In the beginning, when God started creating things, the earth was nothing more than a dark formless void. While a wind from God blew across the waters, God began to speak. With each word, the earth began to emerge in all its complexity. God first called for the lights to turn on. From there, things proceeded step by step until the earth was ready to receive fish, birds, and the animals, including cattle. God said to this menagerie: “be fruitful and multiply.” When everything was in place, God said, let’s create humankind in our image. So God did just that and entrusted this good earth to humankind’s stewardship. Then God rested.
Now, Genesis doesn’t provide us with a scientific statement as to how things came into existence. What it gives us is a liturgy that celebrates the beauty of creation and invites us to worship the creator. Therefore, “Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise!”
Although this litany suggests that God completed the work of creation on the sixth day, the universe is still a work in progress. Despite its incomplete state, God has pronounced it to be good and beautiful. So let us treasure this gift of God that holds within itself the seeds of a promised completion. If we do this, then as theologian John Haught suggests, we can live “with a sense that nature is promise rather than perfection [and this] allows us to tolerate its transiency and its defects, including instances where it seems indifferent to us.” [Haught. God After Darwin (Kindle Locations 2170-2171). Kindle Edition. ]
Since we’ve only just begun the season of Easter, we can continue to reflect on the message of the resurrection, which holds within itself the promise of new beginnings. We hear the message of resurrection and new beginnings while we’re living in the midst of a pandemic. We also hear this message on the Sunday before the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day. The word we heard in Genesis 1 can serve as an invitation to heed the message of Earth Day.
Earth Day began in Santa Barbara in 1970 in order to call attention to a devastating oil spill that damaged the waters and the beaches along the Santa Barbara Channel.As we consider the message of Earth Day in the midst of this pandemic, we see reminders of humanity’s impact on nature. One of the side effects of this global shutdown is that the air in many of our large cities has cleared up, at least for now. At the same time, wildlife is coming out of hiding in national parks and even neighborhoods, because the usual human activity is absent. There are numerous signs of nature reclaiming space in our world because of our absence. Perhaps when we return to work and play, we’ll remember this lesson concerning our impact on the world.
While we don’t worship nature, if we envision it as a gift of God then it becomes sacred. So, as Evelyn Underwood writes: “In the created world around us we see the Eternal Artist, Eternal Love at work” [Green Bible, p. I-109]. Or, as the Psalmist declares, creation is declaring the glory of God (Ps. 19:1).
Hildegard of Bingen speaks to the way nature reveals God’s glory. Hildegard was an important medieval mystic, abbess, and teacher, and she wrote this about creation:
Why did God create the world out of earth, air, water, and fire? To bring glory to His divine name. He used the wind to wake up the world. Then He used stars to light the earth, and He filled it with different creatures. God made sure to give us everything we need to thrive, and He also gave us much power, because nature nourishes us in so many ways. The relationship between us and creation must be symbiotic, because humanity can’t live without the nature that God made. [Carmen Butcher, Hildegard of Bingen: A Spiritual Reader (p. 131). Paraclete Press. Kindle Edition. ]
I appreciate this word about living in a symbiotic relationship with nature. It’s good to remember that our bodies depend on the earth for sustenance and that our spirits find joy and encouragement when we experience nature’s beauty and grandeur. It might be the beach or the mountains or a forest or even a desert, but whatever place is a favorite, it brings us joy. If we’re going to thrive then we have to treat this gift with respect. We can’t use this expression of God’s love and grace as if it’s just raw material to be used at our whim with no concern for the future.
So we ought to heed this word from theologian John Haught:
It has taken some billions of years for nature to attain the ecological richness and beauty that existed prior to our appearance. So when in our own time we allow pollution, resource exhaustion, and the annual extinction of thousands of species to fray the delicate tissue of life, we are surely aborting the hidden potential for a larger and wider-than-human future that still lurks in the folds of the Earth’s complex ecosystems. [Haught. God After Darwin, Kindle Loc. 2189-2192].
With the words from Genesis and Hildegard, as well as John Haught in mind, we can sing:
For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies,
for the love which from our birth over and around us lies,
Lord of All, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
—Folliot Pierpoint, Chalice Hymnal 56
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
April 19, 20202