Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Light, Comprehension and Eco-Justice
distributed 12/27/19 - ©2019

We've made it past Christmas Day, once again. (Congratulations, clergy and musicians!) We're still in the season of Christmas, though, which gives us some space to think beyond the baby in a manger, and ponder much larger themes of incarnation.

As I enter into that realm of reflection this year, I'm discerning some hopeful ideas from the Gospel of John with a direct bearing on the ongoing struggle for eco-justice.

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The familiar stories from Matthew and Luke are very specific about the birth of Jesus. We get dates, and names, and places. God comes to us with a vivid particularity.

The Gospel of John tells a remarkably different story about incarnation. We get to Jesus, but it takes 17 verses in the poetic prologue before that name appears.

We start with the beginning, the cosmic beginning, the Genesis 1 kind of beginning. In the beginning was the Word, the Logos. The Word was with God, and the Word was (and still is!) God. This Logos of God is the source of all creation -- infusing creation with life. (The Greek means "the absolute fullness of life, both essential and ethical, which belongs to God."). The life was the light, the light that shines in the darkness. The darkness -- depending on the translation -- cannot overcome the light, cannot grasp the light, cannot comprehend the light. (John 1:1-5)

I find ethical inspiration in such a comprehensive notion of God's incarnation -- an infusion of purpose and identity which cannot be overcome. I find emotional encouragement in the realization that darkness simply cannot comprehend the light.

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The creative, inventive, relational, light-bearing, grace-filled Logos is present in all things, throughout the whole cosmos. God's presence is inseparable from this world in which we live. God's presence is inseparable from the entire universe.

The Logos is not one ingredient of creation, or an overlay on top of it, or a perspective about creation that some of us have decided to use. All things have their being in God.

It brings to my mind a powerful word of witness from Sallie McFague, a journal entry that she quote in Life Abundant. "I feel as though I finally understand what life is about. It is, quite simply, acknowledging how things are -- living in the truth. And the truth is that God is the source and sustainer of everything."

The light of God is present in everything. Darkness cannot overcome the light because the light infuses all creation. Darkness can overcome the light only by the complete extinguishing of all creation -- not just humans, not just life on Earth, but all creation. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not, and cannot ever, overcome it. As long as there is any shred of this Logos-filed creation, the light shines.

Two years ago, I claimed five words to center my awareness and action for 2018. "The world is inherently relational." That is another way of saying that the Logos is inherent in the world. Relationship cannot be taken out of the world. Relationship is part of the interaction of sub-atomic particles, and it shapes the gravitational dance of galaxies. On Earth, ecology is a given of all life, in constant relationship with all of our community.

I hold to relationship as an essential expression of the Logos within creation. The God of life and love and grace is a God of relationship, from the very first instant of creation. Relationship constantly is present within the identity of all things.

The Logos, the light, shines -- and it cannot be overcome. The light of a relational universe cannot be extinguished, because relationship is woven into the very fabric of creation. That true light enlightens everyone and everything.

But. ... But the world did not know the light that was coming into the world. The people did not accept the light. That seems to be a distinctly human failure. We, the humans, may be the only part of creation which is oblivious to the presence of the Logos, the light, which is constantly in us and around us and among us.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not comprehend it. We do not perceive the presence of God. We don't get it.

From my eco-justice perspective, I find it necessary and fruitful to name relationship as a quality of God's light and Logos. Therefore, living in the light means living in right relationship. Living in the light is synonymous with living in shalom -- in peace and justice encompassing all creation.

The darkness, in contrast, denies relationship. The darkness perceives only things, not a web of existence. The darkness does not understand right relationship, but only understands use and exploitation. The darkness knows only self and stuff, only me and things that I can use for myself.

There is, of course, a mix of light and darkness within each one of us. We both thrive in relationship, and turn inward to the coldness of using others.

For ethics in today's world, though, I see the theological kind of darkness, of relationship denial, in ideologies and institutions that are fixated on resources, and on monetary values, and on short-term gains. That's not a new or distinctly modern problem, but it is a crisis in today's world.

To name names, with a very partial list:

  • I see a denial of God's light in racism and nationalism which write off vast populations as "other" without perceiving the presence of God within them, and without recognizing the need for justice in our extended relationships.
  • I see a denial of God's light in the ongoing flood of destructive policies from the Trump administration, which rejoice in the exploitation of resources, which pay no heed to ecological relationships, and which refuse to acknowledge the accelerating climate emergency.
  • I see a denial of God's light in other nations -- in particular with the devastating policies of the Bolsonaro regime in Brazil, ripping apart the Amazon for short-term profit at the expense of indigenous communities, of ecological health and biological diversity, and of climate turmoil.
  • I see a denial of God's light in growing confidence given to a technological materialism, looking for a false salvation in more gadgets, in artificial intelligence, in demands for ever-greater convenience, and in immediate gratification. Amazon, in the corporate sense, is one face of this distortion.

The Logos was in the world, and through the Logos the world came into being; yet the world did not know the Logos. A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

The light cannot be overcome, it cannot be extinguished, because it is inherent in creation. The denial of light, though, can cause damage to creation and to relationships, and that damage is all too evident around us.

The poetic prologue of John does not leave us with an ever-present conflict between light and darkness. If darkness cannot comprehend the light, then there is hope and opportunity for new comprehension.

John gives good news that there are those who do receive the light which is present in the world. John assures us that those who witness to the light can provide enlightenment. It is possible for those who do not comprehend to come to new understanding. It is possible for institutions and social systems built on exploitation to be transformed.

In the beginning was the Word, the Logos, the fullness of life, the light -- and that can never be taken out of creation.

May we -- those of us who have at least some partial understanding of God's light, and of the relationship inherent in all creation -- may we be witnesses to the light. May we embody and amplify the light in both word and deed. May we work to overcome the incomprehension of those who are oblivious to light and right relationship.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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