Sunday Soul Seeds: 1.19.2020

"You Save Humans and Animals Alike"  by Rev. Helen Nelson  

"Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O LORD. How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings." (Psalm 36:5-7)

Scientists estimate that one billion animals have died in the recent Australian bushfires. Many more of Australia’s unique animal and plant species are being pushed toward extinction as well. For decades government leaders have ignored warnings by scientists that such unprecedented devastation from bushfires would occur due to rising greenhouse gases. This season’s bushfires alone have ravaged over 26 million acres of land, killing at least 25 people and destroying over 200 homes.

These devastating losses are heartbreaking. Yet, many would add fuel to the fire by denying the role of human behavior over the last 150 years in driving up the amount of greenhouse gases and causing global warming and climate change. Others claim that the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events, wildfires, and other catastrophes are the will of God. These attitudes are the result of both bad science and bad theology. Scientists have done the research, and the data clearly indicates that human behavior, especially our addiction to fossil fuels, is the cause of the accelerated rise in the Earth’s surface temperature and the current climate crisis. Likewise, The Bible has clearly expressed God’s desire for humans to survive natural disasters and to thrive by loving and respecting God, and by loving, nurturing, and caring for each other and for all Creation in ways that are compassionate and regenerative.

In the text above, the Psalmist employs the poetic language of nature to describe the transcendent and all-encompassing character of God. As a young shepherd, David surely would have had occasion to meditate upon the incomprehensible vastness of nature and the connectedness of all Creation. He might even have experienced non-ordinary states of consciousness at times that produced within him a sense of oneness with both Creation and Creator. As a youth, David cared for sheep. As an adult, he was responsible for a nation. After ascending to Israel’s throne, he became enthralled with his own sense of power. It took time for him to overcome his foolish and selfish behaviors. He viewed the death of his son and the attacks upon his nation as God’s punishment for his own sins and the sins of his people. Eventually, while hiding out in the wilds of nature, his sense of oneness with the Creator and with Creation was restored.

One of the hallmarks of such transcendent states of consciousness is having an experience of inter-connectedness and all-encompassing love. I know this not only from decades of study, but also from my own such experiences from childhood on through adulthood.

I remember driving through Yosemite National Park a year after a wildfire and observing the new growth trees that were rising up between the columns of burnt tree trunks and stumps. My traveling companion explained that under certain conditions, forest fires can lead to new growth. Over the last two months, I have wondered if and prayed that such regeneration might occur in Australia. Wonder of wonders—it is happening! Not only are trees sprouting new leaves, people are rescuing injured and orphaned animals and air-dropping food for those in less accessible areas. It will take a very long time for ecosystems to recover, and many plant and animal species may be lost forever, but the steadfast love of God is nonetheless revealed to me in the resilience of that land and of her people.

Government leaders today, like King David of ancient times, need to experience those transcendent states evoked by spending time in nature to reconnect with what is true, real, and essential in order for all Creation to thrive. You and I need to do so, as well. Is it any wonder then that Jesus frequently took time off to pray in the mountains and conducted most of his ministry outdoors? Studies show that spending time outdoors in nature promotes physical and mental health. Would it not also promote our spiritual wellness, and ultimately move us to engage in active care for other humans, as well as for animals and natural systems?

I invite you to spend at least a few minutes each day outdoors in conscious awareness of the Creator in Creation. If it is not feasible for you to go outdoors, at least sit near a window and meditate in the all-encompassing love of God from that vantage point. Along with the Psalmist give thanks for the steadfast love of God that is beyond human comprehension, but not beyond our reach.

Prayer: O God of All, as a mother bird shelters her young under her wings, you cover us with your steadfast love. As a marsupial carries her wee ones in her pouch, you carry us through the firestorms of life. As our ever present first responder, you rescue and resuscitate us, keeping us safe from harm. Your steadfast love for us and for all Creation endures forever. May we so care for others, as you have cared for us. In the name of Jesus Christ, our steadfast Savior. Amen.