IN LOVE WITH THE EARTH
Song of Solomon 7:6-12
"Come, my beloved, come let us go forth into the fields, and lodge in the villages; let us go out early to the vineyards, and see whether the vines have budded, whether the grape blossoms have opened and the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give you my love."
Next week there will be a United Nations emergency summit on Climate Change in New York and marches of support across the globe. Listen to this petition drafted by Avaaz for the occasion:
Scientists warn us that climate change could accelerate beyond our control, threatening our survival and everything we love. We call on you to keep global temperature rise under the unacceptably dangerous level of 2 degrees C, by phasing out carbon pollution to zero. To achieve this, you must urgently forge realistic global, national and local agreements, to rapidly shift our societies and economies to 100% clean energy by 2050. Do this fairly, with support to the most vulnerable among us. Our world is worth saving and now is our moment to act.
Isobel and I have just returned from the Eastern Cape. We travelled with our friends of many years, Larry and Nyla Rasmussen, who live in Santa Fe in New Mexico. They were here to participate in my colloquium at Volmoed and the conference that followed in Stellenbosch. Before his retirement Larry was a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He is widely acknowledged as one of the most significant Christian theological voices on the environment. His recent book Earth-Honoring Faith has been acclaimed as an "eloquent, comprehensive and compelling articulation of a vision that is sorely needed for our emerging Earth Community." So we were in excellent company as we travelled across the southern Cape.
We drove along the Garden Route, visited the Great Yellowwood Tree in the Tsitsikamma Forest, spent two days in Addo Game Park, and returned home along a very beautiful blossoming Longkloof Valley. We rejoiced to see numerous wind farms and thousands of solar panels along the way, signs of a growing concern for the well-being of the earth. We admired the amazing environment in which we live, the incredible variety of flora and fauna and millions of other forms of life to which we humans are all connected.
Early one morning we were taken to a big watering hole where a large family of elephants was drinking -- there were grandparents, parents, teenagers and babies each drinking some of the 200 litres they need every day. Suddenly another family of elephants came over a ridge towards the same watering hole. Soon they were seen by the group already drinking there. Simultaneously they ran toward each other, greeting one another with excited sounds, dancing feet and flapping ears. If they could have embraced they would surely have done so! It was a joyous sight. It was as though they were sharing the kiss of peace at an elephantine eucharist! The truth is, we might look very different from elephants, but we are all part of the same animal kingdom, creatures of the same earth, branches of the same tree of life, mysteriously connected to its source. We all belong together. "Each human being," Larry reminds us, "is a little universe, a microcosm of the macrocosm. We are at home in the cosmos; the cosmos is at home in us. We're creatures of a planet on which the planet's creatures inhabit and sustain us, inside and out." We would not and could not exist without all the plants, animals and microbes that inhabit the earth and sustain our bodies.
Although the scientific evolutionary understanding of our humanity which connects us to all branches of the tree of life has only been established during the past two centuries, biblical writers and early Christian theologians were fully aware that all life is inter-connected and inter-dependent. The creation stories in Genesis are not scientific accounts of how the world was made, but faith statements about this tree of life, the interdependent character of all life and human responsibility for it. The story of Noah and his ark is not an historical account of the way in which everything from the dung beetle to the Rhinoceros was preserved on a boat, but a faith statement that our life on earth cannot be sustained unless all forms of life are protected from ecological disaster. And the prophetic vision of the coming of God's kingdom is of an earth on which all forms of life are restored, where the lion and the lamb lie down together, and cosmic well-being is achieved. From beginning to end, the biblical picture of God's kingdom on earth as in heaven is one in which all branches of the tree of life are restored to full life.
The bible is not, however, romantic about reality. St. Paul speaks of the universe groaning because of its subjection to human folly and the bondage of decay, and the book of Revelation depicts the horrors of apocalyptic disasters that continually threaten the earth. The story of earth's redemption is located in the saga of natural and human-made disasters from flood and earthquake to disease and war. We increasingly contribute to this tale of woe through our mismanagement of the earth and its resources, not recognising that our salvation is inseparable from that of the earth. The emergency UN summit on climate change is indicative of this. Yet within this ongoing saga of humans abusing the earth there is, within Scripture, a love song which celebrates an alternative vision of God's intention for the earth. To recover this vision, to live by faith in God's ecological and redemptive purpose, and to act in ways that express love for the earth. is central to the message of hope which, as Paul puts it, saves us.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once declared that "the earth remains our mother just as God remains our father, and only those who remain true to the earth are placed by her into the father's arms. Earth and its distress -- that is the Christian's Song of songs." The Song of Songs (or Solomon) in the Old Testament is a love song of redemption sung to the earth in its distress. It is a joyous song which unites heaven and earth, celebrating the sensual love which God wants lovers to share with each other and the earth. The Song of Songs is the theme song of our very own Hemel en Aarde Valley:
"Come, my beloved, come let us go forth into the fields, and lodge in the villages; let us go out early to the vineyards, and see whether the vines have budded, whether the grape blossoms have opened and the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give you my love." (7:10-12)
Our love for God and each other is located firmly on earth where the vines bud, the grape blossoms, and the pomegranates bloom. That is why only those who love the earth as our mother, can really love God as our father. This is what earth-honouring faith in God is about. Our love for the earth motivates our inseparable commitment to social justice and responsibility for the environment. Our love for the earth is an expression of our faith in God and our hope for generations to come. No to love God's earth is not to love God.
John de Gruchy
Volmoed 18 September 2014