8:22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now;
8:23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
We have all seen something of the labour pains of creation – as we have watched the volcanic eruptions in Hawaii as Kilauea has spilled larva down the mountain and opened cracks in the ground. A friend visiting us recalled her own visit to Hawaii some years ago and being taken up by helicopter for an evening flight and the awesome sight of an eruption: the red hot trails of larva that made their way to the sea; the sound of the larva tumbling into the ocean; the great bursts of steam and the larva seeming to turn to rock. She said, ‘We watched creation; we saw the world being made.’
This morning, our passage from Romans enfolds me with a great sense of familiarity, like an old friend who has called. It was years ago when this passage first struck me that the apostle had a brilliant powerful vision of the world and that it – this world of rocks, and all forms of matter and all living things – everything; was all caught up, together with us, in a cosmic process. There was that particular moment when that realisation hit me with all the force of revelation and vision. It was a vision of a cosmic purpose relentlessly destroying, shaping, creating and transforming, bringing something new into being.
The Jesuit philosopher and theologian Teilhard de Chardin understood this sort of vision. He touches on it when he says: “The cosmic sense must have been born as soon as man found himself facing the forest, the sea and the stars.” Something of that thought makes me think of mini-epiphanies in my youth: times when while camping in the middle of nowhere, accompanied only by the crackle of the open fire; there were moments when one felt open to the vast boundless sense of space, the forest and the stars; a connection to the universe, a connection to the ‘All’.
When we think of that the natural world is understood as the domain of the Spirit. It is a place for the activity of the Spirit. The Spirit is the expression of the new creation ushered in by Christ. That is not an original thought. The Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins coined it most memorably with his opening line in the sonnet ‘God’s Grandeur’ “the world is charged with the grandeur of God ".
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Chardin offers an insight: Christ has conquered death … By virtue of Christ's rising again, … everything is capable of becoming the blessed touch of the divine hands, the blessed influence of the will of God upon our lives. That is an activity of the Spirit – the Spirit loosed in the world becomes an instrument of grace. What seems ill can be turned to good. Hardships, losses, disappointments, loss of employment and status are not a dead end but may become opportunities for something new, though we need to be careful how we speak of this to anyone. (We can't be so naive as to say 'Don't worry, God will bring something out of that situation': suffering merits more respect than that.)
We are talking about love, the power of love and how this is an energy that has its source in a presence beyond us and it changes us. We evolve. We become a new creation. I have a particular instance in mind. The man nursing a dying wife may find a strength, patience and grace beyond all expectation – now that is an activity of the Spirit. That man is changed. He becomes a new creation. What a force love is!
Maybe (Chardin) “someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”
Yes! And then we truly will go forth into the world rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.