Summertime in the glorious outdoors. . . a time to savor the joy and relaxation of summer Sabbath, the season of vacation and re-creation.
The gifts of Sabbath alternate with our seasons of work-- the rest and gratitude that renews us for our labors.
Are we ready to rest, confident we have been caring for the garden? This earth is so beautiful and fruitful, and yet the impacts of climate change are felt in many places around the world, where heat, drought, storm impacts, coastal erosion and loss of biodiversity are affecting the poor first and worst.
We are called not only to care for our jobs and our families, but to protect the garden of our common home, the earth we all share.
The doctrine of creation in the Catechism teaches that God has given us the responsibility, the freedom and the dignity, to be God’s workers in the garden of this world.
What an audacious risk God has taken! But as we see the environmental damage in so many places, creation seems truly subject to futility from human carelessness.
What if, as the poet Mary Oliver says, God’s plan was that we would do better?
At times our weary hearts are like hardened soil, overwhelmed by the news of environmental damage, and ceasing to hear the cry for action. Our busy lives are like soil without depth, without the time or energy to make real changes for sustainable communities.
We all have many cares and serious obligations: our jobs, families, legitimate demands for our time. But take an honest look into the weeds. Are there thorny distractions and trivial pursuits preventing us from changing unsustainable habits? We need to make time for this, addressing what Pope Francis calls a complex environmental and social crisis. Because the poor suffer worst and the beauty of God’s creation is dimmed, Laudato Si teaches that this work is “neither optional nor secondary.” As Saint Pope John Paul II wrote twenty-five years ago, “The ecological crisis has reached such proportions as to be the moral responsibility of everyone.”
How can the word accomplish the renewal God intends in our time of climate change?
The parable of the sower teaches that the word of God does not bloom in mid-air. The word of God is not a hydroponic tomato! It is not accomplished by God’s unilateral action. The word of God must take root in our lives, in the soil of our hearts, because God has pitched his tent among us, and entrusted Creation to our labor.
The psalmist praises God for the seed that will yield a fruitful harvest as God prepares the land, softening it with showers. Our hearts are likewise refreshed by the hopeful word of God‘s eternal will to be Creator. And Isaiah promises that God’s will shall be accomplished. In Jesus, God’s word is the good news of forgiveness, healing, abundance, an overflowing wedding feast -- the return of the lost and the welcome of all refugees at God’s table, the redemption of creation groaning in labor pains.
Has God the Creator once again accepted the possibilities of chaos?
In the beginning the Spirit of God moved upon the chaos to create. Could it be that the chaos of now is open to a new time of creativity and renewal?
Renewal comes as our listening hearts accept the pain of hearing the reality of those now suffering the impacts of climate change. Can we allow this heartbreak to be a means of conversion, of turning over the soil. Here is where we roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty. Pull out those thorns of a lesser priority. Make time for one, then another, transforming commitment to the earth in your life.
Give depth to your green wishes-- we can do more than a lightbulb, a coffee cup, a canvas bag. Pope Francis calls for a bold cultural revolution that is in fact a very traditional recovery-- recovering the values of conservation, of frugality, of stewardship, of reverent care for the beautiful earth. These are deeply conservative values which appear radical in our time. And it is this new depth we must bring to the shallow soil. We can choose actions with real impact: to buy clean wind and solar energy through our utilities, to reduce the waste of food and disposables and excess driving. We can support clean energy jobs, efficiency, energy security and cleaner air and water, ending the pollution that harms the stability of earth’s sacred order.
We can voice and vote our values, calling for clean energy solutions for our communities and we can pray and rejoice in our churches for the gifts of God’s beautiful Creation, whose garden brings forth gifts for the sustenance of all.
This is the labor God has called us to as fellow gardeners.
For we have no right to contribute to the degradation of God’s earth.
And although earth now bears the thorny crown of the suffering of the poor and struggling ecosystems, we know all Creation will be redeemed in God’s holy plan for creation and salvation. Amidst the chaos God’s spirit pours out in our hearts, so that they will be renewed through God’s fruitful word, knowing that all will see the glory of God’s Creation,
And all, in our day, may join in the abundant banquet God intends.
Then our summer Sabbath will truly be a blessed time of rest amidst our labors for our common home.
Erin Lothes is a theologian at the College of Saint Elizabeth, Morristown, NJ., and a graduate of Fordham University with a Ph.D. in systematic Theology. She holds a Master's in Theology from Boston College, and an A.B. in English from Princeton University.
Dr. Lothes served as an Earth Institute Fellow at Columbia University, an interdisciplinary research post-doctorate in sustainability studies. She is the author of Inspired Sustainability: Planting Seeds for Action (Orbis 2016), The Paradox of Christian Sacrifice: The Loss of Self, the Gift of Self (Herder and Herder, 2007), and articles on theological energy ethics and faith-based environmentalism, including "Come with Me Into the Fields: Inspiring Creation Ministry Among Faith Communities” and “A New Paradigm for Catholic Energy Ethics.”
Dr. Lothes is lead author of “Catholic Moral Traditions and Energy Ethics for the Twenty-First Century,” in the Journal of Moral Theology. She is editor of “Light for a New Day: Interfaith Essays on Energy Ethics,” presented at the Conference of the Parties (COP 22) in Marrakech, November 2016, published by GreenFaithhttps://www.linkedin.com/in/erinlothes/. She is chair of the Columbia University Faculty Seminar on Energy Ethics.
Dr. Lothes has participated in the interfaith environmental movement since 2003 with groups such as the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, GreenFaith, the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale, the Catholic Climate Covenant, and the Global Catholic Climate Movement.