Jul 21 2013

This Hallowed Earth

HC barn 4270Wendell Berry has written eloquently about “the gift of good land” for decades.  Whether you are reading his essays, novels or poems the concept of land as a good gift is always present.  Berry has a strong sense of ethics when it comes to the environment and is keenly aware of our divine call to be good stewards of the earth.  But how did he come to have the views espoused in his writings?  A while back I saw a list of books Wendell Berry acknowledged as being formative of his views.  I perused that list and discovered a book I had not heard of before called The Holy Earth by L. H. Bailey.  Since you can order the book for free on a Kindle I did so.  Having now read through parts of it I can see why Berry found it influential.

Early on in this book Bailey makes a case for the earth being holy.  He writes, “Verily, then, the earth is divine, because man did not make it.  We are here, part of the creation.  We cannot escape.  We are under obligation to take part and to do our best, living with each other and with all the creatures.  We may not know the full plan, but that does not alter the relation.”   Later he adds, “If God created the earth, so is the earth hallowed; and if it is hallowed, so must we deal with it devotedly and with care that we do not despoil it, and mindful of our relations to all beings that live on it.”

wheat 4946One can easily see that for Bailey recognizing that the earth is sacred or holy calls for a land ethic that reflects this view.  He writes: “The sacredness to us of the earth is intrinsic and inherent.  It lies in our necessary relationship and in the duty imposed upon us to have dominion, and to exercise ourselves even against our own interests.  We may not waste that which is not ours.  To live in sincere relations with the company of created things and with the conscious regard for the support of all men new and yet to come, must be of the essence of righteousness.”  For Bailey, the earth’s sacredness takes priority over humankind’s dominion.  He says, “If the earth is holy, then the things that grow out of the earth are also holy.  They do not belong to man to do with them as he will.  Dominion does not carry personal ownership.  There are many generations of folk yet to come after us, who will have equal right with us to the products of the globe.  It would seem that a divine obligation rests on every soul.”

wheat field 5161The Holy Earth was written in 1915.  That means the words you just read are almost a century old.  A lot of people seem to think that Creation Care is something new, a movement born within our own generation, but that is hardly the case.  For ages there have been people who have understood that the earth is holy and that its sacredness calls for us to live on and with the earth in a special relationship.  Interestingly, many came to this realization without the Scriptures but if anyone should recognize the sacredness of the earth it is Christians.  Both the Old and New Testament affirm the goodness of the earth and our need to care for it.  Thankfully, Wendell Berry was willing to listen to those who went before him.  I hope we will as well.

–Chuck

(I took the images above in Henderson County, Kentucky.)