““Savoring Green””

This Spring I’ve been trying to take a few short walks each day. I just go outside and head down the street or around the block. I might stroll through a park or a vacant lot, beside a body of water or along some train tracks. Alice, our 5-year-old, has been learning to ride her bike, too, so we often do what we call “bikewalks.” She leads on her bike and I follow her walking. We go wherever she wants to go. Wandering this way, I’ve been looking up, looking around, looking close. I’ve noticed a lot of new things, especially about plants. I’ve tried not to judge what I’m seeing. I don’t care if it’s a weed that’s literally everywhere. I just to ask myself, “what’s interesting about this growing thing?” I’ve been posting a few photos on Facebook that study the details of spring’s shapes and colors and patterns revealed in leaves, buds, stems, blossoms, moss and bark.

These walks began almost accidentally, as a strategy for dealing with muscles sore from sitting too long. They’ve quickly become an important spiritual practice of savoring the world. I’ve always known that spending time outside is healing for me. This Spring, cultivating awareness of all that is green and growing has been a balm for the grief, a salve for the worry I feel about the climate. You know what I’m going to say.

We have eleven years.

Eleven years to drastically lower carbon emissions.

Eleven years to moderate the warming and the flooding, to ease the drought and hunger and migration.

Eleven years to address the sickness of our global soul—the immense inequities, the polarization and racism, the mass shootings and the bombings, the erosion of women’s health and women’s rights.

We have eleven years to save all that we know and love.

Eleven years to live toward what is possible—a hopeful, healthy future for us all.

Both of our scriptures this morning offer us resources for this radical greening of the world. But first, we need to liberate them from the strangle-hold of bad theology. Let’s begin with Revelation. John Nelson Darby, a 19th-century British pastor, made up the whole idea of the rapture. Then the authors of the “Left Behind” series popularized it, leaving entire generations to believe that Revelation is a manual laying out how God is going to blow up the world and snatch the faithful into heaven. This is a stupid, destructive, and completely unbiblical idea. What Revelation is actually about is unveiling, confronting, and resisting the life-denying brutality of the Roman empire. The author spoke in code, through imaginative visions because speaking directly wasn’t safe.  As well-known scholar of Revelation, Barbara Rossing, puts it, “The heart of the Bible, the heart of Revelation is not Rapture or Armageddon but God’s healing of the world. It’s a vision for life beyond empire.”[1]

In today’s passage, the imagery of a new Jerusalem flying down to earth from heaven is fantastical, and yet utterly clear. Salvation is not an escape hatch; it is an investment in life in the here and now. Salvation is a divine pattern for a human society. The new Jerusalem is an ecosystem, a climate. It is a city that is a garden, an urban Eden. It is a place of boundless welcome and safety; its gates are never shut. This paradise radiates with sacred light—light that is the source even of the sun. It moves with the flow of the river of the water of life, bright as crystal. The greenness of its leafy trees are healing medicine for the whole world. The new Jerusalem needs no temple because it is a place of direct communion between God and creation. The heart of God is the heart of the world.

Gregory Boyle is a Jesuit priest and the founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, the world’s largest gang rehab and re-entry program. In a recent interview, he reflected on how ministry, for him, is oriented toward savoring, rather than saving the world, saying:

Ministry’s not meant to be like a gas tank, where you begin the day with a full tank and by the end of the day your tank is on E. Something’s wrong if that’s the way it works. If the intent is to save people, or even to help people, then it works that way. You’re going to be depleted. But if the task is allowing yourself to be reached by people, can you receive people? Can you be anchored in the here and now and practice the sacrament of the present moment? If you can do that, then it’s all delight and it’s all amazement and it’s all awe. We’re only saved in the present moment. If we’re not saved in the present moment, we’re not saved at all. . . . Our choice always is the same: save the world or savor it. And I vote for savoring it. And, just because everything is about something else, if you savor the world, somehow—go figure—it’s getting saved.[2]

In this morning’s passage from the Gospel of John, Jesus utters these well-known and oft-quoted words: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” These words are not an apolitical call to abandon hope in this world because things will be better in the next one. They are a summons to a peaceful revolution that is all about savoring life in the here and now. Jesus’ gift of peace is a direct challenge to the social and political order of the Roman empire. He’s contrasting his own way of being, his vision for the world with the so-called “Pax Romana,” the peace through force that is no peace at all. It was, after all, under the banner of the Pax Romana that the empire engaged in state-sponsored torture, crucifying thousands of dissenters, including Jesus.

The peace of Jesus is a summons to revolution, but not a violent, armed struggle that pits one force against another. This peace brings a complete transformation of our ways of seeing and knowing, being and living. This peace changes everything about everything. This peace is about savoring, about intimacy with God and with our own hearts. It is a deep, grounding connection to the truth of incarnation—the joining of flesh and spirit in all creation. Salvation, in John, as in Revelation, is not a far-off future. It is God’s continuing creativity at work within us right now. It is available to us right here.

The other day, I was listening to the “climate cast” program on MPR. One segment of this program discussed the serious mental health impacts of climate change. So many of us are feeling anxious, hopeless, depressed, afraid, paralyzed. The guests on this part of the show were people who are knowledgeable in psychology, environmental studies, public health, and indigenous wisdom. They said that the best thing we can do for our mental health is to engage in action. Not just any kind of action; mindful action together with others. Not frantic action. Not guilty action. Not angry action. And not action done alone, in isolated, desperate fear. Mindful action together with others. I believe that savoring the world is the mindful, communal action that will heal us. I believe that savoring the world will spark a revolution, will open pathways to transformation, will change everything about everything.

My friends, we need no temple apart from this earth, for the heart of this sacred world is God’s heart. On this polluted ground, God is laying the foundations of a new kind of city that is also a lush garden. Right here in Rome’s brutal streets, God is throwing open the gates of Eden. In this very moment, God is filling us with revolutionary peace, breathing within us, teaching us that we are not an isolated “I” but a connected “we.” Let us gather by the river, where flesh and spirit flow as one. In all things, let us see and hear and smell and touch and taste the divine energy of life, the Christ light. Let us savor this earth, for it is our leafy green medicine.

Amen.

[1] https://www.elmhurst.edu/news/book-of-revelation-is-about-renewal-not-apocalypse-says-barbara-rossing/

[2] https://www.faithandleadership.com/gregory-boyle-save-world-or-savor-it?