Monday, April 27, 2009
Today’s reading (April 27) from Forward Day by Day ended with these lines from George Herbert’s poem “The Flower”: “Who would have thought my shriveled heart / Could have recovered greenness?”
The past couple of weeks have brought much to feed our souls: a couple of lovely April days, flowering trees, and Earth Day’s reminders both of the wonder of God’s creation and of the heartening increase in environmental consciousness. Just this evening, news is being posted about today’s meeting in Washington to lay the groundwork for a United Nations agreement among the top greenhouse gas polluters to work on slowing or reversing climate change – a step forward.
On the other hand, the past couple of weeks have also brought news of the spread of a new kind of flu, continuing concern about the economy, and Earth Day’s reminders of the severity of the climate crisis and of the effects of pollution on humans and other living things. The less pleasant news seems like enough to shrivel our hearts, while the beauty and wonder of creation and the way our bonds with the Earth pull us toward better stewardship pull us in other direction, to what this 17th century Anglican clergyman and poet called “greenness”.
Late Sunday afternoon I did a little puttering in my garden despite the cool weather. The point wasn’t really the transplanting I was doing, but spending some time outdoors close to the dirt where I could hear the birds singing and see and smell some spring flowers. I had been paying attention all day to the news about the flu virus, and had read Andrew Revkin’s post “Contagion on a Small Planet” on Dot Earth. This post, referencing a Food and Agriculture Organization paper, mentions “the ongoing disruption of ecosystems” as a factor in the creation of “a global commons of disease risk”. The environment, the economy, and this latest health concern are, of course, interconnected, as all things are. As I dug a hole for some creeping phlox, I reflected on how “the environment” both weighed heavily on my mind and provided just the remedy to keep this weight from becoming so heavy as to keep me from acting.
Our Catechism teaches that sin is seeking our own will instead of God’s will, “thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.” (BCP, p. 848). A return to wholeness requires the restoration of health to this entire network of relationships. When we are in right relationship with God, other people, and all creation, we have the heart and energy to do God’s work with grateful hearts no matter how difficult and heavy the burdens might be. We recover our “greenness” by tending to these relationships and restoring them.
I had experienced this dynamic of burden and restoration during the week as I read about climate change and pollution and prepared an Earth Day sermon for the Wednesday morning chapel service at Hastings College. In the sermon, I told about the tour of the toxic sites of Newark, New Jersey, that was part of the GreenFaith Fellowship training program, so I spent some time reflecting on what I saw then and how it had affected me – more heart-shriveling stuff. But a lot of my reading and writing this time of year is done outside on my kitchen porch. My small yard, the neighboring trees, and the sky provided plenty of wonders to help me recover greenness: bright yellow goldfinches flying in their up-and-down pattern to come get some seeds at the feeder, a pair of golden eagles making an occasional appearance in the sky and a nearby tall tree, baby squirrels learning how to get around in the tree where they were born, a flock of gulls passing over.
And, of course, there were spring flowers, which George Herbert took as a sign of the return of greenness to our hearts and souls as well as to the earth. “The Flower” begins with these lines:
How fresh, oh Lord, how sweet and clean
Are thy returns! even as the flowers in spring;
To which, besides their own demean,
The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring.
Grief melts away
Like snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.
Who would have thought my shriveled heart
Could have recovered greenness?