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Cells In The Body Of God’s Universe? – Chris Fewings


The Christian Pentecost, celebrated tomorrow, crowns the 50 days of Easter. It’s a reincarnation of the risen Christ in the body of believers animated by the “Creator Spirit”. This rich sequence of spring festivals deserves a second look whatever your creed. You don’t need to assent to a fourth-century formula of the Trinity to enter into the poetry of the earth breathing new life, inspiring a babble of praise.

For most churchgoers in Britain, Easter pretty much finishes with Sunday lunch on Easter Day. After that, there’s only the rest of the chocolate, a few stragglers at evening services, and the bank holiday family outing. Following the intensity of Holy Week, with its numerous re-enactments of Passiontide events, there is no equivalent excitement in Easter week. There are Easter hymns for the next couple of Sundays, but few make much of the fact that the season lasts a full seven weeks, longer than Lent, whose 40 days still feature in the popular consciousness.

For over a thousand years the western church has buried a startling welcome to sin in the middle of the long and glorious Exsultet traditionally sung by the deacon on Easter night: “O happy fault! O necessary sin of Adam, which merited such and so great a Redeemer.” This echoes Julian of Norwich’s equally startling medieval dictum, made famous by T. S. Eliot in Little Gidding: “Sin is behovely”, which I take to mean “appropriate”. For sin read separation: whatever separates us from each other, from the rest of creation, and from the source of everything. Pride, the ego’s attempt to rise above all around it, is the sin of Lucifer.

In a fascinating essay in the book Ecopsychology*, Mary Gomes and Alan Kanner probe the relevance of our sense of self to the environmental crisis, focusing on the early development of the child. So far as we know, newborn babies make few if any distinctions in their experience, not even between “self” and “mother”. These develop with time, but differently in different cultures: in ours we have built up the fiercest distinction ever known between humans and the rest of the biosphere, which has simply become a resource we can exploit in any way we please. This attitude, combined with our ingenuity, has led the biosphere to the brink of the sixth great extinction – the first conscious one. The essay discusses the “separative self” – we are still dependent on our environment for each breath we take, but our actions are based on the illusion of independence.

But separation is behovely. The child’s ego must be allowed to develop. Language, even thought, depends on making distinctions; a word or concept defines something by excluding other things. The fatal flaw arises from making separation absolute. Redemption is a dialectic: we think ourselves separate, rise up on angel’s wings, then are dashed down when the reality of total interdependence calls us back to earth. Like a parent picking up a fallen toddler, life sets us back on course, hopefully a little wiser. We fall at another hurdle, learn a little more. Eventually we may learn respect for our limitations, teamwork, even love – but we can and must still strike out on our own, to fall back again into the loving arms of interdependence, learned in a new way each time.

Easter, observed just after the first full moon following the equinox, is – like spring itself – a blaze of light bursting in on darkness. The light of Christ is an invitation to the dance – come closer, go to arm’s length, be pulled back. In our era we are better at learning this in relation to each other than in relation to the earth itself. We pull further and further away, crucifying not only other species, but our own fullness as part of an ecosystem. Even most models of environmentalism paint us as caretakers of a separate “natural world”. Paul’s cosmic Christ calls us to more than this – rediscovering ourselves as cells in the body of God’s universe.

This article was printed in the Face to Faith column of the Guardian in 2008, under the name Chris Duggan.

The discussion on the article is still on the Guardian website. My favourite comment is “Where does Jesus stand on subsidies for wind and solar power? Oh, he’s too busy dancing in the new moon or something.” Some others engage more deeply with the article.

*You can read part of Ecopsychology at Amazon:  ECOPYSCHOLOGY: Restoring the earth, healing the mind ed. Theodore Roszak et al. (2002)

The image is Creator spirit by: David Perry via Seed Resources

2 comments on this post:

Philip Park said...

Do you know if prints are available of David Perry’s ‘Creator Spirit’ painting?

Lay Anglicana said...

I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to this question, but I found it here
You can probably contact David Perry via the website?

22 April 2019 08:55
16 August 2018 10:39

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