Nature, Oneness, and the Ecology of God

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On a hot, dry day in northern New Mexico I was trying my best to keep the burro from pushing me off the side of the mountain. Tired and thirsty, I reached the top of the mountain and the world opened up. Time stood still as I felt one with everything. Has something like that ever happened to you? It has to many, whether at a multi-colored sunset, quiet brook side, or all-engrossing concert. What is it? For me, it’s the ecological nature of God.*

Have you ever noticed how everything about nature ultimately revolves around systems? We have the water cycle, nitrogen cycle, food chains, wolf/elk/cottonwood/riparian zone interrelations…the list goes on and on. If we take animals out of their usual habitats, they behave differently. Transplanted plants often die because the new soil lacks the proper micro-organisms for their survival. We all depend upon scores of others for our well-being. We live and die in the midst of webs of relationships they form and sustain us.

We often say that one can tell something about an artist by her works. In some way she incarnates part of herself in what she creates. In the same way the overwhelming importance of relationships in creation would seem to imply something about the nature or personality of God.

Christians in particular like to say God is Love. But what is love? One way of looking at it is to say that it consists of totally giving oneself to another without reservation. This then implies wholeheartedly responding to and receiving from the other without holding back. So, love consists of total openness and receptivity to someone else. If I knew someone like this, I would say that he is a Mad Lover. So, I guess that must describe God.

God passionately loves her creation. But if God depends upon us to express her love, then God must be pretty weak. I’m not sure most of us are interested in a co-dependent God. So, if God is love, which is perfect relating, then God’s relating must happen in-house. Because God can’t depend on us and still be God, God must perfectly relate within himself. So, God must in some way be at least a duo.

However, this, too, has its problems. It’s hard, at least for humans, to distinguish between things unless they can compare. If the only thing around me were trees – no streams, plants, animals, houses, or anything else at all – I would be hard-pressed to know what trees are because I’d have no means of comparison. I’d wouldn’t be able to say, “Hey, trees are things that aren’t shrubs” if there were no shrubs. Also, with just one other “person” to relate to, it’s easy for partners to lose perspective on each other and themselves. They can get lost in each other. That’s one reason why children can enrich a marriage greatly. They give the duo something else to focus on.

So, God must include at least three relators, or “persons.” That’s what Christian tradition has settled on.

God, then, is a community, a system, of “persons” who give and respond so wholeheartedly with one another that become like a tightly knit jazz trio or dance group. They act as a unit, with one person or another taking the lead at any time and the others responding. Given that they are so into relationships it’s in their nature to create more. So, this community reaches out, creating and sustaining us, whether plant, animal or mineral. And, funny thing, these creatures relate to each other, strongly influencing each other and, in many ways, making them what they are. They reflect the community of their Maker. And, because this community is a Mad Lover, it wants the same intimacy with us that they have with each other. This happened so much that they delegated one of them to become part of creation, a human being. When that happened, they swept creation up into their whirling, joyous dance of love.

So, what happens when all becomes one on top of a mountain or we unexpectedly experience an “opening up” at a multi-colored sunset? We experience God’s invitation to dance – we “see” the ecological face of God. The Spirit that pulses through all of creation gives us a glimpse of what the cosmos really is- a dynamic set of relationships infused and charged with the Spirit of God. Then we can agree with William Blake when he says,

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

 

Certificate in Contemplation and Creation Care
Center for Religion and Environment at Sewanee: The University of the South

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Author: Robert "Robin" Gottfried

Director, Center for Religion and Environment at Sewanee: The University of the South, and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Sewanee. Contemplative Christian, musician, blogger for the Huffington Post on religion and environment, and hiker living on the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee.

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