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Earth, Clay, Soil

The Spirit of Holiness is among us. Active in all things, especially immanent and encountered in these times of great social crisis. We, as a species are in crisis, a crisis of our own creation and born of the hubris of ‘animus’. We believe we can own mother earth; our arrogance is finally consuming us with our own greed and self-interest.

How shall we seek God in such times? Where shall we find the living God as we stumble in the darkness of our human condition? Maybe it is time we stopped looking up to the skies expecting God to wave a magic wand and bale us out of our desperation. Maybe it is time we looked below us, to the earth, to the plants, the soil, the beauty of our rivers and oceans, to the security of the ground beneath our feet. When we pray ‘Come Holy Spirit’ it is fitting to look down to that which we can immediately care for, rather than up to the skies in anticipation of the heavens opening and sorting out our mired condition for us. Indeed, this is the way of God in Christ, to enter the world through the humble womb of a woman.

The genesis of humanity is from the earth, conceived in the mind of God before time, and mixed with the very breath of Holiness. God’s intervention in human history has already occurred – we the people of faith are that continuous intervention. We the people of faith are the sign of the age to come – the living breath, breathed upon the face of the earth with the Holy power to renew all things. Yet many prefer to exchange the pursuit of social holiness and securing sacred ecological restoration and the inevitable discomfort that these acts of righteousness will create, with the security of convention, the comfort of financial wealth and the safety of knowing the outcomes of Gods will (created in our own image) before they listen to the transforming voice of the suffering servant.

The voice of God is found in the margins, the wilderness, the people and places forgotten and abandoned by the conventions of power. 

‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,  “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, Who will prepare your way before you”, Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.’

Matthew 11:7-11

Convention leads to conformity, this in turn leads to a disempowered people. As the breath of God roams the earth seeking partners, the ‘anima’ of God dives deep into our limbic being – to care, to nurture, to love, to restore, to protect and renew the face of the earth. It is here we encounter our primal Creator – in the soil, in the planting, in the daily politics of potatoes and onions. In these humble acts we transcend the blind guides who believe power and politics alone will save us from ourselves.

It is a salutary story for our time, when Jesus knelt down and spat on the ground, created mud from his saliva and smeared it on the eyes of a blind man. In the washing of this divine mud from his eyes, the blind man’s sight was restored. This is not a story to theologise over, or to confine to the pages of academic literature or pastoral counselling. This story calls us to action, to kneel down, to spit, to sweat, to bleed ourselves onto the earth, clay and soil beneath our feet. An earth from which we originated at the dawn of time. In imitating Christ in this way, we bring sight, fresh ways of being together and an innocence that will restore the fabric of the created order. These acts of service to the whole of creation, dethrone the false gods of sophisticated ‘so called’ civilisation and its accrued power and offer a fresh way of being in the earth.

As I watched COP26 I saw noticeable progress; commitments to abandon coal, reducing methane, pledges to invest into green technologies and an apparent willingness for the world’s dirtiest countries (USA & China) to work more closely together to clean up their old dirty linen. I also see how billionaires are going to invest into de-carbonising their companies. Yet this Davos Culture of wealth and privilege, that presents itself as a solution, equally disempowers the ordinary and the poor. If it is only the elite (who have the grown fat on the profits of the carbon economy) who can save the planet, then the power to change our world, has not changed. The power remains in the hands of a few and is inaccessible to the common people. This is not social or ecological justice, this is our civil democracy and solidarity being denuded, replaced by a whimsical altruistic dictatorship. The self-centredness of this belief system has rendered our planet a tipping point of toxicity, ushering in untold suffering for the worlds poorest. The anger of God bears witness against such hubris.

Whilst I understand this is not a populist take on proceedings (there is something deep within the psyche of the human that grasps at hope as an act of self-preservation), the climate crisis forces us to deal in tangible realities, not vain fantasy. Let us be honest with ourselves, the ruler of this world manifests in the political economy that thrives off our over consumption, pursuit of profit and social division. The Churches witness, if consistent with the person of Christ, must be the antithesis of this trajectory.

At the beginning of COP26 the British Prime Minister spoke of the Glasgow gathering as a turning point in the fight back against climate change (Click here for full speech). Nobel sentiment, however it is his ill-conceived value system that renders him an ineffective leader in times of crisis. Our fight is not against the climate chaos we have created. The fight is with ourselves. The fight between the darker nature of our souls or the noble virtues of the common good. The darkness of our greed and investment into carbon capitalism or the light of green generosity. The darkness of violence and perpetual war, or the light of loving our neighbour. 

Jesus lived another way. The way of service, the way of love, the way of peace. In the soaring heights of Jesus’ teaching in the Beatitudes, He exhorts his followers to be ‘light on the hill’ that gives hope to all. This light is not a conceptual illustration, it is moral and ethical. Leonardo Boff paraphrases this point beautifully when commenting on Hegel’s work on the Holy Spirit in history, ‘he (meaning Hegel) rightly affirms that the meaning of life is not to be found in abstractions, but in the concrete reality of nature and history’.[1]

The light of Christ is the way of the Kingdom, a new way of being together as the people of God. A people that are distinct from the worlds value system. The light of hope expressed to onlookers that there is a way for our species to transcend the abuses of power, conflicts, greed and vested self-interest that are foundational to the systems of domination and control that are prevalent in modern society. We all understand and agree that Jesus did not come to establish another world religion, rather to demonstrate a new way of life and living together. The challenge before every generation is how do we embody this vital truth.

When we pray come Holy Spirit we open ourselves up to the in breaking power to transform our very mode of being. This transformation begins with us, the people of God. It is an interior transaction. The monastics and contemplatives of Christian history (in fact all truly spiritual traditions) have understood this, having comprehended that lasting change is not found in political systems, culture or the institutions of religion that are established to maintain orthodoxy. The ReLOVEution of Liber-action is found in the transformation of our heart and soul. It is an internal realignment of our humanity that acts upon our behaviour and then upon the world as a material consequence.

‘I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me’. 

CS Lewis

This is why the monastic contemplatives chose to withdraw from the world system. It was not because they hated the world as that would be to countermand the command of Christ ‘to love’. Their withdrawal was motivated by their love of God and an external resetting of the churches way of being. Let us remember that the monastic movement emerged at the same time as the Church became the state religion and adopted the imperial organisational structure of Emperor and Empire. State religion is an anathema to the Holy Spirit as the State is not the agency of the Kingdom of God.

I reside in southern England, and have lived, loved, lost and adventured from the landscape of the South Downs. I have embraced new monasticism as a way of capturing the creational movement into the ‘desert in the ocean’. A phrase used to describe the early British and Irish (Celtic) monastic tradition, where men and women gathered together to be alone with Christ. This desert spirituality/praxis establishes the space that is needed to start again. To reset the meter of our lives in a harmonious way with the whole of creation. It begins the long pilgrimage of our souls from being transactional beings in the world, towards our original state of being as that of children of God, people of peace who are nurtured at the breast of God.

This is the way of the Spirit of Holiness, the way of peace and humility. Our love for the world, its people and creation will continue to be a painful intercessory act, given the brokenness of the human condition. Yet we will not see our precious world turned around by using the strategies of the world or its definitions of success. We cannot project manage, campaign or politically restructure our way out of the mire that we now all reside in. We – the body of Christ – must do as Christ commands in the beatitudes and live as the ‘anawim’ of the world, for it is they that inherit the earth.

I began this reflection with an acknowledgement that the Holy Spirit is among us. Our modern society is failing in its own declared objectives of bringing peace and prosperity to its respective citizens. God is calling us to begin a great pilgrimage, a movement, a motion away from the dysfunctional spirit of this world and to begin the walk towards the age of fulness of the Holy Spirit and a renewed creation. This pilgrimage is the call to start again from the earth, clay and soil of our land. It is the walk of humility for without it we have no future.


[1] Come, Holy Spirit, inner fire, giver of life & comforter of the poor. (Boff, 2015) p.103.

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