It feels like spring in the Bay Area. A few pink blossoms have appeared on a bush outside my window. The olive tree in the front yard shimmers in a silvery light as the sun glances from its gray-green leaves. A light breeze blows. This afternoon our world is domed in blue and the hills are bathed in hints of the green to come.
We felt an earthquake the other day (epicenter in Concord), and my desk rattled as the ground moved beneath the house. It was a minor quake, but one reminding me of the shaky nature of life and its seasons. Each minute could be a departure from the known; each second could spin us into another dimension.
The election (and this year of fear-full plague) was like that and the events that surrounded it: the demonizing of peaceful people, the cancellation of words and lives, the rewriting of history as well as the present. Our culture quakes. Our lives are being remade, redirected by a powerful force. In the chaos and confusion, whirled into the swirling events of recent months, we wonder what is happening to our world of law and order, freedom and free speech, simple decency and good will among men.
And yet, in the Gospel lesson appointed for today, the Second Sunday after Epiphany, Christ is baptized, and in this epiphany showing who Jesus of Nazareth was and is, we see the dramatic beauty of all creation. For here, the Son of God, to be one of us, submits his flesh to the pouring of water, to be baptized into humanity itself. The Holy Spirit descends like a dove. A voice from Heaven says, “Thou art my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:1+) Earth opens to Heaven, and God and Man are joined in this sacrament.
And so we are reminded that we are sacraments, sacramental. Humanity is far more than mere matter, but carries the divine within. It is this spark of holiness that draws us to beauty, truth, and love, intangibles that at first only hint of Heaven, but in time, reveal Heaven. It is this presence of God within us that gives us eyes to see others as holy creatures too, worthy of respect and love.
Our Christmas kittens, Angel and Gabriel, adopted recently, are growing each day, and she, once scared and shy, is now the aggressor. She dominates Gabriel, and we worry her rough play may hurt him. She jumps and twirls and flies, landing on him and grabbing him with both paws. “Easy,” we say, “not so rough.”
The two of them remind me of the wildness of nature, this wilderness in which we live, both on Earth and in our own flesh. We are called to tame the wildness, this personal and cultural wilderness, to become holy through discipline, respect, and equal justice. We are called to affirm this holiness of life by our words and deeds, our stories and songs. We are called to create and not destroy, to protect life within the womb and life nearing death. We are called to practice a sacramental way, a way of spirit within flesh, a way that proclaims we are the outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace.
In my recent novel, Angel Mountain, I consider the claims of Intelligent Design Theory and its compatibility with Darwinian Evolution. The magnificent intricacies of life hint at a Designer with a purpose. Today science has given us evidence supporting this claim. In mapping the genome in the 1990’s, NIH Director Francis Collins was stunned by the intricacy and beauty of the design, and his conversion began, first to Deism, then to Christianity. Eventually he founded Bio-logos, an online site for the debate between faith and science. The pathway had been prepared by Philip Johnson of UC Berkeley and the Discovery Institute in previous decades, and Dr. Collins adds to the evidence for belief in the Christian God as Creator of all.
And yet, as these marvelous developments stir the winds of a Great Awakening in our time, a great cancelling has sought to erase such speech and debate, another theme of Angel Mountain. A great cancelling is erasing and rewriting history, redefining time, turning truth into lies and lies into truth, and encouraging our animal nature, untamed and wild and bestial. The great cancelling has divided us into tribes at war, returning us to the jungle.
As I watch my kittens rumble around the room, flying and pouncing and biting, I recognize this side of nature, human nature as well. But we are far more, whether our speech is cancelled or not. We are sacramental creatures, meant to love sacramentally, carrying the divine spark, however hidden.
Christians have been baptized into Jesus, and we rise with him from the waters to touch the Heavens. When Earth quakes we cast our eyes to Heaven. When spring lands on leaf and limb, sparkling Earth with light, we know who we are.
We cry to those not yet baptized, “Be reborn today!” We point, like John the Baptist, to the One who is life itself. We point to Our Lord, King of all Creation through the ends of time, to the new Heaven and Earth.