Group reflection: Justice, gardening and dirty hands (Ps. 85)

“I, God, speak shalom, shalom to my faithful people who pivot their hearts to me.” Healing is coming near; glory is filling the land. Love and faithfulness hug; peace and justice kiss. Faithfulness sprouts up from the earth; justice leans down from heaven. God pours out riches: the land springs to life. Justice clears God’s path. Justice points the way. (Psalm 85:8b-13).

We followed the reading with a congregational conversation as follows:

What do we notice? What shocks, surprises, delights or challenges us about this text?

  • We prepare God’s path by working towards justice, but justice has many faces. It can be seen in simple human relationships, in households, in activism, in land care, in gardening, and in many other forms.
  • Love, peace and justice are linked to God’s gift of a fertile land.
  • The Psalm is intensely physical. It talks about peace and justice, but through a whole lot of doing, specifically speaking, turning, healing, filling, embracing, kissing, sprouting, leaning, pouring, springing, clearing and pointing!
  • Peace and justice need one another. Peace without justice is vacuous; justice without peace can be corrosive, brittle, angry, and destructive.
  • Peace and justice kiss: this can be risky and awkward, especially in a time of pandemic!
  • “Faithfulness sprouts from the earth”: Does this mean God’s faithfulness bears fruit … or does it mean we learn what it means to be faithful by attending to the earth? As we see the burgeoning growth of a warm wet spring around us, many of us feel both delighted by the massive growth yet daunted by the weeds, and many of us are attending to the earth (and our gardens) daily. We thought about metaphors of planting and pruning, composting and weeding, how they relate to faithfulness, and how they are metaphors for God’s own activities. We remembered that, from Genesis to Revelation, and in many many places in between, gardening is described as a godly activity: when we garden, we are living into the image of God. Someone remembered that God walked in the first garden in the cool of the evening, and that, after the resurrection, Jesus was mistaken for a gardener. Did he have muddy boots, muddy knees, and grime under his fingernails? Did he, in fact, look like a person of earth, just like every other gardener?
  • Someone noticed we receive peace when we turn our heart to God.

So, how do we turn our hearts to God?

  • Through loving one another, neighbour and enemy — or at least giving it our best shot!
  • Through turning and trusting God to do the work of change (see the other text for the day, Mark 1:1-8, where John says, “His baptism — a holy baptism by the holy spirit — will change you from the inside out” (MSG).)
  • This turning is constant and lifelong. Someone was reminded of the old Shaker hymn, Simple Gifts, which says that “by turning, turning we come round right” (listen here).
  • Through connection with God, each other, and all of creation, which happens through the reconciliation of the cross. In other words, it’s not something we do by ourselves.
  • Through participating in church, where we can connect, focus, listen and just be.
  • Through reading the Scriptures, where so often the Word erupts into direct speech.
  • Through learning the Psalms, which give us both language to pray and permission to pray anything.
  • Through prayer in general.

In light of the Psalm, how are we preparing for the coming of God?

  • All of the above plus justice work plus a whole lotta gardening!

A conversation about Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 at Sanctuary, 6 December (Year B Advent 2) © Sanctuary 2020. Image credit: jesse orrico on Unsplash.

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