Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd July 12, 2020
This is the time of year when even city dwellers are attentive to the weather and to nature. We are grateful for the rains that bring relief to the dry earth and reprieve from the soaring temperatures, although sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. As we watch the gathering clouds for signs of hope and warning, we are aware of how we are just one small part of God’s intricate ecosystem. We certainly can skew it, and we have, but nature is incredibly resilient. I have grieved the defoliation of the towering elm trees, but I also know that within a month, the trees will bud out in new leaves. They know to wait long enough for the caterpillars to be finished before budding out again.
There is an intelligence in nature that we have only just begun to understand. Hildegard of Bingen had a name for it: veriditas—the greening power of God. This is what I think Isaiah means by the Word of God. Listen again to Isaiah 55:11-2
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
The word of God is not only syllables strung together. There is power in the Word that effects change. The Word of God is a creative energy that brings healing and sustenance throughout all of Creation.
If we connect this description in Isaiah with the Gospel of John, we learn that Jesus the Christ was described as the Word in the beginning with God, co-creating the world. In this sense, the Word is God incarnate in creation, revealing holy mystery in the beauty of nature, teaching us about the endless resilience of God’s love. This love is the greening power of God that bears fruit in our lives and offers a continuous source of healing energy to us and to the earth.
This is the hope that the Word of God gives us. No matter how rough the going, there will be a rainbow of promise shimmering through the stormy clouds. This part of Isaiah was written to exiles living in Babylon. They had been uprooted and forced from their beloved homes and land. In this passage, the prophet assures them that they will go out from their captivity with joy and be led back to Israel in peace.
Over the last few weeks, I have been in touch with the thriving churches Nancy & I visited last summer. I have written a summary of what I found and can send it to anyone who is interested. It has not been easy for them, but every one of them has found creative ways to maintain community and worship during their building closure. Many of them have been able to maintain outreach as well. Some of them have even gone so far as to say that the pandemic has forced them to think “outside the box” and given them new ideas on how to expand their ministry. All of them will continue to offer a hybrid for online worship and in-person worship when they return to the building, much like we’re considering. They found, as we did, that the number of viewers doubled their regular attendance. They are able to reach people who were not able to come in person even before the building closures. Some of them are also planning to hold some winter study groups via Zoom so that those who don’t drive at night or will not negotiate dangerous roads during inclement weather can still attend.
We have a Zoom study group that is discussing Rev. Diane Strickland’s four youtube videos called the Pandemic Practicuum. They are helping us find signs of hope in this pandemic. In her third video called “How Does Hope Say Hello”, she distinguishes between what she calls “hopium” and hope. Hopium is irrational optimism that downplays the dangers and says, “Everything’s fine. People are just overreacting.” Hope, on the other hand, always has room for facts. The currency of hope is reality, not delusion. Hope, she says, is the only candle that is strong enough to shine in the darkness because it is not afraid of the dark.
Diane also points out that we sometimes use the word hope when we’re actually meaning fear. When we say, “I hope that it doesn’t rain today,” we’re actually meaning that we’re afraid it might. We try to talk about our fears by veiling them in the language of hope. But hope is much deeper than fear. Hope can take us into a faith-filled assurance that God will sustain us through the fear—through the dark.
Diane asks us to consider which contains the strongest energy: death or life? I had to think about that question for awhile. As we know from physics, energy cannot disappear. It simply evolves into different forms. Nature teaches us that death is the source of life. Decaying matter provides the sustenance for the birth of new life. We have a choice either to move towards death in a defeatist attitude or to celebrate the life that does exist even in the midst of death. Ultimately, life is stronger because it is imbued with the veriditas of God.
When we encounter challenges, it is reassuring to keep in mind that God’s creative, greening power of love is still at work. God’s veriditas is constantly sending impulses of healing energy to us and indeed to all of Creation. Veriditas is a form of grace that seems to have a surplus of energy bubbling over. We can see evidence of grace in the resilience of faith communities that are creatively supporting one another, working towards solutions that would have never have crossed our minds were it not for this crisis.
So let us take hope—a realistic hope—that is able to welcome the greening power of God at work within us and all around us.
I conclude with words from the United Church’s 2012 Song of Faith:
we sing of God the Spirit,
who from the beginning has swept over the face of creation,
animating all energy and matter
and moving in the human heart.
Divine creation does not cease
until all things have found wholeness, union, and integration
with the common ground of all being.
As children of the Timeless One,
our time-bound lives will find completion
in the all-embracing Creator.
In the meantime, we embrace the present,
embodying hope, loving our enemies,
caring for the earth,
I now invite us to say together A New Creed—an earlier United Church statement of faith that grounds us in hope.
A New Creed
The United Church of Canada
We are not alone,
we live in God’s world.
We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus,
the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others
by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God.