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It was Good

One of the earliest stories I can recall hearing was a story of connectedness, of order, of purpose, of nature. It was a story of creation. Six days, with a seventh for rest, and it was good. 

It revolved around a garden, and the exile from it - the separation from this harmonic, connected, and purposeful system - is the beginning, the root, of suffering.

I grew up learning to ask, “what does this mean?” I still ask this, all the time. But, I find more recently, I ask another, “did we miss the point?”

The exile was framed as a consequence of disobeying God. Moral of the story:

Don’t disobey your parents?


Resist temptation?

Honestly, I don’t remember, but I do know what the point was not.

We have been separated from this perfect garden, we have neglected the call to care for creation, and we see the ramifications of this in heatwaves, torrential rains, in life-giving waters made toxic, in millions of species under threat of extinction. In wildfires and the poison air they cause.

Last year a study published in the journal of Science Advances found that the “Earth is now well outside of the safe operating space for humanity.” It is one of many studies detailing how we have strayed from the garden. Using boundaries tied to “nine processes that are critical for maintaining the stability and resilience of Earth system as a whole,” researchers concluded that human activity has led us to transgress 6 of these boundaries, with two of the remaining three trending in the wrong direction. 

In the church, we talk about brokenness and we talk about healing. We teach and talk in metaphors, many of which draw from the plant world. We see lessons in a mustard seed, a fig tree, in pruning the vine.

Scientific research recognizes many ways we are harmed by disconnection from nature, but also how reconnection brings healing. Many of us have our own, anecdotal stories of how spending time in nature, in the garden, enjoying creation can bring us peace, clarity, hope. The positive impact of strengthening our connection to nature happens on the personal and individual level, but it can also happen on a larger scale. A study in Baltimore found that, conservatively, a 10% increase in the tree canopy resulted in a 12% decrease in crime. Studies show how trees can reduce energy costs by reducing our reliance on air conditioning. 

The same study that finds us living in a world beyond a safe operating space for humanity also found a positive ripple effect. When any of the 9 markers are improved, because of the interconnectedness of life and systems, other markers also improve. 

Our very lives depend on the life of this planet - a complex and wonderful system of creation that is threatened by the cumulative impact of choices big and small. It can also be made better by the cumulative impact of choices big and small.

The ELCA’s 1993 Social Statement on caring for creation “acknowledges humanity’s separation from God and the rest of creation as the central cause of the environmental crisis,” but it offers a therapy - action. We are not without agency. We are not without hope. Centering care for creation in the choices we make, in caring for ourselves and for others, affirms our connection to nature and allows us “to behave in ways that are consistent with the long-term sustainability of our planet.” 

We may not be able to get back to the garden ourselves, but we can plant the seeds and cultivate a culture that heals our disconnection - and it will be good. 

Help us plant the seeds here at St. John. Join us for these upcoming Earth Month events. More details available here.

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