Cretaiontide: Honoring Our Earth Rev Anne R. Atwell, Minister of Connections For the past few months, I’ve begun taking a walk every morning. And I do it fairly early to beat the heat…but even just after dawn, it is still quite warm. I began doing this because I really wanted to move beyond my very […]
Cretaiontide: Honoring Our Earth
Rev Anne R. Atwell, Minister of Connections
For the past few months, I’ve begun taking a walk every morning. And I do it fairly early to beat the heat…but even just after dawn, it is still quite warm. I began doing this because I really wanted to move beyond my very sedentary life and I’ve always enjoyed being outside. But what started out as a way to get more exercise and to lose a little weight has become a very meaningful spiritual practice for me. It is something I look forward to and something that often brings me much joy and peace.
You see, in the very early morning hours, it is fairly quiet. The traffic in our little neighborhood is light and so you can really pay attention to what is going on around you. I so enjoy looking at the sky…I like watching for birds and others animals as they wake from their slumber. I can breathe in the early morning air, the fragrance of the flowers, and I can start my day in the most positive and most prayerful way. Yes, you can go to the gym and get on a treadmill and have a good walk and I appreciate that as well. (Especially in this extreme heat and humidity.) But there is a lot to be said for spending some time outside, waking with the earth in the morning and being very present to nature while living in a very busy, urban environment.
Throughout the month of September, Sunshine Cathedral will be presenting a sermon series called “Creationtide”. Every Sunday during this month, one of the Sunshine Cathedral clergy will preach on a topic that will show how we, as a community of faith, can and must connect with the wonder of creation – for its preservation and care. Our lives are often so busy now, that we often walk right past the wonder and beauty that is all around us. There is so much that we need to do in order to keep our planet healthy and filled with life and abundance. And one of the first things to do…we need to pay attention to our environment.
Our readings this morning remind us that the earth was created by God – by the Divine – and that everything that was created was called ‘very good.’ But what has happened over time is that another verse from Genesis has been used to “prove” that humans have dominion over the earth and can use the earth and its resources in any way they want. This theory was so prevalent throughout the early and middle part of the 20th Century, during the industrial revolution, that our earth suffered immensely. Genesis 1:26 reads, “Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” (taken from NRSV) What we need to remember is that dominion does not mean ownership or full and unrestricted use. I appreciate the translation from The Inclusive Bible which calls us to be stewards of all living things rather than having dominion or authority over them.
Of course there are other reasons that our earth is in such a precarious position. Industry and greed have taken a huge toll on our planet. So often, if something needs to be done – if a building needs to be erected or if a new highway is to be built, our society will simply burn or bulldoze whatever is in the way. I really believe that many people in our world have lost the idea of what it means to preserve and care for our earth. What we need to remember is that when we, as a faith community, speak about injustice – it isn’t simply a matter of justice for human beings. If we focus solely on people, we have not gone far enough. We must create a more just world for all living things. As a people of God, we are called us to live a life of integrity and decency…to do as little damage as possible and do as much good as we can.
We read in the Old Testament that God created a covenant with all living creatures. This Divine covenant does not exclude or set aside those things that are not vital to human living. On the contrary, the human race is called to care for and to tend gardens that provide richness and sustenance and nurture. And throughout the Gospels, we recognize that Jesus often uses agrarian metaphors to make his point. The people of those ancient communities would have been intimately connected to the earth. So Jesus used images of soil and of seed, of sheep, of field and trees. These stories, these parables, that Jesus shared reminds us that God’s kin-dom, God’s realm, is not some far off, totally unreachable place, but is here, completely available to us in our everyday lives.
Today, many of the messages we hear regarding environmentalism simply tell us that we must do better with regard to our care for the earth. We hear it and deep inside we know it but it can be difficult to integrate this knowledge into our daily lives. How do we move beyond the clichés and demonstrate Divine Love through our actions? What do we do when it is not war that is killing us and our earth – but instead it is our own progress? Think about littering – it really is only “a little” about pollution and it is much more about a lack of respect and a diffusion of responsibility. It is a belief that “my little bit of trash won’t hurt anything!” Our idea that we need as much oil as we can get…shows that we really aren’t all about saving the ozone layer and about controlling our vehicles emissions. Our huge thirst for oil is more about our own sense of entitlement. I believe that we must move away from this sense of entitlement and be far more aware of how our privilege affects the world.
And so, I have several suggestions that may help us to become more aware and less complacent about the care of our earth:
Number one – become an advocate or activist for environmental issues. Activism, by most people, is seen as protesting against something. And at its best, it will raise awareness, while at its worst, there will be incessant complaining about how bad everything is. But truly, being an agent of social change can be one of the most exciting and powerful journeys in life. You don’t have to stand on a picket line or march in a protest – though there is a time and place for that – and it can be very effective. But you can also write to or call your congressperson or senator or others in positions of authority about what it is that concerns you. You can contribute money or time to one of the many powerful groups that continually work towards making our planet safe for all living beings. Of course, there are a multitude of organizations that do the difficult work of aiding and assisting in the care of our planet. We can support and encourage them and others through a greater personal awareness of what is happening in our world, As we engage with justice issues, we are following the message of Jesus to transform our world.
Number two – We can think about our own actions. How we do certain things, such as how we use our water or how much paper we use or don’t use will show what kind of society we are. Did you know that only 23% of single use water bottles here in the United States makes it into the recycling bin? (https://www.banthebottle.net) And in 2009, over 500,000 trees were cut down every week to print U.S. Sunday newspapers. (http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/05/500000-trees-killed-each-week-for-the-sunday-paper) Now, of course, with the advent of digital media, that number has quite possibly reduced. But think about the amount of junk mail you get or the copy paper that is wasted each week in your office. If we can limit our water consumption, if we can cut back on the amount of paper we use, and if we can reduce air pollution by using public transportation or fuel efficient vehicles, we will care for our earth by being better stewards of the resources provided to us.
Number three – and I think this may be the most important of all – and that is to connect daily with nature and with the earth. We need to get out of our houses. We need to connect with our planet. What I’ve noticed is that when I connect with something or someone, it develops a greater importance to me. All of us will have a greater understanding and a greater respect for our earth if we feel ourselves to be a part of it. Nature provides us with an abundance of gifts for both our spiritual lives and our physical lives. Let’s turn off the television. Let’s step away from the computer or video games. Instead of daily “screen time” – let’s have daily “green time.” This creation we call earth sustains each of us and if we do not care for it or connect with it, we will lose so very much.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu tells us, “We must act now and wake up to our moral obligations. The poor and vulnerable are members of God’s family and are the most severely affected by droughts, high temperatures, the flooding of coastal cities, and more severe and unpredictable weather events resulting from climate change. We, who should have been responsible stewards preserving our vulnerable, fragile planet home, have been wantonly wasteful through our reckless consumerism, devouring irreplaceable natural resources. We need to be accountable to God’s family. Once we start living in a way that is people-friendly to all God’s family, we will also be environment-friendly.”
Chief Seattle states: “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”
The Psalter tells us, “The earth and everything on it – the world and all who live in it – belong to the Divine.” (Psalms 24:1) And a Native American proverb reminds us, “Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.”
My friends, to care for our earth is the heart of stewardship and the heart of justice. To be kind – to be compassionate – to heal –to care for – and to love – all require that we make our world a better place. To destroy is not an option. We must honor the Divine by the justice work that we do and by making the care of our earth a much fuller aspect of our lives – always being focused on all living beings. This is our calling today and always…Amen.
Divine love is blessing me
As I work to heal our earth
I am connected with all of creation
I follow a message of love.