Wanted: New Earth, Please.
By Jane Tawel
April 29, 2020
The abrupt crash between idealists and opportunists, that has occurred at the intersection of the Corona Virus Pandemic meeting the onrushing onslaught of our climate and planet abuse should wake us all up. It’s rather a shock to me, who grew up in a very different kind of American Christianity, that so many who still claim that faith, are like lazy servants, putting their heads under the covers, and pointing their crooked fingers at PNLU (People NOT Like Us). Like bridesmaids in Jesus’ story who don’t think they have enough oil in their lamps to spread light, or the complacent servant who has told himself convenient falsehoods for so long about his Master that he no longer knows what his real job is, or what The Master is like, we who would claim to have the corner on Religious Truth have gotten used to sleeping-in or taking a break from our labors, hoarding our resources, and shirking our duty. For more on what our “duty” is, one could start by meditating on Christ’s summation of the commandments of Moses’ YHWH, or conversely, taking to heart the prophets of old who foretold what a real Savior of the whole world would be like.
It is difficult for some of us to do anything more than choose to survive another day, especially for those throughout the world who are suffering in unparalleled ways during this 2020 Plague, with the sure knowledge that more suffering lies ahead. I have been quite ill, probably with the Virus, and because so far, I have survived, I have been granted another chance to stare at my imminent death (everyone’s death, actually, is imminent from birth, if you think of the length of your own life in terms of the life of the world and the planet). I know I am not alone, in considering this current World-Event, to be much like other catastrophic and reality-bending historical occurrences. And these types of events are for many tragic and sobering, and strangely, for some with “eyes to see and ears to hear”, fortuitously salvific, reviving, and energizing. Or they can be, if we let the tragedies, uncertainties, and fearfulness at this crossroads we all have arrived at, to become each individual’s and our communal renewed determination to make new and better paths forward to a new way of living into our new lives. This can all seem like a revelatory nightmare if we awake to much healthier and Goodness-oriented physical, relational, planetary, and spiritual realities. We have to stop hoping and dreaming for a better world, we have to make and create a better world.
Like lying half asleep, and hearing outside the safety of my own home, an horrific accident, a loud and near car crash, with grinding brakes, blown-out tires, engines exploding, glass and metal smashing into cacophonous, roaring explosion, I have been startled into wakefulness. I have been forced to be more aware of what is “going on out there”, outside of my small reality, the very real clashes and collisions of values, morals, and needs of our human species. And like many other wee warriors in the daily battle to make sense of the world, I have struggled to interpret what is really happening out there. Although the destructive forces of human beings wrecking their very own living space, the Earth, has been a more quiet, less recognized, but more insidious catastrophe; compared to the dropped atom bomb of the Corona Virus, the destruction and dismantling of our planet for personal gain, like an advancing army of drones who wreak havoc across the world, seemingly with a will and mind of their own dronish-selves, has caused throughout the world, a mindless vacuum of virtue, and a soulless species of what might have once been human beings. But now that people have relegated our culpability to others, and our own responsibility, in the Earth’s destruction to people we can label, “them”; some of us suddenly wake-up in time to understand that “them” is really, in the end “us”. If this Corona Virus lockdown has revealed anything, it has revealed the truth that “we have finally met the enemy, and the enemy is Us”. This quote originally about the War of 1812 was rewritten by the cartoonist, Walt Kelly, and used on the very first Earth Day in 1970 to with tragic irony, describe what humanity had become to itself in terms of how we were treating the Earth. We had become our own worst enemy. Fifty years later, and most of us have not only not learned anything about our own destructive enmity towards the Earth and our species, we have stopped caring.
One of the things, I have had time to think about during this strange season, is what in the world Jesus meant, when he said a bunch of stuff about God and the Earth, and about human beings and about death and about the future of the world and about His different sort of “Kingdom”. I call that only “One-thing” to think about, because everything, in the end, is part of a Whole, or, it isn’t. We have found during this Corona Virus and the crazy abilities of small cells to defeat our greatest minds, and we have found during the economic depressions and repressions looming once more and throwing off balance some systems that we thought could survive it alone, and we have seen during this time of enforced sheltering in, how the world’s interplanetary eco-systems, and everything including dependent human beings, are connected. None of us can go it alone, and all of us will eventually meet the same fate, and all of us need each other to make things right again, and everyone is connected to everything, and nothing will stand alone for long, and what will be left standing in the end, is up to all of us.
With more than enough time to be restful and perhaps paradoxically, during this period which has turned into a very tiring, and somewhat sleepy time, in some profound ways, my “eyes” have been jerked open, and my eyelids which often function as blinders, have been propped wide with the pain of having to look at Really, Real Reality. My vision has been cleared, with the pandemic functioning on one side, as a sharp toothpick propping open one eye, and the planet’s dire condition as a log propping open the other eyelid. In this way, one thing that the wise Teacher said that has taken on new meaning for me is, “why do you try to remove the toothpick in your neighbor’s eye, when you have that giant sequoia tree propping up your own eye, dearie?” The Visine of platitudes won’t get the red out of eyes opened by a frightening pandemic. Vaccines against our willful blindness won’t save us from eye-popping Truth.
This morning I began my day much as usual. First, I pray my “praising psalms”, which are often third-rate words of praise sent out blithely to Someone Out There, thanking Him for all my “stuff” and achievements, otherwise known to some people as “blessings”. These days, after Someone Out There has wacked me upside the head with thoughts about what’s really going- down in the World, and I have noted another day with an increased heartrate thinking about what happens after the day that I die; my praising prayer is set to the tune of “Being Alive” from the Steven Sondheim prayer book in his musical, “Company”. I am truly finally, just so peachy keen happy to be breathing and aware, that I have to believe there is Someone Out There I should thank for that.
Then while waiting for the coffee to brew, this morning as I have had more time to do, now that I’m not rushing off somewhere every morning, I looked outside my back door, while the dog, Daisy, did her nose-led tour of the yard, and I prayed my “help my family and me” prayers. These prayers are tuneless mewls, and at 5:00 AM are silent for the neighbors’ benefit, done with the sound turned off everywhere but in my own head. Because in fact, the Help Me Prayers, that I pray to God, sound like two feral cats in heat – all screeching desire and mindless animal-need. “Gimmeeee, gimmmeeee, gimmmeeee, helphelphelp!” Finally, as Daisy saunters in, never having had anywhere to rush off to in the first place, and I give her a treat for not needing toilet paper to do her business. I have that delicious, first sip of the elixir of the gods, laced amply with milk and honey (as all Promised Land drinks should be) and I move on in my habits of seeking spiritual connection or at least a kind of solace. Now, as I think about what is going on in the world outside my kitchen, I begin the final round of my life-long attempt at “thoughts and prayers” to a God Who Hears. I begin the Cursing Psalms.
I confess, I have had many days of speaking cursing psalms to God about people I actually know. Don’t deny it, I may have done it – but you thought it. These days my Cursing Psalms are almost exclusively reserved for the World’s titans of industry and kings of nations – in other words, the Pharaohs, Herods and Pilates of our Times. I am not often as extremely violent as the Hebrew Cursing Psalmists were, being weak of stomach and low on horror fiction images. I have a hard time praying, as the ancient Jew did in Psalm 137, that the current political Darth Vaders and religious Sarumans will have their “children’s heads dashed on rocks”. However, I have found a deeply felt connection with the revenge motif in Psalm 109:8 “may his days be few; may another seize his position”. I mean, c’mon, the cursing prayers in The Bible far outweigh one misinterpreted line by a biblical Paul-wannabe who wants us to “obey un-named authorities” because then we won’t “get in trouble” and we can keep tithing and being taxed.
Like the Psalmist, the prophets, like Jeremiah and Nehemiah, also have quite a lot to say about what they would like Providence to do to the wicked, or to those people who, even if they aren’t downright evil world-players, that God would do to anyone, even the little no-named soldiers and spouses, who are connected in wrong-doings (or by their silence?) to the “powers of this world”. Cursing prayers were prayed often by saints who saw the harm done by those who instigate or just allow “bad things to happen to good people”, and by those who deny direct involvement but are implicit by their profiteering silence.
For any one who is apt to think of this idea as too Old Testament, too “old style God”, best to read the curses of that currently trendy commentator, St. Paul himself, who says of his fellow “Christians” who are foisting their legalism and religious false interpretations on others, “I just wish that those troublemakers, who want to mutilate you by circumcision would emasculate themselves” (Galatians 5:12). Yowza! Something for those who want to rush their paying audiences back into death-trap churches and temples and mosques to think about. Or for the Biblically so inclined, read John in Revelations 6:10 or Peter in Acts 8:20. Of course, people today who want to claim some kind of belief in what is called Holy Scripture, or Torah, or the Bible, people who want to claim a kind of belief especially in that human/god we call The Son of God, Jesus, The Christ, have only to look at the words of Christ himself in Matthew 23 about the greedy and proud religious and political leaders of His time, and prophetically of ours. And of all time. To put Jesus’ words into a handy Spark-notes version, Jesus asks for and foretells “Woe”; which means Jesus requests and foretells a litany of bad consequences, for these people who were leaders and authorities in Jesus’ religion and of both of his countries. Jesus prays they will actually incur and experience a judgement and real future of “great sorrow and distress”. Woe to those humans among us who are enemies to Truth and Love. As I think about these things, I feel a personal type of uncleanness that far surpasses the way I feel having not taken a shower for the past few quarantined days. I still feel a righteous anger looking at the people I want to curse, but I also feel like a leprous dark cloud of disease, in the presence of a Holy God and a Perfect Savior. And all I want to do, is pretend I don’t know what any of it means, and that I can’t be responsible for the whole world, let alone, somehow judged for my own insignificant actions, and I just want to go back to watching a comedy on Netflix or eating my way through what remains in my freezer.
This morning, as I was winding up (or was it winding down?) my daily devotions of reading The Guardian, The Washington Post, the Bible, and some readings in mildly radical social, theological, prophetic works on spiritual realities, in other words things written by those who have explored Meaning throughout our human history, and people wiser than I who discuss “what in the name of earth and heaven does everything mean? And what is the answer to Why?”; I was once more beginning my rounds of prayers.
Let’s try again, I told myself. Okay. First — Praises for a growing understanding of God’s presence in the Universe. Praises for new insights into what it means to follow The Way. Next– some more conscience-stricken, gentle, humbled “help me” prayers. Prayer asking for the grace and health for me and mine, inside and out, to live through just this one more granted day. Prayers of asking for help that admit that though I do not know what is best for those I love, I will pray that the Holy Spirit will guide and change them in the ways they need to be guided and changed. The Serenity Prayer fits nicely here, the one that Reinhold Niebuhr so beautifully wrote and as it always does, today it moved something in me, when I recited the whole thing, including the hard parts, like the line “taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is and not as I would wish it to be”. And because I meant it, it changed something incrementally important in my own heart and soul.
Finally, I was ready to move on in my prayers to the Cursing Psalms, with the intent of simply asking that those people out there who thought they were too important to wear masks around sick people or too rich to wait in line or too smart to listen to people much smarter than they, or too free to be servants of Christ—that they would all just get the real-life consequences for their choices. I was just going to pray as the Psalmists and Prophets did, “please just let what they allow to happen which can kill others, what they do without caring who suffers because of it, what they take when they don’t need more instead of giving to those who have so little – please just be fair, God and let those things kill them instead of others; and please, God, harm their lives instead of the lives of the least of us, and just let their hoarded storehouses be taken away from them and distributed to a world in need; and while You are at, get rid of all the nuclear stuff and end the wars and if possible, stop the nasty viruses. Please God, just give enemies what they have worked so hard to deserve.” Woe, woe, woe. And then of course, that “Good Friend Jesus” of mine had to remind me, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and that God sent His only son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to die and live again, so we can all be cleansed from unrighteousness, and that what I think in my own heart, is what I really am, whether I act on it or not and that I am to go into every little corner of my own world and speak Good News of light, and hope, and love, and forgiveness, and faith — and once, more it all became One Thing, all the dots connected to the whole, and the whole thing of both evil and good, sin and righteousness, hate and love, cursing and praise – the whole thing led inexorably, unmovably, unignorably back to Me – the only “dot” that matters, the elephant in the room, the stone around my own neck dragging me down, the one “enemy” that has to lay down her weapons, and give in to The Unsearchable Goodness of A Good, Good God.
Over the years, I have perfected the ability to pray to myself and call it praying to a God. I have honed a sort of sing-song prayer life which is mostly like one person trying to sing a musical-round by oneself. Sometimes, though from the back seat of the Life-Car I am driving, I hear the Holy Spirit pipe-up. So, now and then, when I am praying at God or whining at the world in the Name of God, I let God or Jesus get a line or two in. It can be quite unnerving to suddenly realize that I am finally having an actual dialogue with Otherness. It is quite different than having a monologue with the various personalities that inhabit my mind from day to day. Back to this morning. Once I recognized my own need for forgiveness and change, I was able to listen to something outside of myself. And this morning was one of those times that prayer suddenly became conversation and not soliloquy.
Like a whisper across an ocean, like a butterfly appearing out of a tempestuous tornado, came the words of Jesus: “love your enemies”, and then the footnote –”because they do not live in reality”. In this barely discernable moment, shot like an arrow through the permeable membrane of my brain/heart, The Real World, of life, of myself, of other people, of the planet, and of God, was for a brief, but very sense-able moment, completely seen by something inside me that I can only call “soul-vision”.
That moment when The Presence was real, was like looking at one of those ambiguous images that at first look like a vase and then, when you squinch your eyes a certain way, is suddenly revealed to be a woman’s silhouette. The dire forecast of what I knew would be the consequences of humanity’s actions and inactions was completely turned inside out. Like the Upside Down Kingdom of Christ always does, suddenly the pandemic and all cancers and diseases, and the abusive, greedy, corrosive powers throughout history and currently running the world; and the rot of religious hypocrisies used for personal gain; and the communal ignorant destruction of our planetary home; and all the sins great and small, done and left undone; all of these were for just for an instant revealed as one big smoke-screen, one giant chimera of lies about what was and is and will be in The Kingdom of Meant to Be. My point of view – and it was just a tiny point on a long, long line of crooked and miscalculated points in my own life and worldview—that tiny momentary point was Trued, was like a little creaky craft sailing due North, was the small speck in a traced circle of new life. That moment became, not the end of the line but a chance at beginning all over again.
What I connected that little point to, was the small dot in a swirling mass of human life-thought-dots of what Jesus Christ meant when he said, “My Kingdom is not of this World.” And what true followers of Christ mean when we pray to God the Father, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. On earth. This earth. The one we have almost – but not quite– destroyed. With these people. The godlike imago Dei in humanity, that we have almost – but not quite – destroyed. His Will be done, not theirs, not ours, not mine. There is a spark of that reality still ember-ing throughout the world. We just need to stoke it back to life.
We are meant to recognize beyond the pollution and rape of our resources, beyond the racism and violence, beyond the greed and pride, beyond the carelessness and uncaring, that we live in a place like we imagine a heavenly one to be — not somewhere else, but here, available if re-created, restored with the help of other human beings – not some other kind of species, just human ones like us. We are meant to look around and get to work making a reality of our longings for a good, heaven-like place here, now, with normal people, who if we look close enough, reveal themselves as angels, who have abilities for goodness and recreation and healing, miraculous works beyond our wildest dreams. We don’t need “them” to change, we need “Us” to change, and when we all work together for a truthfully Good life, “they” won’t have any choice but to join us. When in this moment, we choose God’s Kingdom on earth as His Reality is Everywhere Else, we will live as we were meant to live eternally. Because that is what Jesus Christ did. That is what Jesus Christ does. That is what Jesus Christ will do.
Because, thankfully, other human beings throughout history, have been much more attuned to moments like that butterfly moment of mine this morning, we have the examples of certain people throughout the world’s history who have been able to live lives connecting the dots of a different sort of Kingdom, a different sort of reborn life, a different reality in a world of justice, peace, sharing, health, miracles, love, and care for something bigger and more lasting than temporal and fleeting treasures. It is to my shame, that I so easily focus on those sad, mistaken, misguided ones whose lives are lived in the false doctrines of humanistic, individualistic self-centered Team-Me-ness. Because of some small communities throughout history, and some very special women and men, there have been bold, brave, fantastical, “Heavenly” forays into the enemy camp of the illusory world of false treasures, and there have been brash takeovers of the predatory, prejudiced profiteering of the temporal wannabes, and the building blocks have been laid in the construction of that which is worthwhile because it is eternal. Some of these heroes of the world, and communities of faithfulness to The Way, are in fact, people who have given Jesus Christ the credit for their world-changing vision and actions, and others weren’t and don’t. That, though, in the end, won’t matter one bit, because what any of us really believe, will be revealed when our hearts are laid open to God.
This time of a world laid open, like a patient on an operating table whose chest is opened up for the Doctor’s exploratory, surgical intervention, will allow us to open our eyes and minds and hearts to the reality of our actions and the consequences of our choices. It is painful and scary; it is also, the way forward, if we keep our eyes focused on the flickering of a hopeful light at the end of another dark tunnel in our history.
We can choose to focus on the crashes and cacophony outside, or we can tune our ears to the calm assurance that is found in the quiet, still voice of The God of Second Chances-Jehovah, and The Creator Who Loves Her Created World – Our Parent, and the Son Who Lived and Died as One With Us- Emmanuel. That God will not leave us alone. But of course, if we keep insisting to have it our way, He will get out of our way. And despite our Enemy’s best tries, there is A Way, there is The Way, there is only One Way for us to survive, to live, to prevent the death of our planet, and if not our physical, at least prevent our spiritual death. There is One Reality.
This morning, I realized for a small moment, that I should feel sorry for people who live a fiction, a false life, a continual version of themselves as the protagonist of a show that they think of as Real, in the same way they think that what they see on Reality TV is real. I should feel pity for those who do not live the right kind of life, as I have so often not lived the right kind of life myself. I understood that I am asked to forgive what seems unforgivable, because that is how I am forgiven. This is the miracle of repentance and restoration of my own soul, that by praying for the souls of others, I am healed.
I realized that the “biggies” and the movers and shakers of the world are never going to be convinced to give up their “stuff” so that the planet will survive. But I can. I realized some people will never understand how demeaning it is to the very basis of what being human is all about when they care only about themselves. But I can. I realized that the only reason to vent cursing prayers to God, is to cleanse myself from all unrighteousness, so I can finally be still and peaceful and centered enough to hear what God has to say to me.
And someday, when the Real Kingdom comes for good, we who have tried to be like Christ, Will Be. When only the little Davids are left, and not the Goliaths; and when only those who care for Creation as their Creator does are left, and when only those who have loved others as Jesus did are left, then they will inherit the New Earth. When we love our neighbor as ourselves and love God with every morsel of our being, every moment of our day, every dot on our life-line, then there will be no more pandemics, no more war, no more sorrow, no more suffering – no more death. When the world is made right as God intended it to be, then even death will have been conquered.
So, rather than praying for an end to the lives of the bad people and an end to all the bad stuff destroying us, I had best get started on being alive. I had best spend however many moments I have left, becoming one of the Whole, part of the community of good people, and taking care of whatever I have of the stuff that will last.
I should pray for the enemies of my own silly self, and those enemies of the world, not because I think they will change, but because by praying for them, I will change. I should love the enemies of God who take His name in vain, and whose pride has led them into a raging current of hypocrisy, because I am also, hypocritical and abusive of God’s intended purposes for this world. Loving doesn’t mean being silent in the face of lies. Loving doesn’t mean not speaking the Truth boldly, even angrily, when we must. Loving does not mean I think there is no such thing as bad people or sin or sinfulness. Loving means I recognize daily that I am part of both the problem and the solution. By loving even those whom I can see for what they sadly actually are, I can see my own egregious sins more frankly. I can repent and change who I am and pray for grace for those people who are yet unchanged, and ask for a bit of God’s grace for me as well. I can focus on the “YET” not the “never”. I can live as a truly grateful servant of Christ, and as a humble, dependent child of God.
In my dialogue of prayer this morning, this is an interpretation of some of what I understood God to be saying. I let God get in a few words edgewise in my thoughts and prayers this morning, and My Parent-God said something like this:
Child, feel pity for those people who are intent on destroying the Earth– they will not inherit it. Remember that only the meek will live to see a restored creation, so be meek and learn with those who are learning how to care for the planet I entrusted your species with. Child, you must try to learn more about caring for your planet, and love those who are too foolish to know that when they die, they will receive only what they have planted- dust.
Child, feel sorrow for those who claim they know my Son, Jesus who stretched out his arms on a cross for the whole world. Feel sorrow for them, for they do not see Him in the outstretched hands of the needy, as Christ commanded them to do. But you, my child, have another day to seek My Kingdom. Remember that only if you begin to love others as you have long loved yourself, will you enter into My Kingdom. Know that only if men and women are poor in spirit, will they have the Kingdom of Heaven forever.
Child, you see the Truth when you understand that the world is full of soul-less ones, of zombies, who think they are alive when they are really dead or dying inside. You too, have spent far too many days, trying to gain the world, and losing your soul. Be humbled, and be on guard, against the Devil and his hungry wolves who prowl the earth looking for easy prey. Do not let your heart be hardened against those other people, but love them, not for their sake, but for the sake of the New Earth, and the New Heaven, that I have in store for all those who follow The Way of The Light. To be persecuted for seeking righteousness, is the Way of my Son, and if you die to yourself, my child, you will be resurrected, now, and in the future, to a glorious Reality.
Child, you must not despair, but also, you must not hate. Despair and hatred are mere illusions of something, and are in fact, only the absence of something. This reality that is full of fear and suffering, wrongs done and left undone, of anger and violence and disease and, yes even death, are no more real to God, than any evil ever could be. These things, created by us, and not God, have been passing away from God’s Created Universes, since Adam’s Fall. They will pass away from the earth, as blades of grass blown by A Sovereign Wind. All that will remain for those who will inherit a restored and healthy world, in a reborn humanity, and in the Kingdom of Christ, God’s Son, will be all that has ever been truly real. All that will remain will be “faith, hope, and love.”
And, My Child, the most powerful, lasting, eternal, overcoming, over-whelming, greatest thing that will remain – is Love. So, my Child, focus your life on Flourishing in The Way, just as Christ lived out The Way for you. Seek to Love as We Love you. My foolish Child, so full of self-righteousness and desire — Today, love Me like a small child loves her Mommy. And work harder at loving others, even when they are destructive and evil, because that kind of Love will someday destroy all the evil in the world, even that which is in yourself. Forgive people who are naughty, in the same way you want to be forgiven. And always Remember– Love Will Win. So, Love other humans, especially the ones that no one else seems to care about, in the same way you love your own children.
And then, dear Little One, Leave the rest to Me. I’ve got this. I’ve got you. In fact, I’ve got the whole world in My Hands.
And so, my morning has ended with a pause in my cursing of my enemies. And as I try to figure out what loving enemies has to do with the rebirth of our world and the future of our souls, I end my prayers and start my day, by admitting, I have no idea what it all means, but I can trust that there is a God Who does. And as the Psalmist in Psalm 139 did after he cursed the bad guys, I can pray for God’s help to be one of the good guys:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my concerns.
See if there is any offensive, wicked way in me;
And lead me in The Way that is everlasting.”