This year we observed the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Could anyone in 1970 have imagined that despite half a century of Earth awareness, education, dedication and activism, we would stand at the edge of climate collapse? And we are also unexpectedly taking extreme steps to protect family, friends, neighborhoods and communities from a viral pandemic.
These unsettling times challenge us to use this isolation not only to evaluate how we can change our lives to be more caring and compassionate, but also to observe how nature takes this time to breathe, to rest and recover from years of neglect and mistreatment at the hands of the very ones delegated to care for her.
From genesis to revelation, the Bible continually reminds us that our well-being – our very survival – are inseparable from the well-being of our home planet. We must never forget that this planet was, in whatever way makes sense to you, created by forces beyond our narrow, earthly perceptions. And whether through being “placed” by a creator or evolving through eons of time, we are nonetheless the conscious custodians of this Earth.
Read through the first chapters of Genesis – creation is methodically carried out over time. Its pinnacle is the creation of the ones who will live as caretakers of this vast garden and all life within. From the beginning it has been a relationship of mutual dependency; her survival dependent upon our custodial presence, ours upon her continual well-being. There is no way out of this.
As the human story unfolds over generations, we understand that this mutual survival depends not only on our care for the gardens, but for each other. Generations of prophets have taught that our systems of justice, equality and compassion in turn engender fertility and prosperity.
When we “return to the Lord,” the very land itself will rejoice and bless us with all we need. Many of our psalms extoll the beauty and majesty of the natural world, how it continually expresses God’s love and care for us.
Jesus’ teachings feature lessons of the natural world. Parables of wildflowers and sparrows, vintners and vineyards, mustard seeds and fig trees help us to understand how the natural order conveys spiritual truths.
Further, in his teaching on the “sheep and goats” who stand before the throne of final judgment, those who are blessed to live with God are the ones who do specific acts of compassion: giving food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, welcome the foreigner, clothing for the naked, care for the sick and imprisoned.
And we now know that the climate crisis is a “perfect storm” for all of the above. Food shortages, contaminated water, closed borders, and lack of care for the sick, imprisoned, impoverished. As the prophets have taught: when we fail each other, we fail our mother.
In the final revelation, the prophet does not foretell a time when we exit a destroyed planet for a new home to ravage; but a “new heaven and a new earth” which are the same planet we live on. Quite literally, it means heaven descending to earth. So the big question is, as we slowly move out of isolation and into normalcy: Will we emerge toward a return to the “same old?” Or will we emerge from a time of contemplation and reflection as a people refined by the crucible of pandemic? Ready to reshape how we do humanness on planet Earth? We are the conscious ones, the choice-makers. We have been given “dominion” as it were.
Finally, understand this word, often so misused to instill fear: apocalypse. The word actually translates to “revelation,” which is the conclusion of the Biblical story. Something new is coming; is to be revealed. But it is not coming from beyond us. It must come from within.