The spirituality of Earth care
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a crimp in our Earth Day festivities, even as it has given us a glimpse of a natural world benefitting from our human absence. Whales frolic in the Mediterranean, the Himalayas have unparalleled visibility, and global greenhouse gas emissions have fallen. As we shelter in place, I’d like to invite readers to ponder the spirituality of Earth care by sharing three stories.
The first story is about my childhood. I grew up in a small town. In those days before amber alerts and helicopter parenting, I spent a lot of unsupervised time outdoors. There was a creek out back. From a big rock, I could watch tadpoles transform into frogs and bugs skim across the surface of the water. When I got older, I moved on to the woods. There, I became well acquainted with the smell of decaying leaves, the soft feel of moss on tree trunks, and the windblown dance of sun and light on the forest floor. I grew up feeling I was very much a part of the wild world around me. It was precious and life giving and deserving of my love and care.
The second story comes from my first year in graduate school at McCormick Seminary in Chicago. One of my core courses, “Introduction to Theology,” required a weekly paper, tackling the thornier questions of faith by integrating and reflecting upon a LOT of reading. I suspect the weekly papers were a bit like boot camp for those of us who would one day write weekly sermons to sustain the faith of local churches. Each week was an odyssey of existential questions, but at the close of each paper, we could pose our own three questions for the professors to engage.
My first paper answered the unanswerable question: “Who is God?” I read. I reflected. I prayed. I wrote my little heart out. Then I got to ask my three questions. The first question I posed would forever change how I saw the earth: “If God created the world ex nihilo — from nothing — then what was the raw material that God worked with?” I really thought I had stumped them with that.
One of my favorite professors, the very wise Hearn Chun, answered my question with ease: “God created the world from Godself, of course.”2020欧洲杯体育投注官网 As I read Prof. Chun’s spidery handwriting in the margin of my paper, my mind began to spin. I imagined God launching creation with a big bang, sending God’s-very-self hurtling across the multi-verse in an epic wave of creation that continued to unfold even as I studied theology 20-some years ago, a wave that continues to unfold even as you read.
My mind was blown, and so was my understanding of the Earth. Suddenly, that wild world I loved wasn’t just deserving of my love and care because it was precious and lifegiving. Suddenly, Earth care had become a sacred trust, a service to the Creator God, who had chosen to share and reveal Godself in the creation. Suddenly, our abuse of the planet was a crime against God, a desolating sacrilege against all that is holy.
My third story is about my church. I had been at the First Presbyterian Church for about five years when we began a time of self-study. We completed a congregation-wide survey to learn more about how we experience God and consider what programs and initiatives might make us more passionate about our spirituality. We learned that 99% of us experience God in creation, whether we are walking or paddling, climbing a mountain or watching a beautiful sunset. 99%! That was even higher than the 96% of us who experienced God in worship — which, I’m sure, had nothing to do with my preaching.
About the same time, our denomination was launching a new initiative called Earth Care Congregations. To become an Earth Care Congregation, churches pledge to honor both Creator and creation through worship, education, facilities and outreach. We were among the first 100 churches in the nation to sign on. We formed an Earth Care Team. We devised and implemented a series of programs and efforts that blessed us, even as they served God and honored creation. We had an energy audit and began building repairs and renovations that cut our carbon footprint. We added hikes, paddles, sermons on the trail, and picnics to our summer program. We reached out to neighbors with community gardening, growing organic vegetables to bless our friends at the food pantry. We launched the Earth Care Coffee House with its annual tribute to Pete Seeger to raise funds for his floating classroom, Clearwater. We took on Adopt-a-Highway roadside cleanup. We blessed our animals. Over the past decade, we have grown greener, even as we have grown closer to God, God’s good creation, one another — and maybe even our neighbors.
If there were a fourth story to my reflection upon the spirituality of Earth care, perhaps it would be yours. Whether you are a Presbyterian or a Universalist, an agnostic or an atheist, I believe that we all need a “sacred why” to do the work of Earth care. We know the science. We know the dire predictions. We know the facts that wake us up in the middle of the night. But what is it that will sustain us when the going gets tough and the EPA is gutted and the Paris accords are dismissed as “bad for business”? We each need a “sacred why.”2020欧洲杯体育投注官网 Perhaps yours will be the simple conviction that the wild world is precious, life giving and deserving of your love and care. Perhaps it will be the mind-blowing affirmation that Earth care is a sacred trust, reverencing of the Creator who has shared Godself in the creation. Perhaps it will be the goodness of working with others in the holy purpose of honoring creation while serving neighbors. May we each find our sacred why and go forth to care well for the good creation entrusted to us.
2020欧洲杯体育投注官网 The Rev. Joann White lives in Saranac Lake, where she is pastor of the First Prebyterian Church.