By the Rev. Hunter Ruffin
“Almighty and everlasting God, Creator of all things and giver of all life, let your blessing be upon this creation and grant that it may serve to your glory and the welfare of your people.” These are the opening lines of one of the prayers for the rogation procession on rogation days – a time that we have honored and prayed for the bounty of God’s creation. In our time, it might be a fair question to ask how we are able to best bless God’s creation in order that creation is once again able to come into a fullness of health, of vitality, of bounty.
Several months ago, I sat down to watch a documentary film on Netflix by David Attenborough title, “A Life on Our Planet.” The film opens with an introduction to his career as a naturalist and the places that he was able to travel in the golden age of air travel and in a time in which there still was more wilderness in the world than there were settled places. He shares the story of going to visit an uncontacted tribe who still lived as hunter/gatherers, and he retells the story of documenting the wildlife around the planet around the middle of the twentieth century. And while all of this is good and wonderful and sounds like one massive vacation that I would like to take, it is not easy to forget how the film opens: with David Attenborough standing in the ruins of Chernobyl.
The story continues to remind how things have changed on our planet and not for the improvement of creation. Roughly six minutes into the film, we learn that in 1937 the human population of the planet was 2.3 billion, that there were 280 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere, and that 66% of wild places remained on Earth. By the end of the film, the same stats were 7.8 billion, 280 parts per million, and 35 percent. Things had gotten hard for creation.
And what is the solution according to Attenborough? It is actually quite simple. He thinks humanity should seriously consider returning much of the earth back to nature – to allow it to become a much more wild space once again. He thinks that by doing this, humanity can begin to turn back the clock on the stress being placed on the wild creatures of the earth, on our wild neighbors.
Now, a little less than a year later, David Attenborough had the opportunity to test his theory. While the rest of us were sheltering in place, creation had an opportunity to rebound. In his newest film, “The Year Earth Changed” on Apple TV+, Attenborough walks us through the many ways that creation was able to have a fruitful year as measured by the health of species and the number of new births. We see hump back whales leaving their young in Alaska in order to go feed so they can continue to care for their young. We witness scenes of creation roaring back into life.
On the rogation days of the year, we pray for God’s blessing on creation, and we pray that creation will continue to be bountiful and will glorify God. In our prayers for creation, it might be that we take David Attenborough’s suggestion seriously and begin thinking about the ways we might be able to bless creation by giving a majority of it back to become wild spaces once again. Perhaps, David Attenborough’s films are helping us to see a really important way of loving our neighbor, Sister Mother Earth.
The Rev. Hunter Ruffin is the Rector at Church of the Epiphany in Tempe and is a member of the diocesan Creation Care Council.