Future Faith: Challenge Four: Perceiving the World as Sacred

Emptying creation of its intrinsic, sacred value, derived from the life of the Creator, now threatens the actual sustainability of the planet’s life-supporting systems.

The eclipse of creation and the subjugation of life to capitalist imagination is also the eclipse of the sacred. The natural world as a community of kindred subjects and the bearer of mystery and spirit is nostalgia, if a memory at all. When everything is for sale, the numinous is leeched away like water from sand. Awe and wonder fade as the full drama of life in the natural world—death and renewal, birth and rebirth, life lost and emergent—eludes our waking hours. Rich though we be as consumers, as creatures who belong body and soul to the cosmos we are paupers.

The heart of the crisis lies in humanity’s distorted relationship to the creation and its Creator.

This has not always been so. Nor is the relationship between humanity and creation perceived in this way throughout much of the non-Western world, including those areas where Christianity is growing with explosive speed. The church that has dominated Western society, with its wedding to Enlightenment thought and the unforgiving capitalist exploitation of nature, now faces a task of theological reconstruction if it truly believes that “God so loved the world . . .” (John 3:16).

Human redemption can only be understood as part of the redemption of the whole creation.

“the creative energy of God is the true being of all that is; matter is that spirit or energy in physical form. Therefore, we should regard our human environment as the energy of God in a form that is accessible to our senses.”

Such understandings of “cosmic” incarnation and redemption found expression in the Eastern church in early church fathers such as Gregory of Nyssa. Those voices were less prevalent in the Western church, but with some very prominent exceptions. Saint Francis of Assisi was most notable, of course, extolling the familial harmony—“Brother Sun, Sister Moon”—of creation’s web as the embodiment of God’s love. Saint Bonaventure, who followed Francis as a formative leader of the Franciscan order, described God as “within all things but not enclosed; outside all things but not excluded; above all things but not aloof; below all things but not debased. . . . [W]hose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”

discussion guide

  • What historical developments in both society and the church have had an impact on how we view the sacred or holy in our modern world?
  • How do you respond to this quote by Larry Rasmussen: “Rich though we be as consumers, as creatures who belong body and soul to the cosmos we are paupers”? Do you agree that creation has been compromised by modern human action? Why or why not?
  • To what voices or perspectives does the author suggest we pay close attention? Why?
  • How would you complete this statement: The created world is _________.
  • What more do you want to learn or do based on reading this chapter of the book?

 

Previous posts can be found here:

Challenge One: Revitalizing Withering Congregations

Challenge Two: Embracing the Color of the Future

Challenge Three: Seeing through Non-Western Eyes

For more on this, please support the author and buy his book at Amazon or Fortress Press. I do not receive any compensation for this summary.