Each morning, barring inclement weather, Sheena the Wonder Dog takes me on our morning “walkies.” Our street abuts Prairie Creek, so we start out walking along the grassy strip of park that our family calls the Greenway, like in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. A feisty Border Collie mix rescued from the city shelter, Miss Sheena loves the Greenway because it’s filled with delicious, traceable smells from feral cats, squirrels, rabbits, birds and the excretions of other dogs.
I love the Greenway, too, because it reminds me of childhood ramblings in Florida, gamboling over a lush green carpet beneath a blue-sky canopy. My parents undoubtedly had no idea what freedom they granted me with my “big girl” bicycle, a blue-and-white Schwinn given for my tenth birthday. In fact, I’m sure that my mother would have been terrified to know some of the wild places my bicycle took me. Sometimes today I marvel that I wasn’t eaten by an alligator down by the lake, or bitten by a rattlesnake in the woods. As it is, I have only cherished memories of a magnificent paradise of palmettos, tall pines, flowing waters, bright red and pink hibiscus, and lush greenery.
Today that paradise is lost, buried under too much concrete and too many humans. Wide-open fields have been covered with houses; dense pine groves have been invaded by roads or cut down altogether. Barrier-island beaches where we once gingerly tiptoed over pine bristles to swim in the Gulf of Mexico now groan beneath the weight of sky-high condominiums, the contemporary epitome of Jesus’ s parable about foolishness building houses upon sand. As the great Southern novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote in “Look Homeward, Angel,” one really can’t go home again, because “home” is as much an experience as it is a place.
The more I study the Holy Bible, the more I come to understand that this longing for home lies behind much of scripture. It’s here that Celtic Christianity, in my view, has an edge over the Roman version of Christian faith that has shaped the Western church. The difference between the two perspectives on faith has come down to a dichotomy: “descriptive” versus “prescriptive.”
The Celtic Christian view is descriptive: It sees the wonders of creation and embraces humanity’s “creatureliness” – that is, the reality that humans, for all our evolutionary skills, are still creatures of the Creator. The Roman Christian view is prescriptive: It seeks to impose order on a chaotic creation, granting humans both stewardship of God’s handiwork (the true meaning of what is commonly translated as “dominion”) and dominance (control or the power to determine other creatures’ fate).
These same lenses can be applied to the scriptural passages often quoted as justification for humans’ desecration of the Earth. Genesis 1, where this series begins, offers us a glorious hymn of life that too often is misused as a wedge against what science tells us: that somehow, in ways beyond our understanding, our universe, our planet, our species were created with the ability to adapt to changing environments, thereby assuring the continuation of life in its infinite diversity. Genesis 1 describes the universe as it appeared to humans so long ago, and still appears today even as our means of comprehending it become more far-reaching and sophisticated.
On the other hand, the Roman Christian viewpoint sees Genesis 1 as “prescriptive,” that is contending that God created the universe “ex nihilo” – out of nothing, like magic. This theological perspective prescribes that humans are charged with imposing order upon unruly nature. This prescriptive interpretation of scripture lies behind the propensity of Western civilization to lie in opposition to, rather than in collaboration with, the world around us.
Roman Christianity sees Celtic Christianity as heretical, for it dethrones humans from their mastery of creation and makes them nothing more than creatures. Yet the more we delve into biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy and other sciences, we find that we are creatures, made of the same star-stuff that comprises the rest of creation. It is only our own hubris that sets us apart from the creation into which we are born. It is that same hubris that causes us to desecrate our natural world – to despoil its inherent sacredness – for our own greed, as in the recent tar sands oil spill in Mayflower, Ark., from Exxon Mobil’s Pegasus Pipeline (“Raw Aerial Footage Shows Extent Of Exxon’s Pegasus Pipeline Spill”).
Descriptive and prescriptive interpretations of Christianity intersect when humans are called upon to defend nature against our own predations. In other words, a more complete understanding of description of creation should engage us with the prescription to truly care for it. We will explore this more as our series proceeds, but for now I find that much that I hold sacred about our beautiful world can be summed up in Wendy Francisco’s evocative ballad “GoD and DoG”:
I look up and I see God.
I look down and see my dog.
…God thought up and made the dog
Dog reflects a part of God.
I’ve seen love from both sides now.
It’s everywhere. Amen. Bow-wow.
Cynthia B. Astle is a certified spiritual director and Christian journalist based in Dallas, TX. She blogs at Watermarked.com.