Earlier this week, China and the United States, our planet’s greatest (here, hardly a compliment) producers of greenhouse gases, announced a long-term agreement concerning carbon emissions. Reacting personally to this word of good news to the world, I am spurred to contemplate afresh our human ontology: Who are we and what do we do in relation to creation?
We are sentient and self-initiating beings. However, despite some interpreters of Genesis (God blessed [humankind], saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over…every living thing that moves upon the earth” 1.28), we are not masters of the world. Citing Francis of Assisi who, in Canticle of the Creatures, called sun, wind, air, and fire his brothers, moon, his sister, earth, his mother, and claimed all living things as his family, I believe our relation to creation cannot be dominion, far less domination, but rather the equality and intimacy of an at-one-ness with all things. We, as integral threads in a cosmic tapestry, woven together by a divine hand, are not brighter, bolder, or better than any other strand.
Would that we believe this and act accordingly. History tells us we oft have not.
From the vantage point of one of my favorite biblical prophets, I perceive the dreadful consequences of our corporate misuse, abuse of the earth. Isaiah speaks of God’s innocent suffering servant afflicted on behalf of the people, the true offenders. Whatever Isaiah’s original intent, Christians viewed this prophecy in relation to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to redeem us from sin: Surely, he has borne our infirmities, carried our diseases, was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, and by his bruises we are healed (my emphases). As Christians re-envisioned Isaiah, I reinterpret the prophecy, using Francis’s Mother Earth metaphor, as a word about the world and us: Surely, she is made infirm and diseased by us; wounded by our transgression of profligate pollution, crushed by our iniquity of wasteful consumption, and because of her bruises she may not be renewed.
Mother Earth has changed, is changing. Naturally, so it has been from the dawn of creation through continental shift, volcanic eruption, the spinning and tilt of the world on its axis, the movement of ocean tides. Yet, especially since the 19th century Industrial Revolution, our reliance on fossil fuels and our rapacious clearing of land of vegetation to make way for the building of “civilized” societies has aggravated and has accelerated the aging of our mother.
Some continue to argue against climate change and about its causes. Some deny responsibility for harm done in ages past. I find it difficult to refute that we, particularly westerners, are overindulgent consumers, taking more than we need, wasting more than we use. We can wax poetically about the earth’s beauty, yet we enjoy the blessings of electricity produced by power plants run on fossil fuels emitting pollutants, we love our gas-burning and diesel-powered cars, and plastics and paper are existential essentials. We, with detached fascination, can watch and find entertainment in movies like The Hunger Games and its post-apocalyptic dystopian vision of the world assured that it won’t happen (and if it does, confident that it will be something for subsequent generations to endure). We could react that way, but I pray we will not. Believing, knowing that we, each of us, are at one with creation, may we daily do all we can, when we can, where we can, and with what we can to care of the world, thus strive to atone, make right our disregard for our Mother Earth.