Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How do I know God's will?

I don’t always know God’s will in advance or all at once. It is something I discern incrementally, moment by moment as I pay attention to what is going on within me and around me. I find that prayer and meditation help to foster this attentiveness, and prepare me to respond intuitively to situations as they arise. Sometimes there is just a felt-sense of "rightness."

Often I need the help of others to discern God’s will. I invite their prayer and feedback. Study of Scripture and other spiritual writings also inform my understanding of God’s will, as I meditate on how others have experienced and responded to God (or failed to do so).

My baseline for discernment is the consequences of my decisions and actions: whether or not they promote peace, love, joy, gentleness, kindness, faithfulness, patience, self-control and generosity. When I don't get it "right," God is able even to make use of my failings.

I am growing in my ability to trust God’s will for me even when I don’t know what it is. Its fulfillment depends less on my knowledge than on my faithfulness. If I am open and vulnerable then I can be usable for God.

Too often, my energy is consumed with questions like, "What am I meant to do with my life?," which can be an expression of ego - a sense of entitlement to some grand and self-satisfying purpose in life. This can prevent me from paying attention to what is right in front of me. When I am able to remove the "ego-blinders," God's will is plain to see in the dailiness of life. There always is some small way in which I can be of service to others. And that is enough.

This stance of humility and openness to what is given in the moment is more important than the "correctness" of any particular decision or action. God doesn't play hide and seek with us; life isn't a guessing game. I think it is me who makes it harder than it really is.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Saying Good-bye

I have been spending a lot of time in the past several weeks saying "good-bye" to the people of the parish I serve. My last Sunday with them will be this weekend, July 4. After more than six years, I'm discovering that how I take leave may be as important as any of the work I've done with them.

The congregation has known about my resignation for about two months. At first, I thought this was going to feel like a long, drawn-out leave-taking. Instead, the weeks have passed quickly enough, and I've appreciated being able to take my time packing my office, handing off work, and visiting with folks to bring closure to our time together.

We've been intentional about this transition. Entering into this period mindfully, open to receiving whatever is given, has been a wonderful gift. I've heard stories about how people's lives have been changed here, and discovered seeds I didn't even know I had planted taking root and growing. We've acknowledged failings and experienced forgiveness. Noticing the slow, patient, often hidden work of God - in me as well as in the congregation - has been one of the joys of this time of shared memory and reflection.

It also has been both gratifying and humbling to see how well ministry moves forward without me. That is not to say that my part here has been insignificant, but simply to recognize that I have been part of a larger movement of the Spirit in this place that preceded me and will go on quite well without me. I'm grateful to be able to leave with strong leadership in place and an atmosphere of trust in God and in the future. That is a credit to the transparency that has marked our way of being together.

We devote time to the things that matter to us the most. I hope that the time we've taken to say "good-bye" is received as a token of love, an expression of gratitude, and a sign of health and hope. Letting go is not always easy, but our vulnerability in this time of transition is an opening to love. The invitation to be held in that love is the final gift we have been able to offer one another: the greatest of all gifts, as St. Paul tells us, and the most enduring. Thank you.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Love Slaves for Jesus

Rembrandt, Paul in prison

“Freedom” is on everybody’s lips, especially this week between Pride Sunday and Independence Day. Like motherhood and apple pie, we are all for it. Some even die for the sake of freedom. But what is freedom and how do we experience it?

I like St. Paul’s take: Freedom is not the capacity to choose between this and that desire, but rather the capacity to choose love. We experience freedom by becoming a love slave for Jesus. Jesus has given us his Spirit so that we might be free – “It was to bring us into the realm of freedom that Christ set us free” might be a better translation.(1) Freedom is life in the Spirit, living completely transparent to God so that love can flow through us.

Julian of Norwich describes free persons as those “who are so attached to God that there can be no created thing between God and themselves.”(2) We recognize this freedom when we become aware that our desire for God is greater than our desire for anything else. This freedom is intrinsic to our being; as we come to live more and more in this realm of freedom we are grasped by love, and love gradually determines all of our choices. We become aware of the invitations to love and of our desire to respond to them with our whole heart.

But as Blessed Julian recognized, we can become attached to other things to the detriment of our freedom. It doesn’t really matter if the things are good or bad in themselves; it is our attachment to them that can get in the way of love. I’ve known parents who are deeply attached to their children such that they can’t bear for them to be hurt or to fail. Their children are perfectly fine – and quite lovable. It is the attachment, the inability to differentiate themselves from their children that obscures their perceptions and renders them unfree and unable to respond to the promptings of love. Instead they smother them and pressure them to succeed, all the while convinced that they are protecting them and securing their future.

We see the results of our attachment to the fossil-fuel based economy unfolding in the expanding swath of death-dealing oil covering the Gulf of Mexico. In our addiction to this form of energy and the lifestyle it affords us, we are no longer free to love – to choose a sustainable form of economy that preserves and nurtures the natural and cultural bases of both freedom and health upon which all life depends. Fossil fuel is neither good nor bad in itself. It is our attachment to it that obscures our desire for God and the freedom of life in the Spirit.

At the very least, our desire for God can help us to acknowledge the areas of unfreedom in our lives. Sr. Rose Mary Dougherty writes that “At times we may need to acknowledge that we don’t even want to consider the possibility of freedom in a particular choice. We may recognize that we are ‘hooked’ in a particular way and prefer to stay that way. This acknowledgement of our unfree self to God may be our greatest act of trust.”(3) At such times as this, perhaps the most we can do is pray for the willingness to become free.

When we are vulnerable with God in this way, our desire for God eventually brings us into the realm of freedom so that we can risk the changes that love demands. Sr. Rose Mary tells two stories that beautifully illustrate this. She recalls a woman who shared with her about her addiction to smoking. “It got so bad that this addiction began to dictate most of her decisions – whom she would spend her time with, where she would travel, and so on. Then her sister became very ill and was dying in a hospital. The woman wanted to be with her sister every minute but she constantly found herself leaving the room and spending a lot of time getting to a place where she could smoke. Finally she said to herself, ‘That’s enough; this smoking is taking me away from what I want most.’ And she quit.”

“Then there is the story of Dr. Annalena Tonelli, who has dedicated her life to the health of the people of Somalia. She is quoted as saying, ‘I am desperately in love with TB patients . . . I want to be poor up to the last day of my life . . . I would never be able to render service if I had clothes and furniture and all the things which are normal for our society.’ These are seemingly very different examples with very different consequences. The point is, however, that a very particular love in a concrete circumstance evoked a specific face of freedom for each of these women.”(4)

In both of these instances, we see how freedom is ordered toward the good of others and brings us more deeply into connection with them, into community. Our desire for God brings us into the realm of freedom, not simply as an interior receptivity to love but into a communal space in which love shapes action. Through love we become slaves of one another and create a community of the free.

St. Paul describes the tension between freedom and unfreedom as life in the Spirit vs. life in the Flesh. The contrast that Paul develops between the Spirit and the Flesh – “Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh” – is a contrast between the community of the free, those whose lives are vivified by the Spirit of Christ, and those whose lives are enslaved by self-interest without regard for the common good. The “flesh” here is not understood as the body, but rather is reified as a cosmic force or disruptive energy that undermines the health of the community.

Paul is addressing a community – not individuals – and when he speaks of virtues such as love, joy, peace, generosity, etc. and vices such as enmity, strife, jealousy, quarrels, dissensions and factions, he is speaking about characteristics that indicate whether freedom or self-interest is operative at the level of community. More than that, he is arguing that such vices render community impossible: “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”(5)

Spirit and flesh are not abstract, disembodied entities, but vital energies that give shape to our collective endeavors. For St. Paul, freedom is not a matter of individuals choosing a way of life but rather the realm of existence determined by the Spirit of Christ; only within that realm can we be truly free, and authentic community is possible only when animated by such freedom. Freedom is life in the Spirit.

To put it another way, we might say that individual freedom is possible only in such a community, where self-giving love for the sake of the common good triumphs over self-interested exploitation. “For you were called to freedom brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another; take care that you are not consumed by one another.”(6)

If we wish to avoid consuming one another – and the planet – we must have the courage to acknowledge our attachments, the barriers to love that bind us. The trick with attachments is not to deny them or to renounce them; both these strategies only bind us more tightly to them. What we must do is see them for what they are in light of our deeper and more profound desire for God.

Sr. Rose Mary again: “We cannot make ourselves free. We can only pray to live into freedom, seeking God even in the midst of our attachments. In the process we may realize that John of the Cross is right when he says that we come to God through what we love and desire. We may find that our attachments are the vehicles of God’s purifying love in our lives. They are the means through which God burns away the impurities of lesser loves until we are but one pure flame . . . We live in the ashes of our freedom.”(7)

The ashes of our freedom are the ego-centric attachments that burn away in the heat of our desire for God. What remains is a passionate engagement with love’s work in the world, the world that God loved so much that he sent his son, Jesus, to set us free to share in this love. In the realm of freedom, we desire as God desires and act as agents of God’s love. St. Paul described his own experience of this state when he wrote, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”(8)

The realm of freedom can be thought of as the querencia. “In bull fighting there is a place in the ring where the bull feels safe. If he can reach this place, he stops running and gathers his full strength. He is no longer afraid . . . It is the job of the matador to know where this sanctuary lies, to be sure the bull does not have time to occupy his place of wholeness.”

“This safe place for a bull is called the querencia. For humans the querencia is the safe place in our inner world . . . When a person finds their querencia, in full view of the matador, they are calm and peaceful. Wise. They have gathered their strength around them.”(9) Our attachments are like the matador, driving us to and fro so that we cannot claim the realm of freedom in our lives. When we realize that freedom, we can look the matador in the eye without fear. We can choose to live from the deep center of our being, where the living water of love wells up spontaneously and overflows into our lives.

I would agree with St. Paul, however, that the querencia is not only the experience of interior freedom, but is also a realm of freedom in history. The querencia is the community of the free who engage love’s work together for the common good. We need the dynamic interaction of contemplation and communion, interior freedom and communal action, to realize the gifts of the Spirit in our world.

The querencia for human beings is an integrative experience of the spiritual and material, individual and communal, dimensions of life. It is not a private or personal experience, but a profoundly shared realization of the radical interdependence of the whole creation. It is an awakening of the heart to compassion (for ourselves and others) and a quickening of the feet to march for justice (for all).

In my own experience, I have found it much easier to look the matador in the eye with the help of others. One of the great blessings of being the rector of St. John’s is that you have been the querencia for me, the realm of freedom, the place where I can gather my strength, calm my nerves, and realize again love’s claim upon me and the world. You have invited me again and again to let go the attachments that inhibit freedom, and to commit them to the living flame of our desire for God. You have taught me what it is to be a love slave for Jesus.

As I prepare to leave you, my only wish is that you continue to experience the querencia in your life together, and find the inspiration to extend it in an ever widening circle of love until the Spirit God renews the face of the whole earth. “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”(10) Amen.

(1) See J. Louis Martyn, Galatians (New York: Doubleday, 1997), pp. 446-447 for this translation of Gal. 5:1.
(2) Quoted in Rose Mary Dougherty, Discernment: a path to spiritual awakening (New York: Paulist Press, 2009), p. 29.
(3) Dougherty, p. 31
(4) Dougherty, p. 32
(5) Galatians 5:16-21.
(6) Galatians 5:13-15.
(7) Dougherty, Discernment, p. 38.
(8) Galatians 2:20.
(9) Quoted in Dougherty, pp. 23-24.
(10) Galatians 5:1.

Friday, June 25, 2010


I am re-reading Rose Mary Dougherty's beautiful book, Discernment: a path to spiritual awakening. It is the distillation of the teaching of one of the great living spiritual guides of our time. Sr. Rose Mary, SSND is a Roman Catholic religious and a Zen Buddhist sensei, who has taught at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation for many years. She melds together Ignatian, Carmelite, Quaker, and Zen spirituality, refined in the furnace of her own spiritual practice. When she says that "We live in the ashes of our freedom," she is speaking from experience. All the dross has been burned away to reveal the living flame of love in her simple, yet profound, reflections.

While Doughtery provides a basic grounding in traditional understandings of discernment and the practices that aid in the cultivation of a discerning heart, the essence of her teaching is the conviction that discernment is a way of life rooted in prayer. Discernment is not so much a method(s) for making decisions as it is a fundamental orientation of ourselves towards God. "The habit of discernment is an attitude of listening to God in all of life. We might also describe it as a posture of openness to God in all of life or simply as prayerfulness." (p. 22)

The purpose of discernment is not about self-knowledge as an end-in-itself, or about making the "right" choices in life. Its purpose is the experience of freedom to love. "Discernment is ultimately about love. It is about seeing in the moment, the loving action and compassionate action that is mine and having the freedom to respond and to act . . . That love gradually determines all our choices. We begin to awaken to the invitations issued by love and are ready to respond out of the authenticity of our being." (p. 29-30). Dougherty helps to illumine the sources of our "unfreedom," the barriers to love, and uncover our deepest desire for "an unrestricted love in all of life." (p. 28).

This book is a wonderful resource for pastors and spiritual directors, and the six short chapters would serve well as the focus of a book study, perhaps during Lent. I highly recommend it to anyone who wishes to nurture his or her desire for God.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Saying Good-bye

July 4 will be my last Sunday as rector at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church. The congregation is moving to a part-time rector position, possibly yoked with another congregation(s) in the future. I have been aware of this development for some time, and have supported it whole-heartedly as the right decision for reasons of mission and stewardship. At the same time, I am clear that I am not called to serve in such a capacity. So, it is time to say good-bye and move on, with an enormous sense of gratitude and accomplishment.

The more than six years spent at St. John's has been profoundly formative for me as a priest and a human being. I've experienced much healing and growth thanks to the spiritual maturity and gentle forbearance of the people there. My own prayer life has blossomed, I've embraced a call to the ministry of spiritual direction, and I have been affirmed in my vocation as a parish priest. I've learned to accept my limits, let go, and accept forgiveness. And so much more.

I'm not sure yet what God has in store for me yet, but I trust it will be better than I could ask for or imagine. It always is - even if it is not always easy.

As I say good-bye to St. John's, I also am saying good-bye to meditatio. This blog has been a wonderful creative outlet, a format with which I am still experimenting. I will continue the experiment at Theo's. You are welcome to join me there.

Thank you St. John's, and thank you all who've dropped in here from time to time. May God bless you and keep you.

En-Gulfed in the Need for Community

Watching the horror unfold in the Gulf of Mexico has been deeply troubling. For me, it is much more than an industrial "accident," an unfortunate but necessary risk to preserve our way of life. It is a potent reminder that this way of life is killing the planet.

As prophets like Wendell Berry have proclaimed for many years now, the industrial economy is not sustainable; it is, in fact, the source of much of our cultural and natural dis-ease. In a 1991 essay, Conservation and Local Economy, Berry wrote that "The aims of production, profit, efficiency, economic growth and technological progress imply . . . no social or ecological standards, and in practice they submit to none. But there is another set of aims that does imply a standard, and these aims are freedom (which is pretty much a synonym for personal and local self-sufficiency), pleasure (that is, our gladness to be alive), and longevity or sustainability (by which we signify our wish that human freedom and pleasure may last). The standard implied by all of these aims is health. They depend ultimately and in escapably on the health of nature; the idea that freedom and pleasure can last long in a diseased world is preposterous. But these good things depend also on the health of human culture, and human culture is to a considerable extent the knowledge of economic and other domestic procedures - that is, ways of work, pleasure, and education - that preserve the health of nature."

The standard of health is what Christians refer to as "salvation" - health in its ultimate, cosmic dimension. Too often, we have thought of salvation as something reserved for human beings sometime in the future in some other world. We forget that Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is among us and that we should pray for God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. St. Paul picks up this theme, seeing the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus as encompassing the end of the "old creation" and its death-dealing ways, and the birth of a new creation. John's Gospel tell us that "God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." (John 3:17)

This world whose salvation (health) God desires encompasses far more than human beings. St. Paul, again, "For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile all things to himself, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of the cross." (Col. 1:19-20) God's love exemplied in Christ's self-offering in solidarity with a suffering world is for the healing of the whole creation.

When St. Paul speaks of the creation waiting with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God, groaning in labor pains (Rom. 8:18ff), I believe he is giving poetic expression to the hope of the earth for a human community ordered to the standard of health. The earth is groaning still in anticipation of such a community, children of God committed to saving the earth from its bondage to decay.

As Berry reminds us, "Community, then, is an indispensable term in any discussion of the connection between people and land [and, we must add, sea]. A healthy community is a form that includes all the local things that are connected by the larger, ultimately mysterious form of the Creation. In speaking of community, then, we are speaking of a complex connection not only among human beings or between humans and their homeland but also between the human economy and nature, between forest or prairie and field or orchard, and between troublesome creatures and pleasant ones. All neighbors are included."

Questions about deep sea drilling and the viability of a fossil-fuel based economy as a whole must be answered in terms of this comprehensive vision of community. A truly inclusive community, which the Church aspires to be, must recognize sea turtles and plankton and marsh lands as neighbors too. It is in defense of these neighbors, groaning in agony, that we are called to act today as the people of God. Only then will the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Royal Rape: David, BP & the Prophetic Counter-Narrative

You may be old enough – or watch enough late night television – to have seen the 1951 movie version of 2 Samuel Chapters 11 & 12, starring Gregory Peck as David and Susan Hayward as Bathsheba. The film depicts a love affair gone wrong, consensual adultery leading to political intrigue and murder, but ultimately redeemed by true love. David and Bathsheba may be naughty, but they look fabulous! Sex, violence, and religion: what could be more entertaining?

Yet, even this is a highly sanitized telling of the story, much like the versions we learned as children in Sunday school. Even translators and scholars of this text from 2 Samuel often attempt to make it more palatable to our moral sensibilities. My Revised Standard Version translation inserts a summary heading at the beginning of Chapter Eleven which reads: “David Commits Adultery with Bathsheba.” But is this really just a tale of marital infidelity?

It is tempting to read the story of David and Bathsheba in this way, but doing so requires us to forget that David isn’t just anybody: he is a king. It also requires us to ignore the Biblical text itself, which sets this story within a larger narrative of systematic violence. At the heart of this story is the contrast between the stories we tell to justify structures of sin, and the alternative story into which God wishes to invite us.

The story of David and Bathsheba is not a story of longing and fulfillment, but a story about rape – a royal rape that sheds light on a larger pattern of violence that is simply taken for granted. As Walter Brueggemann helpfully observes, “the narrative of sexuality is framed by a larger military narrative.”(1)

2 Samuel Chapter 11 opens by setting the stage this way: “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him: they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.” It was spring, the most propitious time for a military campaign, and so David – or at least his army – did what kings do. It is no more unusual than the beginning of spring baseball training. The narrative concludes at the end of Chapter 12 with Joab calling David in to deliver the final coup de grace to the defeated Ammonites so that he can take credit for the victory. Such violence is simply the way of the world.

It is within the context of business-as-usual violence that the rape of Bathsheba unfolds. The narrative is terse and to the point: David saw, he summoned, he violated, and then he sent back home. There is no crisis of conscience, no “should I or shouldn’t I.” I am tempted to speculate that David’s rape of Bathsheba was a way of vicariously participating in the orgy of violence being unleashed by his troops as they ravaged the Ammonites. At any rate, his violation of her was not about love or even sex, really; but rather the elixir of power and control. David is exercising his royal prerogative, reflecting the normalcy of this culture of violence.

When Bathsheba becomes pregnant, David begins an almost comical effort at a cover-up. Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, is recalled from the front and encouraged in every way possible to have sex with his wife. Ironically, it is this foreigner – Uriah is a Hittite, not an Israelite – who demonstrates a sense of military honor and refuses to enjoy any liberties while his brothers are fighting and dying. David finally decides to send him back to the front and delivers the following order to Joab: “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” And that is exactly what happened.

David’s rape of Bathsheba and its cover-up are simply part of the structure of violence justified for the sake of political order, social harmony, and united opposition to one’s enemies. Upon learning from Joab that Uriah is dead, David responds, “Do not let this matter trouble you, for the sword devours now one and now another; press your attack upon the city, and overthrow it.” For David, it is not violence or murder that is troubling, but rather loss of face and of control.

That is the story that David told himself about himself and his world. But it is not the end of the story; or, rather, there is another story to be told about David and his world – and our world. It is the story that God wants to tell us: which brings us to the prophecy of Nathan.

Remember that prophecy is not so much about telling the future as it is about telling the truth; seeing ourselves as we really are. The story that God seeks to tell is a truthful version of events. Prophets seek to free us from our denial and our illusions so that we can respond appropriately to reality.

2 Samuel Chapter 12 begins by informing us that what David had done displeased the Lord. As William Willimon notes, “At this verse occurs a collision of two narratives: the story of how power is gained, used, and inevitably abused in the ‘real world’ and a second narrative about [God’s] counter plans for the world.” (2) Nathan appears on the scene to skillfully proclaim this counter-narrative in such a way as to lead David into the truth. The story could not possibly be more different.

In David’s account, the focus is all on him. Violence and exploitation are justified means to the end of maintaining power. The victims of this violence are marginal to the story – they have little emotional depth or voice. They are pawns. In Nathan’s parable, the poor victims come to the fore, and are given a humanity and dignity that contrasts with the selfish greed of the rich man. “In the prophetic counter-narrative, we notice people and economic circumstances that official, royal narratives teach us to ignore.”(3)

Here, we see most clearly that David’s sin is not simply a matter of personal failing, though it is that, too. His sin is not just about a sexual peccadillo, or even the murderous cover-up. It is about his complicity in a whole way of seeing and operating in the world as if amoral will-to-power defined reality, leaving nothing but invisible victims and triumphant oppressors. His sin is fundamentally his acceptance of this culture of violence, and his abuse of religion to justify it.

“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel . . . I rescued you . . . I gave you your master’s house . . . and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?” Nathan’s wake-up call to David is a reminder that reality is about covenantal relationship. We are not at the center of reality; God is. We are entitled to nothing, and yet God has given us everything. Our lives are meant to be ordered to the reception and preservation of this gracious gift.

David had become mesmerized by the seductive illusion of mastery – the idea that one can bend the universe to one’s own will without regard for consequences. Anything which undermines this illusion must be denied, excluded, or destroyed; thus the royal narrative that justifies violence to maintain order.

The prophetic narrative provides an alternative vision of reality as a gift to be received, a beautiful yet fragile interconnected whole of which we are but a part. Our call is not to mastery, but to conforming our lives and our will to the requirements of living in harmony with reality. This is the Biblical idea of covenantal relationship, the realization of our responsibility for the common good of the whole creation. God has blessed us with the gift of life and we are called to nurture that gift for all by cultivating justice, health and peace. Nathan recalls David to this sacred covenantal reality.

We, too, are apt to forget this covenantal reality and become mesmerized by the royal narrative of mastery, the illusion of invulnerability, and the culture of violence to which it gives rise. Our Presiding Bishop, in her recent pastoral letter reminds us of the prophetic counter-narrative. She writes that,

“The still unfolding disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is good evidence of the interconnectedness of the whole. [This disaster] has its origins in this nation’s addiction to oil, uninhibited growth, and consumerism, as well as old-fashioned greed and what [our] tradition calls hubris and idolatry. Our collective sins are being visited on those who have had little or no part in them: birds, marine mammals, the tiny plants and animals that constitute the base of the vast food chain in the Gulf, and on which a major part of the seafood production of the United States depends. Our sins are being visited on the fishers of southern Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, who seek to feed their families with the proceeds of what they catch each day. Our sins will expose New Orleans and other coastal cities to the increased likelihood of devastating floods, as the marshes that constitute the shrinking margin of storm protection continue to disappear, fouled and killed by oil.”

“There is no place to go ‘away’ from these consequences; there is no ultimate escape on this planet. The effects at a distance may seem minor or tolerable, but the cumulative effect is not. We are all connected, we will all suffer the consequences of this tragic disaster in the Gulf, and we must wake up and put a stop to the kind of robber baron behavior we supposedly regulated out of existence a hundred years ago. Our lives, and the liveliness of the entire planet, depend on it.”(4)

British Petroleum’s rape of the Gulf of Mexico was not an “accident,” anymore than David’s rape of Bathsheba was a “lapse of judgment.” It is an expression of the royal narrative that justifies exploitation in the name of order; in this case, preserving the fossil-fuel economy for profit without regard for consequences. BP’s behavior was a “necessary” risk justified by the illusion of unlimited economic growth, entirely consistent with the larger pattern of ecological violence culminating in global climate change.

David’s illusion of military mastery, the unlimited extension of Israel’s power without regard for the common good, unleashed a cycle of violence that tore his family apart, incited civil war, and eventually led to the destruction and exile of Israel at the hands of even more ambitious imperial powers. Nathan’s prophetic reminder brought David to repentance, but the consequences of his actions remained with him and his people for generations to come.

Even if the Biblical prophetic counter-narrative offered by Bishop Katharine brings us to repentance and amendment of life – and I pray it will – the consequences of our actions will remain with us for many generations as well. We must repent of the illusion of mastery and relinquish our sense of entitlement to exploit the earth to preserve unsustainable lifestyles. Not only the quality, but the very possibility of life is at stake. We must remember our covenantal responsibility to the whole, and renew our sense of wonder and gratitude.

Ours is the first generation of humans to have pictures of the earth viewed from space. It is this image of the whole that we must contemplate, internalize, and act upon; ever-mindful of the beauty and mystery of this precious blue-green orb wrapped in white clouds set against the magnificent background of endless darkness. What a priceless gift! May God give us the grace to receive it with humility and care for it responsibly. (5)

(1) Walter Brueggemann, “Abuse of Command: Exploiting Power for Sexual Gratification,” Sojourners Magazine (July/August, 1997).

(2) William Willimon, “A Peculiarly Christian Account of Sin,” Theology Today (Vol. 50, No. 2, July 1993), p. 224.

(3) Willimon, p. 224.

(4) The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, “A Lesson from the Gulf oil spill: We are all connected,” Episcopal Life Weekly at www.episcopalchurch.org/ens.

(5) I'm grateful to Bishop Marc Andrus for his insight into the icon of the earth as image of the whole.