It was Earth Day this week.  This annual day of action was established almost fifty years ago in 1970, when people took to the streets to protest our misuse of the planet; the neglect of our environment and the damage we have done. It has come to represent a day of global participation in promoting sustainability and the protecting of our earth.  It also requires us to acknowledge our role in the destruction – and come up with solutions for what is almost certainly the greatest challenge of our time.

As I thought about how we both mourn and celebrate our environment, it was not lost on me that we have been singing the praises of the earth for thousands of years.  There are all kinds of songs about our earth – its beauty, its value, its sacred elements.  Whether these songs are religious or secular, we celebrate our surroundings frequently.  We share this love of nature among a whole variety of belief systems, cultures and traditions.

There are many hymns about creation in any Christian hymnbook, many are very familiar.  This one was written in 1864 by Unitarian minister, Samuel Longfellow. He was the brother of the more well-known poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and was loosely part of the transcendentalist movement.  He adhered to a belief that contemplating nature could lead to transcendence and that God was wholly part of all nature.  It is obvious in these words, that this element of finding God in nature was critical to understanding its worth.

God of the earth, the sky, the sea!
Maker of all above, below!
Creation lives and moves in thee,
Thy present life in all doth flow.
We give thee thanks, thy name we sing,
Almighty God, our praise we bring.

Thy love is in the sunshine’s glow,
Thy life is in the quickening air;
When lightning flashes and storm winds blow,
There is thy power, thy law is there. 
We give thee thanks, thy name we sing,
Almighty God, our praise we bring.

We feel Thy calm at evening’s hour,
Thy grandeur in the march of night;
And when Thy morning breaks in power,
We hear Thy Word, “Let there be light.” 
We give thee thanks, thy name we sing,
Almighty God, our praise we bring.

God and creation – inextricably linked.  Living and flowing, life in the air, love in the sunshine. Power as the morning breaks.  Even if one doesn’t believe in God as defined by Christianity, or other religious traditions, the idea that everything in nature is linked, is a powerful image that can serve to inform our ideas about how we treat this planet.

When I hear naysayers speak about the ever present environmental concerns we are faced with as if they are somehow less urgent than things like the acquisition of wealth, financial security and our ability to lead comfortable, easy lives, I am baffled. When I hear these people speak about environmental issues as though we have neither a stake in nor a responsibility for their occurrence, I am baffled.  We are linked.  We are culpable.  And we need to make amends.

Hymn writers and poets of all stripes saw that our earth and our souls are joined.  To sever this union is a kind of devastation.  When we do not understand how our very lives depend upon the preservation and respect of the place in which we live, we fall quickly.  Earth day began as a response to the damages caused by the Industrial Revolution.  An awakening to the reality that our desire for ease was seriously misguided.  Fifty years later, it seems we remain in that space.  It seems we have been deceived into believing that all these things we have are simply deserved.

Change is difficult.  Every day I find something in my hands that if I am honest, contributes to the destruction of this planet.  Big things, small things.  The solutions  are sometimes unpalatable.  But when I consider this from a spiritual perspective, I wonder if the concept of God is even compatible with an unwillingness to honour the earth; to do the hard work this requires; to make amends.  It is difficult to admit that I sometimes value my own comfort, wealth and  security more than I value what is both sacred and is my neighbours’ home – those near and far, current and future.

As I ponder this massive issue, I will give thanks.  For creation – our earth, our air, our water.  To be shared amongst us.  To be protected and loved.  For now, and for the future.  These are the things that provide the calm at the evening’s hour.  These are things about which we sing.