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Walking Gently on the Earth

July 2, 2020 by Beth A. Richardson

In January/February 1991 Alive Now published an issue entitled “The Earth.” (I was serving as the Associate Editor at that time.) I was especially proud of that issue—it spoke of the fragility of earth and the important role of humans in caring for the earth. I especially liked the cover—a cute beach picture made of natural things—beans, rocks, and vegetables.

So here we are, almost 30 years later, talking again about “our earth”—its fragility, our responsibility to care for it. What has changed? Today there are heated debates in church and culture about consumption of the earth’s resources, about humanity’s role in climate change, about the survival of habitats and creatures . . . from polar bears to honey bees. Today we know that climate change has a disproportionate effect on persons and communities of color in the United States and around the world. And then, there is this pandemic! It seems that the delicate balance of the earth has been disturbed, and perhaps, a consequence is this novel coronavirus.

And yet, through all the years that humans have lived on the earth, the message for people of faith has not changed at all. In the creation story God says, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth” (Genesis 1:26, Common English Bible).

We humans have been placed “in charge” of the earth. (Earlier versions say, “have dominion over” the earth.) Our earth is a wonderful, rich gift from the Creator. It nurtures and sustains our bodies as well as our spirits. We were “intricately woven in the depths of the earth” (Psalm 139:15). We cannot exist apart from its fruits, its water, its air.

We are created and called by God to walk gently on the world as gardeners, as caretakers, as stewards, as creatures “intricately woven” into the fabric of creation. We care for the earth not out of fear or guilt, but out of love, responsibility, and gratitude to the One who created us.

As one of the human race, I’m “in charge” of this fragile earth. I can easily get defensive about whether or not I’ve contributed to the earth’s problems. I can get depressed about the state of things and surrender to hopelessness. Or I can realize that every action I take really is important. My choice to recycle, to reduce trips in the car, the way I set my thermostat, my prayers for the earth—these things matter. Together, our small actions make a difference in our impact on and our care of the earth.

Guide our actions, Creator God. Let us walk gently on the earth today. Amen.

Beth A. Richardson serves as the director of prayer and worship life and Dean of The Upper Room Chapel.

This article first appeared in From the Center, a monthly email newsletter from The Upper Room curated specifically for clergy and church leadership. Subscribe to From the Center here.

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