Wild God, Wild Beauty
Proper 24 (29)B
22nd Sunday after Pentecost
Job 38:1-7, 34-41
By Wendy Janzen
The the first reading and Psalm for this Sunday are both creation texts – passages that describe God’s amazing work in creating the cosmos. The text from Jobs is part of the longest passage in the bible about more-than-human creation (Job 38-42). It is written in exquisitely beautiful poetry, and it is God’s rhetorical answer to Job’s probing questions about God’s justice – why bad things happen to good people.
Kathleen M. O’Conner offers some refreshing insights into God’s speech to Job from a feminist/liberationist hermeneutic in her essay, “Wild, Raging Creativity: Job in the Whirlwind,” (published in Carol J. Dempsey and Mary Margaret Pazdad, ed., Earth, Wind & Fire: Biblical Perspectives on Creation, Liturgical Press, 2004.) In this essay, O’Connor proposes that: “the divine speeches are not about the bullying power of God; they are about the potent beauty of creation, of God, of Job himself.” (p. 49)
Throughout the book of Job, we mostly hear human voices. Job and his friends are trying to grasp the nature of God, and the nature of the human existence, especially suffering. In the midst of the chaos Job is experiencing in life, God finally speaks to him in a whirlwind! God doesn’t come in a still small voice here, but matches Job’s intensity and emotion. The whirlwind, or storm, isn’t just the means by which God appears to Job, but it also implies a God that is wild, free, and unsettling. God is mysterious, powerful, and unpredictable in Her approach to Job. Rather than answering any of Job’s questions, God responds with a barrage of questions in turn.
The questions are all rhetorical, typical of the Wisdom genre. “Were you there when I laid the foundations of the earth?” Of course not. Each question question that follows emphasises the limited scope of knowledge or power that humans have in relation to the cosmos. The questions throught these four chapters (38-42) draw on creation as witnesses to God’s creativity, power, and wisdom that are greater than Job’s wisdom or understanding. The questions convey God’s delight in the beauty and wonder of creation. They remind Job of his place in creation, not as an agent of control and power, but as a subject of God who created the cosmos and all its inhabitants – human and more-than-human alike.
O’Connor asks what significance can the beauty of creation have for Job? Is it just a distraction from his suffering? Is God off on a tangent, ignoring Job’s plight? To the contrary, “rather than ignoring Job, the divine speeches greet him, affirm him, bless him.” (O’Connor, p. 53) They expand the vision of his place in the world from being self-focused to including the cosmos and its astounding beauty. Cosmic beauty does not explain Job’s suffering, but it transforms him, allowing Job to see God with new eyes. Job sees himself in the context of creation, a part of something much larger than he.
Western colonizing culture has a problem with putting ourselves at the centre and aspiring to power and control. Sadly, we think we have unrestricted rights over the earth and the authority to dominate and control land, animals, birds of the air, fish of the sea, and other humans. We have forgotten our place in the midst of all of this, and we have forgotten to see its beauty and allow it to transform us. This has landed us in a huge mess.
I find God’s response to Job comforting. God reminded Job of his place in creation. God is God and we are not. I like to have everything figured out. I like to know the plan. I like to be in control. I need a reminder like Job. God in the whirlwind invites “us to open ourselves to the amazing beauty divinely loosed in the cosmos, to look for it, to let it whoosh through us, to heed it, and to obey.” (O’Connor, p. 54)
We are invited to participate in God’s wild, beautiful, creativity, and to extend our circle of care beyond ourselves and our families to the whole cosmos. We are called to embody both humility and joyous wonder in the world in which we live.
There is a practice that I have led in different outdoor settings to help nurture our connection with the beauty of creation and Creator called a “wild beauty walk.” To do it, go outside – a backyard, city park, farm, or wilderness area – anywhere will do! Walk slowly and attentively, paying attention for anything of beauty that draws your attention. Sit with it, enjoy it, admire it, and ponder one or more of these questions:
Why were you drawn to this in particular?
How would you describe its beauty?
How does it make you feel?
What does it have to teach you?
In what ways are you connected to each other in your ecosystem?
What insights does it give you into the nature of God?
In what ways does it mirror your own wild beauty?
Can you offer words of gratitude, both to it directly, and to God, for such beauty?
“O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures… Bless the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord!” Psalm 104: 24, 35c
Written by Wendy Janzen for the Wild Lectionary.
Come to the Waters
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 13 (18)
By Wendy Janzen
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters…”
Canada is a land of abundant fresh water. Ontario, the province in which I live, contains one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water. Ontarians love our lakes and rivers.
This summer has been a wet summer here. I’ve hardly needed to water my vegetable garden, and my small patch of lawn is still a lush green from the regular, soaking rains. Some rains have come with too much rain falling too quickly, causing streams and rivers to overflow their banks.
In this context, while it is not difficult to imagine coming to the water, it is difficult to imagine what it is like to be thirsty. Access to clean, safe drinking water seems to be a given.
It was therefore a surprise for me to recently learn that as of February of 2017, 49 First Nations in Ontario were under a Boil Water Advisory or Do Not Consume Advisory. Earlier this summer, I had the privilege to go on a learning tour to Timmins, Ontario, to learn about issues facing Northern First Nations communities. Unclean water, unsafe wells, lack of sanitation, crumbling sewage infrastructure, and mercury poisoning in rivers are major concerns for many of these communities.
How can it be that a wealthy province in a developed country like Canada can have so many communities that do not have access to safe, clean drinking water? How can it be that there are people who are thirsting for access to water in a province surrounded by water? It is due to lack of infrastructure, outdated and faulty treatment centres, and contaminated waterways due to industrial activities. It is due, also, to lack of commitment and broken promises on the part of government.
It is with this in mind that I read the invitation in Isaiah 55 for all who are thirsty to come to the water. What does it mean for God to invite those who are thirsty to come to the water, to buy and eat wine and milk at no price? These words were written to the Israelites while in exile in Babylon. They are being invited to choose what is life-giving over what is not.
Imperial Babylon offers much that is alluring and tempting, but not satisfying or lasting. That is the way of empire. Amass wealth, string people along with splashy promises, and forget about those who fall through the cracks.
In Isaiah 55 God is saying that another way is possible. There is an alternative: we can choose the God of abundance and covenant who has in the past provided water and manna in the wilderness. We can choose God, who, in the person of Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Mt 5:6)
To hunger and thirst for righteousness implies a desire to be in right relationship with our neighbours, our Creator, and creation – which includes our watersheds. I need to think about this as I realize the lack of right relationships concerning water and our indigenous neighbours in my province.
This is not only a localized issue, particular to Ontario. In her book, Grounded: Finding God in the World, Diana Butler Bass writes, “Water is under siege all over the planet, watersheds are collapsing, streams and rivers are dying, even once safe water systems face toxic threats.” (p. 77). Unless we live with our heads in the sand, we all know this. We are all facing great uncertainty regarding the future of water.
Are we going to chose what is life-giving and lasting, for ourselves, our neighbours, and our watersheds? This question is more than metaphorical. Our waters are endangered places that demand our ethical attention. Butler Bass asserts that “The world’s waterways call us to practice social justice—to restore them, to make sure rich and poor alike have access, and to manage water in drought-stricken lands with creativity and foresight.” (p. 91).
As a response to God’s invitation to come to the water, I invite us all to think more deeply about our relationship with this life-giving resource and those we share it with. What are the pressing concerns facing our local waterways? How do they affect the lives, human and other, of all those who share your watershed? How can our faith and actions demonstrate our allegiance to God rather than to empire? As as we spend time with our local waters, may we express gratitude to our faithful God of abundance and life.
Written by Wendy Janezn for the Wild Lectionary.
Reflections, poetry, prayers, photos, and resources written by Wendy Janzen unless otherwise noted.