Posted in Deconstructing Power, Healing, New Interpretation of Scripture, Reflection, Sermon, Spiritual Therapy

The River of God- Season of Creation Rivers

Exekiel 47
Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple towards the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me round on the outside to the outer gate that faces towards the east; and the water was coming out on the south side.
Going on eastwards with a cord in his hand, the man measured one thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the waist. Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be crossed. He said to me, ‘Mortal, have you seen this?’
Then he led me back along the bank of the river. As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on one side and on the other. He said to me, ‘This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes. People will stand fishing beside the sea from En-gedi to En-eglaim; it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of a great many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.’
Revelation 22:1-7
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever.
And he said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.’
‘See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.’
John 7 37-39
On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” ’ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
I am very fortunate to be able to say of my life as Norman MacLean named his novel, “A river runs through it”.
I grew up on the banks of a river, have lived in many towns with rivers running through them and now am at Port Alfred where the Kowie river mouths into the endless and deep sea.
As we have seen with Forests, Land and Wilderness in this Season of Creation; rivers also are vital to the life of the planet. They are the conduits of essential fresh water for the land.
Nile, Amazon or Ganges the river is also an archetypal image of the life of Spirit.
Just like rivers we polute or neglect our heartsprings at our peril.
That must be why the river is seen as a symbol of the life of God and the process of renewal in the Christian Scriptures.
I recently watched a re-run of the classsic movie Ben Hur. It was intriguing to see how the movie maker Ben Wyler depicted the blood flowing from the Cross mingling with a river and moving ever onwards across the landscape.
Rivers of meaning, rivers of renewal, rivers of dreams.
Listen to Billy Joel:

In the middle of the night I go walking in my sleep 
From the mountains of faith 
To the river so deep 
I must be lookin’ for something 
Something sacred I lost 
But the river is wide 
And it’s too hard to cross 
even though I know the river is wide 
I walk down every evening and stand on the shore 
I try to cross to the opposite side 
So I can finally find what I’ve been looking for 
In the middle of the night 
I go walking in my sleep 
Through the valley of fear 
To a river so deep 
I’ve been searching for something 
Taken out of my soul 
Something I’d never lose 
Something somebody stole 
I don’t know why I go walking at night 
But now I’m tired and I don’t want to walk anymore 
I hope it doesn’t take the rest of my life 
Until I find what it is I’ve been looking for 
In the middle of the night I go walking in my sleep 
Through the jungle of doubt 
To the river so deep 
I know I’m searching for something 
Something so undefined 
That it can only be seen 
By the eyes of the blind In the middle of the night 
I’m not sure about a life after this God knows I’ve never been a spiritual man 
Baptized by the fire, I wade into the river 
That is runnin’ through the promised land
In the middle of the night I go walking in my sleep 
Through the desert of truth 
To the river so deep 
We all end in the ocean 
We all start in the streams 
We’re all carried along 
By the river of dreams 
In the middle of the night.

I think Billy Joel has glimpsed that the river is God.
In traditional African religion the river is a place where the depths of God is found.  Children who drown must not be mourned for they will return as healers someday.
In the West we seem obsessed with damming or bridging rivers.  It is as if we resent the river’s inexorable flow.
When will I realize that the other bank of the river is exactly the same as this one that I am trying to escape?
Why don’t I plunge into the depths as Ezekiel’s vision invites me to.
If I am lucky, I too will end in the ocean of God’s immense and restless Love.
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Posted in Deconstructing Power, Healing, New Interpretation of Scripture, Reflection, Sermon, Spiritual Therapy

“The return of the Red Earth Man” Creation 2 – Land

Genesis 2:15 – 25
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.
And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.
So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed
Matthew 12:38-40 The Sign of Jonah
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, ‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.’ But he answered them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was for three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth.
The Commendation from the funeral liturgy (Orthodox Kontakion for the Departed)
Give rest, 0 Christ, to your servant(s) with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting. You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: AlIeluia,alleluia, alleluia.
Etymology of the word Adam
Adam \a-dam\ is pronounced AD-um. It is of Hebrew origin, and the meaning of Adam is “earth”. From “adama”. In Hebrew, it is a generic term for “man”. Biblical: in the Genesis account, he was the first man created from the red earth of Eden
Land is an emotional issue.
We are born from it, we long to return to the land where we are born, we will shed blood to defend “our” land, and we end our lives by being returned to it.
Imperial powers through the ages have laid claim to land, with bloody spears and cartography pens. Lines on maps have severed tribes and clans and thus created cauldrons that have boiled over with bloodshed and even genocide. As an African, I remember Rwanda, and I can only imagine the earlier traumas of human trafficked souls ripped from their soil and transplanted on foreign lands to plant crops that they would never share, and build mansions they would never inhabit.
Land is an emotional issue.
Is it because we still echo the fact that we are Adamite, red clay people?

“Formed of the earth and to earth we shall return”

We are soiled souls.
In one of the great sychronicitous ironies where mythology and science intersect, earth scientists have determined that the shift from the only life forms being bacteria and blue green algae, to more complex forms like the Eukaryotes of which we are members, occured 1,9 billion years ago when the Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere dropped, Oxygen increased and RED BEDS formed. Red beds are very shallow-water, river, or soil deposits in which the iron has combined with O2 to form red iron oxide.Reference here We are indeed Adam, red oxide earth people!
So underneath the layers and layers of papered Imperial maps, each demarcating, each delineating assumed possession of the land that never belongs to anyone, there lies the red earth. The soil of our souls. We will never hold title to it, we are not entitled to even assume it is ours.
The ancient land, the seed bed of all origins is the fabric of being that cannot be posessed by transient clay mannikins like us.
Africans knew this before the missionaries came. In Africa, Modimo, Camata, Nkulunkulu (the bantu names of God) lived in the earth and not in the sky. Caves were wombs and portals to the mysteries of life. That is why, in their depths, red clay adamites danced and painted.
It is into these depths that Jesus goes to find us. Like Jonah in the whale, Jesus in the earth belly is questing to the very depths of our genological and geological origins to bring us back to our real senses.
Mud caked, soiled and fecund with potential, he breathes into our clay once more and cries.
Live! Adam Live!
Wake up and heal the land from which you came, and to which you are returning.

Document generated by eLyXer 1.0.0 (2010-07-21) on 2011-09-06T09:18:26.650571
Posted in Conflict resolution, Deconstructing Power, Healing, New Interpretation of Scripture, Reflection, Sermon, Spiritual Therapy

Breathe Forest Breathe!!! Season of Creation 1

Genesis 2

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Psalm 1

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;
 but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.
 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.
 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

John 3:1-17

3Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

I remember an old sports chant from my school days. It went:

“We shall, we shall, we shall not be moved; we shall, we shall, we shall not be moved.
 Just like a tree that stands by the water side, we shall not be moved”

Despite growing up in the church and going to Sunday school it was only years later that I discovered that the lines come from Psalm 1 that we have just read.
Jeremiah that great prophet of Israel picked up the image in Jeremiah 17 when he wrote:

5Thus says the Lord: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. 6They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. 7Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. 8They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. 9The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse— who can understand it? 10I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.

It would be a sheer nonsense to assume that the ancients knew the vital role that trees play in the ecology of the planet. They could not have known that rain forests produce forty percent of the planet’s oxygen. That did not keep them from appreciating that in a tree they were seeing something magnificent and mysterious. That is why the tree becomes the archetypal image of the creation, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That image of the tree remains throughout scripture. Jesus himself is the one who is lifted up on the tree. The cross becomes the tree of life in the mystical insights of the early Christians. The tree is there right at the end of the book of Revelation in chapter 22:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

It has fallen to us who know the role of forests and trees in the life of our planet to deepen the image of the tree of life by realising the profound link between the tree, the forest and the breath of life. Every tree that breathes assists us to rehabilitate our messy carbon footprints.
Every tree is thus a tree of life.
I have only recently been blessed to encounter a deep insight from that great Franciscan teacher Richard Rohr. He tells of attending a lecture by Jewish Rabbi who is also a physicist. The Rabbi was speaking about the name of God:

“You know, you Christians, never really understood the meaning of the commandment to not take the name of God in vain, you seem to think that it means you shouldn’t say ‘God Damn you’. It isn’t very nice to say and I hope you don’t say it to anyone, but it doesn’t even come close to the meaning of the commandment. Vannas, or emptiness, to speak in vain, to speak with emptiness, is in fact to speak the name at all.” When you use the name God, don’t use it, don’t speak it, because you think you will know what you are talking about and you don’t. It’s always mystery. It’s always beyond, beyond, beyond, and any box you build will be too small of a box. Wow. Now I knew, and I’m sure you’ve been told, but we don’t know for how many centuries this was strictly followed. But we do know for a certain amount of time it was followed and that is, we never spoke with our lips the sacred name Yahweh and it was during that period that the word elohim and adoni because the sacred name was never to be spoken.

Then he went on and he said if any of you studied Hebrew, you know this is true, but when you write Hebrew, all you write are the consonants and what it means to be an educated Jew, is that your eye automatically fills in the appropriate vowels and there are four consonants in the sacred name Yahweh, and he said, “Did you know that those consonants if correctly pronounced do not allow you to close your lips or use your tongue”. In fact the reason the name could not be spoken is it could only be breathed, in fact the sacred name Yahweh was an attempt to imitate and replicate the sound of inhalation and exhalation. TheRabbi then breathed in and out about 30 times in this crowd of PhDs! But at the end of it I heard sobbing in the room, that people got it. God is as available as the breath, the air, the wind and the words are the same in many languages. Ironically, paradoxically, truthfully, was there some intuition here? The one thing you have done since you came out of your mother’s body is take in that breath and put it out, and you are doing it now. It’s the only constant, along with the beating of the heart. The beating of the heart starts even before. Breathing is uniquely the phenomenon of this world and of course that moment comes, and we’ll all be there one day, and we’ll take in that breath for the last time. This could change your life, it can certainly change your prayer life. Because now you know that prayer is not something so much you do it’s something that’s done to you. You allow it. You say yes to it. You bring it to consciousness. You bring it to awareness. You awaken to the mystery and the miracle that is happening around you, within you and through you, all the time.”

The breathing forests, the breathing land, the breathing wilderness, the breathing rivers, all living creatures are praying the name of their Creator.
I don’t know about you, but knowing this takes my breath away!