During my recent travels, I saw a lot of sunrises and sunsets from the road, some beautiful, some obscured, some at dangerous angles to the driver. One thing I kept thinking about as I witnessed the journey of the sun across the sky each day was how we talk about what we see.
We speak from our own perspective. The sun rises, it moves across the sky, and then it sets. This statement is true. This statement is an accurate description of how we experience the sun. This is what we see. Everyone in every culture in every location in every age since the beginning of the world has experienced the sun this way, and I think it’s safe to say that everyone would generally agree that the sun rises, moves across the sky, and then sets.
Except it doesn’t.
The sun doesn’t move at all. The Earth is what moves. We move, not the sun. Science and astronomy teach us this truth. It is an accurate description of reality, but it does not describe how we experience the relation between sun and sky. This is not what we see. Everyone in every culture in every location in every age until at least the 1600s would call this truth a fantasy.
How easily we assume that our experience is not only true but also the only capital-T-Truth. How quick we are to dismiss a truth that does not match our experience as fantasy.
Our truth that the sun moves across the sky is true, except that it isn’t. It describes our experience accurately, but it does not describe what is very accurately at all. In fact, it describes quite the opposite of reality.
So now, when we talk about issues of faith, spirituality, God, and religion, I think about the sun. I think about the language I use to describe my experience and begin to consider that while my language is true to my experience, it might not be true to reality.
Maybe when we speak of God’s unchangeability, it is really we who are unwilling to change. Maybe when we speak of God’s unfailing, unconditional love, it is really our desire to be loved that we express. Maybe when we speak of God as male or masculine, it is really we who experience power and control through a paternalistic cultural lens.
The point is that we don’t know everything. No one holds the capital-T-Truth. We all hold pieces of the truth, and if we’re lucky, we are able to recognize more pieces of truth in others and hold onto them all. Until we’re willing to consider the possibility that we could be not only not completely right but also actually completely wrong, we will never be able to consider that someone else might hold a piece of truth we don’t have.
This is the value of ecumenical and interfaith perspectives. We look for our commonalities. We build bridges on our pieces of truth. We rub up against people whose experience is different than our own, people who dare to suppose the sun does not actually rise and set as it appears after all. We learn together. We grow.
We’ve come a long way since the 1600s. Everyone in the educated world, especially those who have access to telescopes and higher-level math, now agrees that the Earth moves and the sun does not. But not a single one of them would argue that the sun does not rise, move across the sky, and set every day, either.
One truth defines reality; the other truth defines experience. Both truths are pieces of the capital-T-Truth that we are all grasping for and falling short of regardless of our intelligence, education, or experience.
Next time you find yourself in debate about who is right, who is in, who holds the capital-T-Truth about faith, spirituality, God, or religion (or anything else for that matter), take a breath, look up at the sun, and remember to start with the pieces of truth we each hold — and build on that.
I have a confession to make. I’m not a very good activist. I’m not politically-minded, and I don’t enjoy creating or participating in demonstrations or rallies. I believe that issues of social justice and creation care are important and that, as a Christian, I should work for them. But I’m not good at it.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to explore Wuellner’s book with all of you, and I’ve enjoyed and resonated with every chapter…except this one.
Chapter 9: Prayer for the Body of the Earth
As she did in Chapter 8 with the human body and embodied community, Wuellner draws parallels between the human body and what she calls “the body of the earth.” She writes, “Our earth body, with its atmosphere, its water, its soil, its shrubs, trees, grass, animal life, is as much a bodily self as we are.”
Wuellner suggests that, as we often do with our own bodies, humankind has treated the earth with disdain and disgust: “At best, we have taken it for granted, used it, manipulated it. At worst, we have assaulted it, ravaged it, and, for immediate gain, destroyed many forms of its life with careless unconcern, poisoning its air, water, and soil.”
That sounds like a social activist‘s speech, doesn’t it? Next, we expect to hear some pithy catchphrase like “Save the Whales.”
But Wuellner takes a different tactic. As a professor, ordained minister, and trained spiritual director, Wuellner is much less interested in taking up The Cause and much more interested in a holistic discussion of bodily prayer–one that includes prayer for the earth that Genesis tells us God gave into our hands to maintain.
In fact, Wuellner suggests that part of the empowerment we feel when we experience healing is a desire toward creation care: “As we relate anew to our bodily selves, we begin to feel an urgency to relate anew to the body of our earth.” She takes a step further to suggest that the “earth itself, even as our bodies, needs our healing and prayer as much as we need its healing and prayer.”
Wuellner takes care to remind her readers that concern with the well-being of the earth is not a new concept in Christian history and theology. She quotes a reflection from Hildegard of Bingen:
Does not humanity know that God
is the world’s creator?
With nature’s help,
humankind can set into creation
all that is necessary and life sustaining.
An Open Door
Are you an advocate for social justice and creation care? Would you like to share your experience? I’d like to establish an open door, through which any of you lovely readers are welcome to step by way of writing a guest post that explores the service aspect of body theology. This is a standing offer, at least for the time being. If you’re interested, please send me your submission at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Not ready for a guest post? Drop me a line in the comments below to share your story.