Saturday, February 02, 2013

Flowing with love for the living world

Liza Field

Liza Field's column appears twice a month in Extra.

Recent columns

"...the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is all in all."

- Thomas Merton

What does it mean to "love the world"?

As Valentine's approaches each year, and the besieged natural world increasingly calls out for human love, I wonder.

A collection of Thomas Merton excerpts, called "Choosing to Love the World," might seem to send an ambiguous message in a culture where Greek and Hebrew word translations have given the planet a bad rap in some Christian circles.

Peter Kreeft's "Catholic Christianity" church catechism, however, makes clear:

"When Scripture speaks disparagingly of 'the world,' the word used is not gaia, 'the earth,' the world of nature which is full of God's glory, but aion, 'this age,' the man-made world of history, which is full of folly, sin and sorrow."

Worldly endeavors

Many of the forces behind coalitions who organize certain Christian groups as a free lobby, for their own special interests, aren't exactly theologians, however.

And since hamstringing the environmental movement is one of their major objectives, the handy mistranslation of "world" continues to misrepresent Christianity as a creed disdainful of nature.

"You are not to love this world!" exhort certain broadcasts I hear, cautioning against "Christian green" movements.

Big oil interests (who fund the Cornwall Alliance) sponsored a video, sent out through Christian venues, cautioning pastors to "Resist the Green Dragon" that was devouring the Church and spawning a cult of earth-worship. (Google and enjoy.)

Via these distortions, it's acceptable to love mammon, but not God's Creation. This is oily theology.

As evangelical teacher/writer Tony Campolo has often noted, "God said [in Genesis] Creation was 'Good'," not something to disdain and harm.

Campolo points out that believers are to grow up to be more like God - merciful, kind, flowing with love for the living world.

Life more abundant

Whether one is religious or not, love of life tends to bring more life, not less.

Early this year, the Blue Ridge Land Trust (former Western Virginia Land Trust) announced that Al Hammond had donated a conservation easement on his "little piece of dirt" (he used to call it humbly, with a joyful spark in his eye). It was a gift of deep, long-rooted, sacrificial love for land and people.

The gladness of this event downloaded years of memories through me, particularly of childhood visits to "Hammond's pond," on his land near the Roanoke River.

I described that cat-tail pond some years ago, in this column - a cool summer swimming hole and winter ice rink.

On winter Sundays after church, we'd find the hand-me-down assortment of ice skates, fill thermos bottles with coffee and tea (generously slogged with sugar) and head for this glorious, hilly, sheep-stubbled, mountain-flanked, pond-bejeweled "piece of dirt" for the winter afternoon.

The ice, rippled by wind and ushering up a cold vapor of sweet mud, was often abuzz with flying hockey pucks and sticks and scrabbling skates, skidding dogs, polite mothers trying to figure-skate, and sometimes a deep groan of cracking ice where too many people had paused.

"Whenever two or three are gathered together," my mother would quote piously like a preacher - then holler raucously as she skated away, "You better get the (bleep) out of there!"

One year, in mid-February, my brother Tombo and she, both of whom could actually figure-skate, began scoring a huge design into the ice with their blades. The hockey players halted their bopping puck in puzzlement, then came over to join this intentional carving.


It was a heart. A very big heart - covering much of the pond and requiring the skater to stop at the bottom point, turn 300 or so degrees, then skate toward the top and turn in another clumsy curve. Lots of people fell down, but the urge to scrawl this message across the pond caught on.

Without any rules, we rude kids all skated clockwise. Nobody plowed into anyone from behind. People turned to help up the fallen. Chaos had become order.

A silence overcame us, and there was only the earnest sound of clacking blades and scrabbling skids and a distant wind in the bare trees up the hill. We wanted our heart to be visible from above.

In fact, when it was finished - or we were - we sat on a pond-side plank and pulled our shoes onto numb feet and climbed up the slope to the road, to see.

Sure enough, glowing with light down there, within the faded-yellow winter pasture and fringe of old brown cat tails, the glass-blue pond offered a quartz-colored, gruff huge heart to the sky.

Later that warming week, in school, I realized the heart had probably melted.

But it is still etched in my mind, today - a clumsy love note between people and heaven, through the jewel of that land.

Liza Field's column runs every other Saturday in Extra.

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