A reflection for Earth Day – by John Lawson
Theological Reflection – Sunday April 21, 2013
John is a United Church of Canada minister working in Guelph, Ontario. He is currently engaged in exploring what church might look like outside of church buildings (Risingspirit.ca). John has been passionate about delighting in God’s creation and care for it all his life. He’s excited, now that spring has come, to enlarge his garden and eat more locally. He also has chickens in his backyard.
The lectionary reading for the Sunday closest to Earth Day includes Psalm 23. Can you imagine this Psalm without it drawing on the imagery of Creation? How could this Psalm stir something in our heart and deepest emotion if it did not draw us into the imagination of God’s good earth?
You, Lord, are my shepherd.
I will never be in need.
2 You let me rest in fields
of green grass.
You lead me to streams
of peaceful water,
3 and you refresh my life.
Earth Day 2013. What to feel? What to think?
First we must feel. We must feel the blessing. Experience the miracle. As Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, “The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.”
All we need to do is get outside on this Earth Day and feel the earth beneath our feet, literally feeling the new Life stirring and springing up all around us in our yards and gardens, in our city parks, in the forests. Getting out also allows us to get in touch with what we sometimes forget; that same Life is stirring in us. When we feel the sun’s warmth on our skin, our spirits rise as surely as tulips and daffodils. Kids go slightly crazy. Pets too. Somehow even the onions and potatoes, sitting in our cold cellars where there is no discernible sign of heat or light or spring, they too feel that Life stirring and send out impossible shoots in their cold cement prison. How do they know? I don’t know.
What we do know, with the evidence all around us, is that the earth is alive and we are all part of it. Evolutionary science shows us that we are not separate from creation. We all share in that Life force at the very center of the universe. It is the Resurrection Life force we celebrate at Easter as Christians …that irrepressible Life that is written everywhere in the Big Book of God’s creation. It has been named and honoured by Celtic peoples, Indigenous peoples everywhere, and saints like St. Francis. The earth is literally “alive with the grandeur of God.” (G. M. Hopkins) God is incarnate in creation. Jesuit priest and paleontologist, Teilhard de Chardin sees that everything is sacred and filled with the Life of God. “There is nothing profane here below for those who have eyes to see.”
But, thinking of Earth Day – now that’s different and more difficult. You cannot love the earth, be connected to her, and not know and feel her pain. We know that more and more species are being hunted or pushed to extinction by our greed, stupidity and ignorance, and that we are now living in another mass planetary extinction where it is estimated that 150-200 species disappearing each day. We know that there are human-produced industrial poisons entering into the veins and arteries of the rivers and waters of all creation which are poisoning us all. We watch in awe and horror as glaciers and ice sheets break off, break up, and melt. And even just knowing the tip of this iceberg brings a deep sick feeling in the gut. We feel helpless, despair, overwhelmed.
Our faith teaches us to name and confront the powers and principalities that have caused this despoliation. We are invited to name the idolatry that says we humans are the center of creation and it is all there for our taking – a message that is relentlessly proclaimed in the thousands of ads that assault us each waking hour. Worshipping in consumer society means that, as with any idolatry, sacrifices are demanded. Sacrifices to the market. Sacrifices of the poor. Sacrifice of our children and their future. And ultimately the sacrifice of the whole planet for our greed. We say “no” and proclaim the ancient truth, “That the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1) We proclaim this too on Earth Day.
Oceanographer Jacques Cousteau says, “People protect what they love. ” Without knowing and grounding ourselves again in God’s original Blessings – the blessing for all people, all creatures, all of creation–we will not have the knowledge or strength or love to protect this precious home.
And so on this Earth Day, get out and feel the miracle of walking on earth. Even better, take a young child outside with you to teach you again what you might have forgotten as an adult. Delight and play. Get your hands dirty. And at the same time, be part of teaching that young person to love the earth so they can be part of protecting it.
But most of all, feel the heartbeat of God pulsing through creation. Receive Life’s energy as you walk barefoot in green pastures. Yes – take off your shoes – feel the earth. You are walking on holy ground. Perhaps walk beside waters that mysteriously refresh our souls. And become empowered – through the power of that Spirit of Life – to protect what we again have grown to love.