Years ago, when I first moved to Arizona from Boston, my uncle reminded me that I was in God’s country now. Although he loved New England and had traveled widely, he spent a lot of it in the Southwest. He knew of the stunning beauty, the quiet hidden canyons, the sudden sight of a pronghorn or a peregrine. He knew I was lucky.
For years, this landscape was my church. So many places spoke to me of God and the wonders of the universe, no matter how often I was there. Hiking through it filled my soul with wonder and gratitude. Sometime all I needed was a drive out to be amazed. On dark days, a view of the Vermilion Cliffs reminded me that nonetheless I was blessed to be living here.
Shortly after I moved here, I found a church home that recognized that God was and is all around us, in the rocks, the animals, flowers and trees, sky and earth. We celebrated the earth, its wonders and powers as much as we celebrated the love of God and the gift of Jesus Christ. It was and is in our very being.
In Genesis, we read how God created the earth and the universe, whether in six days or in 4 billion years doesn’t matter. The earth and all its resources are a tremendous gift to mankind. We use them to sustain us as well as to refresh our souls.
We are not simply “on” earth, but are immersed in it — everything we have comes from the earth, even ourselves.
But through my life, and throughout modern times, we have sought to wrest as much as we can from the earth, without regard to the effect on our lives or those who occupy the rest of the planet. We lived through smog so thick people were forced to stay indoors, not daring to breathe the air outside.
Mine owners didn’t bother to clean up tailings after the mine was played out and we witnessed the contamination of a stream many years later. Uranium tailings contaminated the drinking water and air on the Navajo Reservation. Oil spills too numerous to count have killed wildlife, but even more important, ruined the livelihoods of those who fished the seas.
Just recently I read a book on the history of coastal Maine. Much of the book concentrated on Maine and its fisheries, from lobsters to more common food fish such as cod, halibut and haddock.
For most of its history, Maine both enjoyed the bounty of the seas and then suffered when they were overfished, as much by “outsiders” as by Maine fishermen. It forced them and the U.S. government into regulating the industry, thus stabilizing a renewable resource.
Not all the resources of the earth are renewable, but we continue to use them as if there were unending supplies. Fortunately in the 1970s, we enacted a series of laws that regulate the development of finite resources. We have cleaned up air pollution and there are few smog alerts these days. Our water is safer, with some notable exceptions, and we guard it carefully. The people of Standing Rock are fighting a pipeline originally routed through Bismarck, N.D. Those citizens voted against it, fearing the contamination of their own water supplies.
All that work is now threatened as laws and rules are overturned, turning back to less regulated but more polluted times. Those of us who fought for stronger controls, who fear for the fate of this earth, our island home, are shocked and appalled. We are at a turning point in the ecology and survival of the earth.
If we sit back and do nothing, we may still enjoy the bounty of the earth, but future generations may not.
On Saturday, people around the country marched to bring awareness to the implications of climate change and deregulating environmental laws. There was an information table and a petition to sign at St. David’s for those who wanted to learn more.
“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.” We have been given a gift — it is ours to use wisely.
Jody Gebhardt is a member of St. David’s Episcopal Church.