Creation Dreams and Ecological Nightmares … again

More than ten years ago I posted this sermon that then became a chapter in my book, Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination. Perhaps it is worth reposting this piece today, on the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.

It seems to me that the environmental crisis is, at heart, a failure and a perversion of the human imagination. Our imaginations have been taken captive by an ecocidal ideology of economic growth that invariably will render us homeless in a world not fit for habitation. If imagination is the issue, then a redirection of our lives towards creation care will not emerge out of statistics of ecological despoliation, as important as those statistics might be. What we need is liberated imaginations, imaginations set free to envision an alternative life, an ecological imagination that engenders a life of restorative homemaking in this our creational home.

And it is no surprise that when it comes to imagination I turn to scripture and song. Nor would anyone be surprised if the songwriter would be Bruce Cockburn.

The sermon is rooted in a series of counter-pointal readings from Scripture coupled with a number of Cockburn songs.

The first set of readings places the first chapter of Genesis in tension with a number of prophetic texts. Read these texts in this order and see what happens:

Gen 1.1-4;  Jer. 4.23

Gen. 1.9-12; Is. 24.4-6, 11, 19

Gen 1.20-22; Hos. 4.1-3

Gen 1.24-25; Jer. 9.10

Gen. 1.26-28, 30-31; Jer. 4.23-26

Then add in John 1.1-5 as the Gospel and Colossians 1.21-23 as the Epistle.

Now stir it all with the music of Bruce Cockburn. Begin with “One Day I Walk”, play “Creation Dream” just before reading the sermon, and finish it all off with “Lord of the Starfields” and “All the Diamonds.” You might also want to top it all off with “In the Falling Dark,” and “Night Train.”

[Note: Throughout the sermon, Cockburn lyrics are in italics.]

Creation Dreams and Ecological Nightmares

The contrasts are stark.

In the beginning the earth was a formless void,
I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void.

Let there be light,
and they had no light.

A lush, well watered world of rich fecundity,
the earth dries up and withers.

A world recognized as delightfully good,
all joy has reached its eventide,
the gladness of the earth is banished,
… the gladness of the earth is banished.

Creation dreams,
ecological nightmares.

A creation of rich interrelatedness and wholeness,
and yet, the earth is utterly broken,
the earth is torn asunder,
the earth is violently shaken.

The earth, the earth, the earth.

Waters swarming with living creatures,
and the fish of the sea are perishing.

Winged birds of every kind fly across the dome of the sky,
and the birds of the air are perishing.

And God blessed them and said …
but a curse devours the earth.

A world of primordial peace,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed.

The contrasts are stark.
Biblical contrasts.

Ecological contrasts.
Dreams and nightmares.

Be fruitful and multiply,
the birds of the air and the animals have fled and gone.

A flourishing creation,
a languishing land.

Creatures of every kind,
fewer and fewer creatures of any kind.

A generative world that brings forth life upon life,
the degenerating force of a culture of death.

Fertile garden,
barren wastelands.

A creatio per verbum,
a creation by the Word of the Creator God,
let there be, let there be
let the waters bring forth,
let the earth bring forth,

in the beginning was the Word,
all things came into being through this Word,
a covenant word,
a life engendering, calling, loving,
inviting, directing, ordering
Word of a Creator overflowing in creative love:
an extravagant Word,
a Word of blessing,

and  yet,

the earth lies polluted under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws,
violated the statutes,
broken the everlasting covenant,
a broken Word.

The true Word of life
meets the deceptive words of death.

The contrasts are stark.

And God saw,
God saw,
God saw,
God saw,
God saw,
God saw,

it was good,
good,
good,
good,
good,
very good.

And I looked,
I looked,
I looked,
I looked,
I looked …

it was waste and void,
no light,
mountains quaking,
no one at all,
no birds,
no fruitfulness,
cities in ruins.

God saw,
it was good,

I look,
and see desolation.

Creational dreams,
ecological nightmares.

Loving dominion
degenerates into disdainful domination.

Creaturely kinship
overthrown through human-centredness.

A rich diversity of many creatures ‘according to their kinds’
reduced to a world depleted of thousands upon thousands of species.

Seed bearing fruit and plants with their self-generating seed
meet mono-crop terminator seeds.

Wildly creative diversity
nipped in the bud by industrial agriculture.

Selah

A creation dream that begins in silence,
before that first creative word,
drowned out by the cacophony
of a world with too much communication
and too little to say.

Counting on nothing,
a creatio ex nihilo,

a creation of pure gift
meets a culture that counts only commodities,
and entitlement renders gratitude impossible.

An ecstatic creation dream,
a dream of energy “sparks the wind from your hair,”
engendering “fields of motion surging outward”
meets the ecological nightmare of consumer affluence
fuelled by oil fields and tar sands,
firing the engines of progress.

Creation dream degenerates into a dark dream.

A dream of an eloquent creation
a responsive world wherein
questions contain their own replies
gives way to a world of mute objects,
natural resources,
commodities.

You were dancing,
I saw you dancing

throwing your arms toward the sky.

Not just a creatio per verbum,
not just a creation by powerful Word,
but a creatio per salatum
a creation by dance.

Fingers opening,
like flares

stars were shooting everywhere
lines of power
bursting outward
along the channels of your song.

Like Aslan singing Narnia into being,
here is a dream of creation
through a song so beautiful that you could hardly bear it.

From creatio per verbum,
creation by the word;

to creatio per salatum,
creation through dance;
to creatio per cantum,
creation through song.

And song calls forth song.

Creation sings,
trees clap their hands,
hills dance for joy,
the storm clouds praise,
birds and animals sing in the choir,
even the rocks on the side of the road will cry out!

And the image-bearer can’t help herself,
she too must sing.

Lord of the starfields
Ancient of Days

Universe Maker
Here’s a song in your praise

Wings of the storm cloud
beginning and end

you make my heart leap
like a banner in the wind

A liberated imagination begins in praise.

Blessed care of our creaturely neighbours
begins in gratitude borne of love,

love at the very heart of creation.

O Love that fires the sun
keep me burning.

May my love,
may that which animates my life,
may that passion and liberated imagination
be rooted in nothing less than the very love
that fires the sun,
nothing less than the very animating Spirit
that is the real driving force of all of life.

Lord of the starfields,
sower of life

heaven and earth are
full of your light.

May our praise not descend into blasphemy,
may we not be sowers of death,
may we not block out the light
that illuminates heaven and earth,
may we live in the light
and say to the darkness, ‘we beg to differ.’

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.

Voice of the Nova
smile of the dew

all of our yearning
only comes home to you.

Deafening voice of a super nova,
the powerful, commanding voice of the Creator’s
creation-calling Word,
that is as gentle and as inviting
as the smile of the morning dew.

In the face of habitat destruction
we long for restoration,

in the face of species eradication
we long for care,

in the face of global warming,
we long for repentance,

in the face of economic captivity,
we long for ecological liberation,

in the face of our broken hearts in a broken world
we confess that our hearts are restless
until they find their rest in Thee,
all of our yearning,
only comes home to you.

One day I walk in flowers,
one day I walk on stones,

today I walk in hours,
one day I shall be home.

Coming home,
ecological rape meets stewardly love.

Coming home,
that which is despoiled is made whole.

Coming home,
defilement meets forgiveness and restoration.

Coming home,
every tear is wiped away.

Coming home,
ecological vandals become homemakers.

Coming home,
home to the Father,
home to the family,
home to the community,
home to the earth.

Home was born with shots of silver
in the shell-pink dawn.

Home was born in a garden.
Home is born anew in another garden,

another dawn,
the resurrection dawn of the new creation.

What once was estranged is reconciled,
what once was hostile is befriended,
what once was defiled is holy,
what once was guilty is blameless.

This is the gospel,
this is the good news,
this is the faith,
this is the hope.

Anything less,
and we remain homeless.

Anything less,
the rape continues.

Anything less,
our piety is blasphemy.

Anything less,
Jesus is still on the cross.

Reconciliation of all things,
in heaven and on earth,
visible and invisible,
all things created,
all things redeemed,
all things brought back home.

Two thousand years and half a world away,
dying trees still will grow greener

when you pray.

This is the gospel,
not just for humans,
not just for “our sins”
not just for “our souls.”

This is the gospel,
proclaimed to every creature under heaven.

This is the gospel grasped by atoms and amoeba,
good news for habitats and House Wrens,
restoration for eagles and eco-zones,
salvation for seed-bearing plants and seas swarming with life.

All this glory shining around
and we’re all caught taking a dive,

and all the beasts of the hills around shout,
“such a waste!
don’t you know that from the first to the last
we’re all one in the gift of Grace!”

The beasts of the hills know,
the winds and rains know,
the fish of the sea and birds of the air know,
the fruit trees and vegetation know,
all of creation knows
that the dawn has come.

All of creation knows
that homecoming is at hand.

All of creation knows
that the one who dies for the world
has exercised the true dominion.

All creation knows
that the tomb is empty.

All creation knows
that the New Adam has risen with healing in his hands.

All of creation knows
that we’re one in the gift of Grace.

All of creation proclaims,
“Alleluia! Christ is risen!”

O love, that fires the sun,
keep me burning.

O love, that is the heart of all things,
set our imaginations free.

Creation dreams or ecological nightmares.
Life or death.
Blessing or curse.

Without vision there are nightmares.
Without dreams there is death.

So choose life,
live out of a creation dream,
practice resurrection.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian and the CRC Campus Minister at the University of Toronto. He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

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