The sun beats down on the black ground all around me; the acrid smell of hot asphalt fills my nostrils as I make my way through the parking lot. Things long dead melted, mixed, poured onto the forcefully flattened space, now neatly lined with white and yellow marks for SUVs and compact cars alike to find their way to a temporary resting place. Dirt and weed-filled planters dot the landscape, carefully fenced in with cement as if to tauntingly say,
See! Life is still growing here—and exactly where we want it to.
Since the farthest reaches of human memory, we have been shaping, pounding, and plowing the world around us to conform to our will, enforcing our control upon the earth, over which we have been given dominion. Instead of learning to be a part of the world in which we are so deeply rooted, we have created new and more powerful ways to exert our command over Creation. We are infamous for our inclination to subject our surroundings to our will and our wants, our power and our pretention. We most often seek to beat the world around us into submission to our own desired static reality of comfort and control instead of learning to cooperate with the living and breathing reality of the natural world we have been born into. The same world we depend on for our own wholeness. Step by step we walk out of the woods and into industry, away from the raw reality of dirt and earth and into processed existence of plastics, Playdoh, and Prada. We separate ourselves from our earthy, natural origins, choosing rather to encase ourselves in glass and concrete, safe from the unmanaged, unruly, and unpredictable organic world.
As I near my car, I see green poking up through cracks in the black—plants defiantly making a stand outside of the designated cement-circled living areas. As if letting me in on an ancient secret, they whisper, “The battle is not over!” By some miracle, life has not given up. Though crushed under the heavy will of human dominion, growth continues. Even as humanity maintains its ongoing power struggle against the organic through Round Up and retail, cracks form in the cement exterior, plants shoot up, new life springs forth.
Herein lies the beauty of the fallen, yet grace-filled Creation around us: through it God is continually giving and promoting life.
Even in the midst of our battle, nature relentlessly seeks to be as it was created to be: green, growing, alive, and proclaiming the glory and goodness of the Living God. This Living God is the one who, in Jesus Christ, has entered into our created existence, has—from the beginning of time—determined to be a God who is for us and for all creation. In Christ’s life we see a constant affirmation of life and wholeness. In Christ’s death we see the depths of God’s love for the whole of Creation, the divine will for unbroken communion with God, with one another, and with the whole world, as well as the tremendous price paid for this reality. In Christ’s resurrection, we see God’s profound and eternal YES to true and new life and a window into the promised reality to come, when we will finally fully and eternally experience unbroken relationship with God and all of creation. Thanks be to God! Our will for control does not have the last word; God’s relentless outpouring of grace creates and seeps through cracks, new life springs up, and the world breathes again—we breathe again.
And yet, even as I escape the parking lot and climb into my car, I am acutely aware that there’s no need for me to drive into the heart of industry or the depths of any concrete jungle to sense the weight of humanity’s attempts to suffocate life—I need only to look at my reflection in the rearview mirror, into my own being to see my own attempts at controlling the inner landscape of my soul. There is sticky still-cooling tar and asphalt, glass and metal casings of safe containment, and hardened pavement over many places—all carefully and fearfully maintained. It is a constant struggle to sustain this control; cracks form over time, life seeks to breach the self-imposed barriers, to breathe and energize and grow.
As in the exterior world, so in each of our interior worlds the Living God is at work; this is the sure promise of God’s grace in and through the Holy Spirit, made possible by Jesus Christ, the Author of all life.
As Christians, our calling is most certainly to promote life by seeking to participate in and cultivate God’s grace present in the environment around us, thus allowing others, as well as ourselves, to grow and flourish. However, our calling also includes allowing ourselves to be open to the grace that the Holy Spirit is enacting within us, to participate in the life of the love of God that is so persistently poured out upon us.
Within these ruminations, I can hear the echoes of God’s call upon Jeremiah:
Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant. 1
As in Jeremiah’s vocation, so we are called to take part in God’s gracious life-giving work, of plucking up, pulling down, destroying, and overthrowing. Only then is there building and planting. We must first allow God to pull weeds, prune, and reshape the scenery of our souls. Though it may be painful—the ripping up of self-contrived landscaping—and it may take time—the disintegration of pavement, parking lots, and planters—we are called to participate in God’s healing and life-giving tending, to allow God’s grace to plant new life within us, to nourish us, and sustain us.
As we care for, cultivate, and take pleasure in the landscape where God has placed us by tending to and advocating for the life and value of all, great and small, we must also seek to care for, cultivate, and take pleasure in the person God has created us to be, each and every one of us a beloved child, whom the Living God has breathed into and indwells by the Holy Spirit.
Day by day, we are called to faithfully (courageously!) step out of the impressively constructed concrete jungle of fear and control, into the forest of refreshing grace, soothing mercy, and sturdy love of God—to live into the refreshing, cleansing, and claiming waters of baptism, instead of the acrid pollution of internal industry and self-assertion we have wielded against the environment and our own souls.
Our God is the God of life, who promises through the prophet Isaiah:
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert. 2
God is still at work, sustaining and bringing about new life in Christ. The Holy Spirit is shaping and reshaping the landscape both outside of us, in others, and in our own hearts. May we ask the questions of “What am I paving over instead of cultivating?” “Who am I seeking to reshape to fit into my own program of safety and control?” “What are the self-constructed glass and metal casings in which I am wrapping my true self?” “How am I unknowingly participating in the suffocation of life and wholeness for others and the world?”
May we look for the ways God is saying to us “See! New life is growing here, precisely because I am with you, I am coming again for you, I will never forsake you.”
Thanks be to God,