By Dr. Angel Wang
What a profound realization comes from learning that “Adam”, the name of the first human being in Genesis, comes from “adamah” meaning earth or soil. And despite how much more we now know millennia after those words were written, how true they remain.
“God takes the first human being (adam) freshly formed from the soil (adamah), and says, Take care of the garden. Learn to serve and protect the ground. Commit to loving the soil, and in this loving work catch a glimpse of who I am and what I do. That God “took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15) is an invitation to know and share in God’s love for the whole creation. … From the beginning and forever, God’s life is a sustained act of caring for the earth and its many creatures…” *
In 2009, “geologian” and priest Thomas Berry asserted that, “We need to move from a spirituality of alienation from the natural world to a spirituality of intimacy with the natural world, … to a spirituality of the divine as revealed in the visible world about us, from a spirituality concerned with justice only for humans to a spirituality of justice for the devastated Earth community. … The sacred community must now be considered the integral community of the entire universe and, more immediately, the integral community of the planet Earth.” **
I have been drawn to Creation Care since I first took part in NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth*** where the unique views from orbiting satellites showed clearly how vast and interconnected is our planetary home. The NASA Mission was dedicated to understanding the total Earth system and the effects of natural and human-induced changes on the global community. We are realizing how God’s Creation encompasses so much more than we had understood. The unique vantage point of space provided, and still provides, comprehensive information about Earth’s land, ocean, atmosphere, ice, and biota that is obtainable in no other way. Earth orbiting satellites have provided long term observations of global climate systems, ever-increasing urbanization, deforestation, endangered ecosystems and species extinctions.
Atmospheric, oceanic, and bioregional watersheds in Ched Myers’s “Watershed Discipleship” illuminate the connection of the Earth’s landforms and their life forms in a dynamic equilibrium that nurture the development and cultivation of those natural regions. “Bioregions are the confluence of patterns like watersheds and landforms, soil and vegetation, climate and human interaction.” ****
Not only the creatures that move, swim, and fly, but the rooted life forms also shape the surrounding environment. We have recently learned that forests influence not only the atmospheric humidity of their local region, but rain patterns on distant continents. Forests themselves are not just composed of individual trees, but are connected underground with mother trees that nurture their younger and weaker offspring. ***** We understand more about animals as well; their interactions among themselves and with others are recognized by foresters and by those who live closely with domestic animals or on family farms. Ongoing work by multiple biologists, zoologists, naturalists, and ecologists recognizes animal intelligence, feelings, communications, and social structures.
All these are fittingly encompassed in the web of life. We are coming to know and realize more and more that heedlessly discarding the stable localized ecosystem practices maintained for countless generations by indigenous populations has greatly damaged the environment. How do we pull back from the excesses that we have inflicted on God’s creation and exploited for our momentary sustenance? Let us reduce and replace factory farms, big agriculture, sterile chemical fertilizers, and global shipping that cause animal suffering, coastal dead zones, food waste and excessive fossil fuel usage. Let us return to a more localized and Earth-loving lifestyle. Let us recover, reclaim, and revitalize the traditional knowledge and sustainable living practices of indigenous populations who lived with respect on God’s Creation.
* Fred Bahnson, Norman Wirzba,“Making Peace with the Land”, pp 17-18
** Thomas Berry, “The Sacred Universe”, p 166
*** NASA Mission to Planet Earth, https://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/nsp/mtpe.htm
**** Ched Myers, “Watershed Discipleship”, p 65
***** Suzanne Simard, Finding the Mother Tree (2021); Peter Wohlleben,”The Hidden life of of Trees” (2016), “The Secret Wisdom of Nature” (2019)
Angel Wang is the Junior Warden at Grace St. Paul’s in Tucson and is a member of the diocesan Creation Care Council.