Monday, July 20, 2015

Earth Wisdom

Proverbs 8:22-36
July 12, 2015
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Last Sunday we experienced the first part of Proverbs eight, where we encountered the poetic image of Woman Wisdom. That imagery showed us a personification of wisdom as a woman who meets us in all the public places of our lives – on the heights, beside the road, at the city gates, at our doors, She calls out to us loudly and her voice speaks of the goodness of her path, the benefits of righteous living and the deep assurance that following in her way is walking in life and light.

This week, Woman Wisdom again speaks to us, in the remainder of this long poem that is the eighth chapter of Proverbs. But no longer is Lady Wisdom in the loud and busy urban setting of last week; now she is at the beginning of time and the creation of the cosmos, alongside the Creator who brings order out of chaos. Let’s listen for earth wisdom in today’s reading from Proverbs 8:22-36

The Lord created me at the beginning* of his work, *the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth— when he had not yet made earth and fields, *or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth,then I was beside him, like a master worker;* and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.
And now, my children, listen to me: happy are those who keep my ways.
Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it.
Happy is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favour from the Lord; 36but those who miss me injure themselves; all who hate me love death.’

Ages ago, before the beginning of time, She was present.
The earth was void and without form, and what would become the cosmos was watery chaos. The Spirit of God moved across the face of the deep, and the voice of God spoke into the darkness, saying, “Let there be light.” And there was light, and it was good.
She stood at God’s right hand, before the beginning of the earth.
She came to be before there were depths and heights, before there were springs bubbling up from the earth, before there was anything but murk and mist and disorder.

Before God molded the soft round hills or smoothed the prairies,
before the earth brought forth fruit and grass,
before there were snails, or even soil, Wisdom was there.
When God marked the boundaries of the seas,
and set the skies about the land,
and told the mountains where to stand,
she was there to sing the songs of goodness and delight.
She stood beside God, the master apprentice in the studio of creation,
and she was God’s delight,
and she was the beginning of rejoicing,
the first word of joy,
and she took delight in all that God had made,
for she saw that it was good.

She took delight in the world and all that is in it,
and she delighted in the human race,
in every living, breathing, dancing, singing inhabitant of this world.
She is the voice of truth, and the voice of beauty,
for they are one and the same.

She now invites us to come to her gates, to wait at her doors.
She knows the whole story –
the story of how the cosmos came to be,
of how the butterfly and the platypus came to be,
of how you came to be.

She knows the whole story – maybe not how you did in third grade,
or what you got for Christmas when you were eleven,
but how the trees breathe out air and how the oceans change the weather.

She knows all of history,
how the inhabitants of the earth emerged from the dust,
how the created order came to have order –
the mathematics, physics, and balance;
why the leaves change color in the fall and the oceans end at the shore.

Wisdom takes the long view of events,
so that she sees in the great and brilliant pattern of life
the implications of the great story, and our own stories-
that we will never live long enough to understand.
This is why she must speak in poetry, rather than the language of logic.
Poetry tells us truth that we cannot otherwise hear,
shows us a terrible beauty we cannot otherwise bear to look at,
extends to us a texture and weight we cannot otherwise ever feel.
We need poetry the way we need paintings:
a photograph can show us something, but a painting can teach us something.
This poem of Wisdom affects us the way art does –
connects us to the earth, to God, to delight.
We are woven into the very fabric of creation, Wisdom says.
We are the focus of God’s delight,
and so we are called to live in harmony with each other and all created things.

Because God delights in us, we build our lives on the foundation of that beauty and goodness, where the damp footprint of God is imprinted in the grass at the first sunrise of the world.

Father Richard Rohr calls it “the roundness of life,” this interconnection of humans and the created order and the Creator, the ordered basis of life that encircles us and our identity. As far back as the fifth century, Pelagius said the same: “The presence of God's spirit in all living things is what makes them beautiful; and if we look with God's eyes, nothing on the earth is ugly.” And in our own time, the farmer poet Wendell Berry has given all of his life and skill to calling our attention to this wisdom of the earth.

Berry – no relation to me! – says this:
“I don't think it is enough appreciated how much an outdoor book the Bible is. It is … a book open to the sky. It is best read and understood outdoors, and the farther outdoors the better. Or that has been my experience of it. Passages that within walls seem improbable or incredible, outdoors seem merely natural. This is because outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders; we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread. Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine – which was, after all, a very small miracle. We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is turned into grapes.”[1]

When God established the order of the cosmos,
and drew a line to mark the seas,
God gave us also the gifts of delight, of wisdom, and connection:
connection and union with one another through Jesus Christ,
connection and union with God through the Holy Spirit,
connection and union with all the created order through the voice of wisdom.

This delight and wisdom and connection call us – demand of us – that we care for the created order. This delight and wisdom and connection help to give us voice to speak out against anything that mangles God’s earth, that destroys this beauty, that desecrates the holiness of creation, that reduces this delight to a simple equation of natural resources to use or misuse in whatever way we want. To destroy creation is to destroy ourselves.

Whether we participate in recycling,
or protest against fracking,
or reduce our use of fossil fuels,
or conserve water, or cut down on household waste,
or pay attention to where our food comes from,
or simply study the science of climate change,
we are called by wisdom to act responsibly on behalf of this world,
this beautiful creation, in which God delights.

What we eat and drink, where and how we get our food,
how we use and care for the land,
how we acquire and use energy sources –
all these are expressions of our faith,[2]
whether we put words to them or simply live them.

Our own footprints in this garden are not simply impressions in the wet grass;
they leave indelible marks on the created order,
on the seas and prairies and hills and valleys,
in the fields and flowers,
and on the bodies of those
who give their lives in growing and harvesting our food.

Wisdom has known this and seen this from the first flicker of time,
when all that was disorder began to connect, and grow, and produce.
Wisdom has known God and known us
from the very genesis of humankind,
and her delight is in the world and its inhabitants – in us!
She beckons us to come and sit at her feet, to listen to her words,
which sound like the first rays of sun shimmering across silent waters,
like the whisper of a spring breeze through the blossoms of a plum tree,
like the soothing song of a mother rocking her baby to sleep
in a garden bower.
Wisdom calls us to delight in the miracles all around us,
to delight in each other,
and to care for this created order—
to walk in beauty and in peace with all creatures.

Because this is the language of poetry, I’ll give brother Wendell Berry the last word – this is his poem, “The Peace of Wild Things”

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
May we continue to hear, and be blessed by, the voice of Wisdom as we praise God for daily miracles.


[1] Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays

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