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For the Beauty of the Earth

Inspired by the hymn text written by 19th century English poet Folliott Sandford Pierpoint, we will look at various scriptural references to the natural world, and consider our place in the universe as stewards of God’s precious creation.

We are using The Green Bible as a study resource, as well as examining portions of the draft of the revised United Methodist Social Principles (currently up for public comment in advance of the 2020 General Conference).

For the Beauty of the Earth: The Earth, Seasons and Climate Change

What I hear in the wise king’s prayer is a humble acknowledgment that things get out of balance. They just do, and this frequently happens because it is in the sinful nature of human beings to behave with selfishness and short-sightedness, to seek power and become embroiled in conflict — and yes, to mistreat the land. In spite of God’s good desires for us, and in spite of God’s good gifts to us, we frequently muck things up, and there are consequences, and the world gets out of balance. But always God is calling us to return. Always, God is longing to bring things back into balance, and is calling us back to our best selves, individually and as a human family.
Creative Commons licensed photo by Marilylle Soveran

For the Beauty of the Earth: The Animal Kingdom

Might we, see animals as partners in this venture to restore the earth’s balance — even those animals which we have regarded as a nuisance, or as something to be feared? Could this be what the prophet was getting at when he spoke of lions and lambs, children and snakes living in harmony? And what about the people whom we distrust, or fear, or whom we regard as enemies? Can you put on God’s wider perspective-transforming lenses, and see them as keys to your own transformation, your own sense of harmony and balance, and as your teachers?

For the Beauty of the Earth: Trees

At the beginning of the great Story and at the end, we find the Tree of Life — and there are countless other stories in between in which trees stand as sentinels and even as the means through which God brings rescue and transformation to God’s people. Our scriptures extol the virtue of trees as signs of God’s sustenance. What are we planting for future generations? Are we listening to the ancient wisdom, taking the long view, and passing that on?

For the Beauty of the Earth: Oceans

Then there is the ocean — vast, unfathomable, beyond what we can comprehend, so much going on below the surface that we cannot see. And the crowning symbol of that vast unknowing is the Leviathan — a giant sea creature that is shrouded in mystery. The Leviathan is mentioned just five times in the Old Testament and twice in one of the deuterocanonical books (2 Esdras). The descriptions are really vague, and some imagine Leviathan to be a sea serpent, giant eel or giant squid, while Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick forever cemented in many minds the image of a giant white whale. Whatever its form, the Leviathan is unconquerable by human beings — and yet, the Psalmist describes it as a sort of plaything for God, something so small compared to God’s power. Its presence in this poem casts a sort of shadow, a word of caution, lest we ever grow too big for our britches in our pursuit of “dominion” over this earth of the Lord’s.

For the Beauty of the Earth: Air/Breath

Perhaps more than any other natural element, air is one of those things we most particularly share, the pollution of which affects everyone. When we read the Bible, and find passages that talk about breath or wind, we might also, often, substitute the word Spirit — and see a link between the air and breath that gives us physical life, and God’s breath that gives us both physical life and spiritual life. Our purpose, the reason for the breath that is in us, is healing and justice. Our breath, our life, is not just for ourselves, but for others. We are in this together.

For the Beauty of the Earth: Water

The idea that everything is connected to every other thing — that what impacts one thing, for good or ill, impacts the whole — is woven throughout the scriptures, and, indeed, is woven throughout life. And, it seems to me, whenever we try to deny that reality, and whenever we try to live as if we were separate, independent, from everything else, that’s when we get into trouble.

For the Beauty of the Earth: Soil

God’s original intent from creation was that all of it would “be fruitful” — and sometimes we experience this in spades. But God’s original intent was also that human beings would be faithful — both to God, and in godly, just relationships with one another. And when those relationships are broken, our very relationship with the earth, and our ability to coax life and sustenance out of it, is also strained.