We Are Not Alone
When’s the last time you took a moment to breathe in the sheer immensity of it all? The utterly mind-blowing enormity of this fragile-yet-resilient Earth. And…the even more staggeringly expansive universe in which we are but one embedded micro-component.
It’s unsettling, really… attempting to let your mind take it all in. Because our minds really can’t. They don’t have enough capacity to contain it all, to know it all, to love it all.
But God does. God does. God doesn’t really even have to try, because the whole universe exists in God. God is the universe’s context.
As the Psalmist asks:
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
Indeed: the Biblical witness contends that no creature nor place on this Earth, no place in all the galaxies of this universe, is remote from God. And depending upon how you look at it, this is either very good news, or very bad news. Because there are no secret corners where sin goes unobserved. And there are no caverns of desolation where love cannot reach. God is with us in everything.All of it.
The words of Hymn number 469 express well the character of God’s with-ness, the intimate way in which God relates to us:
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
like the wideness of the sea.
There’s a kindness in God’s justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than up in heaven.
There is no place where earth’s failings
have such kindly judgment given.
Everything about God is big. God’s love and mercy are so much wider and deeper than anything we could ask for or imagine. And exactly because of the immensity of God’s love for us, God also judges our sin.
God, in God’s love for us, cannot bear to leave us to our own devices: to our own selfish ambitions and warring madness.
So, God judges our sin in order to expose our destructiveness to us. To help us to see ourselves truthfully: as beloved, forgiven, redeemed – even in the very midst of our sin. Indeed: God desires to heal us and all of creation alongside us. And so God judges, not in order to condemn us, but to show us the way to fullness of life. It’s a kindly judgment. A truth-telling judgment. A healing judgment.
I can’t help but talk about sin today, of course, because humanity’s relationship to Creation is so deeply marred by the forces of sin and death. Forces so big and so powerful that they can feel cosmic in scale and proportio… in breadth and depth. Our sin can be overwhelming, if we allow ourselves to really see and feel its magnitude. And yet, our sin is not the strongest force in the cosmos. Sin never has the last word. Because God is more cosmic than the cosmos. God is the beginning and the end. The alpha and the omega.
We are not alone. We are not left to our own devices. Because God always has been and always will be…with us. You see, God was there… in the beginning, in the beginning.
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. In the beginning. Since the very beginning, God has been speaking…has been singing, even. Since the very, very beginning, God has been intoning a love song to Creation. Sometimes we can hear snippets of this song, but mostly, we make too much noise to hear much of it at all… and God doesn’t really like to shout.
God has tried shouting at times, of course, especially through the fiery prophets of ancient Israel. But the prophets have never really seemed to get all that much attention, no matter how loudly they railed against injustice.
So, eventually, as God’s voice grew hoarse, God decided to try something else…something new. Some new way of being with us, some new way of communicating. God realized that humanity couldn’t always clearly hear God’s Word, God’s speech, God’s song. And God remembered that actions can sometimes be the loudest words. So God’s enfleshed Godself and came among us, full of grace and truth… the eternal Word taking on the body of Jesus.
But even then, Jesus was often hard for us to hear, hard for us to decipher. God’s speech can feel so coded, so indirect, so parabolic. Too many stories, too many songs. Too little information. Too little data. Too few instructions. Even though we probably wouldn’t follow them anyway. Stories and bodies often just don’t feel like enough for us. Their speech can feel almost indecipherable to those who traffic primarily in information, rather than in love.
And God, you see, has very little interest in information, at least as we understand it. Because Jesus is God’s information. And Jesus is pure, unadulterated love. A love so fierce that it judges and seeks to dismantle anything that stands in its way. Stands in judgment of any criteria other than love. Stands in judgment of any reason besides love. Stands in judgment of any motive obstructing love. A love so fierce that all of creation felt it and knew it right down to its bones.
Hear now a poet’s take on this fiercest of loves.
“All Creation Wept,” by Melissa Range.
(All creation wept…)
And not just those disciples
whom he loved, and not just
his mother; for all creation
was his mother, if he shared
his cells with worms and ferns
and whales, silt and spiderweb,
with the very walls of his crypt.
Of all creation, only he slept,
the rest awake and rapt with grief
when love’s captain leapt
onto the cross, into an abyss
the weather hadn’t dreamt.
Hero mine the beloved,
cried snowflakes, cried the moons
of unknown planets, cried the thorns
in his garland, the nails bashed
through his bones, the spikes of dry grass
on the hillside, dotted with water
and with blood—real tears,
and not a trick of rain-light
blinked and blurred onto a tree
so that the tree seems wound (like a bandage)
in gold. It was not wound
in gold or rain but in a rapture
of salt, the wood splintering
as he splintered when he wept
over Lazarus, over Jerusalem,
until his sorrow became his action,
his grief his victory—
until his tears became a rupture
in nature, all creation
discipled to his suffering
on the gilded gallows-tree,
the wood which broke beneath the weight
of love, though it had no ears to hear
him cry out, and no eyes to see.
Love isn’t just a people thing, you see. Creation knows love well. As the poem tells it, maybe nature somehow even knew Jesus better than we did, attuned to the primordial, elemental nature of his love. But love doesn’t necessarily feel like the appropriate register for our relationship with creation, does it? A bit too mushy, too sentimental. But maybe love is the only way to relate. Maybe, what we really need to help us find our place in the cosmos, is a love affair with creation. Maybe we need to whisper to the trees and the birds and the mountains:
“you are not alone.”
“I am with you, and for you.”
“I seek your good.”
It’s almost too intimate to bear, addressing plants and animals – even stars – as “you.” Because maybe when we whisper “you are not alone,” we’re also whispering: “I need you.”
Can you imagine saying it to a tree, to a bird,to a mountain, to a star? “I need you.” Because “I need you” so often leads to “I love you.” And once we’re in love, our capacity for care grows exponentially. And that changes everything. Because if we can love that which is not us, we might also be able to love that which exceeds time and space, the infinite, the cosmic, the divine, the God who says: I am who I am. And maybe, in all that loving, we can be healed, and the Earth alongside us. Restored to the image and likeness of God, who from all eternity and every corner of the cosmos, has been singing us into life.