising my mind a lot these days. I felt it when landing in England for the first time, realising that I was the first of my line of the Stewarts to put a foot on the ‘homeland’ since my grandfather in 1943 when he went to war. We don’t travel a lot! But the connectivity is much deeper than that. It is elemental – it is primal. We share breath with the creatures of the earth – past and present. The molecules of the air contain a portion of the outbreaths of every creature that has ever lived. You’ve heard me on this – we breathe in those molecules and portions of them become part of us. We are connected to everything.
Here is the BBC on recent discoveries of the connectivity of trees: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWOqeyPIVRo
Did you know, we share a quarter of our DNA with trees? It is highly likely that 1.2 billion years ago we shared a common ancestor!
The ancients were very interested in telling the stories of their sense of what their being alive meant. The seven day creation story took root in very ancient societies and found the form we know when the scriptures were first written in about 950BC. It is thought that the group who formulated the Genesis 1 story were giving it poetic form for chanting or singing in worship – like a creed? Who are we? We are created.
God brought about life and there is a rhythm to it, and we are called to live into a particular blessing – in God’s image, connected to everything that God has made, called to an oversight and responsibility of partners in creation.
I don’t know about you, but these theological claims about my identity are very important to me. When someone asks me what life means and what it is for, I automatically swing into the big story of being created, loved, and called. Then comes the particular, me, as in the life I am conscious of. The same goes with what the church is for. It isn’t to serve me and my needs in the now, it is a body called into existence to serve Christ’s ministry of love to the world which includes me and what I really need and now. Thus there is always a connection with what has been, when we talk of what will be. We are part of God’s way unfolding. We walk down a path ever old and ever new. This is big and it is particular. We are part of a ‘then,’ a ‘now,’ and a ‘what will be.’
Maybe our disconnection with this is what is meant by the notion of sin. I usually avoid using the word sin because it has been so corrupted by a long history of fastening on people’s bad individual behaviour and announcing to people that God is so disappointed in them that they are destined to a future of everlasting torment. I beg to differ. God so loved the world…humans were created and God was well-pleased. We become disconnected with that at our peril. We are made for communion – creature and Creator. I think that is what eternal life means. Stay connected, says God, see, in Christ I have made it happen. Dwell in me as I dwell in you!
I wonder how much the debates over creation have led many of us to feel disconnected from an identity framed in God’s big picture? Some people want to insist that creation was a literal seven days and they set up a mischievous fight between religion and science. How many people have lost a sense of the divine presence because silly people in the church have demanded that they leave their brains at the door?
This week I read an article by a well-respected biblical studies scholar, who was helpfully pointing out that the scholar named Origen in the third century, Augustine in the fifth century, Aquinas in the 13th century, and even B.B. Warfield active at the deeply staunch Princeton seminary at the time of Darwin, were all advocating for an understanding of an unfolding Creation not a literal seven day Creation. [Peter Enns: https://biologos.org/common-questions/how-was-the-genesis-account-of-creation-interpreted-before-darwin] There needn’t be a debate. The science of ‘how’ is an open and seemingly endless adventure, as is the theology of ‘why.’ There needn’t be a fight! It is all connected.
Poem of the One World – Mary Oliver
the beautiful white heron
was floating along above the water
and then into the sky of this
the one world
we all belong to
sooner or later
is a part of everything else
which thought made me feel
for a little while
quite beautiful myself.