How we treat Earth is reflected in how we treat each other. And it’s pretty ugly these days.
Mass shootings, hateful rhetoric, racial profiling, exclusionary tactics, and incivility have become our norm. How did we get to this point? How can we find our way through it and into a different way of living together with health and hope?
I don’t have all the answers for addressing these deep, systemic issues. But I do believe that the roots of our human discord can be traced to our relationship with Earth and Creation. It is no wonder that we trash each other when we use our seas and lands as dumping grounds for endless waste. It is no wonder that we foment fear of “the other” out of ignorance as we simultaneously ignore the truth of climate change and the real fears of its devastating effects. It is no wonder that we cast off human brothers and sisters as less worthy of our love and acceptance when we treat coral reefs, prairies, rain forests, and natural wonders as expendable. Healing our human relationships begins with healing our relationship with Earth, our common ground.
We begin with our relationship with the natural world. Several years ago, an assignment in one of my Earth Literacy classes was to spend 20 minutes outside at least twice a week with no electronic or human distractions. We simply were to “be” – to listen and learn from nature, in any kind of weather, and then journal about what we learned. It was a transformative experience for me. It taught me that we are a part of nature, not apart from it. Earth is not simply a treasure trove of resources for us to use and use up. We are partners with all of Creation. It taught me about falling in love again with plants and trees and the vast sky and stars – alongside the lonely and forgotten and hurting of humanity. It taught me about the most fundamental relationship I have with the Creator and all Creation. And it taught me that I cannot continue to live with the same consumption patterns and waste habits and mindless ignorance about what we as a human race are doing to Earth.
It was not enough for me to ponder this alone. I need to be connected to others, to find communities of caring and passionate people who also feel moved to action on behalf of justice for Earth and all her creatures. For me, that has been in the communities in which I have served as pastor and now as Chaplain. I have found connections with folks of different faith communities and within my own denomination. I have connected with cousins and online communities and groups like Sierra Club. They keep me accountable to my convictions, they challenge me, they move me to action, and they guard against despair.
Healing doesn’t happen in isolation. It happens in relationship with Earth and one another. And it happens when we do the difficult work of facing the reality of our consumptive lifestyles and myopic worldview, our way of life that imperils our neighbors around the world, and our neighbors in oceans and skies. Healing happens when we recognize the ugliness of hatefulness and fear and ignorance in ourselves in order to begin to let go and be willing to act in love. It’s painful, as is most healing. But I believe it is the only hopeful path to travel.
Noni Strand is passionate about Earth and all Creation. She is an ordained Lutheran pastor who has served in congregational and campus settings, and now serves as Manager of Chaplaincy at Salina Regional Health Center in Salina, KS. An MA in Earth Literacy fueled her advocacy for Earth justice and led to her book, Rooted and Grounded in Love: Devotions for Growing Couples.