I was in our house when my daughter came in, “Mommy will you come outside with me?” I went outside where I found she had piled some sticks, flowers, leaves, and rocks. She asked me to sit down beside the pile and handed me a leaf with a little rock in it. She said that we each had to take our rock in our hand and talk about our dreams to God, then place the rock in the pile. We each said our dreams and what we were thankful for. I asked her what this activity was called, she replied, “The gift,” proceeding to tell me that the gift was in the rocks, the trees, the flowers, the bees, and all the nature around us. My eyes swelled with tears realizing how full of beauty and wisdom her young words were.
I watch her play outside in the garden and run around the trees. She picks up fall leaves to press them in books and picks flowers to arrange. At this young age she sees the beauty in the world around her and it has awakened a childlike curiosity in me. I find myself overcome with joy and fascination when I talk about bees and pollinators or planting in the garden.
Since being a newlywed I have gardened. Planting a seed in the dirt and watching it become something you can eat, is an awe-inspiring event. It can be heartbreaking too when all of that toiling is fruitless because of drought or too much rain, but when it does produce beauty and food – oh what a gift it is. In fact it is God’s greatest masterpiece – the earth and heavens and all the beauty and function they provide.
By planting a seed and watching it grow, we witness God. By seeing the fall foliage in all its glory, we witness God. By hiking to a waterfall and watching it whitecap powerfully over rocks, we witness God. By seeing a shooting star trail through the night sky, we witness God. As the bible says God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent – he is all around us, in the earth and in the air. This is why so often I am puzzled when Christians are not at the forefront of the environmental movement, but instead stereotype the issue as a ‘liberal’ agenda. This is not a political issue, this is a human issue. This very earth that God created should be respected and cared for, yet this topic gets little or no attention from the church and takes a back seat to issues like Isis. Author and Presbyterian minister Craig Goodwin in his book Year of Plenty talks about his family’s commitment to consuming local, homemade, or homegrown. He talks about how Christians are less likely to recycle than the average American and statistically are less likely to want stricter environmental laws than atheists. He writes:
As someone who laments these statistics, I wonder not only why Christians are lagging, but why Christians aren’t the leaders and exemplars when it comes to caring for God’s creation. I am not disappointed that we’re average, I am disappointed that we’re not ahead of the curve in the same way that we’re less likely to cuss in public. By all rights the church should be at the cutting edge of environmental concern.
Even Pope Francis has become an outspoken advocate for the environment, urging Christians assert that nature – as well as humanity – has rights.
I live in quite possibly the most beautiful area of our state, yet the rivers, streams, and lakes are so polluted you would never eat the fish out of them. The earth’s clean water supply is limited, we are using up our natural resources at an extremely unhealthy rate unable to replenish them, and most places in this world (even Hawaii) have a 7 day or less food supply. That means even a place as naturally resourceful as Hawaii is so reliant on imports that if something were to happen to our present way of living, the people of Hawaii would only have enough food for 7 days. When the very basis of our economy-driven society, which is the constant consumption of natural resources (i.e. oil, coal, energy, land), is all used up, what do we do then?
E.F. Schumacher in his book Small is Beautiful writes:
Modern man does not experience himself as a part of nature but as an outside force destined to dominate and conquer it. He even talks of a battle with nature, forgetting that, if he won the battle, he would find himself on the losing side.
In not taking up concern for our earth we are creating an unsustainable future for our children and grandchildren. Much of my generation could care less about gardening, farming, or cooking, so what happens with the next generation? What will they eat? Over processed, chemically enhanced food that tastes more like plastic than something that came from the earth? American children and middle-aged are seeing a significant rise in mortality rates – this should be of great concern. Could this be because of the environment we are being brought up in? An environment that is polluted, an environment that reaches for the easiest processed meal possible instead of food grown from the earth, an environment that is more stressed and disconnected from nature than ever before?
It doesn’t have to begin with a complete change in lifestyle. It starts with a curiosity to learn, a childlike fascination with the world around you, and an understanding of how we are connected with this earth – the ground we stand on, the soil that gives us naturally healthy food, the plants that give us oxygen, the bees that pollinate our crops, the waters that give us fish, the circle of life that happens naturally everyday right before our eyes.
The first step to a better planet begins with walking outside taking a deep breath and truly opening your eyes to the world around you. Instead of swatting a bee that is gathering pollen from a flower because you are fearful – notice how hard the bee is working and how important his job is to the function of our planet. Instead of getting discouraged when a plant dies – plant more, practice makes perfect and the reward of one day picking vegetables from your garden is unparalleled. Instead of chopping down that fig tree in your yard because you think it is such an eye sore – enjoy what a gift the figs are!
Who do you think God wants to be around? The person who says,
“Oh my God a bee, I hate bees, kill it!”
“And of course that tomato started to grow then just died, I can’t grow anything and will never try this again.”
“I cannot stand that ugly fig tree, it is so big and the branches are so ugly. What am I suppose to do with figs anyway? I don’t even like the way they taste.”
Or the person who says,
“Look at that bee gathering pollen to make honey! What an amazing little insect that gives us nature’s sweetest food and because he is the most important pollinator he gives us most of our vegetables and fruits too!”
“It looks like that plant died, I think I will do a little research on my yard and soil and see what might grow better. I just know how much my children would love to see us grow something in our own garden.”
“Figs! I am so grateful to have a fig tree in our yard and will have to look up recipes on how to use them.”
Who do you think God would rather have a conversation with? The person with a childlike fascination with the earth he created or the person who seems disgruntled with anything having to do with nature?
We know too much about ecology today to have any excuse for the many abuses that are currently going on in the management of the land, in the management of animals, in food storage, food processing, and in heedless urbanization. If we permit them, this is not due to poverty, as if we could not afford to stop them; it is due to the fact that, as a society, we have no firm basis of belief in any meta-economic values, and when there is no such belief the economic calculus takes over. -E.F. Schumacher Small is Beautiful
Where do you think God is most felt? In the canned food aisle in Target or picking carrots from the garden with your children? In the fast food line at McDonalds or baking a homemade apple pie for your family, a neighbor, or friend? In the sale rack at your local department store or hiking in the woods along a waterfall? In watching the latest reality show or watching a sunset? In playing a video game or in that pile of sticks, flowers, rocks, and leaves your child builds while playing outside?
Look deep in nature and you will understand everything better. – Albert Einstein
When we take care of our earth – we are being respectful of this incredibly beautiful gift God has given unto us, we are leaving behind an awe-inspiring place for our children and future generations to enjoy, and we are taking the time to worship and walk with God in the purest environment. On a recent trip to New York City I visited the community garden on Roosevelt Island. It was a Sunday and as I strolled through the garden taking photos, people began arriving – couples, fathers, mothers and children, grandparents, friends, etc. What I learned is that every Sunday morning the people with plots in the garden gather to work their gardens and take care of the common spaces. This is their Sunday morning worship. They gathered vegetables, they raked, they picked flowers, and they talked and laughed – it was an inspiring sight. They were actively worshipping while being stewards of the earth. They were giving life to this beautiful garden. Honeybees, bumble bees, Monarch butterflies, hummingbirds, and so many pollinators buzzed, fluttered, and flew around the blooms and vines. In the heart of one of the largest cities in the world they had created a garden filled with life and food. It was one of the most natural, peaceful, and deeply spiritual moments I had ever witnessed.
The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. – Deuteronomy 11:12