The theme in my church this Lenten season is reconciliation. During each of the six weeks a different topic will be discussed and for each of those topics an artist will hang a banner in the church which depicts that topic. The worship committee suggested that I design the banner for the first week which will explore the issue of reconciliation with our environment. My question to consider while designing the banner was, “What would it look like to live at peace with the Earth?” This question was then paired with a scripture verse (Genesis 1:26-31). In essence, the banner was to be a reflection of scripture.
Upon getting the assignment, I dusted off, then opened my Bible to the creation story. I read, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” (Genesis 1:28) I immediately saw a problem, a conflict between the question I was supposed to consider and my interpretation of the verse. How could people live at peace with the earth when God had charged them to subdue it? It didn’t seem possible. My mind started to wander back to books I had read regarding Native Americans and their early encounters with the British in North America. The Native Americans, in many ways, lived a peacefully with the earth. They believed all living creatures contained a spirit and, even when animals were killed for food, prayers of thanks were always spoken to the animal. Native Americans were not wasteful; they used all parts of the animal. They were also aware that if they were not careful they could deplete necessary resources. They treated the land respectfully, and in return the land ensured that they would survive season after season. Then the British arrived with a completely different view of the earth and, citing the above passage from Genesis, the settlers informed the Native Americans that they were going about life incorrectly. In order to live as God commanded, the Native Americans would need to raise livestock, cultivate the earth and give up their own spiritual beliefs, bowing down instead to the one true Christian God. History books do a good job of illustrating how well that turned out – the Natives were slaughtered, paving the way for the Europeans to devastate the earth. Hmmmm…no, I wasn’t going to get anywhere focusing on that segment of the scripture.
The other problem I had was a lack of cooperation from the weather. I wanted to go out and take new pictures, but all the earth gave me to work with was snow and ice. Even though the weather warmed up, offering a few days above freezing, it wasn’t nearly enough warmth to melt all the snow, most of which is now black and completely unappealing.
In the absence of being able to go out and shoot something new, I dug into my archives, stacking up old CDs burned with pictures from various places around the world, and flashdrives cluttered with travel photos. Combing through them, I traveled back in time, reliving a multitude of experiences and taking note of which places brought me a degree of peace – mountains I had climbed, people I had met, and beaches I had walked. A landscape of what it might look like to live peacefully with the Earth started to form in my mind. I returned to the scripture verses and this time I focused on a different sentence entirely, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) Yes, what God had made was more than good, it was beautiful. The whole world was gorgeous, breathtaking. And we are destroying it. So that’s it, living peacefully with the earth means recognizing the beauty that surrounds us and striving to maintain that beauty so it will be around for future generations to enjoy.
I revisited my pictures wanting to represent as many continents as possible. Having never been to Antarctica, I had pictures from only six continents to work with and since my pictures from Australia predate my digital camera and are sitting in a closet at my parents’ house that knocked me down to five. I chose the most stunning sunrise I have ever seen, a brilliant blend of oranges, reds and yellows in Patagonia, birds in Brazil, in forests which are rapidly being destroyed, the Swiss Alps, stretching towards the heavens and blanketed in a thick layer of pristine white snow, a volcanic lake on Mt. Kenya, a beach dotted with palm trees in Honduras, a boy riding a water buffalo in Vietnam, my son chatting with calf and a glacier, one of the few that are growing instead of melting, in Argentina. These are just a minute sampling of the treasures that God has bestowed upon us. If we want a peaceful coexistence with the earth, we must do what we can to ensure that this beauty endures. We have already damaged and destroyed so much, can we protect what is left before it is too late?