Tag Archive: Theopoetics

rubem Alves spiritual reading group Carmelite centre for spirituality middle park theopoetics

Was Rubem Alves a poet, psychoanalyst, theologian, or philosopher? Yes.

Somewhere beyond tidy definition and cataloguing “The Poet, The Warrior, The Prophet” is an invitation to visit a place that you’ve been before but forgotten you knew.

In the same way the Eucharist is a poetic ritual of anthropophagy Rubem asks us to take in his words and be changed by them.

Gleanings shared with the Spiritual Reading Group at the Carmelite Centre, Middle Park –  19 June 2018.


In his article “An Anthropophagous Ritual, “ Rubem Alves wrote:

Anthropophagy is the eating of human flesh – cannibalism, something savage. But so-called savages don’t think so. A tribe of Brazilian Indians who practices anthropophagy justified it thus:  “You who call yourselves civilised don’t love your dead.  You made deep holes and bury them to be eaten by worms. We, on the other hand, love our dead. We don’t want them to be dead.  But they are dead! There is only one way to keep them alive: if we eat them. If we eat them, their flesh and blood continue to live on in our own bodies. 

Anthropophagy isn’t done for nutritional reasons. It isn’t a barbecue. It’s a magical ceremony.  It is believed that, by eating the dead, their virtues are incorporated into those who eat them. Psychoanalysts agree. They believe that our personality is formed by successive anthropophagus meals at which we devour a piece of one person, a piece of another… the Eucharist is a poetic ritual of anthropophagy: “This bread is my body; eat of it. This wine is my blood: drink of it.”

…that is what I wish. To be eaten.


rubem Alves theopoetics the poet, the warrior, the prophetRubem Alves died on the of 19 July 2014, aged 80 – almost exactly 4 years ago – this material we’re about to read was originally delivered at the 1990 Edward Cadbury Lectures in the University of Birmingham, segments of 8 talks given over two weeks and our invitation today is to read Alves work and take him in. Rubem Alves had a pretty extraordinary view of life and way of expressing that descriptively to others.

alves spider 1Alves spider 2

Although Stanley Hopper and David Miller are credited with coining the term theopoetics, and  Amos Wilder’s “Theopoetics: Theology and the Religious Imagination” is considered the seminal text of the field, Rubem Alves’ writing takes credit as a premium model of the style – combining theology and poetry.

Theopoetics is an interdisciplinary field of study that combines elements of narrative theology, poetic analysis, process theologyand postmodern philosophy.

Amos Wilder says: “Old words do not reach across the new gulfs, and it is only in vision and oracle that we can chart the unknown and new-name the creatures. Before the message there must be the vision, before the sermon, the hymn, before the prose, the poem.” Rubem calls us into an encounter of the Mystery of the Divine saying:

it’s not science that can explain this,
but our lived embodied experiences


alves dead man 1Alves Dead Man 2Alves dead man 3

Rubem Alves was a forerunner of the liberation theology movement and key to the transformation of Christian social ethics in light of this thinking.  He was a writer, a psychoanalyst, a theologian, an educator, a storyteller, a poet…During his career, Alves collaborated with notable personalities such as Peter MaurinDorothy Day, and Paulo Freire. He was widely read and frequently included art and quotes from the work of others in confluence with his own including writers such as Rilke, Emily Dickinson, Tolstoi, e.e.cummings, Bonhoffer, and Sigmund Freud among others – 74 different references in these lectures alone… you gain from this a sense of a man who is listening to the world and taking it in. These lectures perhaps the map of some of Alves’ anthopophagus meals.  Alves was a prolific writer contributing over 100 books, some of these translated into six different languages, children’s books (“Happy Oysters Don’t Make Pearls”) and many articles on education, philosophy and religion.

alves prayer 1Alves prayer 2

Rubem Alves was born in a small rural town, Boa Esperança, Minas Gerais, of Brazil in1933. His father was once rich but went broke during the depression and his family had to move to Rio de Janeiro where he was seen as a “hick” from the country.  This crisis was also what led his family to the church as, unable to afford to send the children to school, the family accepted assistance from Presbyterian missionaries to get their children an education.  After high school Alves studied theology, doing outreach to factory workers, then returning to his home state to serve as a pastor amongst simple and poor people (1957).  His religion was practiced and interpreted from the perspective of the poor.  Less about sin, and more about love and freedom, Alves saw religion as a means to improve the world of the living rather than guaranteeing something to people once they’re dead.  Much of what resonates in his writing is the way he takes ordinary human things and makes them sacred. The honesty with which he does this, asks listeners to consider the truth of themselves and invites them to know that as wholeness.  He writes about bodies, love, death, food, communion – universal themes…  and he writes beautifully… believing:

“…the goal of our struggle for justice and all political struggles is for the world to be more beautiful.  Poverty is horrid, it’s ugly. Poverty is death, death of children, suffering. These are terrible things! They must end!”

In 1959, he married Lídia Nopper and they had three children together — Sergio, Marcos, and Raquel.   Through the 1960s, Alves alternated between service as a Presbyterian parish pastor and study as a graduate researcher in theology. Alves went to New York to do his Masters but flew back to Brazil following the US-supported military coup of 1964. The Presbyterian Church of Brazil chose six intellectuals as scapegoats and offered these names to the new military dictatorship to avert persecution themselves.  Immediately upon his return to Brazil, rather than being reunited with his wife and children, Alves had to go into hiding. With assistance from Brazilian Freemasons and the Presbyterian Church in the United Stateshe returned to the US covertly 8 weeks later and secured an invitation from Princeton Theological Seminary  to commence doctoral studies there – where he hated it – he was not allowed to write using similes or poetry and thought this writing his ugliest. Alves received the lowest possible grade that was still a pass for his PhD. ( A Theology of Human Hope. Washington: Corpus Books. Revised version of his doctorate thesis, originally titled Towards a Theology of Liberation.) Of this academic theological approach Alves commented:

“Theology is not a net that is woven in order to capture God in its meshes,
for God is not a fish but Wind that no one can hold.  

Theology is a net which we weave for ourselves so that
we may stretch out our body in it”


Alves babettes Feast 1Alves Babette's feast 2

When he eventually returned to Brazil in 1974, Rubem became a University Professor.  Having been expelled by the denomination he belonged to, Rubem (along with other communities and pastors) had a painful period of isolation and dispersion until 1978, when together they founded the National Federation of Presbyterian Churches which, from 1983 on was named the United Presbyterian Church of Brazil (IPU). Rubem made significant contribution to the founding documents of this new church and it was said of this work by The Rev. Sonia Gomes Mota: “He was not interested in giving us moral lessons or transmitting the absolute and indisputable truth. As a good theologian, philosopher and educator, he was more interested in making us think, reflect and question the immutable truths of theology and urged us to envision new possibilities and new ways of living our faith. Rubem led us to deserts and invited us to be gardeners and planters of hope.”

Born in a context of political and social oppression,preaching and teaching of God’s word as well as social programmes such as nurseries, sewing workshops, health centres, psychological services, and literacy courses are just a few examples of the integrated activities developed by these new church communities. They were the first Presbyterian church in Brazil to ordain women.

Alves once remarked,

“Prophets are not visionaries who announce a future that is coming. Prophets are poets who design a future that may happen. Poets suggest a way.”

Rubem Alves would go on to add psychotherapy to his portfolio and establish his own clinic. In later life, although he maintained a pastoral and prophetic touch with the people he encountered, Rubem’s association with institutional religion became more detached as he came to believe that space, that curiosity, that out of the “nothing” offered by poetry, more good could come than of liberation theology.

Alves unlearning

carefully balanced stack of rocks art andy goldsworthy

I woke to an awareness of You
It is profound
and yet not articulate.
Some reaching out and
re-membering You Are Here.
Not far, but Near,
in this and all things.

I seek a piece

I seek peace piece inside my soul I seek a piece peace to make me whole Talitha Fraser poem

4 – 5 August 2017, the Australian Collaborators in Feminist Theologies curated a symposium to explore feminist theological perspectives on dialogue, disagreement and conflict, as well as the intersections of theology with ethnicity, race, and cultural “norms”. Welcoming international keynote speakers M. Shawn Copeland (Boston College, Boston), Ruth Duck and Cynthia Wilson (both Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Chicago). 


Questions, Connections and Stories – Ruth Duck

Womb of life, and source of being, home of every restless heart,
in your arms the world’s awakened; you have loved us from the start.
We, you children, gather ’round you, at the table you prepare.
Sharing stories, tears and laughter, we are nurtured by your care.

(Chalice Hymnal, 1995 Ruth Duck)

Many women clergy are part time – is that our of necessity or by choice?

Invited to share our gifts with the church but not invited into leadership and planning.

Sugar-coated feminism unites people by choosing to ignore our differences. Are woman respecting one another in their diversity? How can we share a position on issues without marginalising one another?

Been re-writing hymns since 1974, need to be wary of use of language e.g. using light (good) and dark (bad) > this language reinforces racial stereotypes.  Need to be using accessible and expansive language.  Not just male or female but neither like living water, bread, vine….

Galatians:  27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Lead on, O cloud of Presence, the exodus is come,
in wilderness and desert our tribe shall make its home.
Our slavery left behind us, new hopes within us grow.
We seek the land of promise where milk and honey flow.

(The Faith We Sing Hymnal, Ruth Duck ref: Exod. 13:21-22)


“Being ordained and finding a job are two different things”
– Bryan Cones

“A woman in leadership is not necessarily a feminist in leadership”
– Stephen Burns


At the table of Christa – Nicola Slee

The women do not serve
but are served

The children are not silent
but chatter

The menfolk do not dominate
but co-operate

The animals are not shussed away
but are welcomed

At the table of Christa

There is no seat of honour
for all are honoured

There is no etiquette
except for the performance of grace

There is no dress code
except the garments of honesty

There is no fine cuisine
other than the bread of justice…. (cont.)



“Why don’t you call him your husband?” Negotiating the Heteronorm – Bryan Cones

In a parallel reading of the Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant (same-sex civil union) and the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage  in the Episcopal tradition we see differences in the rubrics (instructional notes), spoken words, and bible readings selected.

  • erasing gender from language also erases hierarchy
  • same-sex couple recognised as arriving as a couple/unit rather than starting the liturgy as individuals who are brought together but the rite e.g. compare: do you take this man/woman to be your husband/wife vs. I [name] take you [name]
  • taking or giving language? e.g. compare “do you take…” language vs. “I [name] give myself to you [name]”
  • Hetero weddings use Genesis or Mark reading; Covenant Blessing uses Ruth or Samuel.

What are some of the implications of the differences?

Wedding symbolising Christ with Church.  Return to Creation – brought together by God, made by God, seen as “good” by God. None of that in the Covenant Blessing but instead Trinity readings – work in the world and perfect communion.

Is this version equivalency or equality? Relationship not treated the same by theology or text.  Changes to the gendered language has impacted the liturgical theology.  Different, competing (?!) theological accounts.

Biblically “covenant” not helpful language as it has usually followed some punishment/ judgement (Hosea, Jeremiah, Ezekiel…).

A relationship is already present and active – church ritual recognises and affirms what’s already there.

Missed an opportunity to have one liturgy.  A liturgy should be written recognising all types of households and relationships and families that are currently being erased.

Like the Catholic approach of couple marrying themselves to each other but others witness… helpful to have resources to offer but not to impose them I think.


‘You don’t understand me’: Serena Williams, Christology, and non-identity – Janice McRandal

Between tennis, race, her gender… we don’t see Serena in the fullness of her humanity. We hold her up to an ideal of personhood and she becomes a series of failures of conform.

Born 6 September 1981 in Compton, Serena has 23 Grand Slam titles and is one of the greatest sportsman of all time. She is seen as both hypersexual and hypermuscular.

People of colour are seen to have “natural ability” whereas white people are considered as being intelligent and working hard.

Serena disrupts narrative. A commentator calls her a “crusader” and she responds:

“Nah, I’m just doing me.”

Another interview ends…

“You don’t understand me.”

Theology is trying to understand (perhaps proscribe?) the personhood of Christ… but we need to let Jesus move not be locked in. Jesus can, and does, say: “You do not understand me.” e.g. WWJD bracelets lock in ‘rules’ about what that looks like with non-normative standards… this creates exclusion.  This is a commodification of Jesus. Which Jesus do you buy/sell? Once you make something a commodity you will want to measure it’s productivity and see a return on investment.

Disciple-driven sublimation          vs.          Christology of non-identity

Not a timeless call but relationality… Knowing here and now.  This gives us multiplicity instead of a single discourse. We need to de-economise theology from capitalism.

Unknowing is a dispossessing that remembers and forgets.


Poem: Listen (I lost my voice again today) – Talitha Fraser

“Why the Body Matters: Feminism and Christian Faith” – Shawn Copeland

Theology is worrying about what God worries about – God worries about the world that is broken.

The terms body, feminist, and Christian have many diverse meanings and understandings.  Also, imperatives, involved in a period and a context. Symbols that point to what is visible and invisible. Gender, race, sexuality become concrete in the body. The body is us but there is more to you and more to me. SImilar but different. SPirit and body are not separate but one. We need embodiment and engagement and communion with other embodied selves.

There are physical and social layers of meaning to gender, sex and sexuality.  Meaning and worth are allocated externally to our bodies through sex, gender, sexuality. The transcendence of men is an ideology.  God makes the earth… Creature. ALL created matter very good. This is contextual theology.

Jesus had gender, sex, race… existed within the social morays of his time and transcends these. Feminism is not monolithic but pluralist. Where bodies matter… eucharist matters.

We need to live in a humble praxis of solidarity
with the bodies piled up.


Statements such as “racism did not exist in the US before Obama” silences and makes invisible.

Having no race then can also therefore mean no identity > race matters SO much.  When race is considered an objective condition intelligence is seen as fixed and hereditary.  When one is equal to one’s race your identity becomes “fixed”. This tramples on personhood and experience. Racial formation (or deform-ation) is organised around a society of oppression.  Knowing race becomes crucial to “knowing” relationships – how to relate to and treat people. Are you black or brown? Chinese or Vietnamese? Once I can categorise your identity I will know how to treat and talk to you.

Sex and Gender

There is a disconnect between our body and our identity. Became medical.  Sex is biological and our gender is subject to socio-normative treatment/behaviour.  There are differences amongst women… what about class, race, sexual orientation…?  You can be dually discriminated.  Plurality of discourse can be disruptive.

Ref: Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity


Love forms one body with our body. Joined with the eternal transcendent. Solidarity is the incarnation of Christian love. Standing with the other in their otherness.

Owe the wealth and privilege we have to exploitation, massacre, death, slavery… we need to acknowledge the humanness of the other. Even if we suffer rejection or loss.

Solidarity must always affirm life.


Stand beside/join with others. Because you are the body of Christ. It is your mystery that lies behind the altar. Our gendered, raced, sexed bodies are one in eucharist. Our ceremonies – we must give as as well as receive.

Be what you receive.

Incarnation means loving others.

political theology > systemic theology. What does it look like to do communion in Baltimore or Ferguson, Missouri (#blacklivesmatter). Not just “All that we have” but “ALL that we have” How can I express myself without my hands, my voice, my body…?! My body is not an illusion. Our body has to be part of our spirituality. It’s what sops us being all-spirit.  Ordinary and extraordinary that.  We are given and embodied example (enfleshed) of what that looks like lived out. [Christ].

Ref: Susan Griffin, Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her


Latin ‘procure’ meant ‘care for’ NOT ‘acquire’

Multiculturalism – honour diversity and richness without “smushedness”. Individuality and interculturality – no domination/subjugation to make alike.

How? Engage, encounter, serious conversation, humility… not acquire or appropriate.  Can’t pick up the cultural mores but you can learn. The Word is being made flesh now.  It’s about being filled with divine breath and living that out.


Rubem Alves tells a story of a spider, safe and happy over empty space – building her house – no hesitation and with precision. Fragile yet perfect, symmetrical, beautiful, fit to its purpose.     “…I did not see her first move, the move which was the beginning of the web, the leap into the void…” (p.3)

What the spider needs to fulfil her intention is within her body. “Her body knows, her body remembers. But we have forgotten it.” (p.4)

Rubem Alves tells a story of a boy who found the body of a dead man
washed up on the edge of a seaside village.

There is only one thing to do with the dead: they must be buried.

In that village it was the custom for the women to prepare the dead for burial,
so the women began to clean the body in preparation for the funeral.
As they did, the women began to talk and
ponder about the dead stranger.

He was tall… and would have had to duck his head to enter their houses.
His voice… was it like a whisper or like thunder.
His hands… they were big. Did they play with children
or sail the seas or know how to caress and embrace a woman’s body.

The women laughed
“and were surprised as they realised that the funeral had become resurrection:
a moment in their flesh, dreams, long believed to be dead,
returning… their bodies alive again”. (p.24)

The husbands, waiting outside, and watching what was happening,
became jealous of the drowned man
as they realised he had power which they did not have.

And they thought about the dreams they had never had…

Alves ends this part of the story by telling that they finally buried the dead man.
But the village was never the same again.

“The dead man did not say one single word.
He was full of silence.
And his silence was the space of remembrance.
His dead body was full of their lost memories…” (p.31)

“Hoc est corpus meum. This is the bit of my flesh which became alive again by the power of the silence of this dead man…

What are we without the help of that which does not exist? – Valerie”  (p.35)

Acts 17:22-31

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’

Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”


Reading 1: (Read through twice) What word or passage touches/speaks to you?

Reading 2: How does this word/passage touch your life/experience?

Reading 3: How are we called into being/doing by this word/passage?



Pleasure is when love and its object meet.
To love is to eat.
To love is to give oneself to be eaten. (p.84)

The Latin languages preserve an intuition which seems to be absent from English.  Their words for ‘knowledge’ and ‘taste’ come from the same root. Sapere, in Latin, means both to ‘know’ and to ‘have flavour’. In my language, saber – to know, and sabor taste.  Eating and knowing have the same origin.  To know something is to feel its taste, what it does to my body.  Reality is not rawness, the ‘things-in-themselves’. Reality is the result of the alchemic transformation by fire, the food which is taken inside my body. (p.85-86)

The dead man: the raw.
But it was transformed by the fire of the villagers’ imagination.
And they, themselves, were resurrected by participating in the anthropophagic ritual…

The body is a kitchen.
Without the fire that burns inside,
the fire of hunger,
there cannot be any hope of resurrection, because we are what we eat. (p.87)




Human consciousness projects itself.  It is dynamic and daimonic.  Its excess – like the imagination of a child – cannot be content with immediate appearance and actuality but transfigures these and moves in new geographies.  As a listener becomes aware of higher and deeper octaves, so more generally man-in-the-world takes possession of ever richer and more subtle registers of existence and maps them as best he can.

No one is going to stop human nature from its impulse to shape the mystery that lies about us. Thank the powers that be that we can dream in this sense, that we can send out feelers in the unknown and fly coloured kites into the azure or the storm.  It is as natural to fabulate as to breathe, and as necessary… the human heart would suffocate if it were restricted to logic.

p.74-75 Theopoetics, Amos Niven Wilder


“Old words do not reach across the new gulfs, and it is only in vision and oracle that we can chart the unknown and new-name the creatures.

Before the message there must be the vision, before the sermon, the hymn, before the prose, the poem.

Before any new theologies however secular and radical there must be a contemporary theopoetic.  The structures of faith and confession have always rested on hierophanics and images. But in each new age and climate the theopoetic of the church is reshaped in inseparable relation to the general imagination of the time.”

– from the foreword to Grace Confounding: Poems




010– poetry + aesthetics + theology = theopoetics
– if theology is logical applied to God then theopoetics is poetry applied to God
– sense of place and spiritual quest = songlines

Poetry is ontology – Rowan Williams

Work of love. Poet is a seer/prophet/the songman > the paths we must take and sing in order to renew the world. “This becomes obvious the closer you are to death… I do not aspire to anything anymore except to be invaded by the roses in the garden”.

In the end end it’s a journey of imagination.

HOMO SAPIENS (Land of Gold, p.21)

If, to be alive, I am alive,
And if the witness to this
Is I, myself, watching the grass grow,
What is the meaning of the river?

Why does it sparkle, why does it twist?
In a slow meander, why do the weeds
Grow into islands, why is the sun
Sucking it into the sky?

Long have I dreamed
On the borders of creation
But seldom have I seen
The meaning of the river.

Now it is clear,
Established by the ages,
The river is myself,
An artery of the sky.

Sebastian Barker

Trip `11-'12 102Ventura River, Oak View

[Earlier this year I had the great privilege and profoundly impacting experience of attending the BCM Kinsler Institute in Oak View, California – a.k.a a clusterfest: part birthday party, part conference, part church, part action planning meeting… – it’s worth noting that I can/am only speaking to my own notes from those sessions I attended and there were generally 5-6 options for every devotional and workshop spot so this is not conclusive coverage and the mistakes are my own. If you’re interested in this kind of reading there’s many more resources, articles and stories at the Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries (BCM) and Radical Discipleship websites]

Mayra 11016722_10153155574714715_3033034683319964493_n (3)

Farm Field trip: Abundant Table sunrise ritual and CSA Harvesting

“The Abundant Table, is a sustainable, working farm that provides faith-rooted, land-based and farm-to-school experiential learning opportunities for school-aged children, youth, young adults and communities. We create greater access to sustainably grown foods for the benefit of all Ventura County residents, produced from a consciousness of ecological, social and spiritual well-being.  Our mission seeks to change lives and systems by creating sustainable relationships to the land and local community.”

photo credit: Mayra Stark

Bible Study: “Jesus Disciple of the Land”  Ched Myers

Watershed discipleship:

  • Watershed moment.Human exploitation and abuse cannot fathom the trouble we’re in. Climate change is the ultimate expression of colonisation.
  • Our discipleship takes place within watersheds >need resiliency and sustainability. How are we in relationship to our watershed?
  • Become a disciple of our watershed. Literacy and engagement by our land – what does the land have to teach us?


Isaiah 14:8 – Cedars being cut down. Used for straight wood for imperial temples and ship masts.

Kick start revolution by returning to wilderness source. 40 days in the wilderness (addicted to our appetites and amenities). Accompanied by spirit world and animal world. Vision quest and dreaming.

Further reading: Manna and Mercy by David Erlander

Dove/bird messengers… Holy Spirit not just in people. Not baptised IN Jordan but INTO the watershed. Holy Spirit came like a dove INTO Jesus. Spirit drives INTO the wilderness.

3 Temptations: economics, power, Bible (traditions complicit in the illness). “As it is written…” Jesus appeals to the scripture to defeat the temptations.

We need to reclaim scripture as our
most powerful weapon of resistance.
Stories are the best weapon we have.

Usually we think of wilderness as dangerous vs. safe and sacred. We’re not lost but find God there.

Jesus was apprenticing himself to wilderness and the Creator.

  • Constantly on the water
    • Preaching from a boat
    • Doesn’t have a pulpit/institutional space
    • Land as natural amphitheatre
  • Consider/See the lilies of the valley [imperative verb. Pay attention/Don’t miss this!]
    • One wildflower has more intrinsic value than pinnacle of built empire (Solomon’s temple)
  • Parables agrarian – good soil/harvest/fig tree. Centring pedagogy in stories that land teaches.
  • Light/vine/Living water imagery > not a metaphor but need to take this seriously. Roman aqueducts were taking water, desert scarcity. NEED healthy water.

We need to be recovering old ways becoming land and wilderness literate.

Liturgists: The Wilderness Way


Everything I need is right in front of me
Everything I need is right in front of me (x2)
Can we be manna, manna?
Can we be manna for each other? (x2)

Deep down inside of me,
I got a fire going on x2

 Part of me
wants to sing about the light,
Part of me
wants to cry, cry, cry }x2

Come gather round my friend
Welcome everyone
To the wilderness

Sabbath and Jubilee
and community

Activity: The People’s Mike021
People shout out words, what is holding us back from living the lives we’re called to? What are we afraid of? One person shouts it out and then we all shout it out together in chorus.


We need to match our commitment
to the pain of what makes us small.


<complicity>     <fear>     <professionalism>     <loneliness>     <racism>     <impatience>     <addiction>     <apathy>     <forgetfulness>     <lack of compassion>

At a Wilderness Way service we take off our shoes and declare this is holy ground. Then have “leaving”,


what are we leaving behind? Have a basket and put in it: wallet, purses, cellphone, keys. No place for that which distorts who we are and clouds our clarity. We pass through water (cross a river) as a symbol of baptism and anointing, that we are walking the wilderness way. We are grounding and cultivating “wild” disciples. Use a liturgy of liberation. We are leaving oppression and creating something new

“create the already
in the not yet,
and live in the face
of no evidence”

Done made my vow to the Lord
and I never will turn back
oh I will go, I shall go,
to see what the end will be



Close your eyes

Deep breath in

Deep breath out

Think of all those radical disciples who came before you in their own way working for social justice… they fought, sang, danced, prayed for you to be born… feel that power fill you up as we pray…


Preacher: “On the Edge of the Wilderness”: An Ash Wednesday Homily, by Jennifer Henry

(full text available per BCM blog)

Isaiah 58:1-12, Mark 1: 1-13

You and I, we are standing on the edge of the wilderness with Jesus; you and I, on this first day of Lent, driven by the Spirit; you and I, on this Ash Wednesday, made of earth and water.  Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.  Today, whatever our justice ministry, we are invited, reminded, compelled, driven to enter into the wilderness to confirm our identity, to remember our names, and to reclaim our integrity, finding each other along the way.

This wilderness journey is no idyllic trip to the cottage on Cape Cod or in the Muskokas.  It’s not a vacation spa in Ojai.  There’s nothing easy about it.  But neither is it a threatening place for us conquer or domesticate.  Nor is it a demonic space, as if somehow the wilderness is the only neighbourhood where Satan hangs out.  Those narratives—the narratives of my Puritan ancestors—do not serve us.

The wilderness is neither idyllic nor demonic—but it is true, a place where things get real.  It’s a place where with few distractions, the backdrop is stark, the contrasts are clear, creation is powerful, and false pretenses get revealed.  In the wilderness, there is nowhere to hide, and we must come to grips with our work, our lives for what they are.  It’s where you figure things out.  It’s a place where you can reclaim integrity, or lose it.

The first words of Mark’s Gospel reveal Jesus’ identity.  He is anti-imperial, the real “good news” (1:1).  He is in the continuity of YHWH, “as it was written in the prophet Isaiah” (1:2).  He is much more than the movement that preceded him, “the one more powerful that is coming after” (1:7).  His identity is marked in these ways, but also through the actions that connect him to water and earth.  Jesus’ first gesture is to claim his watery essence—two thirds of the water in his body is, like our own, from the watershed of his place, connecting him to all the vulnerabilities and possibilities of the Jordan.  He immerses himself in the Great River, intentionally locating himself, diving deep into place, the act of submerging INTO as critical an action for the inauguration of his ministry as the opening of the skies above.

And then he goes to the earth, reconnecting with the dirt that is the stuff of him, of us—ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Placed INTO the wildness, he is attended by the angels but accompanied by the wild beasts.  Verse 13 is intriguing: “He was WITH the wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.” This is confirmation of his place among the species, not over or above them.

Mark inaugurates Christ’s ministry by literally integrating him with water, with earth, placing him WITH his companions in the watershed, WITH all his relations.  The Spirit leads him, drives him, to the place where it gets real—the wilderness, where he is tested, but ultimately strengthened, his integrity confirmed.

I serve at KAIROS, an organization that brings Canadian churches together in common commitments to ecological justice and human rights.  At this time in our Canadian history, many churches and communities, many individual settler Christians, are poised on the edge of the wilderness, some of us maybe a step or two into the journey, but each of us desperately seeking to confirm our identity anew and reclaim our integrity.  It is a watershed moment.

Through our imperfect gestures of solidarity with Indigenous peoples over 40 years, and more recently through an extended national Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we have become painfully aware of our multiple complicities as settlers, as Christians; painfully aware of how some of our ancestors of blood and faith were collaborators, or protagonists in colonial horror; painfully aware of our own alienation from the land that is inextricably linked to our violations of the people of the land; painfully aware of how our citizenship still links us now to the re-colonization of Indigenous peoples in Canada and around the globe through relentless resource extraction pursued in our name.

Convicted by the truth, we are working—very imperfectly—to un-settle ourselves from colonial injustice and re-place ourselves in right relations.  Invited, undeservedly by Indigenous peoples, we are striving through an embrace of justice to be reconciled anew to the land and the original peoples of the land. It is a wilderness struggle.  And, God willing, it will stay true, stay real, until we get it.  Until we understand enough, act enough, to find a new identity in restoration.  Perhaps as repairers of the breach, reconcilers in the watershed.

I can tell you today that the ancient words of Isaiah 58 are a strangely faithful companion in this journey.  This text, also the appointed one for Ash Wednesday, is poignant in its challenge to us but also in its promise.  Radical disciples know this text.  We know that it is likely post exilic, from the period when the people of Israel are returning from Babylon, struggling with the possibilities but also the challenges of community reconstruction after trauma. They are holding in their hearts the hopeful promises that come to us from earlier Isaiah, even while facing the day to day practicalities of nation-building anew. It is an unsettling time.

We do not know the precise controversy that provokes verses 1-5. Perhaps there were rivalries between different forms of religious observance. But the prophetic message is clear: to turn away from empty fasts and from religious piety that serves primarily one’s own interests. The critique here is not about the irreligious–those who do not know Yahweh or who have forsaken God—but those whose religion is found to be false pretense.

Speaking into our Canadian context, this feels like a piercing challenge.  Our colonizers were not irreligious.  Christianity was moral architecture to this project; it was fuel for the colonial fire.  The faith of so many of our Christian ancestors—of my ancestors—got distorted by racial superiority, their own interests in land and security, and a missionary zeal.  In the name of Christ, four Canadian churches sat with empire and collaborated with the federal government in a 130 year project of boarding schools intended to “kill the Indian in the child.” Seven generations of Indigenous children—young children– were isolated from their families, cultures, languages, and traditions in Indian residential schools run by the churches.

Seen through Isaiah’s critical eyes, and with the benefit of hindsight, what might we call that distorted sense of mission?  A self- serving religion—I fear so.  It not only failed to do justice—to accomplish the compassionate justice that is the prophetic challenge—but it perpetrated injustices in religion’s name.  In the schools, there was unspeakable cruelty, humiliation, and abuse—sometimes even in the name of Christ.

The problem is that it is a little too easy to join ourselves to Isaiah and criticize our colonial ancestors for their practice of faith.  The challenge of Isaiah in the present is to ask: “Have we really fully turned away from this kind of religion?” Are there colonial remnants in our faith? How might our religion continue to serve our own survival and security ahead of justice?  Are we actively seeking reconciliation to the land and the peoples of the land? Where do have residue of “subdue and dominate”—even in our more sophisticated stewardship concepts? Where are we still more monuments then Jesus movement, more institution than community convicted by the radical gospel?

Isaiah is clear: turn from false religion; embrace the ways of justice.  Beginning at verse 6 the prophet delivers the call to “loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, break every yoke.” Offer bread, home, clothing, hospitality…  This text, echoing similar themes in Micah and Amos, and anticipating Jesus’ teaching, defines true worship in terms of expressions of justice. This turns on its head all the ways in which we make false divisions between faith and witness and justice and peace, between acts of worship and acts of justice. Our expressions of justice are liturgies of holiness and faithfulness. Actions of justice are as a prayer. Justice is the fast that God requires.

For the Canadian churches, this means that their apologies for colonial complicity in residential schools and their prayers for Indigenous peoples mean little without a commitment to Indigenous justice in the now.  There is no way to decolonization that fails to address the situation of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada, that is unconcerned with “boil water” advisories in reserve communities, or that ignores scathing deficiencies in First Nations education.

This means deep solidarity with Indigenous people who are demanding free prior and informed consent before any development project impacts their traditional territories, wherever that happens in the world. This means the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. For some settler Christians, it may very well mean standing in front of trucks with Indigenous peoples in British Columbia as they block the building of a pipeline across their traditional territory, or kneeling with Indigenous women in New Brunswick as they put their bodies between fracking and Mother Earth.  Our failure to do justice—to rise to the solidarity call—will confirm that not just our ancestor’s faith but our own may be for naught.

Today Indigenous peoples are seeking our partnership in justice—not for their own rights only, but for the health and wellbeing of the whole inhabited earth.  What a humbling and generous invitation.  In the movement originating in Canada called Idle no More, the message was a call to partnership in justice for the sake of our world.  The motivation was the Canadian government’s complete removal of environmental regulations and continuing rapacious resource extraction without limits.  The motivation was threats to our waters.  Indigenous peoples, with a closer connection to creation, were sounding the alarm and inviting us into the call.

This invitation to partnership is present also in the global cry for climate justice, echoing from the Indigenous peoples at the front of the New York Climate March.  Placing ourselves with Indigenous communities, welcoming their land wisdom, their creation literacy—something which we previously demonized and rejected—opens us up to re-placement and re-connection to the earth, air, and waters.  But it is an ethical re-placement in the watershed that respects and recognizes the First Peoples and their deep custodianship, which has no termination date.

Turn from false religion, embrace the way of justice…  Beginning in verse 8 is the final challenge, but it has turned into a promise—a promise of restoration, a promise of identity, hoped for renewed integrity, and new names.  In a wonderful series of “if…then” expressions, the prophet confirms that it is only from justice, that restoration flows.  If you embrace justice, then… your bones will be strengthened, your gardens watered, your ruins rebuilt.

It is this just action that will reveal your identity, that will change your name: “You shall be called repairers of the breach, restorers of streets to live in”(58:12).  Only this just action, will confirm your integrity.  For settler Christians, it may just be possible to find new names from the ones theologian Tink Tinker accurately but bluntly summarized as “liars, murderers and thieves.”  Maybe we could be allies.  Maybe we could be treaty partners. Maybe we could be companions in the watershed.  Just maybe, we could be friends, like in the peace and friendship treaties that were originally extended.  What we must be is “nation to nation,” in a new covenant written on our hearts.

For Isaiah, justice is the precursor to restoration. The “if…then” construction is essential.  We cannot expect reconciliation within our churches, within our country, without our tangible, sustained commitment to justice. Reconciliation will follow rather than lead actions for justice, which becomes a form of testing intention and resolve. What I love about this passage is that as clear as the critique of hollow religion, as clear as the call to justice, that same kind of clarity is also present in the commitment of restoration. Look at what is promised.  It is both personal healing—strong bones, satisfied needs—and communal restoration: restored houses, rebuilt ruins.

I need the promise of Isaiah because sometimes the horror at what we have done to one another, the depth of our failure to protect traumatized people or a traumatized creation, the relentless challenges of the present injustices—somewhere in there my hope is obscured. I can’t see for the anger or the guilt or the shame. I can’t see for the tears.

But Isaiah makes restoration tangible, a reality of transformation confirmed for us as Christians in the Easter event–in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. Justice, peace, reconciliation can be so. It must be so. Our actions must live up to that promise.

Let me leave you with one example, one taste of restoration, that I recognize through Isaiah’s eyes:

It was Victoria Island, the traditional gathering place for Indigenous peoples on the Ottawa River that has a clear view of the Canadian Parliament buildings.  Our leaders, six Algonquin Kokoms—grandmothers—began with a smudge, followed by a teaching on the sacredness of water.  We were a mixed group, young and old, settler Indigenous and newcomer.  We blessed 200 water offerings from all across the country, and four from different parts of the world.  Each was sent as signs of commitment to protect watersheds when our government, in repealing environmental protection legislation, had abdicated its responsibility.  Each was sent as a sign of resistance to all that threatens our watersheds—tar sand in Alberta, fracking in New Brunswick, pollution in Manitoba.  Each was sent as a sign of connectedness, one watershed to another, by those being harmed around the globe by Canadian mining. 

Strawberries were shared, and water was poured on the ground as a sign of respect for Mother Earth. Tobacco was offered to the Ottawa River and there was a moment of deep shared acknowledgement of the Source of all water—all living things.  Public liturgy, held in the view of empire.  (From: www.kairoscanada.org/dignity-rights/indigenous-rights/gathering-of-the-w….)

One of the participants, a white settler woman, said this felt more like worship to her than many church services she could remember.  No doubt Isaiah would have agreed.  Closer to true religion than what sometimes happen in our churches.  In this place and for this moment, imperfect and humble, it felt a step closer to the fast that God required.  Watershed Discipleship. Reconciliation in the Watershed.

This Lent, I am going to continue the process of unsettling the settler that is still within me. It is time to get real: to ask myself again what colonial ideas and practices are still part of my fabric of being.  And I am going to work to re-place myself in the land of my chosen watershed, to work harder to reconcile to the earth in right relations with Indigenous peoples.  It is time to get real: what ways am slipping back to comfort and convenience away from ecological integrity, what ways am I ignoring racism, cause I’m just too tired to make a fuss?  In this wilderness time, I am going to strive to renew my identity as an ally, I am going to push my own church to greater boldness—to stand up in Indigenous solidarity, even when the empire pushes back and calls us names.

The Spirit may need to drag me into the wilderness—as she often does, in her unsettling, challenging, relentlessly liberating, but connecting way. But she will do it for my own good, for my own integrity, because she knows my name.  If she is successful, when she is successful, I expect I’ll see you there.

return again, return again
return to the land of your soul  }x2
return to what you are
return to who you are
return to where you are
born and reborn again

Humble yourself in the arms of the wild
You got to lay down low and
humble yourself in the arms of the wild
you got to ask her what she knows and
we will lift each other up (clap)
higher and higher }x2

we are the rising sun
we are the change
we are the ones we have been waiting for and
we are dawning


Plenary:  “Water Show” with Tevyn East, Jay Beck & the Carnival de Resistance



The Carnival are a traveling arts carnival and ceremonial theater company, a village demonstration project exploring ecological practices, and an education and social outreach project; all focusing on ecological justice and radical theology.

See their rich visual feast coverage of the Water Show here, with some highlights and a (trust me it’s awesome) Flickr album


Workshop III: Theopoetics and the Ecology of Emancipation – Chris Grataski

Further reading: Systematic theology – Robert Jensen “…the end is music”


I will look to the hills x2
Where my strength, where my strength, where my strength comes from
From the Lord, from the Lord is where my strength comes from
I will look to the hills x2
Where my hope, where my hope, where my hope comes from.
From the Lord, from the Lord is where my hope comes from

“To know the dark” or “to serve the dark” – Wendall Berry “to enrich the earth”

What is the Dark?

  • Theology
  • Ecology
  • Politics

Go deeper into the dark, the cloud of unknowing.  Sacred ordinary things, encountered the mystery of God in the wilderness >Theopoetics

Theology vs. Anarchal Primitivism – language, symbols, map and metaphor – step away from creation.

Stanley Hopper – imaginative, practical and sensuous. Reorder our mythological and metaphorical origins. Need mystery over explanation. Fresh religious language – joyful expression!

Amos Wilder – not rewriting theology, mobilising by humanising. Principalities and powers exposed as a farce.

Reuben Elvis – “The Poet, the Warrior, the Prophet” took theopoetics to language that speaks to a way of life, being a creature, naturally generates a bodily response.

Common thread – respond to a problem – the gap between religious practice and religious action. Language encourages dysfunction rather than faith… connection between bodies and imagination, tension between what ought to be and what is possible.

Buddhism – release narrative, what is
Judeo-Christian – what could be, works by fascination not force.

Description of theopoetics: not as a way of doing theology or speech but as poetic, speech movement, positive but haunted response to awareness of mystery.

Words fall short of describing God, should proliferate images! Points beyond itself, speech tempered by humility ‘a textural body of learning’.

Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) – Ecological science already underway before ecoscience was invented. Everyday rituals acknowledge debt to creatives (limit to strain food chain).  Local and holistic, spiritual and practical application of skills and knowledge over changing ecological and socio-economic changes.

Stories, parables, rituals – normalise and teach – not only how many fish are okay to catch in a season but understand what is likely to put them in a mindset where they would overfish (warning: economic, political, fear…)

Oral biblical tradition – remind people of ways of life that bind them together, not one thing, stories a cosmos vision. Authorise a way of being counter. Socio-literary way of understanding the text. Fictive but concrete and tangible historical reference. Parables/bibles normalise alternative ways of living.

We have failed by accident or intention – is the bible TEK? Not in hand of indigenous? Not in the hands of the people who the knowledge was local to? Text speaks to everything in that ancient way. Rupture between science and theology.

Permaculture – defeat of death makes sense e.g. cover crop lives/grows to die and be turned over to give nutrients to the earth. I die and my body goes back to earth.

Best way to ‘defeat’ death is
to collaborate with death.

Wendall Berry “lose your mind, do something that doesn’t compute”,

Principalities and Powers

Domestication (enslaving technology and minerals) rocks, mountains, rivers are alive as well as creatures.
Mark, Further reading: Binding the Strong Man – Ched Myers
John, by what authority do you do these things? By the finger of God.
Paul, incarnate is bigger and emptier than in creation.

Left alone the world would not destroy but restore. What is death? What is resurrection? Abrupt ending in Mark, unresolved tension. Live as if death had been defeated.

Composting of civilisation

  • Materials are the blood of the earth
  • Facilitate alienation (buildings/pavements)
  • Permaculture design discipline is committed to the cultivation of high diversity human habitat, needs woven into environment with human community.

Design entymology – sign/signature/apprentice to pattern and practices. Language, gesture, sound in most primitive scenarios – everything in the world bears relation to something else, have to pay attention!! Localised not industrialised language e.g. Seeds “code”, …going in potable water – even dogs know not to do that. There’s organicness about death and resurrection. Neutered it’s theopoetic ability to speak to things. Endless metaphors – creator, healer, provider… Theopoetics is the art of persuasion. Self-conscious fabling that has emancipatory intent.


Workshop IV: The Great Commission: Watershed Discipleship or Watershed Conquest? – Kat Friesen

Lived for a while in the Phillipines – using that as a model of watershed discipleship. .. Regulating upstream to minimise impact downstream, measure trees, carbon sequestration… “decided to expand their faith instead of their gardens”.  Christianity let them live within their limits and watershed – love of place inspires resistance.

Restlessness and mobility of cultre ans that’s rewarded. Witness > this threatens the gd news.  “Great Commission” colonisation/conquest > missions/Christology > business/economics.  Trauma of displacement – those who have no place of home >> how can you understand and proect “home” for others?

Home mission: usually aimed at immigrants/international students that might not have heard the good news.

Christendom theologies of placenessness (Ched Myers)

  1. A docetism the priveleges spiritual matters over social and ecological ones
  2. The presumption f human dominion over creation
  3. A theology and politics of presumed “divinely granted” entitlement to land and resources.

Used religious “doctrine of discovery” to take land, etc. given permission to international corporations to mineral rights, etc.

Principle of Contiguity – politically and geographically expressed ownership of large watersheds. Claim to mouth of river gave claim to entire drainage system and adjacent coast. Great Commission/Terra Nullius/Promised land “theology”.  Didn’t recognise land as inhabited when nomads/gatherers. Ezekiel c. 40-42 foreigners occupying land get land too.

In who’s hands are these texts interpreted? e.g. African American Promise Land > freedom.  Only legal precendent to refer is land-grab.

This is our legacy as Christians.

Watershed conquest: find the rivermouth first, claim the whole watershed for your  country. Lewis and Clark.  How is our visionhindered? What can’t we see?

Repentance before Reconcilation

  • repentance as metanoia
  • what are we turning toward?
  • everytime we say no to a way of destruction we say yes to something much more beautiful and life sustaining (Kathleen Dean Moore)

Watershed discipleship as Home Mission

  • antidote to placelessness and domination behind Doctrine of Discovery and Watershed Conquest
  • not to convert and conquer watersheds, but to inhabit, care for and learn from them
  • reinterpreting the “go” of the Great Commission.

We won’t save place we don’t love.
We can’t love places we can’t learn.
Can’t learn what we don’t know.

Find ways to maintain, support and encourage traditions. Learn names of animals and plants. Ecological knowledge in lots of languages.  Commissioned home, colonial repentance.


  • contextual – following trail of peple moving off the land, reading journals, camping, hearing stories from elders.  Replanting native species and taking away others. Don’t know place, don’t have stories, don’t have songs/music/TEK.
  • contrite heart – clean/renew heart. ‘daca’ to be crushed/broken heart. “Heart listening”. Violation against God not “just” people.
  • learning connected to discipleship:
    • centre to margins
    • (wrong) God in centre, take with you to be where God is not i.e. at the edges (colonising)
    • (right) Go to margins to hear from God and bring back.
    • Go to margins to be saved, not to save > Jesus is there.
  • stop injustices – don’t keep taking more land.  Stop continued dislocation.  Need to start. This is still happening.
  • [insert name of your river/watershed] “Maribyrnong” is just as sacred as the Jordan.
  • “Creator”, no one comes to God except through me, nations are intact – culture and identity intact.




Conference attendees BYO mug, write names on masking tape and use one mug all weekend washing themselves as needed.


 Sometimes the

medium is the message.

Keynote: Reyna Ortega, Sarah Nolan & Erynn Smith – Abundant Table Farm Project

Came to the Abundant Table and realised I had found my people.  Be unsettled AND experience joy as shared space.  Engages all part of myself.  Singing “I don’t know anything” playful.

  • feed school district – farm to school program
  • food bank
  • sharing abundance

Growing with grace;
Caring for the land;
Creating healthy communities;
Cultivating food justice;
Transforming young lives.

… seeds to change lives and systems
by creating sustainable relationships
to the land and local community.

“I have a place… I have a community…”

Education as animation – want others to have the opportunity and experiences I have had.  Rooted Futures: farm visit, healthy food at school/in homes, native healing plants.

Different Way – I’ve fought for that > loss of hope not to value the land and value ourselves.  Need to see and value each others goodness and Godness.

Can’t change the world,
but the world around us… yes