Genesis 1:26-27, John 20:11-16, Revelation 21:2-5 (in that order)

Creation :: Participation

a reflection by Dan Spragg

A window I look out of and its view which I am distracted by on a regular basis has at the moment many small buds appearing almost before my eyes on one particular shrub. I have no idea what kind of shrub it is other than at the moment it appears to be of the ‘waking up and stretching after a long sleep’ kind. It is the season of spring. A young person said to me the other day that they don’t like the season of spring. I asked why. ‘Because it’s not summer yet!’ they replied. I can see their point. Summer is warm, the days are long, and for them, school holidays and trips to the beach are what fill the days. A good summer is often talked about for months afterwards and then the talk turns quickly to what the next summer might hold. I am guilty of this myself, being one who feels the cold and who much rather enjoys long hot days. I am guilty of my longing for summer beginning in around April. Summer has an allure to it, a sense of being free and easy and productive. There are joys in the other seasons too of course. I just have to think for a second longer to remember what they are.

The seasons can be useful for more than just marking our calendars. While we were participating in a Presbytery retreat three years ago Andrew Norton led us profoundly through engaging with the seasons as a metaphor for what we go through in life, and where we find ourselves at different times. Often, I wonder if we (I) treat our life experiences a little like we (I) treat the season of summer – remembering the good times that have been,  and longing for the good times yet to come. This means we forget about the three other seasons that each in their own way have their good bits. The beauty of the Autumn leaves and the activity of pruning, preparing and storing for the winter coming. The hard frosts of winter which kill off bugs, the gift of still clear sunny days, and the shorter days themselves helping us to stay in and rest more. Spring’s gift of colour often accompanies a renewed sense of energy and vitality. We need all of these seasons. Summers are great, but if it was always summer, I imagine we’d start longing for other things and indeed, and of course, we’d need other things too. While leading us on that retreat, Andrew began with Autumn and called it ‘Endings.’ A time for release, harvest, transition, grief, of letting things die, of letting things go. Winter is ‘Waiting.’ A time for darkness, silence, rest, regeneration, for secret things happening. Spring is ‘Opening.’ A time for opportunities, for new life, for grace, for realising potential, for light. Summer is ‘Returning.’ A time for others, for being productive, a gift, community, laughter. We go through all of these multiple times in our lives, not always in a linear fashion, and sometimes we can be in more than one season at a time depending on whether we are talking about family, or church, or our work, or our health.

It can be easy to look back and recognise in hindsight the ‘seasons’ we have been through throughout our lives so far. Each and all of them helpful in their own way even if they haven’t all been pleasant. We do prefer positive seasons. The question of what season are we currently in is often one that we struggle to answer. Having the benefit of hindsight but here and now in ‘real-time’ seems though to be a preferable way of living. There is a question we can ask ourselves. ‘He aha te tāima?’ (What time is it? – thanks to Andrew Norton for this too.) You might guess that this isn’t asking you to look at your watch. This question is asking rather what ‘moment’ or what ‘season’ are you in, implying that once this is determined it will give shape to what we are to do with it. We would do well to ask this question more of ourselves. What time is it? Or, where am I at the moment? As in, what season is it? And therefore, what do I need to do because of this? It comes down to the simple act of being present in our own lives and with what is occurring. If we pay attention to what comes when we answer these sorts of questions, ‘what time is it?’ ‘where am I?’ we will find all sorts of depth and insight to which before we asked remained distant to us. They are questions of location and they open up all sorts of worlds and possibilities to us. There are all sorts of invitations in them to participate in our own lives far more than we would if we don’t pay attention. There is a connection between being present and participating.

Here’s an interesting fact, in the Scriptures ‘land’ is mentioned in the first testament 2000 times and 250 times in the second testament. There are more references in the scriptures to ‘whenua’ (land) than to faith, repentance, or baptism. There is a thread, an arc from beginning to end, of location. It’s there in Genesis. We are given the mandate to “work the land and care for it” (Genesis 2:15). God called Abram (Abraham) to occupy a promised land. This new ‘people’ were to be located in a place where they would live their calling as the image of God in the world with a sense that it was more than a political destiny, it was a vocation. They were to live a certain way because of who they were. Jesus, building on what had come before, said, ‘I haven’t come to abolish the law but to fulfil it.’ (Matthew 5:17) Jesus came as one who worked to progress it forward. Jesus came to take what had begun with Israel and usher it into the fullness of what God intended by expanding the scope of who and broadening their understanding of ‘location.’ After Jesus had been killed, he appeared to Mary in a Garden – I’ve mentioned this before… was it a coincidence that Jesus was mistaken for a gardener, in a garden, on the first day of the new week? Not so much. With the risen Christ came the new creation, the reality of God’s yes to life in all its fullness, and it was birthed right in the middle of the existing one – located in their midst. There is then the story of the early church and their joys and struggles as they sought to participate in the ongoing story of God where they were. Near the end, in the book of Revelation, once we get over the weird stuff, we find a city as the place where all has come to fruition.

Creation, land, fulfilment, new creation, the church, a city. It starts in a garden, and it ends in a city. There is a sense of location – these things always happen somewhere, and a sense of progression – it is moving forward, evolving, developing. It seems to me that to be people of faith who are caught up in this story as people who follow Jesus and seek the life of the risen Christ, that we are to be a located people, participating in something that is evolving and growing. Participating in the new bursting forth in the middle of the old we are to live a grounded faith. All of this says to us that living into God’s reality of life seems like it can’t be divorced from where we are located yet for some reason it seems that only a minority of us find it easy to be fully present to where we are in each given moment.

It seems that in life it is good for us to pay attention to where we are. Using something like the metaphor of seasons can be helpful for us to recognise what time it is and therefore what kind of activity we need to be engaging in. It also seems that in the story of God, in the life of faith, we are very much called to be present where we are and to be active participants in it. The story of the scriptures is our story which we pick up and live here and now. It goes without saying, but perhaps I will say it, that life and faith are not disconnected and I would go as far as to say they cannot be disconnected.  So, our work is to be present to participate in the work of being co-creators with God which probably starts where we are in all the senses of what that could mean. The passiveness of living a disconnected life is probably brought about by what the 20th Century theologian Paul Tillich called being ‘estranged.’ It isn’t that we are disconnected from God, it is simply that this what we feel. We feel estranged, or alienated from God. We may feel or think quite often that God doesn’t speak to us, or that God isn’t involved or care intimately with our daily lives, but that doesn’t mean that it is true; we have simply fallen asleep to our deeply elemental connection to God and to the rest of creation. The remedy to passive disconnection is, of course, to actively connect. It is to pay attention, to choose to be present, to notice where we are, and to participate actively in what we discover.

As human beings we are called to belong to the story that says we are children of God, ‘heirs with Christ’ as Paul would put it, called into partnership with all creation to work and nurture all of everything into God’s justice. God’s justice, of course, is where all is ordered so that all have enough, that all can grow and develop and flourish into everything it is created to be. The story is an ongoing one. It is an unfolding one. To be a co-creator with God is to be an active participant in the big story of God. And so we are called to be present to the divine, we are called to be present to ourselves, we are called to be present to others, and we are called to be present to the earth. To be present is to participate in the progression of everything into the fullness of God’s eternal life. | Creation :: Participation | means being with God, with yourself, with others, with our world in our faith, in our mission, in our activities, in our relationships, in our voting, in our finances… the list goes on… because all is created good, Christ holds it all into the new as it unfolds and progresses and evolves as God’s future pulls us on.

So, he aha to tāima? What time is it? Can you locate yourself and partner with what you find there? Do you find yourself in autumn, or winter, or spring, or summer? What is going on in the world around you? What is the activity that needs to be done, no matter how big or small, in order for you to participate in the ongoing creation of the world?