Reflection for Land Sunday
This reflection is a gathering of quotes and poems that relate to our connection to the land in death and in life, in the story of Jesus and in prayer and thanksgiving.
Let’s begin with what Jesus says in the last verse of our very short gospel passage:
“For just as Jonah was for three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth.”
This verse suggests profound possibilities about what the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus mean for the whole of creation. It suggests that the incarnation of Jesus includes his being intimately connected to the so-called inanimate world as well as what we recognize as living.
What Jesus says about his death and burial seems to me to relate to what Bill Neidjie, has to say about death in the book “Gagadju Man”. Bill is a senior traditional owner of the Kakadu National Park, and he says:
I know I come back to my country.
When I die I become earth.
I love this country and this earth.
This story for all people.
Everybody should be listening.
Same story for everyone,
just different language.
My meaning might be a little bit hard,
so I speak English.
You just listen careful…
We got to hang on
not to lose our story.
Don’t think about money too much.
You can get million dollar,
but not worth it.
he just go ‘poof’.
Couple of weeks
you got nothing.
This ground never move.
I’ll be buried here.
I’ll be with my brother, my mother.
If I lose this,
where I’ll be buried?
I’m hanging on to this ground.
I’ll become earth again.
I belong to this earth.
And earth should stay with us.
I found a poem by Judith Wright called Myth which I think imagines vividly the dilemma of god becoming flesh, dying, being enclosed in earth and seeking to rise again.
A god has chosen to be shaped in flesh.
He has put on the garment of the world.
A blind and sucking fish, a huddled worm,
he crouches here until his time shall come,
all the dimensions of his glory furled
into the blood and clay of the night’s womb.
Eternity is locked in time and form.
Within those mole-dark corridors of earth
how can his love be born and how unfold?
Eternal knowledge in an atom’s span
is bound by its own strength with its own chain.
The nerve is dull, the eyes are stopped with mould,
the flesh is slave of accident and pain.
Sunk in his brittle prison-cell of mud,
the god who once chose to become a man
is now a man who must become a god.
Rowan Williams muses theologically on a similar theme in a chapter of his book On Christian Theology.
He writes of “Jesus’ self-identification with the bread and wine as ‘representative’ bits of the created order.”
Later he writes: “Jesus ‘passes over’ into the symbolic forms by his own word and gesture, a transition into the vulnerable and inactive forms of the inanimate world.
By resigning himself into the signs of food and drink, putting himself into the hands of other agents, he signifies his forthcoming helplessness and death.
He announces his death by ‘signing’ himself as a thing, to be handled and consumed.”
Williams says: “Death is the beginning of the new order, and this divine dispossession points back to questions about the creative act itself, as more like renunciation than dominance.”
Williams quotes Simone Weil’s imagery: ‘He emptied himself of his divinity by becoming man, then of his humanity by becoming a corpse (bread and wine), matter.’
It’s a profound picture of how incarnation, death and resurrection, communion, creation and new creation are linked, and how the God-like action is a self-emptying to share with the other, not the exercise of power over the other.
The sin of Adam and Eve in eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is the desire to know everything and therefore to have power over creation.
It is a sin that continues to threaten the wholeness and beauty of creation, and to make us exiles from the intimacy with creation that God intended.
It has been, sadly a besetting sin of Western cultures.
Annie Dillard, in Teaching a Stone to Talk, writes: “It is difficult to undo our own damage, and to recall to our presence that which we have asked to leave. It is hard to desecrate a grove and change your mind. The very holy mountains are keeping mum.
We doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it; we are lighting matches in vain under every green tree. Did the wind used to cry and the hills shout forth praise? Now speech has perished from among the lifeless things of earth, and living things say very little to very few…”
Yet thankfully, indigenous peoples, the Celtic tradition and some of the world’s poets still seem to hear what the living things say, and to give us a sense of the hills shouting forth praise.
Esther de Waal, in The Celtic Way of Prayer, (p. 190) finds in Celtic writing the awareness of the Creator in the creation, for instance in this verse:
“There is no plant in the ground
But is full of His virtue.
There is no form in the strand
But it is full of His blessing.”
She also quotes Leon Shenandoah, an Iroquois spiritual elder, who writes:
“Our religion is all about thanking the Creator.
That’s what we do when we pray.
We don’t ask Him for things.
We thank Him.
We thank Him for the world and every animal and plant in it.
We thank Him for everything that exists.
We don’t take it for granted that a tree’s
We thank the Creator for that tree.
If we don’t thank Him maybe the Creator will take
that tree away.
That’s what the ceremonies are all about –
they are important – even for White Man
We pray for the harmony of the whole world.
The Creator wants to be thanked…
If we white people awaken, and learn from the more aware peoples of the earth, perhaps we are capable of the profound thankfulness for creation which the poet e.e. cummings expresses in this ecstatic sonnet:
i thank You God for most this amazing
day for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(I who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)