This past Monday, April 22nd was Earth Day. Earth Day is celebrated every year on April 22nd in countries all around the world. It is a day of celebration for this glorious Earth in which we live; a chance to give thanks for the abundance and diversity of life in Creation; and an opportunity to increase our awareness of the ways that the world’s ecosystems are being damaged and endangered and be reminded of practical ways that we can reduce our ecological footprint. This year I noticed there was a four-page insert in our community newspaper (Daily Bulletin) devoted to Earth Day with information about activities and projects for all ages.
Of course, we are encouraged to do these things not just on one day of the year but throughout the year. Having a designated day for the celebration of the Earth, however, does give a focus day for communities and the impetus to organize activities around this theme on at least an annual basis.
In the Judeo-Christian faith tradition we have never needed an excuse to celebrate God’s glorious Creation. Many of the psalms in the Bible give praise and glory to God the Creator and sustainer of all life whose majesty can easily been seen in the wonders of the natural world.
A good example of this is Psalm 148, the designated psalm in our lectionary readings for this Sunday. Psalm 148 is a magnificent song of praise to God, the Creator of all life. This is a psalm that is amazingly inclusive in its focus and clearly defines human beings as being members of the chorus of the joyous song of creation (rather than conductor, choir master, or designer of the song). The inclusive nature of this psalm clearly shows that we are in the business of praising God together, “Young men and women alike, old and young together!” (Psalm 148:12) alongside every other living thing in all Creation.
I find it helpful to remember that psalms were originally meant to be sung – they were literally songs of praise or lament or whatever else was the focus of a particular psalm. Psalm 148 is an unbridled song of praise. Every part of Creation sings of the glory of God and reflects the mystery and life-giving energy that God’s spirit instills in all creation.
In my experience, awe and reverence for the beauty and wonder of creation leads to gratitude to God the Creator that in turn is translated into faith-filled action. I will forever be grateful to my father who was instrumental in instilling a sense of awe, wonder and reverence into my life at a very early age. He did this not through words but through shared experience.
One experience that profoundly transformed the way I experience life happened one summer when I was camping with my family. After lunch one day we went for a walk in the woods surrounding our campsite. My mother and sister walked quickly and went ahead of my father and me on the trail. My father and I ambled slowly and quietly noticing the trees and flowers as we walked. As we came around a bend in the trail we were awestruck to see a large and beautiful waterfall in the canyon below the trail. We were both drawn to the sight and stood silently basking in the beauty of this wondrous sight. We didn’t say a word to each other but stood side by side in rapt attention and in a state of awe and reverence. We stayed like that for quite a while and then with an unspoken cue we reluctantly moved forward on the trail. It was an extraordinary experience. Without saying a word, my father’s demeanor and presence had instilled in me a sense of reverence and awe that I have never forgotten and that has been a great gift in my life.
The gift of noticing and appreciating the wonder of the beauty and intricacies of Creation has nurtured my spiritual life in many ways over the years and has been instrumental in sustaining me as a person in ministry. This week, as I was preparing the worship service for today, I remembered an experience that I had when I began my adventure in paid accountable ministry in Nelson. It had been a particularly busy time in the life of the church. It was Monday morning and I dragged myself out of bed, bone-tired, and stumbled downstairs to shower and prepare to lead my third funeral in ten days (I’d also planned and led worship the day before). At that time I had a morning ritual that I always observed, no matter how busy the day or how tired I was, and that morning as with every morning, I stopped at the Living Room window to look out at Elephant Mountain and give thanks to God for the gift of life and the beauty of life on this Earth. What I saw, even in my bone-tired state, lifted my spirit and put a smile on my face. In the early morning dawn there was a brilliant rosy glow that shone on the white clad mountain and surprised me with joy, awe and thanksgiving. I gasped at the beauty that lay before me and I was reminded that God’s presence and guidance would lift me up and sustain me in my ministry that day and in the days to come. I was filled with a sense of reverence and gratitude for being a part of Creation and of having an opportunity to give of myself in service to God, the Source and Sustainer of all life.
Countless other people have had similarly awe-inspiring experiences and many have written songs of praise, stories, poems, or expressed their praise through other works of art. One of my favourite poems by Mary Oliver expresses joy that bursts forth from the simple experience of spending time in nature.
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down –
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
(The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver)
Others, like environmentalist and poet, Wendell Berry, seek peace, calm and refuge from a sense of despair that can creep into our lives when faced with the immensity of ecological challenges facing our planet, Earth. Listen to this poem by Wendell Berry entitled, “The Peace of Wild Things”:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Last week we heard words of assurance and hope from the 23rd Psalm that speaks of still waters and resting in God’s loving and grace-filled presence. Jesus spoke about trusting God’s steadfast and faithful presence when he reminded his disciples that worrying would not add a single day to their lives. He told them to look at the birds of the air and remember that God cares for them, as well as the birds, and also to consider the lilies of the field and know that God’s constant presence is with them always. (Matthew 6:25-34)
Jesus pointed to ordinary elements in Creation and in the lives of his followers to remind them of God’s inspiring and steadfast presence and to encourage them not to lose heart and to remember that they were never alone in their ministry. When Jesus told his followers that they should love one another and that by their love others would know they were his disciples, I don’t for a minute think he was telling them to only care for themselves. By grounding themselves in love, followers of the Way of Jesus throughout the ages have tapped into the spirit of life that reveals God’s commonwealth in all its glory.
Martin Luther, the 15th century reformer said, “Do you think God is sleeping on a pillow in heaven?…God is wholly present in all creation, in every corner, behind and before you. …God writes the Gospel, not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.” We are intricately connected to all life and when we act with love and reverence in our words and actions it is like dropping a pebble in a pond where the ripples spread out farther than we can imagine.
I’m not going to lecture you on the many ways we can take small steps that make a difference in our world. We could probably all make a list of the many things we are currently doing, or could be doing, that benefit our world, locally or globally.
I’ll simply finish this time of reflection by offering words of blessing written by Sam Hamilton-Poore in his book, “Earth Gospel”:
The God who weaves the sun and the moon,
the sky and the earth,
is the very same God who knit you together
in your mother’s womb.
The God who brings new stars to birth in far-off galaxies
is the same God who brought you to birth and
placed you at your mother’s breast.
Enter this day with confidence:
as surely as the sun,
as certain as the moon,
as solid as the earth,
you have a place within God’s unfolding grace.
Thanks be to God
for these words of assurance and blessing.