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Season of Creation - Flora and Fauna Sunday,
Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
September 8, 2019

Job 39:1-8,26-30; Psalm 104; 1 Corinthians 1:10-23; Luke 12:22-31

‘More than a tree’

In the divine speech of Job 39, God addresses Job, calling attention to the Wisdom inherent in the Mountain Goat and the Deer and their birthing practice, and in the manner in which their young become able to care for themselves; in the free roaming of the wild Donkey as it forages for green grass; in the flight of the Hawk to the south and the nesting and preying habits of the Eagle. How does this information answer the query regarding the cause of Job’s suffering? The connection is not immediately apparent.

God stirs the imagination of Job through a series of questions … and equips Job to recognise his own limitations and ignorance. In a roundabout way, Job becomes aware that the Wisdom of God is far from his comprehension. Still, the God who cares for the fauna of this world also cares for Job … God be with you

We note that our First Peoples have been imagining, or dreaming, harsh and beautiful landscapes for 60,000 years or more. In his book, Dreamings, social anthropologist and linguist Peter Sutton describes travelling downriver in northern Australia with a group of Indigenous people when one young man indicates the landscape all around and tells him, “epama epam”, “nothing is nothing”. The world was created by, and is still sustained by, the Dreamings, and all that we see are the marks that they have made: everything is imbued with meaning.

In Aboriginal thought the distinction or dichotomy between the physical existence of the landscape and its internal story, its meaning, does not exist, but a post-Enlightenment European sensibility finds it difficult to accommodate such ideas. Nature is there to be named, measured, quantified, used, it is food and fuel for our own paramount desires: beyond this it has nothing to tell us.

Many, for instance, see the fauna as just “dumb animals” and yet they are prophetic. Jesus says: “Take a lesson from the Ravens … [D]o not be so absorbed by the worries and cares of life as to neglect what is really necessary: relationship with God … a communion of saints, holy creatures and holy things … a kin-dom of heaven on Earth, in the Earth …  

We can observe the natural world and see how it is tended by a gracious love and care. The examples cited in the gospel involve creatures considered “dirty” (the Raven, like the Ibis here in Waterloo and Redfern, is a scavenger); beings powerless, fragile, beautiful (lilies and flowers of the field), fleeting and transient (grass that is alive today and used as fuel the next).

We are given evocative/provocative phrases to engage our imaginations: “more than food”; “more than clothing”; “more (to) value”; “more (to) caring” …

I think of the landscape paintings of one of my favourite artists, Idris Murphy, for whom a tree is always more than a tree. It is part of a living and moving world – in relation to the sky and soil, the birds and animals at home with and within it; in relation to light, colour and shadow, the “alive-ness” of the picture, the memory and creativity of the artist, the Holy Spirit. “The tree is no impression … but is bodied all over against me and has to do with me, as I with it – only in a different way.”

The gospel paints a comprehensive picture of providence. We are asked not to worry about food, drink and clothing, but to strive for communion, the kindom. “We are called to be sensitive to and live in sync with the prophetic Wisdom of the fauna and the Earth and discern within such biodiversity the Wisdom of God” (Monica Melanchthon).

It is essential that we recognise our “creatureliness” and the inextricable link … with the rest of the Earth and its creatures. This is not pantheism. It has to do with the otherness of creatures (“non-human persons”) and the together-ness of life on Earth.

The suffering love of Jesus – the Holy Cross or Tree – connects human beings in a Spirit of compassion. In the same Spirit, the Cross/Tree connects us with all beings who experience suffering, and, in their own ways, persevere, strive, live and love.

Beginning to discern the Wisdom of God, with suffering/loving members of the flora and fauna family, relativises all-too human concerns for power and status.

The apostle Paul sees that the Cross/Tree is key – that its meaning cannot be measured in terms of mere human wisdom. From a conventional perspective, the suffering of the weak – including trees and animals in bondage or at the mercy of human needs, desires and projects – is unfortunate, tragic. It can be a sign of real Wisdom, however, and it is, says Paul, for those who believe – that is, for those who experience compassion – existential and expansive, holistic and immersive.

The connection to landscape that Murphy tries to express in his work takes inspiration from Aboriginal painters such as Kimberley artist Rover Thomas and southeast Arnhem Land artist Ginger Riley Munduwalawala (known as the “boss of colour”). Murphy’s work also draws on ideas proposed by the Jesuit poet Gerard Manly Hopkins, in particular the explanatory writings of his invented category of experience, “inscape”, which he uses to “personify” all of nature’s subjects. These include “transcendence”, “the soul of art”, “the charged presence of the Creator in all forms of creation” and a unified complex of ideas associated with the expression of “the inner essence of an object”.

Wisdom, the embodied Word, we might say. The Logos … recalling a verse from the Letter of James: “Be doers of the Word … become poets of the Logos” (James 1:22).

Murphy writes: “I do what the painting suggests or gives me. It’s an interactive process.”

We too can know this saving power and Wisdom.

The Season of Creation resources invite human believers to join in worship with a diverse flora and fauna family. “All our kin living on this planet, from the Pine to the Eucalypt and Boab, the busiest Bee to the tallest Giraffe. We remember our ancient relatives who became extinct … We join our siblings in praising God … We summon the kin we have come to love … Sing, family, sing!” Amen.