Smoke hangs heavy in the air, turning blue skies an eerie yellow. Ashes fall, coating patio chairs, cars, crops, buildings...everything outside. Nearly 800,000 hectares have burned, businesses and homes of humans and animals have been lost, and there is no end in sight. Maybe when the snow falls.
Recently I was part of an outdoor circle where someone pondered what actions they might have taken that contributed to the fires. That’s a tough question to ask, but worth the consideration. Just a week prior I sat in stunned silence as someone suggested climate change was overrated because God could handle it. There was no openness to any thought other than that God was in charge and would somehow save us from ourselves. Yes, from ourselves.
I am always surprised by those who believe an interventionist God who will swoop into history and save us from the latest crisis we have created, thinking this great act of compassion must come from some celestial being outside of ourselves rather than from the presence of holiness within ourselves.
For over 50 years scientists have warned that our actions move us toward a point of no return. Their words are as gloomy and foreboding as our skies today. To believe that God can save us from the escalating impacts of climate change shifts the blame from our own shoulders. The Christian story reminds us of our responsibility. In Genesis chapter one, God creates humans and says they are to “rule over” the rest of creation. The Hebrew word used is radah – often translated as “have dominion over.” But radah can also mean to manage responsibly with care and respect.
The beauty of the creation story set in the garden of Eden is that all living beings – plants, animals, birds, fish, and humans – live together in a respectful harmony. There’s a deep spiritual connection recognized when the presence of God is said to “walk” through the garden. We have wandered far from the idea of the natural world as a sacred place, a sacramental community.
Thomas Berry, a priest, cultural historian and eco-theologian, lamented a world in which this earth is viewed as a collection of objects rather than a sacred community. He understood the interconnectedness of all life – and the spiritual nurture offered us by the natural world.
In his book, The Great Work, he writes: We can no longer hear the voices of the rivers, the mountain, or the sea. The trees and meadows are no longer intimate modes of spirit presence. The world about us has become an “it” rather than a “thou.”
By objectifying other beings as lesser, as commodities to be consumed, we have lost an important part of a healthy spirituality. Berry speaks to the thought that the environmental crisis is also a spiritual crisis:
We cannot save ourselves without saving the world in which we live. There are not two worlds, the world of the human and a world of the other modes of being. There is a single world. We will live or die as this world lives or dies…We come into being in and through the Earth. Simply put, we are Earthlings. The Earth is our origin, our nourishment, our educator, our healer, our fulfillment. At its core, even our spirituality is Earth derived. The human and the Earth are totally implicated, each in the other. If there is no spirituality in the Earth, then there is no spirituality in ourselves.
Whatever creation story we choose to make our own, there is no denying that we originated in this earth – and we are the living beings who make the greatest impact on this planet. As difficult as it is, we must ask ourselves the question of what we have done to contribute not just to our local wildfires, but also to the greater climate crisis.
One Wild Church member tells a story that sums it up. As she observed the once green grass now burned to a golden brown, she looked to the sky and said, Oh Sun, what have you done?
The response she heard: Oh Earthling, what have YOU done?
Thomas Berry offers us hope:
In our contemplation of how tragic moments of disintegration over the course of the centuries were followed by immensely creative moments of renewal, we receive our greatest hope for the future. To initiate and guide this next creative moment of the story of the Earth is the “Great Work” of the religions of the world as we move on into the future.
It’s time to join this Great Work. It’s time to ask what we have done and to work for creative renewal in regard to creation.
Rev LeAnn Blackert works with Michele Walker, Lesly Comrie and Linda Clark in ministry with Wild Church in Kamloops, Sorrento and the Okanagan. She considers herself a seeker in her faith journey and wanders the wild world looking for the Great Mystery and the “wild Christ.” July happens to be her favourite month of the year. To find out more, visit wildchurchbc.org and be in touch!