This year we mark Earth Day as an observance that spans three days – April 20-22. So, it is more appropriately “Earth Days.” Given that a day is measured as one rotation of the earth, there are really 365 “Earth Days” each year. Perhaps if we thought about it that way, if we took time each day to note our dependence upon this spinning sphere that holds life as we know it, the earth would be in less trouble.
Instead, we keep consuming everything in sight like voracious pests, believing that nothing ever runs out. We treat the earth as both bottomless storehouse and bottomless garbage dump. As we treat creatures and creation like mere consumable objects, we render them unlovable. When we can’t love what the creator makes, we eventually stop loving the Creator. That is a problem. That is a fatal ending.
Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si – On Care for Our Common Home (which everyone should read) says, “the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.” By damaging the earth, we damage and destroy ourselves.
In her book, Ask the Beasts, the brilliant theologian Elizabeth Johnson calls for repentance as we come to see the creation clearly, “Once one understands that the evolving community of life on Earth is God’s beloved creation and its ruination an unspeakable sin, then deep affection shown in action on behalf of ecojustice becomes an indivisible part of one’s life.”
My own journey to rediscover the relationship with God’s creation and repent of my abuse has brought inconvenience, failure, and confusion. Yet, by trying to express love for God’s creation each day somehow, the love returns, bit by bit. Psalm 104 has become a centerpiece of my reflection on this world and my place in it.
O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.
There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.
These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;
when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground. (Psalms 104:24-30)
To find our unity with all things across time and space is a gift of grace. When we forget, it leaves a gaping hole in our existence. Johnson writes, “Woven into our lives is the very fire from the stars and genes from the sea creatures, and everyone, utterly everyone, is kin in the radiant tapestry of being.” (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Women, Earth, and Creator Spirit)
Don’t be overwhelmed by the immensity of the problems of climate change and the degradation of the earth. Instead, practice loving the birds in your backyard, the trees that provide shade and life-giving oxygen. Love your mother (earth) and you will find yourself changed and the world giving thanks.
Tim Olson, Lead Pastor