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Friday, December 24, 2010

Via Creativa--A Sermon

Via Creativa
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

Christmas Eve 2010

In the 14th century, a theologian by the name of Meister Eckhart was tried for heresy by Pope John XXII. He had the last word. He died before they could come to a decision. His status within the church is still discussed, as recently as of March of this year. Some have been attempting to clear his name. The word from the Vatican, apparently is that since he had never been condemned by name he is still considered an orthodox theologian.

But you don’t hear many orthodox theologians, especially men, saying things like this about Christmas. This is Meister Eckhart from the 14th century:
We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I also do not give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time. When the Son of God is begotten in us.
Another theologian, who was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church for his views, and is now an Episcopal priest, Matthew Fox, is a devotee of Eckhart. Matthew Fox and his ideas have made an impact on me and on many in this congregation.

He found trouble with the authorities because he challenged the notion of original sin. He didn’t find much that was original about it and instead he suggested we focus on original blessing. Creation is a blessing. Life itself is a miracle. That we exist is amazing. According to Fox, humanity’s primary identity is not depraved, fallen, or sinful, but that we are a blessing.

We homo sapiens can do some pretty incredible things. We can talk. We can think. We can write “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, compose Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and paint Mona Lisa’s smile. We can calculate pi to one thousand one hundred twenty decimal digits, make fire, text our friends during the sermon with our opposable thumbs, and we can show compassion to and aid a complete stranger who is not a biological kin and who is not in a position to aid us.

It took the universe 13.7 billion years to make you. So you ought to see yourself as pretty darn special. That is original blessing. Wow. Early thinkers on matters of theology were so impressed with themselves that they thought that they were created in the image of God. My guess is that they created God in their image but were too bashful to give themselves credit.

Nevertheless that is the spirit. Life is a blessing. When we take time not to take life for granted, we find that it is amazing. Matthew Fox didn’t say there wasn’t sin: that we do not fail to love, that we do not give into fear, that we do not do destructive things—yes we do certainly. But that isn’t primary. What is primary is life, joy, blessing. Life is teeming everywhere. It is a miracle.

Matthew Fox, inspired by Meister Eckhart and others throughout our various traditions, coined the term Creation Spirituality. It is a spirituality that is Earth-based, is appreciative of human knowledge, especially our cosmological and evolutionary history, sees other faith traditions as many wells dipping into the same river, and is deeply concerned with ecological sustainability and invites us to experience deep compassion for all living things. Matthew Fox wants to create a spirituality for a new millennium. One way to describe him is post-Christian. Which is why he got in trouble with the authorities. They are still operating religion 1.0 and he is at 2.0 at least.

He named four pathways or in Latin vias for the holistic or spiritual life.

The way of awe and wonder at creation and life itself. The via positiva.
The way of letting go and honoring darkness, death, and impermanence. The via negativa.
The way of creativity and imagination. The via creativa.
The way of compassion and justice-making. The via transformativa.

These paths are not a ladder climbed but a spiral danced.

At First Pres., your favorite tree-hugging church in the woods, we have been focusing on one particular path during each season.

Spring is compassion and justice-making.
Summer is awe and wonder.
Fall is letting go and impermanence.
Winter is creativity and imagination.

We have entered Winter. This season begins with Winter Solstice. It is no accident that Jesus was declared to be born at the time of Winter Solstice. Christians adopted it and called it Christmas. Honoring Earth’s return from darkness as the old sun dies and the new sun is born again far predates Christianity.

But Christianity has added some great legends, characters, symbols, and traditions. Christmas lives in legend and symbol, not in historical fact. The magic operates at the unconscious level.

The story of Mary giving birth to the Divine Child is generative, creative stuff. The via creativa is the bringing of light and creativity.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:1-5
All of that coming into being is language for creativity. Christmas is a celebration to honor that which makes us human, our creativity. Like Mary who courageously says to the angel, “Let it be with me according to your word,” we too, are invited to say “Let the Divine be born within me. Let the Light shine in me.”

As Eckhart said:
We are all meant to be mothers of God.
Creativity is about being creative with images. It is letting our imaginations run wild. It is giving birth to new ideas, to new ways of living, being, and relating. We need open our lives to creativity now more than ever. As our planet reaches its limits, the way we have been doing things cannot continue. We are in the midst of witnessing the birth of a major change in human history. We are experiencing the birth pangs of post-Petroleum Man.

One hundred years from now our descendants will be living on renewable and sustainable forms of energy. They will be living with Earth not against it. They will live in balance, renewing its life, not extracting is resources for a one time use.

Now not only are we witnessing this birth, we are participating in it. Now we need the creativity and the courage to give birth to this new reality for the sake of generations to come. Now is when we need to say “Yes” as Mary did and let Creative Wisdom be born in us. Maybe Christmas 2010 will be the time our descendants will remember when humanity woke up, recognized its denial and addictions, realized the danger we are in, took responsibility, and found the courage and creativity to give birth to a new human being—to be in Eckhart’s words—mothers of God.

In his book Creativity, Matthew Fox writes:
Creativity is who we are, creativity can redeem and save our species….All we need to do is release this creativity, get out of its way….What are we waiting for? Let us remove the obstacles, let go of the guilt, and get moving. We have nothing to lose but our pessimism and cynicism….Creativity is not in short supply. There is an abundance of it, plenty to go around. It has always been this way. From the original fireball to the birth of the atoms, galaxies, supernovas, stars, sun, planets, earth and her marvelous creatures. We humans are latecomers to the creative universe, but we are powerfully endowed with creativity. P. 229
That to me is a hopeful message.

For now, for this night, let it be enough to accept that Divine Creativity is being born. We don’t need to force it or calculate it. How creativity comes to one is not the same for another. We don’t need to mimic another. There is no creative act that is too small. We just need to open our minds and open our hearts to the possibility that there is a job for us to do. We are needed. We are a blessing. Each of us, in our own way and in our own place has creativity and light to share.

Like Mary, we have been summoned. Divine Wisdom, Divine Word, Divine Creativity is coming into the world. What Eckhart said 700 years ago is ripe today:
This, then, is the fullness of time. When the Son of God is begotten in us.
Let it be with me according to your word.

Amen.
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