Spiritual Connections – The Leaves Of The Tree (May 2022)

May 12, 2022

This month’s Spiritual Connections is from our General Presbyter, the Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo:
In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed a human from the dust of the ground, and breathed into their nostrils the breath of life; and the human became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there the Lord God put the human whom they had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. -Genesis 2: 4b-9
I preached on this passage a few Sundays ago along with the continuation of the story where Eve encounters the snake and decides to eat from the tree of good and evil. Much of my sermon came from this little book I read the month before that I find myself recommending to everyone. It is called Mouth of the Donkey: Re-imagining Biblical Animals by Laura Duhan-Kaplan who is a professor at the Vancouver School of Theology and a Jewish rabbi. Her descriptions of animals in the Hebrew Scriptures are vibrant and rich, and her unique take on familiar scriptural stories comes out of her Jewish practice of midrash. In many ways she turns the stories upside down and inside out from what perhaps you and I consider traditional readings of the stories, and I found her retelling of the “fall” in Genesis to be creative, refreshing, and a space that took all the shame, separation from Creation, and problematic gender dynamics out of the story. The snake and Eve in her reweaving of the story are redeemed!

I have been working my way through some other ecological texts this spring in preparation for my final class in my doctor of ministry studies. Our very own Claudio Carvalhaes’ new text Ritual at World’s End: Essays on Eco-Liturgical Liberation Theology is figuring deeply into my thinking these days. I have also been working my way through a book set titled Kinship: Belonging in a World of Relations, edited by Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of the book I know many of you have read, Braiding Sweetgrass and a delightful earlier book on Moss (Gathering Moss). Kimmerer brings her dual learnings as both a Native American and a botany professor to bear on what she notices about the natural world and bringing to life the areas of profound interconnectedness we scarcely notice.

In addition to reading, I am of course, waking up my garden at this time of the year.

Seeds have been started, the entire dining room at our house is outfitted with grow-lights, a fan and heat for about 300 tomato plants that I grow each spring and give many away to family and friends (if you want on the list, let me know, I will bring some extras to the Presbytery meeting later this month). The perennials are coming up, we got two more chickens this spring, and the frogs are making a lot of noise.
Signs of birth and death are also making themselves known. We have multiple baby robin and finch nests with eggs about to be hatched, and I have found both a dead bird and the fluffy tail of a rabbit in the yard. Probably a coyote or a fox has the rest!

The backdrop of course, to all of these things in this season is deep grief. This planet, this sliver of Creation that we call home is dying because we have failed to live into the first instructions God gave us in Genesis 1, 2 and 3.

  • Keep and tend to the Earth.
  • Love it.
  • Value the creatures who I the Lord God allowed you to have as companions, and even to name.
  • Have awe and reverence for this indescribable gift I the Lord God have freely given.
  • Honor your relationships with one another.
  • Eat only what is needed, do not exploit the soil, the planets and the ecosystems.
Everything God gave us is in perfect balance. And we have, especially over the last few generational cycles of human life, defiled and destroyed that gift, perhaps irrevocably with addictive behaviors around fossil fuels and a growth-at-all-costs mentality. What do we say to this? The World Meteorological Organization now says there is a 50/50 chance we will pass 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next five years, a catastrophic scale of warming on this planet. We are in the midst of a mass species extinction event, much of which is hidden from our eyes but it is happening. The climate crisis is upon us, and God’s Creation is bleeding, burning and crying out all around us.

I find myself sometimes paralyzed in this season by the grief of what we have done to this precious gift. I gaze around my garden, or I look at beautiful vistas as I travel and wonder to myself, why do we hate what God has given us? What is wrong with us? Why do we insist on death, and violate the Commandments? There is no more precious gift from God than the Creation, the container for all life as we know it. Jesus said it over and over again: “I came to save all of Creation.”

I think we are called to go in a few specific directions these days as the Church. Working to save Creation not just for ourselves, but for all beloved co-inhabitants is holy and sacred work. It is generational work. This past weekend I met with a congregation who wanted to talk about these things. We reflected that the Bible begins and ends with a Tree, the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life. In Revelation 22 we hear these words, “…the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nation.

My hope and prayer is that as we head into the summer months, you will allow Creation to speak to you powerfully of God’s abiding love and grace, to renew your spirit with its awe and beauty, and that out of these things, your love for Creation and for God will be rekindled and renewed for the urgent tasks of being the people of life and Resurrection.


Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, General Presbyter

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