Spiritual Practices for Earth Day and Beyond
Liuan Huska shares six postures to help Christians respond to the cries of creation. With the Spirit's help, one day the Earth will no longer groan, but sing.
Made in Canva
Many will arrive at Earth Day 2023 with a sense of impending doom. The Earth is not doing so well, by many counts. The climate is warming dangerously. More and more species are going extinct. The air, water, and soil are becoming more polluted and depleted. This situation, along with society and the church’s repeated failures to adequately respond, can also lead to frustration and cynicism. One paltry day to acknowledge the needs of the Earth seems perfunctory and ridiculously insufficient given the scale of ecological disaster we’re facing.
Christians have not always stood at the forefront of environmental action. But our faith gives us the theological impulse and the spiritual practices to support us as we seek to appropriately respond to the cries of creation. Below are six postures that can help us embody our care, on Earth Day and every other day of the year.
Christians have not always stood at the forefront of environmental action. But our faith gives us the theological impulse and the spiritual practices to support us as we seek to appropriately respond to the cries of creation.
We are part of creation. From the opening acts of Genesis to the magnificent visions in Revelation, we see that humans are woven into the intricate web of life that God designed. We are formed from the ground and filled with God’s breath (Gen. 2: 7). We are tasked as caretakers of the Creator’s good earth (Gen. 2: 15). In Revelation, as God renews the heavens and earth, people worship God in a city-garden where the tree of life and the river of life flourish alongside nations who are healed from the curse of sin (22: 1-3).
Our healing is tied with creation’s healing, because we are among God’s creatures. The Message renders the connection this way: “God reins [creation] in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead” (Rom. 8: 21). Meanwhile, creation groans and so do we (vs. 22-23). As creation bears the weight of human sin, we also take on the needs of creation for protection and restoration. We can’t thrive apart from the ecosystems that sustain us.
We are part of creation. From the opening acts of Genesis to the magnificent visions in Revelation, we see that humans are woven into the intricate web of life that God designed.
The Biblical practice of lament helps situate our groans within a long tradition of crying out to God that things are not as they should be. “How long, Lord, will the wicked, how long will the wicked be jubilant?” (Ps. 94: 3). Lament opens a space for us to name all the wrongs in the world—corporations putting short-term profit over long-term common good, beautiful swaths of forest cut to bare ground, rivers clogged and poisoned, and those in power neglecting their duties to serve all people instead of a select, rich few.
We lament, writes J. Todd Billings in “Rejoicing in Lament,” that God’s faithfulness is not apparent. But this honest engagement with God is also “an expression of trust in his promises,” says Billings. We hold onto hope for God’s eventual reckoning with wrongdoers. We look for the Creator’s commonwealth rule to come. Lament, as such, is the forebearer of hope.
We hold onto hope for God’s eventual reckoning with wrongdoers. We look for the Creator’s commonwealth rule to come. Lament, as such, is the forebearer of hope.
In the Anglican tradition, confession always precedes Eucharist. We confess our own part in the wounds of the world: “We have sinned against you, in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry, and we humbly repent” (Book of Common Prayer).
Confession helps us recognize that we are not innocent in the wrongs we see. By our action or inaction, we have participated in the plundering and depletion of our lovely planet. We have also drawn artificial barriers, complacent to tell ourselves that what is happening to that community across the city or that region in the global south won’t affect us, so we needn’t change our ways. We have not been willing to connect the dots between our excessive middle-class American lifestyles and the poverty of others. We have not loved our neighbors, human or other-than-human, as ourselves. Confession paves the way for repentance, for turning from our indifferent ways to instead, act out of love.
Confession helps us recognize that we are not innocent in the wrongs we see. By our action or inaction, we have participated in the plundering and depletion of our lovely planet.
Despite our neglect, God continues to sustain us by providing good and abundant gifts from the Earth. The rains fall, the seeds sprout, bees pollinate, and the winds bring refreshment. Even an ailing planet offers her bounty of food, shelter, and usable materials.
The practice of gratitude teaches us to name the good things we receive, from a juicy, just-picked strawberry to the warmth of a wood-burning fire on a bitter cold day. It opens our eyes to see the complex processes required to bring those things to being: photosynthesis in a strawberry leaf, the just-right atmosphere to let in sunlight but not damaging radiation, the fungal network that supports trees cut down for our use. When we receive, with thanks, we are compelled to give back to the Earth through practical acts of care.
When we receive, with thanks, we are compelled to give back to the Earth through practical acts of care.
As I’ve gotten more involved in the movements of creation care and climate justice, I’ve often experienced pockets of anxiety, depression, and despair. These emotions are common in the work, which requires us to face the deep-rooted patterns of extraction and misuse that have gotten us where we are ecologically. The road to restoration is long, and the onslaught of worrying news can obscure any sense of progress.
Those who do this work full time will tell you that they need to frequently return to what they love: long hikes in the woods, quiet afternoons on a cliffside overlooking the ocean, fingers in the loamy soil tending a garden. As we groan with creation, we cannot neglect the discipline of delight. God’s directives in the Old Testament for his people to feast are as binding as those to fast. Finding joy in the mysteries of nature is an essential practice that reminds us of why we care for the Earth. Creation is delightful! Each element, from the rising sun (Ps. 19) to the great land beasts (Job 40) speaks to the manifold wisdom and creativity of God. Our delight in God’s Earth is a form of worship.
Finding joy in the mysteries of nature is an essential practice that reminds us of why we care for the Earth. Creation is delightful!
“All around us,” writes Paul in Romans 8: 22, “we observe a pregnant creation.” The suffering and ecological degradation we witness are birth pangs, according to Paul, contractions of a laboring earth who longs for deliverance into the freedom and harmony of a restored order. “But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us from within,” Paul continues. We, as part of creation, also feel in our bodies the push through the tunnel of death into new life.
For each of my three children, the work of childbirth required of me an active participation in the laboring journey. I groaned. I surrendered to the forces rippling through my body. I released my expectations for how the process would go. I pushed. I trusted that the One who made my body would accompany me in this liminal space between hope and its realization.
As we heed the cries of creation, we will know the ache between what is and what we long for. It will feel unbearable at times. But still, we are asked to wait, hope, and join in the glorious redemption that God is working out in the interstices of the world. It will be like yeast rising, like a mustard seed imperceptibly yet surely unfurling its leaves and becoming a tree (Matt. 13: 31-33), like a laboring woman crying out. We trust, with the Spirit’s help, that one day the Earth will no longer groan, but sing.
We trust, with the Spirit’s help, that one day the Earth will no longer groan, but sing.
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