God in all Creation
in all Creation
Introduction by Alastair McIntosh
to Britain Yearly Meeting’s Business,
Religious Society of Friends, London, 27 May 2000
First published in Quaker Monthly, Quaker Home Service, London, 79:2, July 2000, 163-167. See also background paper in Friends Quarterly.
We all know the fearsome statistics and I will burden you with only one. In Professor EO Wilson’s estimate, seventy-four plant or animal species become extinct each day. Humankind is squeezing out the rest of Creation and we don’t know how to stop ourselves.
In struggling to make sense of these our troubled times, many Friends have sought new light. Sometimes this seemed to cast older Christian truths into shadow. The Bible with its complex historical theology, for example, became for many a problem; even an embarrassment. Meanwhile, out in wider British society, God, like the Creation, was becoming increasingly extinct.
But not so, Mammon.
In the Highland bardic tradition Mammon, that personification of money, sits enthroned by the sea with a golden scallop shell on his knee overflowing with jewels. “Will you ... darling ... please pass me back that beautiful ruby that’s just fallen out,” he says to Donald, who has come from the village seeking a bit of retail therapy with which to salve his broken-ness of heart. “Yesss, thank you ... ahhh ... that one was the heart of Callum the Grasper, my previous visitor. You see, darling, I will make you rich, very rich ... but you must leave me your heart.”
Well, Donald became a powerful landlord. But his life was blighted by emptiness. Why? Because the worship of Mammon yields imperceptibly to Moloch - that hollowed-out, fire-filled stone god of annihilation into whose arms the ancients sacrificed their very children for future prosperity. You see, Friends, it is little wonder that we are surrounded today by the death of nature. As John Woolman said, “the seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions.” And if the nations pray for dead things, like property, gold and machinery, they must expect Moloch to demand the extinction of a people or a species now and again - like seventy-four times a day.
A Trident submarine, to take one example, is a pretty visible materialisation of Moloch. But God can be harder to see. God, as life, as love made visible, permeates all around. God is therefore pretty big to take in. And let’s face it - we’re scared, witless, of the implications of living as if “the whole of life is sacramental.”
And so we disempower God. We cut God down to size - down to our own genteel, nicely polite, mediocre and complacent size that never confronts nobody and leaves the temple tables undisturbed. We thereby set God up as a travesty, a derision and a joke. And then we wonder why the ecological prophesy of Isaiah 24 rings so true: “The earth dries up and withers,” says Isaiah. “The whole world languishes and lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have broken the everlasting covenant. All joy has reached its eventide; the gladness of the earth is banished.”
Aye, verily, we “frame” God. With biting Lilliputian chords we do frame God. And no prizes for guessing what is the shape of that frame.
The Cross, for that is what we erect God on, is both a mirror - reflecting the human condition - and a light - revealing the impulse to serve at the very heart of God.
We can take the story of Jesus as literal history. Or we can take it as metaphor – as Christ the parabolic God-man, who both taught in parables and whose whole life was a parable. Either way, his story illuminates the deepest structures of reality. That is why we can’t run away from Christ. Without the Cross, without its full poetic drama, Quakerism would be but an empty bucket rattled.
Now Friends, I would not be standing here had I not learned about the divine unity of all things from Hinduism.
I would not be so convinced of the possibility of interfaith sharing were it not for Surah 3 of the Qur’an, which says of other religions, “We make no distinction between any of them.”
I would not be comfortable with Christianity were it not for Jesus’ use of Psalms 82 in John 10, where he implies that we are all daughters and sons of God. Or, as 2 Peter 1 puts it, our vocation is to “become participants of the divine nature.”
Neither could I celebrate the totality of God without those radical feminist theologians who have named, unmasked and engaged the idolatrous blasphemy of reducing God to being male. After all, Genesis 1 describes “God’s image” as both male and female. In Matthew 11, Jesus identifies with the “Sophia” or “Woman Wisdom” of Proverbs 8. And even Paul, in Galatians 3, testifies that in Christ, “there is neither male nor female.”
Such theologies have helped many modern Friends to bring God down to Earth, complementing transcendence with immanence. And this, Friends, is the key to reverence - to knowing God not just in everyone, but also in all Creation. This, indeed, is the ecological theology of Genesis 1, of Romans 8, of Psalms 104, and of Job 38 ... where it is out of God’s very “womb” that the Creation flows in continuous process. Neither is this some idolatrous pantheism – “God as nature.” Rather, it is canonical panentheism - “God in nature” - an understanding of Heaven that, as Christ said in Luke 17, is “among” us or “within.”
We might call such bedrock that interconnects all life “the Body of Christ.” Or call it the Buddha nature, Allah, Brahma, Jah, Tao and the Great Cosmic Mother. We might call it anything consistent with the axiomatic principle of 1 John 4 that “God is love.” But let us not neglect to call it also - and to know it fully at the level where all distinctions are sourced in one-ness - as God’s Holy Spirit … incarnate … intimate … the very “Person of Christ.”
Such is the deepest nature of the world over which George Fox urged us to “walk cheerfully.” Such is the poetic source from which “all things,” according to John’s prologue, came into being. Such is the realm of reality becoming “on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
We might ask, “How could we possibly live with the implications of accepting that the Creation is filled with God’s life?” Well, Gandhi faced the fact that, as he put it, “All life entails violence.” We cannot cross a lawn without crushing spiders. Our duty, he said, can only be to minimise the harm we cause.
That is why we need theologies of atonement. We need them to celebrate and restore the Creation conscious of, but relieved from, the burden of guilt and hypocrisy; liberated by acceptance of self and others for what we are and for all that we are. We need to understand that, as Blake said, “The cut worm forgives the plough.”
The humble worm’s pained forgiveness comes not from any worm-sized effort of will, but through the cosmic-scale grace of God. This is how we can climb back down from off the Cross and watch our suffering compost into fresh, rich, life-supporting soil. Forgiveness is the way of life eternal.
Friends we have been created free to love, or not to love, which is why evil co-exists with good in this world. We have a choice in whether or not to be true to life, for as God told Moses in Deuteronomy 30, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses … therefore choose life.”
That choice is what makes our love a free love. It redeems love from a controlled and controlling relationship to an unbounded gift of grace. It repudiates obedience to Mammon or Moloch and so frees the energy necessary to reset the seeds of Eden. It unites social and ecological justice, shifting the axis of human life from grinding mere survival to promised “life abundant.”
Allow me to close now by suggesting three questions.
How should we understand our relationship to the Creation?
How can Quaker spirituality help us to reduce the cost of our personal lives to the Earth?
And, how can we celebrate life ever more deeply, in “the sacrament of the present moment”?
The following Minute was agreed by Yearly Meeting resulting from this business:
Minute 20: God in all Creation
Our consideration of our relationship with God's creation has been introduced to us by Alastair McIntosh.
"I have set before you life and death… therefore choose life" [Deuteronomy 30]. Can we face the implications of living as if the whole of life is sacramental? We are challenged to answer three questions:
How should we understand our relationship to the creation?
How can Quaker spirituality help us to reduce the cost of our personal lives to the Earth?
How can we celebrate life ever more deeply in the sacrament of the present moment?
Friends have spoken of their sense of the interconnectedness of all our Quaker testimonies. If we can take seriously the implications of living as co-creators of the future we hold a key to addressing the impact of human population and activity on the planet; we can bring a sense of reverence, knowing God in all creation.
Our Christian and Quaker tradition leads us into a depth and quality of hope, which is more than a naive optimism.
We commend the exercise we have entered upon this afternoon to all Friends and meetings. In doing so we hope to reinvigorate the process of exploring the spiritual issues and practical action begun in the churches' exercise on "Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation.
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