Earth Care as Lenten Practice
You are from dust and to dust you will return.
What does the Ash Wednesday imposition of ashes mean to you? What do these words communicate to your body, mind, spirit?
This is one of my favorite liturgical rituals of the church year. To be marked with ash is to be reminded of my mortality.
Recently, it also is for me a powerful reminder of my earthiness, my connection to God's beautiful, mysterious earth. It is a call to humility that connects being human to being "of humus." The Creation myth from Genesis 2 invites us to believe in an artistic God who sculpts us of clay, creating adam from adamah. We know that the molecules that make up our human bodies are no different than the components that make up life on our entire planet. Our bodies are connected to world's body. We are from dust and we will go back to dust. Life and death, and death to life, all blessed by God.
Throughout Lent we can reflect on what it means to have been created by God as these earthy creatures. If fashioned from the earth, and blessed and called by God, how can we live into an awakened relationship with the earth? Rather than being in a domineering, or even a "stewardship" posture in the world, perhaps we can begin to see ourselves as being in an original, intended relationship with the earth, seeing ourselves as part of the earth brought into being and given breath by a Creator who loves and knows us.
During this reflective season, we might spend some time with this basic element of our human vocation: being created by God from earth with a vocation to till and to keep the earth (Gen. 2:15). (The verb translated as "to till" also means "to serve" in the original Hebrew.) Going back to an original relationship that God intends for us, what might we learn from a humble posture of caring for, and relating to, all creation? Recognizing our dust-ness, how can we be empowered and energized to both rest in the gracious, creative goodness of God and to work for justice throughout all creation?
In order to facilitate both "being" and "doing" in relationship to these themes, the Environmental Ministries program of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has just produced a daily Lenten calendar. This calendar, called "Tread Lightly for Lent," invites you to a reflection or action for each day of Lent. Most items can be done in less than 10 minutes, or they can take as long as you like. Guiding themes for the weeks in this calendar are: creation, water, land, air, people, diverse species, and lifestyle commitment. Available for download at pcusa.org/environment, this resource is intended to help you connect--through this holy season--to faithful ways of working for change (in ourselves and in the world).
Also available through the grassroots network Presbyterians for Earth Care (PEC) is a devotional guide entitled, "Feasting on God's Gifts, Fasting in Sorrow." This devotional has entries for Ash Wednesday, each week of Lent, and for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. Each entry has a scriptural focus, opening and closing prayers, and a written meditation. To find it, go to: www.presbyearthcare.org.
Finally, as a way to embody our connection to the earth and to people all around the earth, the Eco-Palms project is a tangible way your worshipping community can celebrate Palm Sunday in a caring, faithful way. Eco-Palms are sustainably harvested palms that are better for the land and bring fairer wages and labor practices for workers. This tangible corporate action, of changing what kinds of palms are waved in remembrance of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, can indeed help embody the way God calls us to just relationships with other people and all creation.
However you are called into Lenten practice this year, I encourage you to consider how God, who sculpted you from the earth itself, calls you to some new form of earth care in this holy time.
Rebecca Barnes-Davies is the Associate for Environmental Ministries (PCUSA), the local ministry organizer of the Eco-Justice Worship Collective (in Louisville, KY), and author of "50 Ways to Help Save the Earth: How You and Your Congregation Can Make a Difference."
Rebecca recently graduated from Louisville Seminary with a M.Div. and Master of Arts in Religion. Before seminary, she served as the coordinator of Presbyterians for Earth Care (then Presbyterians for Restoring Creation) from 2000-2007, was part of the Environmental Justice Office (2000-2003), and participated in the National Council of Churches' Eco-Justice Programs.