“Angel Oak” by David Eck ©2017

While my Mom and I were on vacation in Folly Beach, we got the opportunity to see the Angel Oak which is on Johns Island, about 20 minutes from where we were staying. For those of you who’ve never heard of this tree, the Angel Oak is a live oak that is estimated to be 500 years old. It stands 66 feet tall, measures 28 feet in circumference, and produces shade that covers 17,200 square feet. Needless to say, it’s a BIG tree!

As we approached this majestic tree somehow the air felt different. There is a peaceful presence which surrounds this tree. It’s a feeling of groundedness and strength. I took many pictures of this amazing tree But none of them do it justice. You simply have to see it for yourself and experience it firsthand. You need to place your arms around its trunk

and give it some love.

Yes, I confess, your pastor is literally a tree hugger. I have the picture to prove it! My encounter with the Angel Oak was both sacred and profound. It’s sacred because, these days, I’ve developed a stronger bond with nature that is Spirit-filled and deep. This was not always the case, but I’m glad it’s an important part of my spiritual journey now. It’s profound because I thought about all the people who have found shade under the Angel Oak. She was there before the Pilgrims arrived. She got her start way back in the time of the Protestant Reformation. That really blows my mind.

Today, we begin the Season of Creation. This year’s readings emphasize the Holy Spirit who breathes life into creation, suffers with creation, and renews creation. Our first lesson from Genesis is the perfect text to begin our exploration of this theme. It is the second creation story we find in Genesis. The first is in chapter 1. It’s my favorite of the two because of the way God is portrayed in the text.

In Genesis 1, God is the Master Architect. There is a plan from the very beginning. God is orderly and methodical, and zaps things into being, one by one with no mistakes and no experimentation. Let there be light…and there was light. Let there be a dome in the sky…and there was a dome in the sky. Sun and moon, land and sea, plants and animals, all spoken into being. Let there be…and there was. It’s a very hands-off process where the Creator makes everything by force of sheer will.

When we finally get to the creation of humans, the same thing is also true. It simply states that God created humankind in the Divine image, both male and female. Then, the Almighty tells the humans to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

I have alway had a problem with this command because no matter how much we spin the Hebrew, we are left with us being in charge of creation in a way that is less than nurturing. I know some scholars have tried to soften the blow of this description of our relationship with creation. But I am convinced this is merely wishful thinking. We are the kings and queens of creation. The Hebrew speaks this loud and clear. History has shown us that kings and queens usually do a poor job of ruling at some point, no matter how pure their intentions may be.

But I’m not here to talk about Genesis 1. Instead, I’m here to lift up Genesis 2 where God is seen as more of an Artist than an Architect. There is no zapping things into being in Genesis 2. Instead, the Creator begins with a blank canvas of soil and water. Then God literally gets down in the dirt and begins sculpting a human being, combining soil and water to form clay. When the earth creature is fully sculpted, God breathes the breath of life into this sculpture and it becomes a living being.

The interesting thing to note about the Hebrew that is used here is that this earth creature is not gender specific, at first. God makes ADAM out of the ADAMAH, the earth creature out of the earth. ADAM is not the name Adam that we associate with this story. It is a description of what has been created. This same earth creature will become earth again, when the breath of life leaves its body: Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust as we say at funerals and on Ash Wednesday.

The beauty of this description of the Creator and the earth creature, is that it is very hands-on and nurturing. There is a relationship here that is, both sacred and profound. Once this earth creature comes to life, by the breath of the Spirit, God begins to create a garden, a forest, if you like. It is here in Eden, “the land of pleasure,” that the earth creature finds a home. It is here that the earth creature nurtures and cares for the land, instead of subduing it and dominating it, like we read in Genesis 1.

God’s creative and experiment side continues as God comes to the realization that  “It is not good for the earth creature to be alone. I will make a fitting companion for it.” Then God’s work ethic kicks into high gear. The Creator combines soil and water and begins sculpting all sorts of wild animals. The Almighty breathes the same breath of life into each of these creatures.

It is at this point in the story that the earth creature gets involved in co-creating by giving each of these animals names. All of this is wonderful and good, but Genesis then tells us that “But none of them proved to be a fitting companion for the earth creature.” It’s almost as if this is a surprise to God. It’s quite a contrast to the orderliness of Genesis 1. The Creator then causes the earth creature to fall into a deep sleep, performs a surgical procedure, and uses the rib to fashion a woman. When the earth creature sees what God has created, the earth creature exclaims, “This time, this is the one! Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh! Now, she will be Woman, and I will be Man, because we are of one flesh.”

It is at this point that the Hebrew changes. The earth creature is no longer ADAM but is IYSH with the woman being his counterpart ISHSHAH. They are connected in a way that is different from the earth creature and the animals, but it’s important to note that all are made by the Creator from soil and water. All are given the same breath of life.

And so we see, in the second creation story, a beautiful description of our relationship with both God and creation. It is hands-on and nurturing. It is Spirit-filled and Spirit-led. It is artistic and nuanced as those, who are created in the image of God, give the same attention to detail as God did when we were formed formed the soil of the earth.

This is why I prefer the second creation story over the first one. It reminds us that our connection to creation is not about our ability to control and dominate it. Our connection to creation is one of nurture and caretaking. The same Spirt who gave us life, breathes new life into our relationship with creation again and again and again.

This is one of the reasons why I studied herbal medicine last year. I had come to the conclusion that I was nature starved. I spent most of my time indoors in front of a computer screen or ministering to the sick. I spent my time teaching and leading worship, and attending meetings. All of this indoor activity had a negative effect on my body, mind and spirit.

Thanks be to God, the Holy Spirit challenged me to do something about it! This is what led to me not only studying herbal medicine, but also planting my own version of Eden in my front yard this past spring. I make it a point every day to do something out in nature, to make sure my cell phone stays firmly in my pocket, as I try to connect more deeply with the amazing world God had created for us to enjoy.

My deeper connection to creation has resulted in several things: First of all, those who know me well say I’m more peaceful and happy. Secondly, it gives me perspective in life.  When the daily news gets the best of me, and causes me to be anxious and afraid, spending time outdoors restores my soul. Thirdly, after having struggled with chronic hives for over a year, I am cured! My body is stronger and healthier. The healing properties of the herbs I work with have been an important element in my recovery. I am humbled and amazed at all the wonderful gifts God has to offer us in the plants and trees that surround us. These gifts have always been there. I just didn’t have eyes to see them! So, yes I am a tree hugger and a plant nurturer and an eco-warrior. This new chapter of my life is rooted in the beautiful creation story we find in Genesis 2.

The reason why I spent so much time this morning sharing my story and unpacking this text, is because I suspect some of you are nature starved, too. Some of you spend all your time in human-made habitats in front of computer screens, cell phones and TV sets. If this is the case, perhaps the Holy Sprit is calling you to get in touch with your “Earth-creatureness.” Perhaps, the Holy Spirit desires to breathe new life into your nature-starved bodies. My hope is that as we begin our celebration of the Season of Creation, you will take the time to assess the damage our modern world has inflicted on your bodies, minds and spirits. My hope is that you will formulate a plan to strengthen and deepen your connection to nature.

The good news is that you don’t have to become an herbalist to do this! All it takes is a walk on the Blue Ridge Parkway or a picnic lunch on the banks of the French Broad River. All it takes it a pot full of flowers on your front porch or hugging the Angel Oak or the tree that is right outside your front door. God has given us an amazing world with lots of sights, sounds and smells that are a delight to our senses. Take the time to co-create with God. Go out and play in the soil of the forest, or the sand at the beach, and get in touch with your earth-creatureness. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did it! Amen.

Copyright ©2017 by David Eck