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A THEOLOGY FOR CARING FOR THE EARTH.

 

Martin Luther, the 16th-centry German Augustinian reformer, was once asked: "If you know for certain that the Lord would return tomorrow, what would you do today?"  Luther responded, "I would plant a tree?"  Those five words continue to inspire me and to enrich my study, prayer and reflection.

 

"In the beginning..."  Like a theatre curtain dramatically drawn aside - something exciting is ready to start - a story we all know, a story we believe in - a story we want to share.  The story of the universe, which according to scientists, astronomers, physicists, paleontologist, archeologists, biologists and geneticists, began somewhere between 15 and 20 billion years ago.

 

Our store, my story and yours, of how we are part, in fact the very center of this universe, begins for us when we look with wonder, awe and curiosity at the world around us.  Fixing our eyes on the nearest mountain, or gazing into the heavens on a clear, starry night, we3 might think the world is static and permanent./  That's the picture we see in the Genesis story.  Nothing is farther from the truth.  The fact is that the primary feature of the story is one of change and transformation.  Indeed the time-scale and the space-span are immense - Aristotle thought infinite!  Imagine, we are part of that wonderfully exciting evolving universe.

 

I am quite certain this reality of cosmic transformation, renewal, growth, evolution is the deeper significance of Paul's statement in his Letter to the Romans: "From the beginning of time until now the entire creation has been groaning in one great act of giving birth..." (8:22-25).  I see it all summarized, synthesized and symbolized in the biblical "Tree of Life"!

 

"Yahweh God caused to spring up from the soil every kind of tree, enticing to look at and good to eat, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden" (Genesis 2:9).

 

"On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations" (Revelation 22:2).  So we see the "Tree of Life" at the beginning of creation and again at the beginning of the New Creation.  The New Creation is here.

 

Unfortunately Christians, especially biblically formed Christians, are not often recognized as friends of the earth.  Such Christians have historically emphasized the salvation of souls and their future life in heaven.  The world's beauty was often thought to be a seduction of the body and a peril to the immortal spark within us that alone is worth saving.  Any spirituality divorced from the cosmos and its inter-connectedness cannot be authentic, biblical, incarnate spirituality.  We already see the effects of the destructive, growing tendency to separate the social, political and economic dimensions from the spiritual cosmic dimension.

 

For many biblical fundamentalists nothing really matters except a personal relationship with Jesus.  By basing their eschatology on a false interpretation of the Book of Revelation, they gaze indifferently on the destruction of the world, since the saved will be removed by rapture to occupy a new heaven and earth.  This present earth for them is only a temporary package for the saints.  God will crumple it all down, burn it all up and toss it aside.  For them, working to preserve the earth and its resources is a kind of denial of the great cataclysm that awaits us.

 

Such anti-body, anti-creature spirituality is false spirituality.  If we are truly intent on renewal, we must internalize a much more holistic approach to spirituality than that embraced by some of the former classical spiritual guides, to quote only two: Thomas A. Kempis (d.1471), Augustinian author of the famed Imitation of Christ, wrote:  "Every time I go into creation I withdraw from God"; and the Sulpician Adolphe Alfred Tanquerey (d.1932) "May I know thee, O God, that I may love thee.  May I know myself that I may despise myself."

 

We, the Church as the Body of Christ, must become a laboratory for a life consonant with the care of the earth as God's creation.  We must learn how to cultivate practices that, at the very least, respect the precarious balance between the earth and all living creatures.  As an embodied community, the Church must also be a good citizen of the world community be actively supporting policies which honestly advocate for the earth.  In other words, the Church should lead in being the earth's friend.

 

BUT the Church can hardly do this as long as our own self-understanding and way of life are based more on personal salvation, individualism and consumerism of an increasingly unrestrained capitalistic world order rather than on the Gospel of Jesus Christ; imitating the Messiah rather than mimic the market; spiritual fruitfulness rather than size; service rather than domination; maturity of life rather than growth in numbers, suffering in solidarity with all of creation rather than prosperity as a sign of God's blessing.

 

Brothers and sisters, we have failed to appreciate that our ancestry includes all forms of life, all the starts, the galaxies, even the "ball of fire" at the very heart of time.  We have failed to realize that our first allegiance embraces, not our families, our tribes, our nations, but rather all species, the whole marvelous living earth.  When we finally comprehend this beauty, this community of creation, then there will spring forth a power, an energy, a will that joyfully works to renew the face of the earth.  In the meantime, I stand with Martin Luther.  If the worlds ends tomorrow, I will plan a tree today.

 

Fr. Bert Ebben, OP

 


 

Justice Preaching Archive

Just click on a title below to read the article.
- The latest titles are listed first. -


• Two Essays on Peace •
• A RENEWED CALL TO RESTORE CIVILITY IN POLITICAL DEBATES AND OTHER AREAS •
• A CALL TO HELP ELDERS RECLAIM AND LIVE THEIR HUMAN VALUES •
• A CALL TO NAME •
• A Call To Respect and Welcome Diversity - A Challenge of Our Faith •
• Addressing White Power and Priviledge •
• An Ethical Reflection on Work... •
• A New Year •
• A Re-energized Catholic Church •
• A Renewed Call for Nuclear Disarmament •
• A THEOLOGY FOR CARING FOR THE EARTH •
• Called to Proclaim and Live With Moral Courage •
• Called To Protect the Poor In Our Economic System •
• A RENEWED CALL TO HEAL A DIVIDED WORLD •
• Call To Persevere In Praying and Working for Peace •
• Care For the Environment •
• Care for the Earth •
• Caritas in Veritate •
• The Challenge of Discipleship •
• Comprehensive Immigration Reform •
• WORKING TO CREATE A CULTURE OF PEACE •
• The Death Penalty Revisited •
• What Is Ecological Economics •
• Eliminating Global Poverty •
• Global Warming... Calling for an Urgent and Ethical Response •
• God's Fool •
• Green Congretations - A Growing Movement •
• More Gun Control •
• Healing the Racial Divide •
• Speaking the Truth in Today's World Takes Courage •
• Justice and Compassion •
• Labor Issues and the Catholic Church •
• Is More Consumer Spending the Answer? •
• Moving from A Culture of Violence to a Culture of Peace •
• Preaching Justice & Moving from Violence to Peace •
• MULTICULTURALISM – A GIFT AND A CHALLENGE •
• OF TITLES AND TITTLES •
• Reaching For the Stars - Brenda Walsh •
• A Call To Reduce Prison Population •
• The Relationship Between Labor And the Catholic Church •
• Sermon On Domestic Violence •
• Sustainability •
• The Death Penalty •
• The New Economy Movement •
• The Role of Ethical Standards... •
• War Is Not the Answer •
• Witnesses To Hope •


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