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The Cry of the Earth

By Rev. Terry LePage

“There was a man who had two sons.

“There was a God who, over thousands and millions of years, made a great creation, with a whole host of creatures upon an earth. And there came a time when one of those crea- tures came to understand themselves to be special in the eyes of God.

“And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance that is due to me.’ And he divided his living between them.

“And the humans said to God, ’Give us our inheritance,’ and they plundered the earth with mines and drills and rigs, sucking out the black treasure, consuming it in their machines and spewing the gas into the sky.

“Not many days later the younger son gathered all that he had and went on a journey to a far country, and there he squandered his inheritance in loose living.

“A great economic system arose fueled by deep-level passions, based on conspicuous consumption and using the black treasure. The people travelled everywhere and nowhere. Forests were destroyed. It was party time. The air was filled with laughter … But the clouds were gathering.

“And when it had all gone, a great famine arose in the land and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. And he would gladly have eaten from the pigs’ trough, but no one gave him anything.

“It was the climate, you see. They hadn’t thought of that. And once they had, it was too late. The animals and plants began just to disappear. The desert spread. The wells grew deeper. Water … Anxious people … Angry people … Violent people. The rich built castles. The poor made battering rams.

“And then he realized; he said, ‘Why even my father’s hired servants have bread enough to spare but I perish here with hunger. I will arise and go to my father and say, “Father I have done wrong against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.”’

“And a few began to dream of a home: they saw a vision of God surrounded by the creatures of the earth; they dreamt of living at peace with God and creation and they set out to make that vision real.

“And he arose and set out for his father. And when he was far off his father saw him and had compassion and ran and embraced him.

“And I will leave you to fill in the rest of the story.”

(script by Chris Sunderland, in A Heart for Creation by Chris Polhill. Copyright © 2010 WGRG, The Iona Community, 21 Carlton Court, Glasgow, G5 9JP, Scotland. wgrg@iona.org.uk; www.wildgoose.scot  Reproduced by permission.)

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Listen to the cry of the earth.  Since this past summer, I have been listening to the reality of climate change.  and following authors like Naomi Klein, Elizabeth Kolbert and Jem Bendell.  It is hard, emotional work.  Forgive me if this journey I share disturbs you.  I feel bound to share, because the climate crisis is, among other things, a spiritual crisis.

Humans have been shaping the natural world, changing the face of our planet, for thousands of years.  Our ancestors hunted big game to extinction, cleared forests for grazing and agriculture.  Humans are clever.  We keep learning how to do it better.  The last century or two have left more of earth shaped by humans than remains wild, little earth left to exploit, and little sign of that stopping.  Among countless markers of our effects on the earth, the most ominous is that carbon dioxide in the air on Mauna Kea continues to rise 2 to 3 parts per million each year, and the current value, averaged for seasonal fluctuations, is 408 parts per million.1  Welcome to the Anthropocene.2

Millions of years from now, evidence of the earth’s sixth great extinction unfolding around us will be compressed into a little layer of radioactive debris.  In the meantime, we mourn what is already lost, as we struggle to find the personal and political leverage to limit further loss.  Limiting this loss feels like trying to stop a runaway semi-truck with the soles of our sneakers.  We are going in the wrong direction and we don’t know how to stop.

Christians have a name for this problem: we call it sin.  Empire tricked us into believing that sin was a personal problem, and that our good behavior could stop it.  We bought the fast food with the plastic packaging.  We forgot to turn off the lights.  Ecological sin is much more than personal.  It is systemic and societal.  Our society functions on burning fossil fuel.  We’ve cut down a little, by outsourcing heavy industry to China.  Our economic system is a pyramid scheme that depends on unsustainable growth.  Our laws and our culture value profit over people or the earth.  Understanding the structural nature of our self-destruction, we realize the limits of our power, and the depths of our loss.

The proper response to this loss is not a quick fix or a glib theology.  The proper response to loss is to mourn.  How do we mourn a loss as big as the planet?  Just like any other.  Grief does not have a scale.  Grief just is.

Our culture is not comfortable with grief.  But please make space to mourn.  If we do not mourn, we will live in either denial or bitterness.

Bitterness is the fruit of resentment or fear our guilt or despair.  Bitterness happens when you get hurt and you let your hurt harden, when you define yourself by your loss and then assign blame for it.  And it serves no one.

Denial is handy.  Denial is disconnection, tuning out, a normal human response to the overwhelming.  It’s okay to take a break to go into denial, but don’t live there.

Mourning is honesty.  Mourning is connection.  It is acknowledgement of our love and our loss.  And it hurts.  But the tears cleanse.  They wash away fear and guilt and shame and pain, well at least some of those things.  Mourning is a sacred practice that connects us to our own hearts, and to our common humanity.  Mourning, which is near the center of the Christian faith,  is remembering what we value when we cannot protect those things the way we want to protect them.  It is hard work because it acknowledges we are not in control.  So we are humbled, and that too is at the center of our faith.

Each of us is a precious child of God, with an invitation from God to take our part in the dance of relationship; to care for one another and the earth imperfectly, with great love, to offer our broken hearts as we take up the cry of the earth.  We do not know what is possible, but we know we need to change.  We reach out to the God of all creation, knowing that we are heard, and loved, and held in the power of transformation.  Listen to the cry of the earth with me.  Bear witness.  Mourn.  And let our hearts break open with love.  We are not alone.  God is with us always.  Amen.


1 https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/index.html

2 The term Anthropocene was coined to describe our current epoch where humans have reshaped the world.  http://www.anthropocene.info/.

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