Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Soil Testing for Love

Ephesians 3:14-21

The apostle prays that the Ephesian church may be "rooted and grounded in love" as if that were its "growing medium," its soil, thick context, or life matrix. Since God is Love, as the Bible says, the apostle's prayer is spot on.

The verb used in Ephesians 3:17 and in Colossians 2:7 to mean "rooted" is "rizo-oh," which is rather obviously built on the closely related noun "riza" (root). In Ephesians the writer says that the church is to be rooted in love; in Colossians the church is to be rooted in Christ by faith. The point of the analogy (after all churches do not literally have roots, only figuratively--though their figurative roots may be quite strong) seems to be that "rooted-ness" is a form of fixation. If I'm rooted, I'll not be moved easily. Literally, the verb means to cause something (a plant) to take root; but figuratively, the focus of that rooting is narrowed to mean "put on a firm foundation; fix firmly" (BDAG).

Thankfully, in my opinion, we are not limited to the more narrow implications suggested by the lexicon's figurative definitions. There is more to rooted-ness than fixation, though that is surely one element of the analogy. One need remember only the critique by organic farmers of more modern, soil-depleting methods of farming to understand the poverty inherent in this narrower, reductionist vision of "rooted-ness." Soil is properly understood as living. So "Rooted-ness" has (or should have) everything to do with the life-giving nature of the living soil in which the plant (the church) grows. Jesus Christ (or love) is the living soil and source of our own life. The "rooted-ness" we seek is therefore more akin to "soil husbandry" than "soil science." Listen to Wendell Berry's description of the contrast: “'Soil science,' as practiced by soil scientists, and even more as it has been handed down to farmers, has tended to treat the soil as a lifeless matrix in which 'soil chemistry' takes place and 'nutrients' are 'made available.' And this, in turn, has made farming increasingly shallow—literally so—in its understanding of the soil. The modern farm is understood as a surface on which various mechanical operations are performed, and to which various chemicals are applied. The undersurface reality of organisms and roots is mostly ignored." (Berry, "Renewing Husbandry.") The "rooted-ness" for which the Apostle prays is "deeper" than this. It is more biological--and therefore, also, more spiritual. Being rooted is more than being mechanically anchored. The "rooted-ness" the church seeks is a living relationship to her living Lord--or a loving relationship with Love itself.

As Wendell Berry says, "The topsoil exists as such because it is ceaselessly transforming death into life, ceaselessly supplying food and water to all that lives in it and from it; otherwise, 'All flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust.'" (Home Economics, "Two Economies," p. 67) Our being rooted in Christ (and thus also "in love") requires faith in the "ceaselessness of these processes." "Christ's prayer for 'daily bread' is an affirmation of such faith, just as it is a repudiation of faith in 'much goods laid up.'" (ibid.) The just-in-time feeding of the multitude (below) is an example of Christ's love, of Christ's provision of this "daily bread."

Note the Mycorrhizal association between the roots and the soil fungi. (See also the University of Winnipeg's Specialized Roots page for great visual examples of root specialization.)

A church rooted and sustained other than by the love of Christ is as unnatural as "the attempt to raise natural earth-borne crops on an exclusive diet of water and mineral dope--the so-called science of hydroponics--[a] science gone mad; it is an absurdity which has nothing in common with the ancient art of cultivation." (See my review of Sir Albert Howard, The Soil and Health, quote from p. 194 of the book.) In other words, sustaining the life of the spirit without the life-giving Spirit is impossible. Without the daily bread of heaven we die of malnutrition.

So, it is imperative to get rooted quickly! In the next couple of days, we'll explore how that is done.

Maybe it requires the aid of some sort of rooting hormone (with fungicide for faster, healthier rooting from plant cuttings). Successful propagation from cuttings depends a lot on the environment surrounding the soil in which the cuttings are placed. Is it too hot, too cold, too wet too dry? So, does the community--the church--have an impact on the successful rooting of individuals?

Join us as we tease out these and other questions and look at the other lectionary passages this week!

Psalm 14

John 6:1-21

2 Samuel 11:1-15

2 Kings 4:42-44

No comments:

Post a Comment

Pastor Greg appreciates your comments on this week's scriptures!