Tag Archives: Care for creation

Sabbath and the Balance of Nature

Alright, I promised to offer some Earth Day ideas on how faith and environmental concerns intersect. So here we go…

Thinking about Sabbath

One theological concept that I think has beautiful and important ecological implications is the idea of Sabbath – an intentional day of resting from work.

Sabbath is a concept that is foreign to many twenty-first century Americans who live hectic, productive lives. But scripture tells us that rest and play can also be productive. Taking time out of our lives to slow down and reflect on the beauty of existence is not only good for us: it is commanded by God. The Psalmist  describes his longing for God as being like a deer panting for water (Psalm 42:1). When our souls thirst so deeply for God, we are reminded that we need to “be still” before God – our refuge, strength and healer (Psalm 46).

In busy and challenging times, we need to be intentional about making time to honor the goodness of God’s world. Sabbath practices offer a chance to create a holy space and place in our lives for us to recognize that God is sufficient and that creation is good.

Finding Balance in the Cycles

One of the greatest lessons we can learn by practicing Sabbath in our lives is the importance of balance.

We are doing all kinds of balancing acts: balancing our work life with our family, measuring different priorities, maintaining an abundance of different relationships and hobbies… how do we keep up? Sabbath is an ancient holy practice that offers a solution: set aside one day a week to cease working and celebrating goodness. No matter how much is left to be done, one day a week is a holy space of restoration.

Balance is not just a theological idea: it’s a natural one! In her beautiful book God in the Wilderness, Rabbi Jamie Korngold writes:

Nature is a great teacher and role model for finding balance. Natural systems are continually seeking equilibrium and rebalancing themselves. It is obvious when natural systems are out of whack…
No system can be pushed relentlessly. Neither the air we breathe, nor the water we drink, nor our bodies, nor our souls. Every system needs a rest. When we divorce ourselves from nature, we tend to forget about the cycles. We try to sustain a ceaseless, upward trajectory.

Rabbi Korngold reminds us that balance is not a static concept but a cyclical one. One way nature balances itself is by following cycles of restoration and death. What a holy idea it is that there is always another chance for newness, for re-birth! And of course, Christians understand deeply that sometimes the transformation of renewal comes only through the pain of death.

In her essay “Feminist Spirituality: Risk and Resistance, “Feminist Ivone Gebara picks up on this connection between rest and newness when she writes:

I should like to “rest” the earth I live on and the earth I am so that other things can be born. We live at a time when our life patterns, our paradigms, our theologies, and our spiritualities are tired. We are asking too much of our creativity in trying to deconstruct, re-create, redeem, and insert other traditions into ours. Would a time of pause not be an advantage, a time of personal and perhaps even collective silence? Would it not be a good idea to “rest” so that new ideas that could guide our steps, the fresh shoots that will feed our hopes, might in fact emerge?

As you reflect on what spiritual lessons we can learn from nature’s cycles of balance, think about parts of our world that may benefit from personal or individual pause of silence. In your own life, or the life of your community, a regular practice of rest may be extremely healing. Even further, it may usher in new ideas and energy you never thought possible!

Sabbath Practices

Celebrating a regular Sabbath can be a healing and restorative spiritual practice, but it doesn’t have to look like the strict model of a weekly no-work day. Be creative with your Sabbath practices, and try some different ideas to see what feeds your soul! As with all spiritual practices, it’s most important that it’s meaningful and effective for you.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Share a Meal –  Host a weekly Sabbath meal for friends, family, and neighbors. Invite folks to bring a dish to share. Perhaps some people can share bounty from their own gardens. Maybe practice having a silent meal together, making the practice of eating a meditative and reflective time.
  • Celebrate Creation –  Have a monthly Sabbath day for yourself and your family. Commit to getting into nature at least once a month for a whole morning or afternoon. Plant a tree together, or go for a nature hike. Visit a new nature area near your home each month. Bring a notebook so you can sketch, journal, or pray as you quietly soak up God’s creation.
  • Take a Nap! – Perhaps what you really need is rest. Commit to making space to sleep, rest, or relax. Recognize that God wants you to be whole and healthy and commit to making space to rest, no matter how much you have to get done.
  • Create Art –  If you are a musician or an artist (or even if you aren’t!), schedule some regular time into your week to celebrate your creativity as an act of worship. Let God delight in the talents He has given you by taking time to be artistic with no purpose other than celebration. Save this space for you and God, and be thankful for the beauty of art, poetry, music.

Share some of your favorite Sabbath practices! How do you find balance in your daily life? Where do you observe the balance of cycles in the natural world?

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Filed under Care for Creation, Spirituality, Theology and Faith

Earth Day 2012: What does saving the world have to do with saving souls?

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;
for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts…
Psalm 24:1-4a

Earth Day’s Birthday

Today is Earth Day 2012!

In case you don’t know, Earth Day came out of the late 1960’s consciousness about energy, war, and environmental concerns. A Wisconsin Senator (one Gaylord Nelson) took the lead, encouraging mass demonstrations on April 22, 1970 in order to garner some political awareness.

And it worked! The first Earth Day was a big hit. Millions of Americans participated. President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) later that year. Over the next few years, a string of pro-environmental policies were born: including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act.

It’s an awesome example of how grassroots consciousness raising can create real political awareness and change.

42 Years Later…

So what does Earth Day look like now, in 2012?

Well, the answer is: not much.

This year marks the 42nd Earth Day! It’s getting so old that it barely hits our public (or religious!) consciousness anymore. Those 200 million Americans who showed up on the first Earth Day are 4 decades older now, so it’s up to a new generation to take up the task of consciousness raising around environmental issues.

And I think that religious voices should be front and center in that effort.

What Would Jesus Do?… about the earth

Too often, though, religious voices (including my own!) are silent or timid in the public conversation about environmental issues and policies.

I tried my best internet hunting skills to find out what Christians were saying this year about Earth Day, and I could only find a few brave voices. [Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, I’m with you that we need a new Earth Day theology!]

When I think about what Christians are doing and saying today about care for creation, I think mostly of the mellow, mildly publicized celebrations for Earth Day that are pretty popular with churches.

Maybe we encourage people to walk or bike to worship. Maybe we put up a banner in the sanctuary. Maybe we start a church recycling program or preach about the spiritual value of compost.

I think those efforts matter (a lot), but I don’t think they’re enough.

We need to do more. We need to continue developing a dynamic theology that supports deep change around our lifestyles. And then we need to be making those changes — as individuals, as families, as congregations, as communities.

Developing a new theology

We cannot pretend that the way we treat creation is not tied to our beliefs about God or humanity. We cannot ignore that our spiritual lives are entwined with our physical lives, that our scriptures speak deeply about the world in which we live.

Something will have gone out of us as a people
if we do not love and protect creation,
and that something will be our soul.
If our actions can destroy, so they can heal.

Knowing that we are not independent, self-enclosed entities,
but rather fields of energy integrated with and dependent upon
the environment in which we live, can transform and reshape the world,
for it comes from the wisdom and reverence of the soul.
Christianity has talked a lot about “saving souls.”
Saving our world is about saving souls. It’s time for us to talk about it.
Rodney R. Romney, Wilderness Spirituality

So let’s start talking about it.

There are a lot of Christian organizations and leaders doing important work on environmental issues [I’ve included some of my favorite resources below], and we need to lend our voices, our hands, our money, our votes, and our faiths to the effort to developing the kind of living theology that will create lasting change.

So this week I will be posting some of my ideas on how our Christian faith can inform our environmental ethic. I encourage you to add your voice to the conversation — and to speak love to the world with your life, in a way that challenges and rejuvenates you.

Some of my favorite religious eco-resources/organizations:

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Filed under Ethics, Theology and Faith

words and pictures for spring

Somewhere
a black bear
has just risen from sleep
and is staring

down the mountain.
All night
in the brisk and shallow restlessness
of early spring

I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
her tongue

like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:

how to love this world.
I think of her
rising
like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
the silence
of the trees.
Whatever else

my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
coming
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her –
her white teeth,
her wordlessness,
her perfect love.

(Mary Oliver, “Spring” from House of Light)

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Filed under Poetry