“The endless circulations of the divine charity”
Highlands Presbyterian Church
February 12, 2017
The earth was once a human being, so goes one old Native American story. The Old One, referring to the one we call God, the Old One made her out of a woman and said, “You will be the mother of all people.” The story continues, the earth is alive. The soil is her flesh. The rocks are her bones. The wind is her breath. Trees and grass are her hair. All living things came from mother earth. We look around, the storyteller said, and see our mother everywhere.
The image is the earth as a nourishing mother. The trees, the rocks, the rivers and oceans, fishes and animals, the air…all are children to be cared for and nourished by mother earth.
As it often does, science gives us another image. Mother earth has grown old. After centuries of abuse, she is in need of her children to stop the abuse and to care for her in her old age. Some of her children are willing while others continue to abuse her.
It will soon be half a century since humanity's first trip to and orbit around the moon. It was Christmas Eve 1968, the three Apollo 8 astronauts celebrated the remarkable scientific achievement by reading some ancient religious poetry. The astronauts read, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." All these years later we still remember that planet earth never looked so beautiful, so mysterious, and so very fragile.
The poetry of Genesis, so fundamental to a Jewish and Christian view of reality, is not and never was intended to be science but rather something far more inspiring. If it were science the world would be only 6000 years old instead of the 4.5 billion-years scientists calculate. If Genesis were science, we could rely on the promise God made to Noah after the flood that God would never again destroy the earth.
Instead the Hebrew creation poetry elucidates truths that transcend as it undergirds science. Some people call these transcendent truths "myths," which is fine, so long as you avoid the inference that a religious myth is false whereas a scientific fact is "true."
Theology doesn’t conflict with science. Our creation myths teach us God created, pronounced it good and handed it over to us with the responsibility of being caretakers. Science, on the other hand, teaches us what we must do in order to accept that sacred responsibility.
Science and religion are intimately linked in what Ralph Waldo Emerson called “the endless circulation of divine charity.” The myth explains God’s hope for Creation while the science teaches that we humans have not met our responsibility to be good stewards of God’s creation.
Last year, the Earth reached its highest temperature on record trouncing a record set only a year earlier, which beat one set in 2014. The data show that neither politicians or “people of the myth” can wish or pray the problem away.
The Highlands book club spent weeks studying a book written by two evangelical Christians who describe themselves as life-long Republicans who are trying to get across to Christians that this threat is real and our responsibility to alter the course we are on is Biblical. In their book
“Caring for Creation: The Evangelical's Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment” they make this prediction of what will happen unless we change the way we are living on Mother Earth.
This is what the scientists who study these things believe could well happen unless we alter our course quickly. “Major cities in the US and around the world will run out of water. Mega fires will consume the suburbs of large metropolitan areas, firefighters powerless to stop them. Not only Miami, where it happens now, but also portions coastal communities around the globe will flood on sunny days. Thousands of climate refugees will be permanently displaced from their homes.
Extreme rains will flood big cities disrupting life for long periods of time as happened in Hurricane Sandy. Violent tornadoes will hit metropolitan communities, with the loss of life rivaling Katrina. Hurricanes will devastate major cities with damages into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Crops will fail worldwide, causing starvation to increase. Drilling for fresh water will be more lucrative than fracking for oil. Droughts will be more common, last longer, harm more people. Wildfires will increase as will extreme heat and cold episodes.
Sea levels will rise on a planet where 150 million people live within three feet of sea level. Residents of coastal areas around the planet will be forced to flee their homelands creating refugee crises. Political turmoil will increase the numbers of terrorist incidents and wars.” End Quote
It is easy to see that “the least of these, our brothers and sisters” will suffer first and longest…making clear the obligation of Christians to work to restore God’s creation. We read the book, studied the science it presents, and asked, “What should we as members of this little church in this little corner of the world be doing?” We each then sent our own copy of the book, dog-eared, over-lined, underlined and with notes written in the margins to a Wyoming political leader; the governor, a member of the congressional delegation or a key legislator with a request that they take the time to read the book.
The Presbyterian Book of Order says it well. “In worship Christians rejoice and give thanks to God, who gives and sustains the created universe, the earth and all life. We acknowledge God’s command to be stewards as we confess our own failures to care for creation.
Our commitment is to make God’s creation a part of how we worship, what we study and pray for, the advocacy we undertake, how we maintain this building and live in it. We will actively seek to achieve environmental justice through our own lives as well as coalitions and ecumenical partnerships.
In short, we will commit ourselves to a recognition that as Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, “Nature, in its ministry to man,” wrote Emerson, “is not only the material, but is also the process and the result. All the parts incessantly work into each other's hands for the profit of man. The wind sows the seed; the sun evaporates the sea; the wind blows the vapor to the field; the ice, on the other side of the planet, condenses rain on this; the rain feeds the plant; the plant feeds the animal; and thus, the endless circulations of the divine charity nourish man.”
As it is written, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” To borrow from words that were used to sanctify the marriage of humans, let us apply them to the sacred marriage between Mother Earth and all of Creation: What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.