What is Creation Spirituality: Blessing
The Universe, and all life within it, is fundamentally a blessing.
Many of us are familiar with the concept of original sin—the idea that all humans are born as sinners. It is, unfortunately, a central doctrine of the Christian Church.
The idea goes something like this: Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden tainted human existence for eternity. “Fallen from grace,” humans remain out of sorts from God. Unworthy on our merits, God sent Christ to die for our sins. Those who believe in Christ are saved from the effects of original sin, namely, eternal damnation.
What may surprise many Christians is that Jews have never believed in original sin. For Jews, the Garden of Eden story is seen as an ancient story trying to explain why things aren’t perfect; specifically (at least when it was first written down in the 9th century B.C.E.) why men “toil in the fields” and women “bear the pangs of childbirth.” Instead, Judaism adheres to the theology of Genesis 1, where God declares before resting, that everything created is “very good.”
Furthermore, even though Augustine’s theology became the official doctrine of the church, many Christians chose to believe otherwise—even in his day. One such person was a Celtic monk named Pelagius. Pelagius chose to confront Augustine directly.
John Phillip Newell writes that, “Pelagius...was banned from the Roman Empire in the year 418 on a charge of disturbing the peace. Several months later, he was excommunicated from the imperial church on a charge of heresy.”
Newell observes that, “The doctrine of original sin was a convenient ‘truth’ for the builders of the empire. They could continue to conquer the world and subdue peoples. And now they could do it with the authority of a divine calling. ...And part of the conflict with Pelagius and other teachers in the Celtic mission was that a people who believed they were made in the image of God and were therefore bearers of an ancient wisdom and an unspeakable dignity were not a people that could be easily cowed by power and external authority.”
Continuing, Newell writes, “To be rid of Pelagius, however, was not an easy matter. ...Pelagius had taught that when we look into the face of a newborn child, we are looking into the face of God freshly born among us.” In spite of original sin’s official decree in the 4th century, many people knew Pelagius’s word rang true.
Pelagius was branded as a heretic of Christ, but unlike the polemic directed against him, still believed there was a place for the Christ figure in our lives. “He taught that although our nature is sacred, it is deeply wounded and in need of the healing energies of grace. Christ comes to restore us to our true depths.” Pelagius, in his letter to Demetris, “clearly state[s] that Christ comes with grace to reconnect us to our nature.”
And what is that nature? It is that we are a part of God’s goodness, God’s original blessing.
My point is that many Christians—even in Augustine’s day—never bought into the idea of original sin. Creation Spirituality echoes the ideas of Judaism and Pelagius, that humans are original blessings. While we may not be perfect and do harmful things to each other and the earth, the starting place for humans—and all creation—is the idea of “very good.”
One of the most insidious aspects of Augustine’s idea of original sin is that he believed it isn’t only Adam and Eve who are fallen by sin, but all of Creation.
According to Augustine, Creation is tainted, distorted, broken, and flawed. That means that—at least in the West—we’ve had a view for 1,700 years that the Earth is a flawed entity! In a world that aspires toward the celestial, the temporal can only be diminished. In a world where the spirit is exalted, the flesh can only be denied. This idea has negatively affected everything from sexuality, our fear of death, to our objectification of the Earth.
If we see the Earth as “other,” how in the world will we ever manifest the kind of healing and liberation our Earth needs? To reframe humanity, and the whole Cosmos, as “original blessing” enables spirituality to begin to heal from harmful repercussions resulting from the idea of original sin.
Read Essential Two: It is through the work of spiritual practice that we move beyond fear.
Read An Introduction to Creation Spirituality.
By special guest contributor, Rev. Dr. Sid Hall.