Updated: Feb 2, 2022
Cow Dung and Conversation
John 1, as a high Christological song, is selected for reading for Christmas this year, along with the triumphant Psalm 98 and Isaiah 52 (“God’s holy arm has gotten victory!”) and the extravagant Jesus praises in the opening of Hebrews (“the earth will fold up but you are the same and your years will never end!”). Placing them all together makes for a victorious vindication of Israel, a triumphalist celebration for honoring the holiday of the humility of the Nativity. I wonder if the irony occurred to the lectionary committees.
In the beginning was the logos and the logos was with God and the logos was God.
Logos. God as logos. Jesus as the embodiment of logos. Logos has no meaning in our dominant culture. The closest might be something like the emerging sense of “interbeing,” of “the interconnection of all things as holy.” Something like how our scientists are revealing the way trees talk to one another and how depth psychologists and medical professionals are starting to draw people into the natural world as prescriptions for healing. Something like the way wild churches worship outside buildings, entering into direct conversation with the holy as a spiritual practice. It’s about relationship. Conversation.
Hericlitus, nearly 500 years before the birth of Jesus, is credited with coining the term. It meant “everything flows” or the unity of opposites, the force that animates all things. Later, philosophers used the word Logos to describe reasoned discourse, conversation, dialogue. In Mandarin, logos in John 1 is usually translated as “Dao,” going with the flow/the way the universe operates.
And yet, our English translations all (as in ALL) translate logos as “Word.” As in “the one and only Word, the last word, the only word, the capital W Word, the everyone-else’s-word-is-heresy Word. As in a metaphor for Jesus and only that. The original sense of logos as Conversation has been completely and, I suspect, intentionally lost. How can Jesus be a conversation? How can God be a conversation? Logos, even in the gospel of John, didn’t get translated as “Word” in Latin until after the 4th Century. And that was an empire, triumphalist decision. One that Constantine needed if they were going to use this Christianity as a public religion that will control the chaos happening in the Empire.
But what if this Christmas we looked through the readings of victory and vindication to the other, quieter messages embedded there? What does John 1 look like through lenses rooted deeper into the ground, like beneath the cow dung in the Bethlehem barn? It looks like a holy and hopeful conversation between the sheep, the cattle, the outcasts, the poor, the stars, the angels, the dirt, the reality of a people caught up in a cruel system of oppression. It’s a conversation between the mountains, a new song heard in all the earth, the sea’s roar, the hills singing together for joy, the Son embodying that Conversation that created and sustains all things.
And it becomes a call, a reminder, a ritual of remembering every Christmas. That we, too, are part of and invited to participate in the conversation that was there in the beginning, that holds together all things, that includes us, that includes the cows and sheep in the manger, the melting ice caps and the crows excited about some news in the neighborhood and the forests quietly beginning to recover from their wildfire trauma. Learning to listen to them is a spiritual practice that directly connects us to our own watersheds, longing to remind us that we are not separate. The practice of listening in and participating in conversation with all that is connects us to a wild and wise God and connects us also to our own souls. Christ as Logos as Conversation is a reminder that listening and responding in kindred relationship is the way through our cultural and personal conflict and othering that is tearing us apart at the seams.
May your Christmas be filled with conversations of depth and love and respect and holiness, a call to the humility of new life, longing to be born anew in you.
Victoria Loorz, MDiv, is consumed with the calling of restoring Christian tradition with the natural world. Co-founder of Seminary of the Wild, convener for the Wild Church Network, founding pastor of Ojai Church of the Wild and launching a new wild church in Bellingham Washington with a Lutheran church called Echoes. She also leads Common Ground, an emerging network connecting “spiritual ecologists” from diverse traditions and disciplines. Vic’s children, Alec and Olivia, are young adults with tremendous gifts and compassionate hearts, bravely willing to speak up for the lives of those at risk who are not heard. Alec and Victoria founded and are now on the Board of the non-profit, iMatter/Kids vs Global Warming.
Wild Lectionary, a weekly reflection on land, creation and environmental justice themes in the texts of the revised common lectionary, is curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territories.