This weekend I have been reading a book my wife gave me for Valentine’s Day. It’s called Care For Creation [a franciscan spirituality of the earth]. Here I was reminded that the Greek word upon which the word “ecology” is based is oikos, which means house. Thus, ecology literally means “study of the house.” The book’s authors believe that it is important for us to view the world we live in as our home, but not ours only; it is first and foremost God’s home.
One of the implications of viewing the earth as our home is made clear in the following passage: “To speak of creation as our home is to speak of creation as relationship. The word creation implies relationship, unlike the word nature, which holds no inherent religious meaning. ‘Creation’ points to a ‘Creator,’ a God who creates.” They go on to say, “’Creation,’ therefore, means relationships between the human and nonhuman created order, the place of the human person within that order, and the response of the person to the created order in its relationship to God.”
I think this emphasis on Creation and relationships is important and worthy of our consideration. As Christians we know that all of our relationships are supposed to be characterized by love. We may not normally think of being “in relationship” with the earth or its creatures but we are. It’s how God has designed His Creation. Of course the greatest relationship Creation calls for is a relationship with the Creator Himself but all of these are interconnected.
Loving the “house” God has given us is an important part of our spiritual journey. Failure to do so is dangerous in many ways. At one point the authors of Care For Creation ask “If ‘home is where the heart is’ then why is our home—the Earth—in peril?” The answer seems obvious. Many people today are failing to love God’s precious gift. They are failing to maintain a positive and healthy relationship with Creation. In the e-mails Rob Sheppard sends me he has a quote that always appears at the bottom of the page. It begins with these words: “In the end we will conserve only what we love.” It would seem to me that it is well past time that as Christians we made sure that “home is where the heart is.” For God’s sake, for the earth’s sake, and for our own spiritual and physical well-being we must nurture and maintain a healthy relationship with our home.
(I took these two images on a trip to Oregon. The top picture was taken at Barr Falls and the bottom is a western chipmunk.)
Yesterday I was thumbing through Warren Wiersbe’s book, Real Worship, when I came across this passage: “When we want to enjoy creation without honoring the Creator, we end up exploiting creation just to satisfy our selfish appetites. We become covetous and idolatrous, and this is the root cause of the ecological problems the world faces today. When we start to ‘play God,’ we end up destroying what God has given us ‘richly…to enjoy’ (1 Timothy 6:17).” I believe Wiersbe’s words are prophetic in nature.
In recent weeks I have been deeply disturbed as I have watched Congress, as well as my own state legislature, seek to dismantle laws which were adopted to protect the environment—God’s Creation. Much of what is being done is supposedly a response to the economic crisis our country is experiencing. I don’t buy that. I feel it has more to do with the fact that “we have become covetous and idolatrous.” Many of our present environmental laws are being attacked because they are supposedly “bad for business.” Does making an extra dollar trump God’s call for us to care for His Creation? Does it override the health and well-being of that which He has created? If so, it is clear to me that we are now worshiping Mammon and not God.
I truly do want to see people succeed and prosper but becoming rich is not the ultimate goal of life in God’s kingdom. Worshiping God and putting Him first will always be the primary goal. We do not honor the Creator when we threaten the health of humans, the land and wildlife by lessening environmental standards just so a few businesses can make a greater profit. Nor do we honor God when we “end up exploiting creation to satisfy our selfish appetites.”
The group Sojourners is preparing to send members of Congress plastic bracelets that ask “What Would Jesus Cut?” They, like me, realize that there are moral implications to the cuts being discussed in Congress. Some of the cuts will hurt the poor badly. Other cuts will hurt the environment and therefore all of us. At this point all I know to do is voice my concern, pray for our political leaders and hope that they don’t ‘play God’ and “end up destroying what God has given us richly to enjoy.”
(Both of these images were taken at Angel Falls Overlook in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area in Tennessee.)
Throughout the years I have heard many ministers begin a worship service by quoting Psalm 118:24, which reads “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” As a result I had pretty much associated this verse with Sundays. Upon further thought, however, I see that it is instead a reminder that every day is a gift from God. In my last post I talked about God’s continuing work of Creation; this passage acknowledges that each day is evidence of this ongoing work.
Last night I was reading a book by one of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner. At one point he made a very insightful observation about Creation. He wrote: “Using the same old materials of earth, air, fire, and water, every twenty-four hours God creates something new from them. If you think you’re seeing the same show all over again seven times a week, you’re crazy. Every morning you wake up to something that in all eternity never was before and never will be again. And the you that wakes up was never the same before and will never be the same again either.”
In light of what Beuchner says, I’m afraid there are a lot of crazy people out there. Far too many of us do, in fact, assume we’re “seeing the same show all over again” every day. But we’re not. No two sunrises are the same; nor are any two sunsets identical. If we will awaken each day with the awareness that “this is the day the Lord has made”, and that God is always up to something new, we may begin to notice more of the wonders of His ongoing Creation. I truly think that we miss a lot because we simply fail to look.
Every day is another gift from the Creator’s hand and, as the Psalmist reminds us, a cause for rejoicing. If we will make the effort and take the time to notice the newness of each day I suspect we will be far more likely to “rejoice and be glad in it.” I hope there will be much joy and gladness for you in these days to come.
(The top image is a sunrise from Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The bottom image is a sunset taken just a few feet away from the same location.)
Recently, the pastor of our church did a series of sermons on worship that were quite valuable to me. He really looked closely at what worship is all about and what the Bible said about it. It made me think again about John Muir (one of Chuck’s heroes) who felt that nature (especially his favorite Yosemite Valley) offered a church experience better than any cathedral.
The pastor noted that worship is when we encounter God. Psalm 100:2 — “Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing.” That is definitely what I feel when I am surrounded by God’s creation (though I don’t feel I have to go to Yosemite!).
He also shared that worship can happen at any place, on any day. Psalm 24:1 — “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” That passage also says something to me, that we should be a little concerned about how we treat the earth since it is the Lord’s and everything in it.
Our pastor’s sermon covered many other great points that would be too long to go into here. But I do think this passage also relates to being in nature and being close to God, “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” If God ranges throughout the earth to strengthen those who are committed to him, then obviously God sees those of us in nature who are also committed to him to his creation.
The photo here is from a recent morning when I was driving up along the coast by the Santa Monica Mountains in Southern California. A morning fog (or low marine layer) was coming and going from the coast and the giant coreopsis were blooming. Stopping and photographing these funny looking plants in the fog was truly a joyful experience. Making the photograph, in a way, was my joyful noise unto the Lord.
In the study on the Gospel of John I’m leading at church we recently spent some time examining a miracle where Jesus healed a man who had been lame thirty-eight years. After Jesus did this he got into trouble with the local religious leaders because he healed the man on the Sabbath. By this time in Jewish history there were all kinds of restrictions on what a person could and could not do on the Sabbath. Because of its place in the Ten Commandments the Sabbath was considered very special by the Jews and they sought to protect it by coming up with various restrictions about Sabbath observance.
Jesus’ response to the religious leaders who were denouncing him is interesting. He told them “My Father is always at work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” (John 5:17) Jesus’ words about his Father always being at work are important. One reason the Sabbath was considered so important to the Jews is that God “rested” on the seventh day of Creation. Although some thought God was still resting, many of the Jewish rabbis believed that God was still at work and that He even did some of His work on the Sabbath. Acts of healing and compassion were examples of God’s Sabbath Day activity. Jesus affirmed this understanding and said that the miracle he had just performed was simply an extension of His Father’s work.
I think one of the important lessons we can take from this passage is that the God of Creation is still very much at work in the world today and that Christ, His Son, is as well. We are reminded here that Creation is not a finished product; it is a work in progress. John Muir recognized this. He once wrote: “I used to envy the father of our race, dwelling as he did in contact with the new-made fields and plants of Eden; but I do so no more, because I have discovered that I also live in ‘creation’s dawn.’ The morning stars still sing together, and the world, not yet half made, becomes more beautiful every day.”
Perhaps our sense of wonder and amazement might be renewed if we realized each day that we are witnesses to God’s ongoing work of Creation. Perhaps it would awaken our sense of gratitude for the gift of each new day. Perhaps it would make us better aware of our calling to be partners with the Father and Son in caring for the earth. It’s certainly something to think about…
(I took the two images above in Yellowstone National Park last February.)
A few weeks ago I ran into someone I know who has been going through a very difficult time. A lot of things have gone wrong in his life and it was obvious that he was very discouraged. Despite this, he seemed to have a resolve to not let his troubles get the best of him. At one point in our conversation he spoke of a poem that had given him a great deal of inspiration. He said the poem is called “Not in Vain” and that the author was Emily Dickenson. I told him I wasn’t familiar with it but that I’d look it up. Later I did and in case you are not familiar with it either, this is how it reads: “If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain: If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain, Or help one fainting robin Unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain.”
I can certainly see how this beautiful poem brought encouragement and inspiration to the person I spoke to. When things in our life do not work out as we planned we are tempted to conclude that our lives have been lived in vain. When, however, we look at the bigger picture, we will see that if in this life we are able to help another person, or even another creature, our lives have not been lived in vain at all.
I try to live my life in service to others. Being a minister it’s what I do for a living, but being a servant to others is far than just a job. I am a Christian and thus a follower of the one who said he came “not to be served but to serve.” I also happen to believe that serving others should include caring for animals. That’s why I support various wildlife organizations, feed the birds, own a dog, and send lots of letters to my congressmen concerning legislation effecting wildlife. These are all little things but they make a difference. They also add meaning to my life.
Like the person who told me about the poem, I have no intention of my life being lived in vain. In every way I can I plan to make it count. I want to help those in need, be they human or animal. I hope you do as well.
(I photographed the robin above recently in my yard.)