Logos of Creation – Oct 7, 2018
The logos of creation. This is the intriguing phrase that Brian McLaren began with at the recent Conspire 2018 conference. The conference was put on by Richard Rohr’s Centre for Action and Contemplation with the theme this year of “The Path of Descent is the Path of Transformation.” Brian McLaren’s talk on certainty, uncertainty and the path of descent begins with the idea of “the logos of creation.” “Logos” is Greek for “word” and we know it best from the poetic description of Jesus at the beginning of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word… logos… and the Word was with God and the Word was God…” “Logos” is “God’s word,” understood as the locus of God’s presence and activity in the world. As Christians, we believe in Jesus Christ as the “logos” of God. The idea of “the logos of creation” is a step before. It harkens back to the earlier “in the beginning” when God spoke all of creation into being.
Following in the tradition of such spiritual greats as St. Francis of Assisi and his identified “conversation partner,” Howard Thurman, McLaren begins with the foundational spiritual experience of deeply knowing God through the natural world. He quotes Thurman saying: “In the contemplation of the earth, I know that I am surrounded by the love of God.” That’s the word of God in creation. Before beliefs or doctrines or even ideas, people of faith throughout time and space have held deep knowledge of God by experiencing and encountering the divine through the logos of creation. My personal favourite such encounter involves standing on top of a mountain, looking out over the vast vista of our beloved Rockies. But such deep knowledge of God’s presence can be felt in all manner of natural environments. It is a beginning place that we can return to when our ideas and our science and our tech fail us.
On this Thanksgiving Sunday, we hear God’s good news in a small section of the great Sermon on the Mount from the Gospel according to Matthew. It is a passage about worrying… our worry about our life… our worry about what we will eat or drink or wear. Jesus says: “do not worry…” It might be the simplest and the most difficult of Jesus’ commandments. It sounds oh so lovely, and it’s easy to say: “I’m not worried.” It’s much harder to actually live it. For many of us, anxiety is a way of life. Our society encourages it because the more anxious we are, the more the worldly forces of consumerism, prejudice, and greed, can wield power over us. The more worried we are, the easier it is for these authoritarian forces to remain in control, scapegoating anything or anyone that might rattle the status quo. It is how we stay in the illusion that we are in control.
In his talk, McLaren describes the logic of authoritarianism in politics, economics, and religion. It pops up in any aspect of society that seeks not to understand or enter into the logos of creations, but rather to control it, to use it and to profit from it. The underlying issue is one of certainty… a shallow certainty that gives us a feeling of control rather than the wisdom of deep logos that gives us a feeling of humility and belonging. McLaren reflects how “the waves keep crashing on the shore, without ever requiring us to make certain statements about their physics… they speak to us and invite us into understanding…” On the other hand, “authoritarianism requires [us] to [be certain about, or at least] pretend to be certain about things [we] don’t actually understand or believe.”
It is the breakdown of that certainty that is the greatest source of our worry. As our certainty becomes increasingly complex, we can experience great anxiety at having to incorporate more and more knowledge or experience into our reality, or dismiss it altogether, so that we can remain in control. More, if there comes a time when our certainty begins to collapse under the weight of the complexity, we move to a perplexity that finally breaks our illusion of being in control. We worry incessantly about any changes or challenges to the social hierarchy, social convention or social dogma. Or replace “social” with “religious.” When our certainty about the fabric of our lives: what we will eat, and what we will drink, and what we will wear… when this certainty breaks down, we lose sleep with our worry, unless or until we can let go and descend into a deeper wisdom. It’s the wisdom that comes when we notice the waves crashing on the shore without our understanding; the birds being fed without sowing or reaping or gathering into barns; and the flowers being clothed without toiling or spinning.
In Jesus’ command not to worry today, Jesus points us back to the natural world, the logos of creation: “Look at the birds of the air…” he says, “See how the flowers of the field grow.” The first and most important way to step out of anxiety is to connect to the present… to connect to what is real and really around us… to connect with God in creation. It’s about getting out of our heads and into our senses, our bodies: look, see. We could extend it using our other senses: listen, touch, smell. Getting outside and connecting with the natural world is one of the key recognized ways of managing or stopping an anxiety attack. It’s part of the toolkit for good mental health. Get out of your head: your ideas, your beliefs, your doctrines… your certainties… and enter your body instead. Incarnation tells us that it’s through the body that our soul is touched and our spirit is connected with the divine. So return to your heartbeat. Open your eyes and see the beauty and grandeur around you. That is how we can follow Jesus’ command: Do not worry.
I was profoundly impacted this summer during my few days in Waterton. As I saw the aftermath, almost one year out, of wildfire, I experienced the power, resiliency and beauty of creation. I hiked to Bertha Lake through untouched forest, stream and waterfall along with black, scorched earth in turn… and everything in between. It was amazing. With only black sticks remaining of the trees, the views beyond the forest were more stunning than before. The carpet of green and purple underneath the remnants of the fire was a startling reminder of the cycle of regeneration… new life springing forth from the ashes. Signs of death and destruction coexisting with the hope of new life. As I sat by Bertha Lake, I was struck by the mountain rising up to my left, totally unbothered by whatever happened on its surface. The trees might have been completely burned, or as they had always been, but the majesty of the rocks remained undisturbed… fire or no fire.
So “… do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” The life to which God calls us is a life of abundance and freedom. It is an abundance of joy and peace and love born of deep wisdom, not bought from a store. It is a freedom that comes not from certainty but from descending below it. It is abundant life in its quality not quantity. And it is freedom from worry that moves beyond cheap certainty to a deeper wisdom that incorporates, and embraces doubt. McLaren calls it a “blessed uncertainty,” saying: “I’ve come to think of blessed uncertainty as that moment when I have the courage and the freedom and the grace to say: ‘I don’t know… I don’t understand… I’m mystified… I have no idea…’ And there’s this letting go when we don’t need to understand it, we just need to witness it, to just have our eyes open, to just behold… [to be curious]… It’s that curiosity that prepares the way of the Lord.”
As Jesus implores us not to worry about our life today, he assures us that in our uncertainty, our heavenly Father knows what we need. Maybe we need for our certainty to fail, so that we can come to know God… not believe in God, but know God… more deeply in our souls. Instead of worrying about our lives, Jesus calls us to live our lives in service to God’s purpose of free and abundant life for all. Instead of worrying, Jesus calls us to “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” The kingdom of God found in the majesty of the rocky mountains, untouched by fire… in the unbroken crashing of waves on the shore… in the trust of the birds that their next meal will be there when they need it… the kingdom of God in the beauty of the lilies in the field. In the flow of natural world, we can bear witness to the logos of creation… and know God. We don’t need to be certain, we just need to behold and be curious. “… And all these things will be given to you as well.”