Let us pause for a moment in prayer:
May we see today the depth of your love
in even the smallest part of Creation.
May we be awestruck by traces of your beauty
in earth and sky.
May we experience the eternity of your grace
pulsing within each moment.
And, may each moment be a blessing to us
and a reminder of your ever-present
and steadfast care for the world.
With thanksgiving and reverence, we pray. Amen
(Earth Gospel by Sam Hamilton-Poore, pg. 130, adapted)
There is a style of storytelling in Jewish faith tradition called midrash.
Midrash is the name for a story about a story in the Bible. In the words of Rabbi Marc Gellman, who wrote a book of these types of stories, it is a way of saying to people, “Listen to the words of the Bible! Listen to them with your ears and your heart and your mind and your soul.” (Does God Have a Big Toe? by Marc Gellman, page vii, HarperTrophy,1989)
I’ll begin this Reflection with a midrash Creation story:
“Before there was anything, there was God, a few angels, and a huge swirling glob of rocks and water with no place to go. The angels asked God, ‘Why don’t you clean up this mess?’ So God collected rocks from the huge swirling glob and put them together in clumps and said, ‘Some of these clumps of rocks will be planets, and some will be stars, and some of these rocks will be… just rocks.’ Then God collected water from the huge swirling glob and put it together in pools of water and said, ‘Some of these pools of water will be oceans, and some will become clouds, and some of this water will be… just water.’ Then the angels said, ‘Well, God, it’s neater now, but is it finished?’ And God answered… ‘NOPE!’ On some of the rocks God placed growing things, and creeping things, and things that only God knows what they are, and when God had done all this, the angels asked God, ‘Is the world finished now?’ And God answered: ‘NOPE!’ God made a man and a woman from some of the water and dust and said to them, ‘I am tired now. Please finish up the world for me…really it’s almost done.’ But the man and the woman said, ‘We can’t finish the world alone! You have the plans and we are too little.’ ‘You are big enough,’ God answered them. ‘But I agree to this. If you keep trying to finish the world, I will be your partner.’ The man and the woman asked, ‘What’s a partner?’ and God answered, ‘A partner is someone you work with on a big thing that neither of you can do alone. If you have a partner, it means that you can never give up, because your partner is depending on you. On the days you think I am not doing enough and on the days I think you are not doing enough, even on those days we are still partners and we must not stop trying to finish the world. That’s the deal.’ And they all agreed to that deal. Then the angels asked God, ‘Is the world finished yet?’ and God answered, ‘I don’t know. Go ask my partners.’ ” (Does God Have a Big Toe? by Marc Gellman, pgs. 2-3, HarperTrophy,1989)
Today is Earth Day, the day we intentionally focus on God’s Creation and God’s call to respond with faithful action to the challenges and blessings of human life as part of the intricate web of life. Some of us may think of the role of human beings as caretakers of Earth, some may embrace the concept of humanity as co-creators (a term popular in the late 1990’s and the decade following), and still others as partners with God. Regardless of terminology it is clear that, although we are part of the web of life, human beings have negatively altered the natural balance of the ecology of Earth and we carry a responsibility to work with others around the world to restore the sacred balance of Creation. This is an urgent imperative. Prophetic scientists have been telling us this for years and the global community is beginning to understand the immensity of environmental degradation and the solidarity and urgent action needed to reverse destructive practices that are literally destroying our world. And, positive steps have been taken in the way of education, environmental action and in beginning to hold industries accountable for keeping to higher environmental standards.
Earth Day was first celebrated in the United States on April 22, 1970. Across the United States, 20 million people and thousands of local schools and communities participated in the first Earth Day. The huge attendance made it the largest organized celebration in the history of the United States. It was clear that people were concerned about ecological issues and cared about finding out what they could do to help. In 1990, the first official International Earth Day was celebrated. About 200 million people from 141 nations took part in a celebration of environmental conservation.
Two years later, in 1992, the United Nations held an Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At the Summit, world leaders discussed global concerns such as climate change and the worldwide loss of indigenous cultures and wild species. The fact that leaders and environmental experts from countries around the world met to discuss these important issues was significant. What stands out in my memory as extraordinary, however, was that a twelve year old Canadian girl fundraised her way to the Summit and was granted time to speak to the assembly. That young girl was Severn Suzuki, daughter of well-known Canadian scientist, and environmental activist, David Suzuki. Severn had been active, at home in Vancouver, with an environmental education and action group that she’d formed called ECO (Environmental Children’s Organization). When Severn told her father that she was raising money to attend the Earth Summit he tried to make her understand that even if she could raise the money to attend it was unlikely a child would be allowed time in the agenda to speak. Severn’s response was that the adults would be discussing issues that would affect the future of children and that children were necessary to the adults’ discussions as “their conscience”. David Suzuki was persuaded by his daughter and agreed to match dollar for dollar the money raised by ECO for the trip. In the end ECO raised enough money to send five children and three adults to Brazil for the Earth Summit. ECO registered as a non-governmental organization and rented a booth at the Global Forum along with hundreds of other groups. They were, however, the only group of children so they attracted media attention and Severn was offered an opportunity to speak to the assembly. The following quote is a brief excerpt from the speech Severn wrote and delivered:
“I’m only a child and I don’t have all the solutions, but I want you to realize, neither do you. You don’t know how to fix the holes in the ozone layer. …You don’t know how to bring back an animal now extinct. And you can’t bring back a forest where there is now desert. If you don’t know how to fix it, please stop breaking it. …You [adults] teach us [children] how to behave in the world. You teach us not to fight with others; to work things out; to respect others; to clean up our mess; not to hurt other creatures; to share; not be greedy. Then why do you go out and do the things you tell us not to do? …My Dad always says, ‘You are what you do, not what you say.’ Well, what you do makes me cry at night. You grownups say you love us. I challenge you. Please, make your actions reflect your words.” (The Sacred Balance, by David Suzuki, pg. 221, GreyStone Books, 1997)
These profound and poignant words echo the belief of many indigenous peoples who know that wise decisions are those that take into account the effect of actions, not just for current generations, but also for generations to come.
Last weekend, at our Kootenay Presbytery gathering here in Kimberley, some of us were fortunate to engage in discussions with our current United Church Moderator Mardi Tindal about God, Community and Creation. We shared with her some of our environmental concerns in the Kootenays and in the wider world and she shared some of the stories from her experience as Moderator and as a person of faith dedicated to ecological and social justice. We talked about our hopes, our dreams and our fears. It was a rich and inspiring time of sharing. Over and over during our weekend together there were things that kept surfacing, for me, as crucially important. Some of these, are the need to gather and tell stories, to listen intently and respectfully, to encourage one another with stories of small but significant actions for justice (whether social, economic or ecological) that are happening in our communities and around the world, and the need to remind ourselves that God is present and active in the work of love and justice and that any action for justice is important no matter how small and insignificant it may seem to us at the time.
During my reading this week I was pleased to be reminded about the Earth Charter; “an international declaration of fundamental values and principles considered useful for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society in the twenty-first century.” The final draft of the Earth Charter was approved at a meeting of the Earth Charter Commission at the UNESCO headquarters in France in March 2000, after six years of worldwide consultation. The preamble of the charter says, “We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is that we, the peoples of the Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and generations.”
These are words to live by. But, as a twelve year old reminded world leaders, “We are what we do, not what we say.” The question for each one of us, on this Earth Day, is “Do our actions reflect our beliefs and values as people of faith?” Are we partners with God and do our actions reflect kinship with all creation?
I’ll leave you with poetic words, that are both hope-filled and a call to action, written by Victoria Safford and shared by Mardi Tindal last Saturday evening in Kimberley:
“Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of hope – not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower; nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense; not the strident gates of Self-Righteousness, which creak on shrill and angry hinges) people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through); nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of ‘Everything Is Gonna Be All Right.’ But a different, sometimes lonely place, of truth-telling about your own soul first of all and its condition, the place of resistance and defiance, from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle but joy in the struggle. And we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we’re seeing, asking them what they see.
With our lives we make our answers all the time, to this ravenous, beautiful, mutilated, gorgeous world. However prophetic our words, it is not enough simply to speak.” (The Gates of Hope, The Nation, September 20, 2004)